OAL: Cutting and Marking Your Fabric

9 Jun

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!

OAL - Cutting and Marking Fabric
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!

OAL - Cutting and Marking Fabric
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.

OAL - Cutting and Marking Fabric
Cut a little snip about 1″ below the cut edge of your fabric (or 1″ lower than the lowest dip, if it’s super wavy like mine)

OAL - Cutting and Marking Fabric
OAL - Cutting and Marking Fabric
And then just rip straight across the edge. Ah! Doesn’t that feel nice? Totally my favorite part of cutting HAHA!

OAL - Cutting and Marking Fabric
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! 🙂

OAL - Cutting and Marking Fabric
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.

OAL - Cutting and Marking Fabric
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.

OAL - Cutting and Marking Fabric
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.

OAL - Cutting and Marking Fabric
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.

OAL - Cutting and Marking Fabric
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.

OAL - Cutting and Marking Fabric
OAL - Cutting and Marking Fabric
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!


35 Responses to “OAL: Cutting and Marking Your Fabric”

  1. Diana June 9, 2014 at 9:05 am #

    Oh man, cutting out is totally my least favorite! I love turning it into a dance party time though… Thanks for the tips!

    Also, at the end I think you mean to mark with transfer paper + a tracing wheel, not with a rotary cutter!

    • LLADYBIRD June 9, 2014 at 9:13 am #

      Oops! You’re totally right- good catch! Updating the post now 🙂 thanks for pointing that out 🙂

  2. thenerdyseamstress June 9, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    I don’t mind the cutting, it’s the making that gives me a headache. Looking at how you’re marking it, I’m thinking to myself, why didn’t I do this before? It’s so much easier! It cuts my time in half having to flip the fabric over and making it. Okay, May be not on half, but it does make it easier!

    • LLADYBIRD June 9, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

      Oh yeah, I’m all about simplifying things – especially when it comes to marking HAHA 🙂

  3. Rox Guillemette June 9, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

    Great post! I’ll be using your tips to make sure my fabric is straight! So Lauren… when making the muslin, is there anything special you do or check (besides basic fit) ? Do you leave out the facing altogether?

    • LLADYBIRD June 9, 2014 at 8:47 pm #

      Not anything extra special – just don’t get too sloppy (i.e., pay attention to grain and following your seamlines – I know I personally get a bit sloppy if I don’t watch myself!). You don’t need to worry about any finishing, including facings, as we are just doing the muslin to check the fit 🙂

  4. Inclement June 9, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

    What is that red thing in the last picture which looks like a piece of rubber? I can see you made a little red line on the fabric with it, but what is it called? (I’m sorry to pester when I don’t even sew, but I might sew!…someday…)

    • LLADYBIRD June 9, 2014 at 8:48 pm #

      Good question! I’m not sure the exact name, it’s either marking wax or tailor’s wax. Something like that! And don’t even worry about pestering me – promise you’re not 🙂

  5. Basya June 9, 2014 at 9:41 pm #

    Excited! Tonight, I braved going into Jo-Ann to buy the pattern. (All Simplicity patterns are $1.99 this week.)

  6. linda June 10, 2014 at 7:09 am #

    thank you for this info …when cutting interfacing do you cut the same as pattern or 1/4 smaller I.m not clear on this…..

    • LLADYBIRD June 10, 2014 at 10:00 am #

      I cut the interfacing the same size as the pattern 🙂 You only really need to worry about going smaller if your interfacing is very bulky – which in this case, it isn’t (well, it shouldn’t be! haha!).

  7. oonaballoona June 10, 2014 at 9:35 am #

    ah! how did i miss that this was the OAL dress pattern?! i LOVE this pattern, in fact i just knocked one out last month, still needs a zip…

  8. stitchestowear June 10, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    I completely agree with you re. cutting and marking. I used to absolutely HATE this part… because I used to do it all on the floor and be desperate to get it done quickly to save my back and knees. And I’d just want to get on with the FUN sewing part! I completely changed my approach when I made a beautiful winter coat this year. I treated myself to a large cutting table, which is worktop height, put loads of crappy 80s tunes on Spotify and allowed myself to enjoy the process (and pretend I was a professional tailor!). I gave myself loads of time and it was so much better!! I now LOVE the cutting stage, it feels really productive and it’s a nice bit of ‘me-time’. Def worth investing in a decent table and cranking out the nostalgia-inducing songs! 🙂

    • LLADYBIRD June 11, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

      I think having a nice table – or at least one that is, you know, the correct height! – is key to enjoying the cutting process. Add in some good scissors and maybe a new box to pins, and YES 80S MUSIC, and you’ve got yourself a fucking awesome party!

