In my blog posts of the last two weeks I covered choosing fabrics, either from your stash or at the quilt shop. In those, I talked about color contrast, prints and backgrounds. I also talked about how to audition these fabrics and also how to pick out fabrics using a focus fabric. If you’d like to review those posts, find them here: Color is Key and Color is Key – Part 2. Now that you have the fabric home, it’s time to prepare it for your project. I’ll cover some fabric prep and cutting tips here. Some may be review for you but some may be something you haven’t tried. Let’s get started!
Before You Start Cutting
Tip #1: Clean your cutting area of extra fabric scraps. This may seem obvious, but sometimes we want to get going on a project and try to cut in a space that is cluttered. A clean cutting mat will help with accurate cutting. Also, residue left from previous projects can cause cutting mistakes.
You can remove bits of fabric and other residue by rubbing an artist’s eraser over the surface of your mat, using packing tape wrapped around your hand or using a lint (pet hair) roller that you use on your clothes. I’ve done all of those things!
Tip #2: Make sure your rotary cutter is ready to cut. A dull blade will cause cutting errors. 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. Once you change the blade, store the used one in an empty rotary blade container marked “used blades”. Once it’s full, you can safely toss it away.
Tip #3: Rulers. My number one tip is to use the same brand of ruler when cutting out the pieces for your quilt. I use Creative Grids rulers.
If you switch between different brands of rulers for your cuts, the markings may look the same to you, but they could differ slightly between brands. You can then end up with pieces that don’t measure correctly if they were cut with different rulers. Choose a brand and stick with it for all the different size rulers you use cutting out the project.
Also, make sure you are holding your ruler firmly and your rotary cutter correctly. A shifting ruler can send your rotary cutter “off course” and cause an inaccurate cut. Even pressure from your hand holding the ruler keeps it from shifting.
Tenting your hand (like on the left) sends pressure downward so your ruler stays where you put it. If you lay your hand flat (right photo), the pressure of your hand this way can cause you to push your ruler forward and perhaps move it’s alignment.
Preparing and Cutting the Fabric
Pre-Wash or Not:This is a hot topic among a lot of quilters. Some quilters swear by it and always pre-wash while some never pre-wash. There are pros and cons to both. Here are some. Read them over and see what suits you. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong here, just what you prefer.
• All the fabrics that are going to shrink will shrink so the finished quilt pattern is not ruined by fabrics shrinking differently if you like to wash finished quilts.
• Certain fabrics might bleed, like purples and reds, and transfer to other parts of a quilt when the finished item is washed.
• Chemicals used in the processing of the fabric are removed in pre-washing. Some people are allergic to these chemicals so this is a benefit to them.
• It takes time. The extra steps of washing and ironing adds time to the prep when getting ready to make a quilt.
• It washes out the sizing. Some quilters like this sizing which tends to make the fabric easier to cut. I like the “stiffer” fabric that, for me, seems to cut easier.
• Most of the quality fabrics today do not shrink much and the fabric dyes are much more stable to prevent bleeding. There’s also laundry products, like Shout® Color Catchers, that prevent color transfer.
• Fabric edges fray which can distort the fabric. This will require you to waste more fabric when squaring up.
If you decide to pre-wash your fabric, you can prevent most of the fraying by cutting a corner off the fabric or cutting the non-selvedge edges with pinking shears. This is especially helpful with smaller pre-cuts like fat quarters.
Iron and Square Fabric: These are steps you should never skip. Ironing your fabric will remove all the creases that formed as it was wound on the bolt. The most prominent crease being where the fabric is folded. If you do not iron the fabric, that crease, and others, can cause your rotary cutter to skip creating strips or pieces that are distorted.
Like ironing, squaring up your piece of fabric is also important. When fabric is rolled onto the bolt at the manufacturer, the lengthwise grain of the fabric can end up not being straight. So when you bring home your piece of fabric cut at the quilt shop, you will need to square it up so strips that you cut from the fabric are not bent in the middle. If you start with a distorted strip, all the pieces you cut from that strip can be off in their measurements.
Here are two strips side by side:
Notice how the strip on the left bends away from the line on the mat and the one on the right does not? That’s why we square up! Because we don’t want strips that are distorted like the one on the left. You can learn how to square fabric from my mini video tutorial here:
Now you’re ready to cut your fabric!
Now that you have your cutting mat clean, your rulers picked out and your fabric squared, here’s some random tips.
Tip #1: Read the entire pattern before you begin cutting. Most pattern writers put all the cutting up front on the first pages, but some do not. Find all the pieces that need to be cut from a particular piece of fabric so you know you have enough fabric.
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 one 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: 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.
Now you’re ready to get started on that piecing! Next week, I’ll cover more ruler and cutting tips and tips on accurate piecing. If you have any tips you’d like to share on this week’s subject, feel free to do so in the comments!