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When I first tried cutting fabric for a quilt top, I became so discouraged that I only made quilt patterns that used precuts. Then I realized how poorly precuts are actually cut (it’s sad but true) and decided it was time to learn how to do it the right way.
Cutting the fabric for a quilt can be an intimidating step, but fear not because you’re HERE and I’ll walk you through it! Just like riding a bike, the more you do it the easier it gets. I promise you’ll be a fabric cutting ninja sooner than you think!
In order to cut fabric for a quilt you will need three tools. These tools will be used practically every day that you enjoy your new hobby, so it’s important to get the right ones. The Amazon affiliate links below will take you to exact ones I own and use.
How to Use a Rotary Cutter
I don’t like the word “rules” but when it comes to sharp objects and the potential for meeting your insurance deductible, I feel like I should make an exception. Before I go into detail, let’s examine the 3 Rules of Safe Cutting:
Rule 1: Always put the safety guard on after every single cut. Why? Here’s how most rotary cutting accidents happen… Imagine your cat jumps up on the table, decides this new tool looks like a toy and bats it off the table. If she’s lucky enough not to cut herself in the process, great, but now you’re likely to step on it.
Or your toddler will pick it up because it’s new and novel and then you find yourself yelling “DO NOT PUT THAT IN YOUR MOUTH!” while simultaneously wetting your pants.
Or you’ve had eight cups of coffee and your hands are shaking (which probably isn’t the best time to be handling any sharp object) and you drop the cutter on your foot, or the dog sleeping at your feet.
Am I speaking from experience? Maybe. Okay, I think I’ve made my point. 😊
Rule 2: Always cut while standing, it gives you much more control, thus safety.
Rule 3: If you do cut yourself, don’t get blood on the fabric. It’s really hard to get out.
Now that we’ve covered that, here’s the play by play!
Hold the ruler in place with your non-dominant hand (in my case, left) using a “spider hand”. Press downward to the mat with firm (but not crazy firm) pressure. You can place your pinky finger just off the side of the ruler that you’re not cutting on to prevent the ruler from sliding sideways. This goes without saying, but given the prevalence of lawsuits I have to say it anyway….Make sure your finger is not hanging over the edge of the side of the ruler you are cutting on.
Grip the rotary cutter firmly with your dominant hand and push it away from your body like a pizza cutter. Be sure to put pressure on the cutter so that it goes through all layers of fabric and keep the blade right next to the edge of the ruler.
TIP: It’s helpful to carefully move your hand up the ruler as you go. I usually move mine 2-3 times per cut.
How to Cut the Fabric
Square it Up
The first thing you’ll want to do is called “squaring up the fabric.” After you’ve folded and pressed the fabric as described in the first post of this series (HERE) it’s time to trim away the uneven edges. If you skip this step, every one of the strips you cut is going to be wonky (this is a “technical” quilting term meaning crooked or askew). You will do this with practically every fabric you’ll ever cut:
- Line up the center fold with a straight line on the cutting mat.
- Place the edge of your ruler on top of the wonky edge of your fabric AND of a straight line on your cutting mat, in this case the 12” line. (first image below)
- Use the rotary cutter safely as described above to trim off the wonky edge.
Cutting strips of fabric:
Now you’re ready to cut your first WOF (width of fabric) strips. This is usually the first cut listed in the cutting chart of the quilt pattern. Most of the time the strips to cut will be smaller than the width of your ruler (i.e. 6”). The accuracy of this cut will affect the accuracy of all other cuts, so take your time. Whenever possible, use your ruler (not the grid on the mat) to measure the width of the strip.
- Line up a horizontal line towards the bottom of the ruler with the folded edge to make sure your strip is square.
- Place the ruler over the fabric at the desired width, in this case 2.5”.
- Be sure that the measurement line, the dashed line on the ruler, is on the fabric, not off to the side.
- Use the rotary cutter to make your first cut. TA-DAH!
If at any time the straight horizontal line on your ruler doesn’t line up with fold in your fabric, square it up again. Be careful not to cut off too much though or you may run out of fabric!
What if the cut I need to make is bigger than my ruler?
When I first started quilting I had a really hard time figuring out how to accurately cut WOF strips that were bigger than my ruler. I kept buying bigger and bigger rulers until I figured it out thanks to YouTube. I swore if I ever wrote a blog, I would explain the process to new quilters, so here you go!
If the cutting chart in the pattern calls for a 6.5” x WOF, or any measurement that is wider than your ruler, you will use the lines on the cutting mat AND the ruler. This is pretty much the only time I’ll encourage you to use the lines on your mat for anything other than squaring or aligning fabric.
- After squaring the fabric, align the fold on a horizontal line on the mat and the freshly trimmed edge on a vertical line. (Mine is lined up on the 23” mark below)
- Count out the number of squares on the mat that represent the cut you want to make, in this case 6.5”.
- Place your ruler on top of that line and make your cut.
After cutting the WOF strips, it’s time to cut those strips into smaller pieces. As an example, let’s say our pattern tells us to cut (4) 2.5” x 3.5” pieces. We know that our WOF strip is 2.5” so all we need to do is measure and cut the other part of that measurement.
- Align the strip with a horizontal line on the cutting mat. Use a straight line on the mat to cut the selvedge off.
- Place the ruler over the fabric at the desired width, ensuring that the measurement line, in this case 3.5” is on the fabric, not off to the side.
- The horizontal lines on the ruler should be aligned with the top and bottom of the strip. If not, the strip is not laid out straight or the cut was wonky.
- Make the cut.
I recommend doing just one strip at a time until you get the hang of it. It takes longer but the practice builds muscle memory. The only thing worse than realizing that you’ve made a miscut is realizing you’ve made the same miscut on multiple layers of fabric. After getting the hang of it, you can stack strips to cut two at a time.
Just keep practicing!
It gets easier with time, I promise. To this day I still l buy a little more fabric than the pattern asks for because I make miscuts too!
Don’t hesitate to look for other resources about cutting, I won’t be offended! Take every opportunity to learn from others through blog posts, YouTube videos, social media and the like. You’ll find a flow that works just for you!
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