How to cut fabric straight

Cutting fabric straight is really important and can’t be stressed enough. A bad initial cut can result in twisted seams, or seams of different length on two pieces that are supposed to match, or a deformed/uneven hem after the garment was finished. It is surprising, but indeed a wrong initial cut can actually cause all these issues. Just to make it clear, the question here is how to cut large pieces of fabric straight.

It seems to be a simple task, cutting fabric straight, but in reality, there is more to it than is obvious at a first glance. Below are some helpful tips on how to cut material straight.

Fabric cut in the store is not always cut straight. Sometimes the bevel happens to be 5-10 cm or even more. So before you can use your fabric you need to find out how to get a straight edge on fabric. Proper preparation of the fabric is vital in sewing.

What will happen if you make for example curtains from a fabric without straightening its edges? If you hang such curtains all this unevenness will immediately be visible.

It is very important to straighten fabric edges for any sewing projects BEFORE cutting pattern pieces from it.

In the image below you can see that this blue fabric from which I was going to make a skirt is not cut straight. When I tried to fold my fabric selvage to selvage, before cutting pattern pieces from it, there was a bubble in the fold at the bottom. But after cutting fabric straight I was able to fold it properly.

In the end, how do you cut fabric straight ? There are quite a few methods to square the fabric before cutting the pieces. But before measuring and cutting you will need to do some preparing.

1. Find out if your fabric is woven, knitted, or non-woven

Differences between the three types of fabric result from how the manufacturers produce them.

Woven fabric is made of many threads that run vertically and horizontally in crisscross pattern.

Woven fabric is made of many threads that run vertically and horizontally in a crisscross pattern. Woven fabrics are usually not stretchy and keep their shape unless the threads themselves are stretch, for example, some woven fabrics may have elastane threads, then they become a little stretchy.

 

 

Knitted fabric made of one continuous thread being looped back and forth.

Knit fabric made of one continuous thread being looped back and forth. Manufacturers make knit fabric using a series of needles to loop and interlock fibers. Knits stretch vertically and horizontally, and the amount of stretch differs.

 

 

Non-woven fabrics (such as felt or fusible interfacing) are bonded together mechanically, thermally, or chemically. They are flat, porous sheets that are made directly from separate fibers or from molten plastic or plastic film.

All fabrics have selvages – self-finished edges of fabric that keep it from unraveling and fraying.
When you buy a piece of fabric from a store you will have a selvage along both sides of your fabric. And generally, selvage edges are always straight.

It is important to find the grainline for your fabric. Grainline is the direction of threads running parallel to selvages. In different words, grainline is the lengthwise direction of the piece of the fabric.

2. If your fabric is woven iron it flat first

Usually, fabric coming from fabric stores is folded in half lengthwise matching the selvages (exception is decorator fabric, which is not folded). Get rid of the folds and wrinkles. Generally, you don’t need to iron knitted or non-woven fabric.

3. Prepare a flat hard big work surface

A big square table is the best (I bought mine in Ikea). Don’t cut fabric on a bed or a carpeted floor. If using a dining table extend the table to its maximum length. If all else fails, use the floor. Keep the table uncluttered. Put all the fabric edges on the table and make sure that nothing is hanging over the table and pulling the fabric down.

4. Prepare a pair of good sewing scissors

They have to be sharp and comfortable for your hand. Or you can use a special cutting tool — a rotary cutter.




 

Ok, now you are ready to learn different methods of cutting fabric perfectly straight.

1.  This first method is my favorite and to me, it’s the best way to cut fabric straight. It can be used for many woven fabrics. It is very simple, very precise and requires only attention and patience.
Find the unfinished edge of a fabric (perpendicular to selvages).
Pick out a single thread on the frayed edge and carefully pull it. As you pull the fabric will gather a little. Straighten the fabric and pull the thread out completely.
You will notice that it left a visible gap line. Gently cut the fabric along this “path”.
As you pull the thread it can break before you reach the selvage. Not a problem. Cut along the path till you get to the place where your thread snapped. After that choose another thread in the same line and repeat the process until you cut to the selvage.
Your cut will be perfectly straight.
Cut with one hand holding the fabric and the other hand holding the scissors. Don’t lift the fabric from the table.

Save

Perhaps, you should read my other popular sewing tutorials if you are interested in sewing. 

2. The first method is not good for knitted fabric. So here is the second method you can use for knits. By the way, it is good also for some woven fabric (especially if you can’t easily pull the thread) and for non-woven.

So line up one selvage edge of the fabric with one of the edges of the table. Put some weights on the fabric or fix it with the painter’s tape so the fabric doesn’t move. And now look how the cut edge of the fabric aligns with the other edge of the table perpendicular to the first one. You will see that fabric goes slightly outward or inward of the table edge. Move the fabric so that nothing is going inward. Make marks on the fabric, draw a line and cut.

