Or how to place your pattern pieces on your fabric for efficient cutting.
How to cut fabric… it looks so obvious, right? But do you really know how to go about it? How to position your fabric? How to place your pattern pieces?
Maybe you have the basics. Or maybe you didn't even know there were rules to follow...
Some patterns come with a fairly detailed plan of how to place your pattern pieces on your fabric yardage. Others don't... My patterns don't come with a plan. Why? Because I find it much more important that you understand how it works rather than following a blind plan that may not be perfectly suited to the width of your fabric.
So, if you want to know what to do regardless of your fabric, follow me, I'll give you some tips. Because it doesn't matter whether you get an old curtain or buy a super fancy fabric, the techniques are the same.
Before you begin:
First, before you even start, you have to prepare your fabric. If you don't know what to do, take a look at my article: Prepare your fabric before you start. It's very important to prepare your fabric, so don't skip this step!
The 4 golden rules:
📌 Fold your fabric in 2, right sides together.
That's the basics (there are a few exceptions, but we'll come back to that)
Most patterns (the symmetrical ones at least) just have one “front” piece, one “back” piece, etc. But to make your garment, you want 2 (because you have a right side and a left side). So you are going to fold your fabric in 2, bringing your edges together, right sides together. This way, you will trace on the wrong side of your fabric and when you cut, each pattern piece will be cut 2 times, in a mirror way.
There are also some pieces that must be placed on the fold of the fabric. Generally, the “center front”, “center back”, etc. You'll easily spot them by the fabric fold symbol (usually accompanied by the words "fabric fold" or something similar). These pieces, you just want one of each, but you want them symmetrical.
So, place the pieces with a “fabric fold” symbol, on your fabric fold. Make sure to put your piece right at the edge of the fabric, and especially not cut along the fold line! It's a fold, not a cut.
📌 Place large pieces first
It's just like anything else... When you go on vacation and you fill your car trunk, you start with the biggest pieces, those that have a little incongruous shapes, right?
The same goes for placing pattern pieces.
Start with the bigger pieces, those who have a little dodgy shapes, to be sure that it fits well. Make sure you place your pieces with a fold of the fabric too, you just have one, use it right.
Once the large parts are positioned, fill in the holes with the smaller ones.
📌 Follow the grainline!
Parallel to the edge. Pa. Ra. Llel.
The big line on your pattern piece is the grainline. This big line there, you have to place it parallel to the edge of your fabric.
Why is that so important? Because if not, your garment will skew.
What does that mean?
You've probably already bought a cheap t-shirt. And after a few washes (sometimes even the first!), the shirt starts to twist and the side seam goes forward, and your t-shirt feels a little crooked… You know what I'm talking about, right?
It also happened to me with pants. And it looks kinda bad when it happens.
And it's all because the pieces are badly placed on the fabric. The pieces are placed quickly, are placed crooked, and they become deformed over time.
If you don't want that to happen, place your pattern pieces straight, making sure the grainline on your pattern is parallel to the edge of your fabric.
📌 Mark your notches!
A super important step, which many people skip (I confess, evem I often forget to mark them… but, do what I say, not what I do! 😅)
There are several ways to mark your notches.
I just prefer to make a small cut in my fabric. Some prefer to make a kind of small triangle that sticks out (because it's more visible).
Do what feels right, as long as you get what you do.
Notches are super important to make sure you put the right parts together. that you put them together in the right direction. And the right way.
With these 4 basic rules, you should good for a while. That said, it's like with anything else, there are exceptions, special cases, details to take into consideration.
And what happens if...
📌 Your pattern pieces are too wide
If your pieces are so wide that they don't fit on your fabric folded in half, what do you do?
It happens with very loose models or larger sizes, or if your fabric is really narow (or all of the above).
In this case, you will have no choice, you will have to cut your pieces one by one, on your opened fabric. Be careful, as your fabric will not be folded in 2, you will only cut one side at a time. SO don't forget to turn your pattern over to cut the 2nd mirror piece (and therefore, have a left side and a right side).
📌 Your fabric is stretchy
In general, it doesn't matter if your fabric is stretchy or not... unless the direction in which it stretches is not "standard". Let me explain :
Normally, stretch fabrics (whether a knit or a fabric containing elastane or spandex) stretches in the weft direction (perpendicular to the grain). In this case, everything is ok, because this is the way you want your garment to stretch.
But sometimes, you will end up with a fabric that stretches in the grainline (or warp). In this case, it is better to put your pieces completely perpendicular to the grain. Because you want your finished garment to be stretch in the sense that it matters.
📌 Your model is asymmetrical
With an asymmetrical model, you have to be careful! Especially because the annotations are not the same everywhere. Most often, you will see the mention «R.S.Up» (for Right Side Up).
That means that you will have to place the pattern pieces right side up, on your fabric right side up too. If you put a pattern piece upside down, you'll cut it on the wrong edge, and your pattern won't work.
Technically, if you do this for all the pattern pieces, your pattern will work, but it will mirror the design shown on the pattern.
