Friday, January 13, 2012

Quilting 101 -- Lesson 3 -- Cutting Fabric

Welcome to Lesson 3 of my Quilting 101 series!  If you are just stumbling upon this post, you may want to check out Lesson 1 and/or Lesson 2 before continuing.

It is now time to talk about cutting your fabric.  A few tools can really come in handy and make this task a lot easier (and a lot more accurate).  There are a couple of different ways to go about cutting your fabric.  
Rotary Cutter, Ruler, & Cutting Mat

The most common method is to use a rotary cutter, ruler, and mat.  A rotary cutter is simply a disk-shaped razor blade (see picture at right).  It is sharp, fast, and can help you cut your pieces very accurately.  There are special rulers designed specifically for use with rotary cutters.  The mat is also designed for use with a rotary cutter and is essential if you do not want to ruin the surface on which you are cutting.  The rotary cutter's blade will also become dull rather quickly if you do not use a cutting mat.  Using a rotary cutter for the first time takes practice, but once you become accustomed to it, you will find that it is a very fast and accurate way to cut fabric.

The other common method (and some might say "the old-fashioned way") for cutting fabric is to use templates.  Templates can be made from paper, cardboard, or plastic.  There are actually sheets of plastic you can purchase for just this purpose.  The plastic comes in a few different thicknesses and can be easily drawn on with a permanent marker and cut by scissors.  Plastic templates are sturdier than cardboard or paper; and, therefore, are longer lasting.  If you don't want to make your own templates, you can also purchase pre-made plastic templates at a fabric store such as Jo-Ann Fabrics.  The downside to purchasing templates, is that you may not find the exact size/shape that you need.

When cutting fabric with templates, you simply place the template on your fabric, trace around it with some type of marking utensil (a sharpened pencil works just fine) and cut your fabric with scissors.  

A few words about scissors -- I would strongly recommend having a separate pair of shears for cutting fabric.  Paper and other materials can quickly dull your scissor blades, and dull scissors do not cut through fabric very well!  I actually have separate shears for cutting paper and scissors.  I used a permanent marker to write on the blades -- "fabric" and "paper" -- to remind myself, and others (like my husband) not to use them interchangeably.  My husband pokes a little fun at me about this, but at least I know I can count on my scissors cutting cleanly through fabric when I need them to!

One final note regarding the use of templates -- accuracy is very important in quilting!  I cannot stress this enough.  If you make your own templates, it is imperative that they are made accurately.  If your design calls for a 2 1/2" square, your template must measure exactly 2 1/2" square.  If just one side is slightly "off," it will affect your entire quilt.  Just a small error of 1/8 inch will have disastrous consequences.  That 1/8" will multiply itself with each piece you cut and sew -- to 1/4", then 3/8", and so on to 1/2" or more.  This will pose a huge problem because pieces that are supposed to be the same size will not fit together correctly.

No matter which cutting method you choose, when cutting fabric, the same rule applies as in woodworking -- measure twice, cut once!  Once you cut, it's a done deal, so remember to measure and cut accurately.

Okay, now on to our quilt project....

Since I prefer to use a rotary cutter, this is the method I will be demonstrating here.  After pre-washing and ironing your fabric, it's time to begin cutting.  Let's begin with the solid white fabric.  You will need to cut 72 - 2 1/2" squares (there are 18 nine-patch blocks, each needing 4 small white squares).

The bottom edge of the fabric is the fold
Begin by cutting the fabric into 2 1/2" wide strips.  Do this by first folding the fabric in half (matching the selvages).  It's important that your fold is straight.  You can use your rotary cutting ruler to check the alignment of your fold.  Line the ruler up with the edge of your fabric and trim off a little to square it up.  Then use that edge you just cut to line up the 2 1/2" line on the ruler and cut your strip.
Next, open the strip and cut it into 2 1/2" squares.  Repeat this process until you have 72 squares.

Always measure twice and cut once!
I should also make a note here about using a ruler and rotary cutter.  If you are right-handed, your left hand should be (firmly) holding down the ruler while your right hand is using the rotary cutter to cut the fabric.  Due to the fact that I don't have three hands, my left hand is not shown in the picture because I needed it to push the shutter on the camera!

Now that all your white squares are cut, you need to cut your colored squares.  If you are using fabric that you purchased, follow the same steps as you did for cutting the white squares -- prewash and iron, then cut a 2 1/2" strip, then cut the strip into squares.  
Some of my 2 1/2" squares for the nine-patch blocks

You will need 5 - 2 1/2" colored squares for each of the 18 nine-patch blocks, for a total of 90.  I used scraps from my stash for these squares, so I just went through the box and chose fabrics that I thought would look nice with the animal print.

Next you need to cut the plain block squares.  In our quilt, these squares need to be 6 1/2".  You would cut these in the same way you cut the 2 1/2" squares.  Fold your fabric in half with selvages lined up.  "Square up" your fabric, and then cut 6 1/2" wide strips.  
Cut 17 - 6 1/2" squares
Open the strips and cut them into 6 1/2" squares.  Depending on how wide your ruler is, you may find it necessary to use the grid lines on your cutting mat to measure a 6 1/2" wide strip.  Many rulers are only 6" wide.  Simply line the cut edge of the fabric up with one of the lines on the cutting mat grid.  Then you can slide the ruler over the additional 1/2" (by lining it up with the lines on the grid).

Congratulations!  You now have cut enough fabric to get started sewing!  You will still need to cut the border fabric, backing, and binding, but this is enough for you to move on Lesson 4 -- Piecing!  Get your sewing machine ready.....

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