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How to Cut Fabric for Quilting

How to Cut Fabric for Quilting

A lot of people think that quilting is an easy hobby until they actually start cutting. Many people don’t realize just how precise one has to be with quilting. Sure, some quilts may look like they are haphazardly thrown together, but in reality, each piece is perfectly measured so all pieces will fit together.

One of the most important steps of creating a quilt is cutting the fabric, but there is a lot more involved than just cutting. Today we are going to give you some tips that will help you to cut perfect quilt squares and strips every time.

Prepare the Fabric

The first thing you will need to do is prepare your fabric for quilting. Some people prefer to pre-wash their fabric, while others feel this is just a waste of time. There are actually benefits to both. For instance, when you pre-wash the fabric, it gets rid of chemicals, and it lets the fabric shrink prior to using it to make a quilt.

Some fabrics tend to shrink a lot, and if you don’t pre-wash them so they shrink before you begin working, you could have problems once the quilt is finished.

Another reason to pre-wash is color bleed. Some colors will run, and this will ruin the look of your quilt. If the fabric is pre-washed, this isn’t likely to be an issue. If you are going to pre-wash, it is best to use mild detergents, or even baby shampoo.

how to cut fabric for quilting

Now, some quilters prefer if the fabric has sizing in it because it is easier to handle and cut. It also has a cool appearance when you wash a finished quilt made from fabric that has not been pre-washed. But, if you do not plan on pre-washing, at least use a product such as Shout Color Catchers to prevent color bleed, particularly if you are working with dark colored fabrics.

Finally, before you start laying out your pattern and cutting, it is important to iron the fabric. If the fabric has any wrinkles, it could mean that you will have cuts that are crooked, and your quilt is not going to look great when it is finished.

Using a Rotary Cutter

The fastest and most accurate way to cut quilting fabric is to use a rotary cutter. It is also the easiest way to ensure you get straight cuts. You will need three tools for perfect fabric cutting:

  • ​Rotary cutter with extra blades
  • ​See-through ruler, 24 inches long
  • ​Self-healing cutting mat, 24” X 36”

Always make sure you have a sharp blade to work with, as dull blades create jagged cuts, and you can end up cutting yourself if you have to press too hard to cut the fabric. Once you have all of the tools you need, you can start following these next steps.

Make sure the fabric edge is completely squared. Lay freshly ironed fabric on the cutting mat, folded in half lengthwise with the wrong sides together. Line up the selvage ends and make sure the fold is even and lays flat with no wrinkles. Place your ruler against the line and cut the edges so they are straight.

The folded edges should line up with a horizontal line on the cutting mat. If you are right-handed, most of the fabric should be to your right. If you are left-handed, it will be to your left.

Now it is time to start cutting fabric strips. Depending on the size of the strips, you will need to line up the fabric edge with the correct mark on the ruler. If your strips are three inches wide, line the fabric up at the three inch mark on the ruler.

Check the measurement a couple of times to make sure it is accurate before you begin cutting. Place your non-dominant hand on the ruler, fingers spread to make things more stable. Cut along the edge of the ruler, keeping the blade flush against the ruler’s edge, and make sure you always cut away from yourself for safety.

Do not cut beyond where your hand is positioned. Instead, stop what you are doing, move your hand, and start cutting again.

Open the first strip to make sure that it is completely straight and even. If it isn’t, you will need to readjust the fabric and start all over again. It’s easier to check now than wait until you have a lot of strips cut, and all of them end up being crooked.

Whether you are cutting strips, squares, or other geometrical shapes, these instructions will work. Always make sure that you cover the rotary cutter when not in use, so you or someone else doesn’t end up getting cut by the sharp blade.

Tip: If you want to free up your hands, instead of holding the ruler in place, pin it in place with tacks. Use a ruler that has a hole at either end. If you don’t have one, use a small drill to create the holes yourself.

Using Scissors

Some people still prefer cutting their quilting fabric the old fashioned way, with regular sewing scissors. Make sure that if you do this, you are using actual sewing scissors, and not scissors that have been used to cut paper, as they will be too dull for cutting fabric.

If you are going to be using scissors, the process is pretty much the same, but there are a couple of extra steps that are going to take longer. First, you will need to use sewing chalk to mark the lines once you do your measurements, as it is too difficult to use scissors while holding a ruler in place.

Even if it is held in place with tacks, it is still difficult to get the scissors beneath the fabric and get a perfectly straight line when you cut. Using the chalk can also help to keep you organized.

Mark the squares with numbers, letters, etc. so you know where each goes in the pattern. The chalk will come right off in the wash.

James M. Rai has been screen printing T-shirts and other textiles professionally and as a hobby for more than 15 years. During that time, he owned and operated a small screen printing shop in northern California for more than 7 years. More recently, James has gotten involved with Cricut and other cutting machines.