How To Cut Fabric Straight


how to cut fabric straight

how to cut fabric straight

I’ve had a lot of emails recently about cutting fabric straight.  I have written about safety with rotary cutters before in the beginner quilting section, but here I’m going to concentrate on the steps that you can take to make sure both that the lines that you cut are straight and that the fabric is straight before you begin to cut.  I’m going to go right back to basics, so forgive me if I repeat things that you already know.

First point is the fabric itself – it’s made of threads running along the length of the fabric known as the warp.  This is also known as the grain of the fabric – on a paper pattern you will usually see an arrow showing you how to position the pattern piece relative to the grain of the fabric.  The threads running from side to side and weaving over and under the warp threads are known as the weft.  These run from selvage to selvage.  When you cut fabric straight, your cut will run in line with either the warp or the weft and this is the ideal.  If you are cutting a triangle, one of your cuts will be diagonal (known as ‘on the bias’) and this side of the triangle will be less stable than the other two sides which run along the line of threads.  This diagonal side is more likely to stretch, which is why you need to handle triangles carefully.

Fold the fabric on the cutting mat

Fold the fabric on the cutting mat

So, how do you make sure that the fabric is straight when it’s laid out on your cutting mat?  Lay the fabric on your cutting mat.  Generally fabric comes from the shop folded so that the selvages are together and there is a fold along the length of fabric.  Line the fold up with one of the lines on your cutting mat.  The other end of the fabric will be off the bottom of the cutting mat so fold the selvages up so that they are nearly in line with the fold.  The fabric is now in four layers and it is completely on the cutting mat.  Adjust the top layers so that the fabric lies completely flat.  This is more important than having the edges of the fabric in line with each other.

Cut away from yourself

Cut away from yourself

Line your ruler up close to the right hand edge of the fabric, checking that the ruler is lined up with the same marking on both the top and the bottom of the mat.  The four layers of the fabric are probably not in line with each other so make one cut to trim the uneven layers.  Remember to cut away from yourself.  Usually this will give you a straight edge and you can now continue cutting the strips that you need for your quilt.  Sometimes, however, you will find that a strip of fabric has a bulge in the width rather than an even width along the entire strip.  I think that this is the element of cutting fabric straight that worries quite a few people.

Selvages not in line

Selvages not in line

Pick the entire piece of fabric up and hold it with the two selvage ends in your left hand and the middle of the fabric in your right hand.  Line up the ends in your left hand with each other and look towards the bottom of the fabric:  are the two ends still in line with each other?  If they are not, move one of the selvage ends in your left hand either up or down and you will see that the edges at the bottom of the fabric move either further away from each other or more in line with each other.  Continue adjusting the edges until they are in line with each other all the way down the length of the fabric.

Carefully place the fabric back on the cutting mat with the selvages now in line with each other.  What you have done is straightened up the fabric so that  your cut will follow along the threads of the fabric.  This is one occasion when I think that the video may well explain what I mean more clearly than words can:


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  1. Your tutorials are very useful and I am sure even more helpful for quilters who have all the equipment – cutter, matboard, etc

    However, I don’t have this equipment. I am running (or trying to run) a quilting bee to raise money for our local village association in Crete!

    Therefore everything has to be marked out and cut out by hand. I am in the process of making the templates out of card for a chevron log cabin which can easily be sewn by hand or by machine (not everyone in the group – has a sewing machine). The intention is to make a double bed quilt, though some of the women think this is too much work! However, those with machines can make twice as many blocks. The design makes blocks of 30cm/12in square

    I am making templates (altogether 7 in the pattern) so that each person can cut out enough fabric using these to give the quilt a good start. For a quilt for a normal double bed we shall need 7 – 8 blocks as far as I can make out. Then there will be the edging, if there needs to be any extra joining strips between the blocks – we shall have to see!

    May I assume that rather than cut several copies of one piece of the pattern – eg four of the starting square (which will be 2″/5cm + 1/4″/6mm) all round for the seam) – all in one go, it may be better to cut each individually so the fabric doesn’t slip?

    This is an exercise of the one-eyed man leading the blind: the only patchwork I have done – started 15 years ago but untouched since moving out here 10 yrs ago – was a hexagon sewing-by-hand-quilt (so far 180cm by 2m more or less!

    If you have any tips I may so far have missed, we the “Syllogos” would tremendously appreciate them.

    Anne Hempsall

    • Hi Anne. That’s quite a project that you have embarked on. What a timely reminder of the way quilts were made before we had all the modern conveniences. I would agree with you that cutting four squares at the same time could mean a loss of accuracy. I would have thought that you might be able to cut two squares at a time, though. Do keep us posted – it would be great to see how your quilt progresses.

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