  9. Basya June 10, 2014 at 6:14 pm #

    I forgot something very important…THANK YOUx1000 for sharing how to more easily mark with wax paper and a tracing wheel by folding the fabric right sides together. It makes such perfect sense!

    • LLADYBIRD June 11, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

      You’re so welcome! Glad I could help 🙂

  10. beckyleethompson June 11, 2014 at 4:38 am #

    Stopped by Hobby Lobby and got my pattern. All Simplicity are .99 cents this week! Karma, yes?? YAY! Thanks for pointing out earlier that the finished sizes are on the pattern itself. I’ll have to grade the pattern between the top & bottom. Unlike you, I like my clothes to fit all loosey-goosey but I did see there’s like up to 3.5″ of ease? Isn’t that a lot? I better make a muslin.

    • LLADYBIRD June 11, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

      Ohhh, that’s awesome, thanks for the sale head’s up! (may or may not have bought… a lot of patterns just now, HAHA).

      I personally think 3.5″ of ease is a lot for this pattern! Try holding that measurement with a flexible tape around your bust and see how you feel about the size vs your size, sometimes that helps! But I’d definitely make a muslin if you’re AT ALL unsure – better to get this shit taken care of now in the muslin stage, instead of on your pretty fabric (and god forbid you have to do unpicking, that’s the worst!).

  11. Margo B June 11, 2014 at 6:07 am #

    I laughed at your cutting party comment because that is what I do every time I cut a pattern out! I blare the music and stop regularly to bust out a few dance moves! I also like to pin my patterns down and cut with scissors, the way mom taught me.

    • LLADYBIRD June 11, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

      Pins are where it’s at! 🙂

  12. beckyleethompson June 12, 2014 at 5:15 am #

    OMG! I just watched a Craftsy video – “40 Things All Sewers Should Know” or something like that, and the instructor just showed the most INCREDIBLE thing!!! A total DUH moment too. She showed how to block cut fusible interfacing. Meaning, just iron your interfacing onto your fabric BEFORE cutting the fabric! So when you cut the lining pieces out, they will already be interfaced. TA-DAAA!! I hate it when interfacing doesn’t fit right and I have to snip here and trim there so it doesn’t bleed onto my ironing board or worse, play Betsy McCall paper dolls and piece interfacing into bald spots (I have no idea how this happens). Block cutting seems like a simple, super fast, but yet slightly wasteful method to use fusible interfacing. It will be the only way I use fusible from now on. And I thought you might could add this handy-dandy tip to your arsenal of mad fast-sewing skills. 🙂

    • LLADYBIRD June 12, 2014 at 7:07 am #

      Haha! I’ve heard of doing that, but to be honest, I’m a little wary. Doesn’t that take a lot of time to fuse-block all the pieces? (I guess you could use a steam press, which would speed things up dramatically, but most people don’t have one. Mine blew a fuse 😦 Need to get it fixed arghhh!) I also cringe at the wastefulness, because I like to use my interfacing scraps on various projects (for places that just need a tiny bit of stabilization). Might have to try it, though, as now I’m all intrigued 🙂

      • beckyleethompson June 13, 2014 at 5:15 am #

        I think my plan is lay out all the pieces that will use interfacing strategically on the lining fabric, and then hold the interfacing above it all to make sure I have enough. I’ll maybe even cut away parts I know will not have a pattern piece under it. Then cut the interfacing, making sure there is scant margins of fabric all around, and then press. The instructor showed to use the iron up and down vs. sliding around on the fabric. And I didn’t even think about my steam press. You’re so smart!

  13. Rachel June 12, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

    As a dressmaking beginner I just wanted to say how helpful I’ve found the OAL posts – I’ve already found myself referring to the fabric post whilst on my latest fabric spree. I have always tried to rush through the cutting and marking process in past, often cheating by only cutting out what I need at that time. Next time I will follow your advice put some music on and will even try to do it all in one go.

    • LLADYBIRD June 12, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

      Aww, this makes me so happy! I’m glad you’ve found my posts helpful, that’s always a nice thing to hear 🙂

  14. Carrie June 13, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

    So, I am getting my pattern pieces together and wondering…why are there two pattern piece #5’s, #6″s, #9’s? Not all the pieces have duplicates …but I don’t know….are they duplicates …or not. Doing the Simplicity pattern.

    • Carrie June 13, 2014 at 11:06 pm #

      Nevermind…I see now….different sizes


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