You’ve chosen a pattern and you want to get started creating that beautiful quilt. Now what? It’s time to buy or pick out fabric and then cut it up into the pieces the pattern requires. Even if you are not a beginner at quilting, it doesn’t hurt to get some tips once in awhile. I shared a few fabric cutting tips in January, but I thought I would expand on the tips this week. Let’s start!
Tip #1: Know what you are looking for before going to the quilt shop. This seems like an obvious thing, but I know there’s times I have come home from the quilt shop with the same piece of fabric I already own. What I am getting to is … take an inventory. Shop your stash first for fabric that will work for your pattern. Then, take that fabric with you on your shopping trip so you can find fabrics that coordinate.
Tip #2: This ties into tip #1. If you are interested in using other color combinations for your quilt than the sample on the pattern cover, there are two things you can do:
- Copy or draw a picture of the quilt block that makes up the quilt and use colored pencils to decide on a color way you prefer.
Coloring can be fun and a great stress reliever too!
- Making test blocks is the second option. Open the scrap bin and make the block in some different color ways to help make your decision.
By doing this you can audition different color ways, including backgrounds, to get the look you want. When you are done with these blocks and have bought your fabric for the actual quilt blocks, you can make mini quilts or a colorful scrap quilt from the block audition samples.
Here’s what I did with the audition blocks I showed you above:
Tip #3: Buy more fabric than the pattern requires. I automatically figure in extra fabric when writing my patterns but I have advice for you, especially if the pattern and designer are new to you, add a little extra fabric if it makes you feel comfortable. Here are the reasons I recommend that extra fabric:
- When squaring up the fabric, it’s possible to lose some of the length if the fabric was wound a bit wonky onto the bolt.
- If you like to pre-wash your the fabric, there could be shrinkage.
- Finally …. cutting errors. We all have them!
Fabric Cutting Tips
Now onto actually cutting the fabric. Here we want to make sure we are careful because fabric is not cheap! Being careful will cut down on those cutting errors that can cause you to run out of fabric.
Tip #1: Read the pattern completely through to find all the cutting instructions for each of the fabrics. Most patterns have all the cutting instructions on the first few pages, but some patterns may have them spread out into different sections of the pattern.
I recommend cutting out the entire project before you begin sewing so you know right away if you have to make a trip back to the quilt shop. If you wait too long, that fabric you need may sell out.
Some quilters don’t like to cut everything out at once because of a storage issue or fear of losing cut pieces. So what do you do with all those pieces especially if you don’t have a dedicated sewing area? I Store a quilt that is cut out and ready to sew in a bin like this:
This bin is large enough to store all the cut pieces and your pattern. Easy to store on a shelf and it also keeps curious pets from digging through your project pieces… I speak from experience on that one! I have found these bins in craft supply stores like JoAnn’s and Michael’s. You can also find them on Amazon.
Tip #2: Cut the largest pieces required from a piece of fabric and work your way down to the smallest. If the pattern instructs you to cut pieces in a wide variety of sizes from a piece of fabric, start by cutting a strip the width of the largest piece and then cut the amount of pieces needed from that strip. Then, if there is any amount of that strip left, cut it down to the next width to cut the next largest pieces and so on.
For example: the above photo is one of my pattern’s cutting lists. Look at the black fabric cutting instructions. From one of the black prints, I would cut a 4 7/8″ strip first and cut the six squares from that. Then if there is any bit of that strip left, I would cut it down to 2 1/2″ wide and start cutting the 24 squares needed. And so on.
Tip #3: Iron your fabric before cutting and squaring it up.
Ironing your fabric will remove all the creases that formed as it was wound on the bolt. The most prominent crease being where the fold is. If you do not iron the fabric, a crease can cause your rotary cutter to skip creating strips or pieces that are distorted.
Squaring up fabric is something I have covered in past posts. If you don’t square your fabrics you can end up with distorted strips like the one below on the left:
Notice how that strip on the left bows away from the line on the cutting mat. If you missed my previous post about squaring up fabric, here’s the link to the video again:
Tip #4: Cutting mat & rotary cutter.
Make sure your cutting mat is on a secure surface so it doesn’t shift around when you are cutting. If your mat shifts, you will definitely make cutting errors! Also, turn your mat to get to another side of the fabric instead of moving the fabric. Moving the fabric will require you to reposition it and maybe even having to re-square it. Extra advice: make sure there is no residue on the mat from previous fabric cutting. Something as small as stray threads can cause your rotary cutter to go off course.
As for your rotary cutter:
- Make sure the cutter is clean with no lint gathered on it.
- Make sure your blade is sharp. A dull blade will cause skips and cutting errors and can also cause injuries. Once again, I speak from experience! The blade might look good to the naked eye, but if you feel like you have to press down hard to cut through all the layers of fabric, it’s time to change the blade. Also, if you notice “skips” in the cutting, that’s another sign that your blade is dulling.
- Bonus tip: use an old rotary blade case to store used ones. Once it’s full, it’s a safe way to dispose of these blades in the garbage so no one gets cut from a loose blade.
Tip #5: When cutting a lot of strips from one piece of fabric, avoid sliding your ruler over the fabric to the next measurement. You may not notice it, but you might shift the fabric so it is no longer square. it’s best to lift the ruler up and then place it down on the fabric for your next measurement. After cutting several strips from a large piece of fabric, you should check and re-square the fabric if needed and then continue cutting strips. Even if you aren’t sliding your ruler to the next cut.
Of course these tips are not all the fabric buying and cutting tips there are. These are just some of the ones I consider the most important. If you have any tips you rely on them, please share them below so we can all benefit from learning something new!
Thanks for the tips, they are a good reminders. I always like to get a clerk at the quilt shop to look at my color choices also. I’ve had more positive outcomes that way. I’ve also learned not to take quilt shop quality fabric and mix it with less quality big box store fabrics, made that mistake early on when I began quilting and won’t do that again!
Good idea asking the quilt shop people help with choosing your fabric. Definitely stick with quilt shop quality fabric. You can tell the difference!
I save my used rotary blades and use them to cut paper.
Good idea! I have an old rotary cutter that I wrote on the handle “paper only”.
Donna S says
Lots of good tips! Do you have a certain brand of cutting blade that you prefer?
I usually use Olfa brand blades, but I recently bought a pack of blade made by Creative Grids (makers of my favorite rulers). I haven’t tried them yet though.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just slid my ruler over and had to re-square the edge… That is my favorite tip of the day. I actually got myself one of those suction cup handles to put on my ruler so it’s easy to pick up and move rather than just sliding it over.
Nanette Chopin Cook says
I love reading your tips. I can remember when I started 22 years ago quilting that the internet and all the goodies were so handily available. I do everything you do – yup learned the hard way! Hugs