Skill Builder: Accurate Cutting for Quilters

Hello again lovelies!

I’ve been busy working on our new mystery quilt. Here’s a sneak peak at the progress so far…

A new concept today… Skill Builder Class! Here and there I’ll be popping in these handy classes to help you refresh or advance your skills. Pretty cool hey? Even better, there is a special discount for all of you, for products mentioned in this post. Do I look after you or what??

So…. there comes a time in a quilter’s life, that one must return to basics to discover why some blocks don’t turn out quite right. Now it could be any number of reasons from an inaccurate seam allowance (check out my blog post on getting an accurate 1/4″ seam), a printing error in the pattern (incredibly common), stretching and warping of the fabric or…. the fabric wasn’t cut accurately in the first place. This last reason is the subject of today’s post.

Many of us, even your patchwork tutors, never went to Patchwork University! I know, shock horror! Instead we went to a class, or were taught by a friend or family member or some of us even learnt off You-Tube. So you can imagine there would be a wide variety of techniques for doing things, most people teaching according to their own personal style and preferences.

I am mostly self taught and have picked up various tips and tricks along the way. Particularily working in the industry, you get to experience new ways of doing things and there are also new tools and products being released all the time. We don’t need all these products but they sure do make life easier!

So let’s begin by looking at the essential tools:

A self healing mat – the bigger the better in my opinion. My mat is 36″ by 24″ and I love that I can lay half a metre of fabric off the bolt and cut a strip from top to bottom. Buy a mat that is designed for quilting and therefore has gridlines in inches not centimetres. Of course the size of your mat depends on how much space you have available and whether you can leave it permanently set up.

A rotary cutter – get yourself a nice comfortable rotary cutter, one that feels good in the hand and doesn’t cause fatigue. Remember to change the blade as soon as you start to notice it not cutting all the way through the fabric. It should slice right through like butter with medium pressure. Rotary blades get blunt over time but also if you accidently knock the side of the ruler, try to cut on the surface not designed for it (“oh I can just use it on my chopping board, right?” Um NO! Yes people have actually asked that), use it to cut paper or other materials, run over a pin. If you are experienced you might want to invest in the new titanium blades that last longer, if you’re a newbie buy the one recommended for your cutter.

A ruler – my first ruler was a 6 1/2″ by 24″ ruler and to this day I still use it. You want one that has nice clear markings on it in inches, and lines that aren’ t too thick. Lines for angles are useful. Having a non slip surface on the bottom also is handy, if you don’t have this then there are sticker dots or clear film you can add to your ruler. If you’re ruler lines are starting to fade it’s time to update!

Using the right products for the job is the key to success.

Are you ready?

So we can start with our piece of fabric (which has been ironed without steam, to remove any creases). You can see from this picture that I have left the fabric folded as it would have been cut off the bolt. Now, I’m sure you’ve noticed that not all fabric is perfectly flat and square.

Fabric warped

Sometimes the fabric has been slightly distorted by the process of being wound onto the bolt after manufacture. In this case the fabric needs a slight adjustment to make sure the threads are straight, so just hold it up, align the selvage edges to where the fabric hangs straight and press.

Fabric realigned to hang straight

Lay the fabric on the mat and now we are going to straighten up the raw edge. I am going to completely ignore the cutting mat lines and use only the ruler as my guide. Why? This is because mats wear and warp over time thus making them inaccurate. My ruler however is made from plastic and is less inclined to be inaccurate. I line up the fold in the fabric on the horizontal grid line on my ruler, and slice from bottom to top with the rotary cutter.

Place the horizontal gridline of the ruler on the fold

Having the table at the right height where you can place pressure down on the ruler will stop the ruler from slipping (grippy tape also helps) and you don’t have to do the cutting all in one motion. I find it better to stop the cutter halfway, carefully move my hand up to the top half of the ruler and continue cutting.

If you have issues with the ruler slipping, cut the first section then move your hand up the ruler to cut the rest

Once I’ve got rid of the raw edge, I can then either turn the mat around or turn the fabric around and cut my strip.

Place the 2 1/2″ vertical gridline on the freshly cut edge, also making sure the fold is on a horizontal gridline

Lets say I’m going to cut a 2 1/2″ strip, I place the 2 1/2″ vertical ruler line on the newly cut edge, I still line up the horizontal gridline on the fold (which is now at the top), and then I make my second cut from bottom to top (always away from your body for safety). One 2 1/2″ strip complete! Now lets subcut some 2 1/2″ squares from the strip.

Place the ruler on the fabric so the cut edges are on the horizontal lines and trim off the selvages

Lay the strip on the mat horizontally. Place the ruler on the fabric so that the horizontal gridlines are on the cut edge. Trim off the selvages.

Subcut a 2 1/2″ square

Then turn the strip around, place the 2 1/2″ ruler line on the edge you’ve just cut and then cut the other side.

The 2 1/2″ square, but is it accurate?
It sure is!

Ta Da! One perfect 2 1/2″ square (well two actually because we had two layers)! Easy peasy? It’s not hard, just might be different to how you normally cut, but with practice it will come naturally.

Accurate cutting is the foundation of making accurate blocks. Combine this with an accurate 1/4″ seam allowance (or scant 1/4″ depending on what your pattern says) and you are well on your way to making accurate patchwork blocks.

Speaking of cutting strips, these handy rulers have just hit our shelves.

A pack of 6 rulers 15 in long with widths from 1.25″ up to 2.5″ makes for easy measuring. Great for cutting binding, sashing, peepers… you name it.

Use LEANNE10 when checking out and get 10% off all Kai and Olfa cutters and blades, some ruler sets and grippy ruler stickers until 15th May 21!

Well, until next time, happy sewing!

Leanne x