📌 Your fabric has a pattern or texture
If you're working with a fabric that has direction (we call it the nap), whether it's a regular pattern that works just one way, or a texture like fur or a shimmering effect, you're going to have to make sure you place all the pieces in the same direction. No upside down piece to save fabric here! The top of the pieces all point in the same direction.
Unfortunately, not all patterns cme with an easy reference point, but generally, the direction of the writing should help. If not, on my pattern pieces, the grainline arrow always points down.
When in doubt, take a look at your procedure to see how the pieces will be sewn and make sure you put everything in the right way. You don't want to end up with a panel of your velvet jacket that is soft in the wrong direction, right?
📌 Cut the selvage
Some stretch fabrics tend to shrink at the selvage. Simply cut it off. This will make positionning your fabric much easier.
I'm talking about stretchy fabrics... But if your fabric is acting up, whatever it is, notch, cut, reduce, resize: Do what you must to get everything flat.
📌 place everything before cutting
Sometimes it can be a little complicated... but if you can, place all your pattern pieces before cutting anything. That way, you will be sure that everything fits well in your yardage and that you have no unnecessary loss.
📌 stripes, tartans and more
Stripes are a bit tricky, because you want it to look good when you go to put your garment together. 3 details to remember:
- Always buy a little more fabric. The extra amount needed varies and really depends on the size of the pattern, but also on how lucky you are when placing your pattern pieces on your yardage.
- Fold in the center of the pattern. If you have large vertical stripes, be sure to fold your fabric in the center of one of the stripes. If it's a checkered pattern, fold in the center of the shape... even if it's not the center of your fabric. This way, you make sure to keep a nice symmetrical look to your garment. If your pattern doesn't line up with the center of your garment, it might look a little out of phase.
- Cut one layer of fabric at a time. To be sure that your fabric is perfectly positionned, it is better to cut the top layer, then reposition your fabric if necessary, and cut the other layer. It's definitely longer, but it does a better job.
📌 perpendicular cheat
Yes! You have the right to cheat… for certain things.
For example, if your pattern pieces are super wide and you can't place them in the classic way (with your fabric folded in 2 on the grainline), you can fold your fabric in the other direction. But make sure of a few things:
- Check that your fabric allows it. If there's a pattern or texture, it might be a little dodgy...
- Make sure to put the pattern pieces perfectly perpendicular to the selvedge. You still want to prevent it from deforming.
- Do not forget the pieces on the fold of the fabric. By folding your fabric in the other direction, you will have a much shorter fold. If you have several pieces on the fold of the fabric, there will potentially be a little placement gymnastics to do.
📌 fold your pattern piece on the grainline to mark it on both sides
It is quite possible to flip your pattern piece face down so that it fits better on your fabric yardage (provided it is not an asymmetrical model, of course). The main problem is that you will not see the inscriptions anymore. To easily transfer your grainline, fold your pattern on the long arrow. This is a super easy way to mark the grainline on the back of the pattern piece.
Tracing and cutting
Now that you understand how to position your fabric…
📌 How do I make the pattern pieces hold?
If you are working with a pattern printed on tissue paper (like Simplicity, Burda, McCalls…), you can pin the pieces to your fabric. The paper is super thin, it works well that way.
But otherwise, you're probably working with a PDF pattern that you printed at home (or at a copy center). Which means it will be too thick to pin without distorting everything.
The best is to work with weights. Anything, as long as it's heavy enough to hold your pattern pieces in place.
I'm going to be super honest with you, I very often work with improvised weights: my sharpening block, my stapler, my cell phone...
But you can find stuff that will be dedicated to holding down pattern pieces. Like that, you won't spend your time looking for something to keep your pattern in place.
📌 What do I trace my pieces with?
Me, I like wax-based tailor crayons. It's not expensive, it marks well, it sharpens with an exacto (which I always have on hand) and it is erased with steam.
If not, for pale fabrics, I like to use a simple lead pencil. There's always one around, it makes a clean line, and it washes off.
But there are plenty of other tools:
- talc chalk (which generally erases with friction)
- friction pencils (which fade with heat)
- water soluble pencils (which erases with water)
- washable Crayola markers (if you have kids, you probably already have some at home!)
📌 Cut with scissors or rotary cutter?
I recommend you to start with the scissors. Get yourself good fabric scissors (which will be completely dedicated to fabrics!) and start with that.
Good scissors will do the job for pretty much any fabric.
On the other hand, the rotary cutter is good for delicate fabrics. Y'know, those who move just because you looked at them sideways. Those who slip a lot. Those that are more difficult to handle. Attention! Make sure to combine your rotary cutter with a large cutting mat, because you don't want to scrap the blade of your rotary cutter on your first project, right?
The rotary cutter is a little more difficult to handle, but can save you time when you have a lot of stuff to cut. So it's a good addition to your sewing arsenal, but not necessarily a priority.
You should now be ready to easily place and cut your pattern pieces onto your fabric, without too much trouble, and start your next project. 🙂