A Guide to Precision Cutting April 08 2020
A Guide to Precision Cutting by Charlotte Noll (@kirkenoll #charlottenollquilts)
Whether your quilt will be entered into a show or you are making it for a loved one or to donate, accurate cutting is key to success in piecing your quilt top.
There are three main areas to focus to ensure you have the perfect cut every time.
1: Cutting Tools
These cutting tools are your friends. It is important to keep them well maintained!
- Periodically clean with water and a small amount of dish soap on a soft brush to remove bits of threads/batting. Rinse and lay flat to dry. Refresh with a spray of water after a day of cutting.
- Use the appropriate size mat for the fabric you are cutting.
- If you are fussy cutting or trimming blocks, rotating mats are a great option.
- My favorite rulers have a no slip surface and easy to see lines. Some specialty rulers don’t have this surface so use sandpaper dots or template grips.
- Again, use appropriate size ruler for the fabric pieces you are cutting.
- I’ve read tips that caution to use the same ruler brand to ensure consistent measurements, but I’ve used all types of rulers over the years and haven’t really seen any difference.
- There are four basic rotary cutter sizes:
- 60mm for stacks of fabric
- 40mm for everyday regular cuts
- 28mm for cutting curved templates
- 18mm for fussy cutting
- My favorite cutters have the squeeze handle that opens when you press and automatically closes the blade when you let go for an added layer of safety.
- Use a quality sharp blade. I’ve tried buying the cheap bulk blades online - never again! Now I only purchase the name brands for quilters in the bulk packages so I always have a new one available, if needed. There is nothing worse than cutting fabric with a dull or nicked blade. The fabric will fray even more, and you will spend extra time and effort for a relatively small price difference.
- Make sure you don’t put two blades stuck together on your cutter. You will get very weird cuts.
- Your cutting surface should be strong and at least as big as the mat.
- Standing at counter height is best for long cuts. Ergonomically speaking, your pubic bone should touch the top of the cutting surface when bending over.
2: Fabric Preparation
- Before cutting the fabric, it’s a good idea to press it. Never cut wrinkled fabric. I use a spray to make the fabric crisp plus remove any creases especially that middle fold. It’s also a good way to get to know your fabric before cutting.
- My favorite fabric spray is Magic Sizing that you can purchase in the grocery store in the laundry section. Some use steam (I love my dry, no-holes, heavy vintage iron), starch, Flatter or other products to make the fabric easier to work with.
Fold is gone like Magic!
Remove Selvage Edges
- The weave of the selvage edge is tighter than the rest of the fabric so cut it off.
- Save the selvage with your project until it’s done in case you need more of a certain fabric.
- If the selvage is cute/colorful (lots of them are lately) cut off at 2” and save them for a future project. I made a selvage quilt, and it was fun revisiting all the fabrics I had used over the last several years.
Cut the First Straight Edge
- Cut the edge of the fabric straight squaring the cut with the fold line or horizontal edge next to your body.
- If you cut a strip with a fold, open it up to check that it's straight.
- If the fabric is striped or has a directional pattern keep that in mind when you cut that first edge.
- If the fabric is really out of shape and doesn’t lay flat when folded, rip the edge to get the true straight of grain. Then trim the ripped edge off ¼ inch to make it nice and straight. This can sometimes seem like a waste of fabric, but in the end, you will be glad you fixed that wonky fabric.
3: Final Preparation and Organization
Test the Pattern First
- Most patterns will give the cutting instructions first. If appropriate for the pattern, I like to only cut the pieces I need to make a test block or section. There is nothing worse than cutting all the fabrics for a quilt to find out there was a mistake, or you know a better way and now you don’t have enough fabric to re-cut. Sometimes I will use a scrap fabric for the test and make something small later.
Create a Checklist of Pieces to Cut
- If the pattern doesn’t have one, create your own checklist of pieces to cut in the correct order.
- If the pattern has lots of pieces to cut, you can cut apart the checklist to place on the stacks of cut pieces to identify them later.
- Cut the largest pieces first to make sure you have those in the size needed.
Cutting Long Strips
- When cutting width of fabric (WOF) strips, make one fold only. I’ve never had much luck making two folds and keeping that strip straight.
- Place the fold right next to your body so you can position the ruler properly at a 90° corner.
- Open the 3rd strip to make sure it is still straight. Re-cut and straighten the edge if it’s even slightly off.
- To sub-cut, move the mat keeping the fabric strip(s) stable instead of moving the fabric, at all if possible.
Cutting Same-Size Cuts
- If making the same size cuts, place see-through ruler marking tape or painter’s tape to mark the ruler. This saves placement time and helps prevent that occasional bad cut.
Cutting Half Square Triangles
- Cut half square triangle (HST) squares slightly larger than needed and trim them to the perfect size. For example, if the pattern says to make the 2 ½” HSTs using 2 ⅞” squares, instead make the squares 3”, sew, press and trim.
Cutting Using Templates
- When cutting using a plastic or cardboard template, especially one with a long straight line, put an acrylic ruler next to the template and use the ruler edge to make the cut. It will be more precise and will avoid cutting the template piece.
The most important tip...enjoy your fabric and making quilts. If something goes wrong, you can fix it - or not. It’s all good!
Now that you know some tips for cutting your fabric, get to work and stay tuned for my Precision Piecing Tips.
Do you have any tips you would like to share?
About Charlotte Noll
Charlotte has been sewing since she was a young girl and made all her own clothes. She made her first quilt when she moved to Florida in 1980 and needed something for her king-size waterbed. She's been hooked since! Charlotte loves fabric, thread, buttons, and beads! She can't pass up a challenge or call for entry. Charlotte has made many traditional and art quilts but now her eye is tracking the modern style.