I’d love to give you one initial piece of advice before you start cutting. Take things slow and steady. Quilting is a craft of precision. It doesn’t need to be overly complicated, but accuracy will be your friend when it comes to cutting!
Here’s a quick example. Let’s say you cut a fabric piece off by just 1/16th of an inch. Doesn’t seem like it should be THAT big of a deal, right? But what if you cut 16 pieces that way? All of a sudden your quilt will be off by an entire inch when you go to sew it together.
That’s why accuracy matters!
Try not to feel intimidated if you aren’t a pro at cutting...YET! Practicing is the way we ALL learn how to do something! Some of us have just had a little more time practicing at this point.
And I’m here to give you a few helpful tips that should help make it easier!
Use Cutting Charts
First, always take the time to take a good look at the pattern!
There will often be more than one set of cutting instructions/charts within the pattern for you to use, depending on your fabric pull and the number of colours you’ve decided on! These instructions will guide you through cutting the required pieces!
There are so many different cutting tools on the market today. But just like with cooking, there are often gadgets that do the same things you could do easily with just a knife and a cutting board!
At the end of the day, everyone has different tool preferences - so it’s totally up to you!
Personally, I use a 24” x 36” Olfa Self Healing Rotary Mat (Canadians click here). If you have the space for it, it will probably be the only cutting mat you ever need - it’s big enough to cut yardage!
It’s highly recommended to change your rotary cutter blade before starting a new cutting project! Most people don’t do it before each project, but I promise you that it really is one of the most revolutionary things you can do!
I actually gave my mom a new rotary cutter for Christmas one year, along with some new blades. She mentioned that she hadn’t changed her blade in years! Trust me…don’t be like her when it comes to your rotary blades!
Some good indications that it’s time to change your blade are when it starts missing threads, if you’re having to go over the same cut more than once or if your arm/wrist is sore from pushing so hard to get through the fabric.
It is often said that a rotary cutter can cut through four layers of fabric, but I find that a sharp blade can actually handle six! Another reason to treat yourself to a new blade.
Long story short! Treat yourself to a new blade, if you can. It will feel like butter!
You are definitely going to need a ruler. Again, there are a ton of different options available on the market, but I can say with certainty that I use the same ruler for about 90% of my cutting for ALL of my quilts! And that is a 8.5” x 24” ruler. Mine is by Omnigrip and I’ve had it for many years (Canadians click here). I also highly recommend Creative Grids as another awesome ruler option (Canadians click here)!
But if you just need one ruler to get started, I’d definitely go with an 8.5” x 24”!
Iron Your Fabric
Make sure you iron your fabric before you start cutting! With properly pressed fabrics, you’ll be able to get more accurate cuts. No one wants creases, lumps or bumps getting in the way of their cuts!
When it comes to ironing out those pesky creases, I love using the Flatter Spray from Soak (Canadians click here)! It’s a starch-free smoothing spray that both relaxes wrinkles and freshens fabrics with the most amazing scents. It’s also gentle enough for sensitive skin!
When I say I really like this spray, I mean I REALLY LIKE IT. I’m normally super picky when it comes to fragrances, but all of the Flatter Spray scents are soft, subtle and fresh. They don’t smell synthetic at all! I’ve linked all of the scents in my Amazon shops (US and CAD)!
Square Up Your Fabric
Another thing you always need to do before cutting is to square up your fabric!
Fabric that has been stored on a bolt isn’t always perfectly square, and the cut made from the fabric store most likely isn’t square either.
Here’s how to square your fabric:
Line up your selvedge edges perfectly parallel to each other. Gently press the fabric toward the fold, smoothing it out. You may need to adjust your fabric to get it perfectly smooth - just make sure the selvedge edge stays parallel.
After you make your first cut, you will need to trim off the wonky edge! This is when you’ll want to use your ruler. Line up a straight line on the ruler with the fold in your fabric. Then, cut off the wonky edge. You should be left with a perfectly straight edge and a 90° corner to begin cutting your pieces.
Some More Cutting Tips!
When cutting your fabric, it’s best to use the lines on your ruler rather than the lines on your cutting mat (if possible). Check the lines running horizontally and vertically to make sure that your fabric and ruler are in the correct locations. You will find you get more accurate cuts this way!
Double check that your ruler is lined up with the edge of your fabric and that you are using the correct measurement on your ruler. When making the same cut over and over, some people like to use masking tape or washi tape to mark the line on the ruler. This can speed things up, or even stop you from accidentally making a mistake!
Make sure your rotary blade is perpendicular to your ruler! If you tilt your rotary cutter, you will get inaccurate results or possibly even move your ruler while you cut.
Use your finger tips rather than a flat hand to apply pressure to your ruler. You may find the ruler slips less this way.
If you are making a very long cut and need to reposition your hand, stop your rotary cutter and hold it in place. Then, gently walk your hand further along the ruler while making sure to not shift the ruler or fabric.
Try to move your fabric as little as possible. If needed, you can rotate your cutting mat or the position of your body in relation to the mat.
After making several cuts (even with the best technique), you may still end up slightly off-square. Regularly check that your fabric edge is square and trim.
Lastly, I’m always tempted to make one little cut with my non-dominant hand when it seems “easier”. Let me assure you, it’s not worth it! I almost always end up with a wonky cut or my ruler slips when I try this. I regret it every time!
You may want to label your cut pieces as you go to keep yourself organized. Simply use the name provided on the cutting chart. Small scraps of paper secured with a Wonder Clip (Canadians, click here), pin, post-it note, masking tape or washi tape are all good options to do this!
Just remember that if you decide to use something sticky, make sure it doesn’t come in contact with your hot iron! The last thing you want is sticky residue on your fabric!
I also like to keep all of my fabric bundled and neatly stacked by colour/fabric/size for easy access. I have enough room on my desk to store my current project. If you don’t have a permanent workspace or would find that too squishy - a basket, storage bin, shoebox or even a Ziploc bag are other ways to keep your fabric safely stored until it's time to sew!
I said it at the beginning of this blog post, but I’m going to say it again! When you are cutting, make sure to TAKE YOUR TIME. Slow and steady wins the race!
Cutting really is the foundation of your quilt and it’s super difficult to have accurate piecing if you have wonky cut fabric.
Good luck with your cutting - and don’t forget to have fun while you’re doing it!
Have questions? Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you out!