Mistakes to avoid when cutting fabric

So many people spend hundreds of dollars on a good sewing machine, use it for a few months and then they give up, and put it back in the box in the basement where it remains for years –untouched.  Somewhere in their sewing journey, many aspiring sewers become afraid or demotivated because the project did not turn out the way they wanted.  

A big pile of unfinished garments is a dead giveaway!  Our brain is trained to look for inconsistencies and it is how we judge beauty.  Unconsciously, we know something is off and we give up before we finish. The reason for this doomed journey starts at the fabric store but is often made worse by how we end up cutting the fabric.  Here are my top 5 mistakes to avoid when cutting fabric.

The reason for this doomed journey starts at the fabric store but is often made worse by how we end up cutting the fabric.  Here are my top 5 mistakes to avoid when cutting fabric.

#1.  Not washing the fabric before cutting.

Natural fibers come from vegetable material (cotton, hemp, flax, etc) or animals (wool, cashmere, silk, alpaca, etc).  Below I have tested a 100% cotton swatch measuring 10 x 10cm, I soaked and washed the swatch and ironed it with a very hot iron. As you can see in the second photograph the swatch shrunk considerably, this is because when fabrics are being woven the fibers are being tensed.

When these fibers come in contact with water they relax, but by applying heat once again, the fibers go back to their original state.  This process is similar to how a spring works.  Normally it will take several washes for some fabrics to relax.  A good example of this is cotton and linen.  Both fabrics become smooth after a few washes, but when too much heat is applied –for example when we forget the cloth in the dryer for too long– the size of the garment will shrink considerably.

Mistakes to avoid when cutting fabric

#2.  Not squaring and truing the fabric.  

To understand squaring and truing we need to learn a couple of terms that relate to fabrics.  In the picture below, the yarn being pulled is called the weft.  The yarn that runs perpendicular to it is the warp. In order to true the fabric we need to make a cut on the weft,  pull the thread, and cut in the space that is left by the thread, as is seen in the picture.

Mistakes to avoid when cutting fabric
The weft, wrap, and selvage of the fabric

To be able to square the fabric you must cut away the selvage which is the fuzzy edge that runs along the length of the fabric or, as is known, the warp of the fabric.  Cut away the edge by making a cut and pulling the thread and cutting the same way you did with the weft or the horizontal thread.

Sometimes when you go to the fabric store, the chatty woman at the counter makes a cut in the fabric and rips your piece out, this action actually distorts the shape of your fabric. In the following picture, you can see the effect of this action.  I lost almost a bit more than a 1/4 of a yard getting the fabric to have a uniform edge!

Mistakes to avoid when cutting fabric
Find the true edge of the fabric to cut on the grain.

To square the fabric, after you have taken the selvage out, get someone to help you pull one corner of the fabric while you pull the diagonal corner, change and do the other corners. You are trying to restore the shape of the fabric. This step is particularly important if you are using a cotton/elastane combination.

stretching fabric on the bias to regain the original shape of the fabric

#3.  Not following pattern instructions for placement of the fabric grain.

Ending up with something so tight that it looks like Shapewear or a too-short mini skirt because you didn’t shrink your fabric before sewing is still not as bad as not using the grain of the fabric to place your pattern.  To find the grain of your fabric, all you have to do is square and true the fabric, join the side where the selvage was, and fold the fabric.

The fabric grain is indicated on the pattern as the long arrow that runs the length of the pattern piece it will cause the fabric to hang correctly because it will be cut at a right angle.  Not only does it look bad, it’s annoying to wear because your skirt or pants will keep twisting around or clinging to you, but more importantly, the pieces of your pattern will not match. This is simply because the fabric will stretch at an angle.  A perfect example of this is a skirt cut on a bias.  We’ve all had t-shirts where they cut slightly off grain to save time and can twist around the torso.

Avoid this by making sure to place your pattern pieces accurately on the grain when you cut out your patterns.  You can achieve this by measuring the distance from the selvage to the grain arrow and making sure it is equidistant, as shown in the picture below.

Mistakes to avoid when cutting fabric
Placing the pattern on the grain of the fabric

#4.  Not having enough fabric to match plaids or stripes.

This is the classic mistake easily avoided by buying more fabric and placing the pattern so it matches the prints or plaid.  On your pattern, mark where the most prominent color is.  In my example below,  I have marked the brown color in all the pattern pieces, because is the most dominant, notice how you actually will use more fabric because not only do you have to use the direction of the color, but also you have to maintain the grain of the fabric.  As a rule, how much fabric you will need, will always depend on your size and the width of the fabric you intend to use.

how to match plaids when cutting fabric

#5. Using the wrong fabric.

Thin silky fabric will not make an appealing jacket due to its lack of structure.  It would, however, make a very good lining.  A knit fabric will perform differently from a woven fabric because of the stretchability of the knit, therefore, the pattern pieces on a knitted garment are going to be less wide than normal patterns.  All Patterns will give you suggestions for what fabrics to use. It is possible to substitute the fabric according to its drapability.

Follow the instructions on the back of the envelope to the letter. It will be clearly marked what kind of fabric will be best suited for the pattern, study the drawing, see how the garment falls away or clings to the body.  Look at the illustration and try to match what the designer has used.  For a sample of swatches and their common uses please watch this video:

It is easy to get excited when inspiration strikes us, and we want to get things done quickly, but by not avoiding these 5 common Mistakes To Avoid When Cutting Fabric, you will only be sabotaging your own efforts and creativity. Taking the time to prepare your fabric may sound boring but it is essential for a good sewing outcome.

Thank you for reading, and Until Next Time, Happy Sewing!

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