Sewing Lessons: Cutting out a Pattern
Once you've traced your pattern and made the necessary fit adjustments to it, you're ready to cut out your fabric!
I enjoy this step; after all the work and head-scratching of tracing, grading and altering, I like picking up the first piece I cut out and holding it against my body to see how the final garment is going to look.
Prepare your Fabric
We're going to back up a bit here.
When making garments you should always pre-wash your fabric before cutting it.
Pre-washing removes any sizing and pre-shrinks the fabric, so pre-wash fabric slightly more harshly than you plan to wash the finished garment. For example, if you plan to wash your finished t-shirt in cold water and tumble dry it in a cool dryer, then pre-wash your knit fabric in warm water and tumble dry it on warm. This makes sure than any shrinkage happens before you make your garment, not afterwards when some "helpful" person puts your clothes in a hot dryer...
Now that your fabric is clean and dry, lay it out on the largest flat surface you have. When I was learning to sew, my mother always laid out her fabric on the floor. Over the years, I've cut on the floor, on the dining room table, and on my kitchen counters. I now use a folding table and bed risers as a cutting table.
Since most pattern pieces say "cut two" or "cut one on fold", fold your fabric in half lengthwise (there are some exceptions!). Line up the selvedge edges and smooth out the fabric so that it doesn't have any pulling or wrinkles, and the grainline is straight. The example below shows that the selvedges are lined up, but the fold line is still off grain.
Don't assume that the cut edges are straight and try to line them up too, they may have been cut off grain, or your pre-washing may have removed any twist in the fabric it got from being wrapped on a bolt. This illustration shows how much the cut edges can be out of alignment.
Patterns usually include a cutting plan, showing how to lay out your pattern pieces depending on your size and the width of the fabric. They are a good place to start, but as you become more skilled in sewing, you'll probably see that they're not the most efficient way to use your fabric.
For example, if your fabric is quite wide, and both the front and the back pieces of your pattern need to be cut on the fold, you can save fabric by folding both selvedges towards the middle, creating two folds for the same length of fabric.
Start by laying the "cut one on fold" pieces on the fabric. Line up the marked fold line on the pattern with the fold in your fabric.
Then lay the remaining pieces on the remaining fabric.
Make sure that the grainline marked on your pattern is parallel with the grainline of the fabric by measuring the distance from the grainline marking on your pattern piece to the selvedge edge at three or more places and checking that they are the same.
Check that your pieces don't overlap and that you haven't missed any.
If you're on Team Scissors, pin the pattern pieces in place as you lay them out.
Pin all the pieces onto your fabric before cutting, to make sure that everything is going to fit and that you're making the most efficient use of the fabric.
If your cutting surface is too small to lay out all the pattern pieces at once, gently fold or roll the pinned fabric to move another length of fabric onto your cutting surface.
When all your pieces are pinned in place, cut them out and set them aside. Cut as close as you can to your traced lines, going slowly and carefully on curves.
Leave the pattern piece pinned to the fabric, so that you can identify the pieces as you start to sew. Cut any notches.
If you've had to fold or roll your fabric, smooth it out gently before you cut those pattern pieces.
Team Rotary Cutter
Lay out all the pieces onto your fabric before cutting, to make sure that everything is going to fit and that you're making the most efficient use of the fabric.
If your cutting surface is too small to lay out all the pattern pieces at once, after moving the pattern weights out of the way, gently fold or roll the pattern pieces and fabric together, to move another length of fabric onto your cutting surface.
When all your pieces are laid out in place, cut them out and set them aside. Cut as close as you can to your traced lines, going slowly and carefully on the curves.
Clip or pin the pattern piece to the fabric, so that you can identify the pieces as you start to sew. Cut any notches with scissors.
If you've had to fold or roll your fabric, smooth it out gently and re-align the pattern pieces with the grainline before you cut them out.
When all your pieces are cut, add all their pattern markings:
- Make sure you've cut all the notches.
- Mark the dart tip, and draw the dart legs with a marking tool.
- Mark pocket and button placements (this is optional, you may want to decide on the pocket and button placement when the garment is nearly finished and you can try it on).
- Mark any other dots or markings from the pattern pieces onto your fabric.
Now you're ready to start sewing!