Hey guys! Today we are going to cut and mark our fabric for our dresses! Woohoo!
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most people don’t like this part of the sewing process. I get it – you’re ready to start sewing, but first you gotta futz with those tissue pattern pieces, cutting, and marking all the little dots and clipping all the little notches. Such a pain when you really just want to get to the fun part!
I personally don’t mind cutting – I actually find the process a little fun – I listen to dancey music and use the opportunity to get pumped about my project. CUTTING PARTY WOOHOO! While I do like to get everything with cutting done in one session (and marking, too, if I have the time), I do not try to rush the process. I’ve found that rushing just causes more harm than good – you get sloppy, you cut things inaccurately or off-grain. No good! Please don’t try to rush through this – take your time (trust me, y’all, we’ve got plenty of time here) and just try to enjoy the process. You might surprise yourself!
One thing I’ve found that I do mind, though, is taking photos while trying to cut – and I think it really shows in my pictures here, unfortunately. If anything about this post is unclear, please do not hesitate to post your question in the comments and I will get back to you as soon as I can!
If you haven’t already done so, check your pattern instructions to see what pieces you cut and how many of each. I always like to look at this first, just to be sure I don’t end up with some unfortunate surprise (such as realizing too late that a certain piece needed to be cut 4 times, and I’ve already cut up all my fabric. WHOOPS!).
Make sure your fabric is prewashed and that you have pressed all the wrinkles out. You may also press your pattern pieces (dry iron, no heat) if you prefer, but I’ve found these thin tissue patterns can usually be smoothed out enough to skip the ironing. Up to you!
Now for the fabric! The first thing you want to do is make sure that your cut edges are nice and straight. This will help you keep the folded fabric straight, and thus, cut the pattern pieces on grain. See how the cut edge of my fabric is wavy? We are going to fix that.
Now that the edges are straight, you may fold the fabric lengthwise, wrong sides together*, and lay it on your cutting table. At this point, I also like to pin my cut edges together, as well as the selvedges – it keeps the fabric from shifting around, which is especially helpful if you are cutting something that tends to slip around. Make sure the fabric is completely smooth all the way to the fold (no wrinkles or anything); else you may end up cutting an inaccurate piece. If your fabric is twisting, try shifting the cut edges until everything lies smooth.
*You may also fold your fabric right sides together, if you prefer. My stance on this is that the fabric is easier to mark on the wrong side if it is folded with wrong sides together (as you can just open the two pieces and mark them at the same time; it’s also easier to use wax paper+tracing wheel this way), so this is the way I fold/cut. Also, if you fold with the right sides out, you get to stare at your pretty fabric while you cut it. Bonus! :)
Once your fabric is folded and completely flat, you can start pinning down the pieces! I like to start with the pieces that need to go on the fold – as you can see in my poorly-cropped picture, this is indicated by an arrow (it’s also in the cutting instructions of the pattern, fyi). I do this because otherwise I’ll forget! Not good! For pieces on the fold, butt your pattern piece right up to the fold of the fabric and pin all the way around.
A note on pinning – how you choose to pin your pieces is entirely up to you. Some people completely omit pins and just use pattern weights and trace the pieces, or a rotary cutter. That is perfectly fine if that’s your jam. I personally like pins and scissors, so this is what I will be demonstrating for this sew-along. I like to pin parallel and about 1/4″ away from the pattern piece. I also use a lot of pins – the more the merrier! – as I find it helps me cut more accurately. Don’t be afraid to go overboard on the pins, is what I’m saying here.
One other thing I’d like to bring up is the topic of grain – and making sure that your pieces are all cut on grain. What is grain? Grain is the direction of the threads that make up a woven fabric. Lengthwise runs parallel to the selvedge, crosswise is perpendicular, and bias runs at a 45 degree angle. Grain is EXTREMELY important when cutting your fabric – if you cut things off grain, you run the risk of your dress doing some funny things. Ever worn a pair of jeans where the seam kept trying to twist around your leg? That’s what happens when something is cut off grain. We want to be sure that everything is cut accurately on grain – i.e., the lengthwise grain goes straight up and down your body. This is super super simple to do, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t bother with it (for more information on grain, check out this Threads article)
In the picture above, I’m pointing at the grainline on the pattern piece. This line needs to run parallel to the selvedge of your fabric to ensure that your fabric is cut on grain.
All you need to do is make sure that the grainline printed on your pattern piece is the same distance from the selvedge all the way across. I like to use a clear ruler for this – you can see straight through it, which makes it easy to adjust the pattern piece until it’s straight. I start in the middle, check the distance the grainline is from the selvedge (in this case, it’s 4.5″), stick a pin to hold the pattern piece in place, and then check that the distance at each end of the grainline is also 4.5″ (and stick another pin in there to keep the piece from shifting). Once I’m sure the entire grainline on that one pattern piece is completely straight and parallel to the selvedge, then do I finish pinning and cut.
It sounds like a lot of extra work, but it’s really not – and you’ll absolutely see the results (or, rather, won’t – because your garment won’t be hanging funny!). This also means that you can plan your cutting layout howeverrrr you want – as long as you keep the pieces on grain. The pattern instructions do include a suggested cutting layout – and if this is your first time making a pattern, I definitely suggest that you follow it, just to keep things simple – but it’s not always the most economical way to cut your fabric. As long as you’re keeping all your pieces on grain, feel free to see if you can find a better way to get the most out of your fabric :)
Ok! So that being said – time to finish pinning and cutting! Go ahead and pin the rest of your pieces down to the fabric (you may follow the cutting layout in the pattern if you need some guidance), and make sure you have everything pinned before you start cutting!
When you cut, keep the fabric completely flat on the table (or floor, but it’s better for your back/sanity if you can at least find a temporary table space to cut on!) with your shears at a 90 degree angle. Slice completely through the entire length of the shears – no timid little baby cuts! – and use your opposite hand to hold the fabric down so it stays flat on the table. Try to be as accurate as possible with your cutting, and take your time going around curves and sharp points.
Once you’ve cut aaaall your pattern pieces (yes, all of them! Remember, there are 4 pocket pieces to cut!), time to mark! For notches (the little triangles printed sporatically on the edges of the pattern pieces), I just take a tiny snip all the way to the point of the notch. I know some people cut the notch outward, like a little triangle. That’s fine if you want to do that, but I find it too time-consuming and less accurate than just a simple snip.
For marking dots – such as where the sleeve is attached to the bodice – I like to stick a pin in the pattern piece, directly through the center of the dot. Gently pull the two pieces of fabric apart, and mark where the pin enters each piece of fabric.
For marking dots and the stitching lines on the bodice (the notched version), you can use wax paper and a tracing wheel. I didn’t take any photos of this, but it’s pretty self-explanatory. Lay the paper with the wax side facing down on the wrong side of the fabric, and just trace over the lines of the dart with the tracing wheel. Easy!
Ok, that’s all for today! If you’ve still got a little bit of sewing stamina left, go ahead and cut out your interfacing pieces as well. We start sewing next week! Yay!