 

Lay the ruler on the fabric so that one its side lines up with the selvage edge and the other side crosses the fabric at a 90-degree angle.

This is knit backed vinyl fabric.

To cut it straight is very easy. You can take a ruler with a 90-degree angle (if you have one). Lay the ruler on the fabric so that one its side lines up with the selvage edge and the other side crosses the fabric at a 90-degree angle. Hold the ruler firmly and draw a line with a marker. This line will be perpendicular to the selvage and perfectly straight.

I have to mention here that knits also have a grainline but it’s different than on woven fabric.

The grainline on thick knits can actually be seen. The little vertical rib lines in the shape of v- stitches on the right side make the grainline, like on a knitted garment. So if you want to cut knit fabric straight you have to cut along the grainline.

In the image below you can see raw silk knit fabric with grainlines easily visible. Sometimes I trace a line of basting stitches along the grainline just to be sure that I cut fabric straight.Save

But most of my knits are very thin because I like to sew with gorgeous silk jersey fabric and the grainlines can’t be seen there. In this case I just find the grainline with my ruler, because the grainline is parallel to the selvage line.
It’s really important to cut knits strait (on-grain), otherwise you can end up with twisted side seams and completely distorted garment (usually it happens after the laundry).
But sometimes cutting knit fabric straight may be very difficult because the edges of the knit fabric often roll. In one of the videos below, I am showing how to draw a straight line on curly knit fabric. Or you can flatten your knit fabric for cutting using a spray starch – I found this tip on this blog http://www.squigglytwigsdesigns.com.
When you have three straight lines on the fabric — the one you just cut and the selvage lines – you can measure from these straight edges whatever size square or rectangle you need. You can fold the fabric lengthwise lining up all the straight edges. And now measure with a ruler the amount you need for your project and cut.
3.   The third method is good if you have a special cutting mat. Put fabric flat on the table. Measure the distance between selvages and divide it in half. Make a few marks on the fabric parallel to selvages and draw a line with a long ruler.

Fold the fabric along this line, selvage to selvage.

Put the folded fabric on the cutting board with grid lines on it, align the folded edge with a line on the board, make a straight line perpendicular to the folded edge and cut the fabric.

4.   The fourth method is very precise also: it’s ripping the fabric.

But it does not work for all fabrics. Only some woven fabrics can be ripped. As for me, I rip many lightweight fabrics – silk, cotton, even thin wool. This method is applicable only to natural woven fabrics of good quality. Don’t rip woven fabric with elastane in it. Never rip fabric along grainlines. It’s only good for direction on crosslines going perpendicular to selvages. The ripped fabric edge can become noticeably more loose or wavy. But it will be perfectly straight cut though. So, if you don’t want this ripped edge which can look a little distressed – measure about 5 cm from that edge, draw a straight line parallel to the ripped edge and cut with scissors.

This method is especially good when you want to use fabric previously cut for some other project where you can’t even find selvage edges.

How to rip the fabric? Snip fabric with scissors about 3 cm from the edge, then pull the fabric apart.

Have in mind that ripping very close to the edge of the fabric may not be successful.

5.   The fifth method is not really very useful because with it you can’t cut close to the cut edges of the fabric. So it is good only if you want to have a straight cut somewhere in the middle of the fabric piece.

Fold the fabric in half in width and carefully align selvages. Smooth the fabric with your hands, so there are no wrinkles anywhere. And the folded line will be straight.

6.   If there is a certain pattern or a certain texture on the fabric that will help you to cut straight, it means that you are lucky. So, if you want a straight cut on the fabric with stripes, plaids or some prints you can follow the designs on the fabric.

7.   There is a special tool for cutting fabric straight. It’s called Laser Guided Fabric Scissors. But according to the instructions, you suppose to draw a line on the back of the item to be cut and line up the laser with that line as you are cutting.

So I don’t see a point to use this laser if first I have to draw the line anyway. If I draw the line I cut along the line with regular sewing scissors. Moreover, it is hard to keep the scissors from shifting with the movement of my hand making the laser point in a different direction. So for me, these scissors are really worthless.

8.  When you need to cut squares or rectangles and already have 3 straight edges, if you are in a hurry and don’t want to mark cut lines with a ruler you can follow this technique: make a short cut perpendicular to the selvage (you can use a small triangle or something with 90-degree angle for this because it has to be precise). Now fold it up and keep edges even along the side that you already cut. Now cut along the folded over fabric. Repeat the process few more times.

This method is mostly good for a sturdy cotton fabric.

divider from threads

 

I use these methods to cut fabric perfectly straight. I hope this information was useful to you.

Sometimes fabric can be stretched off-grain in manufacturing. If you followed the above steps trying to cut fabric straight but you still see that the ends are not even and one end looks shorter than the other than you have a bigger problem and have to square up the fabric (meaning put it back on-grain) before using it. But I don’t think it happens very often. I am sewing for 30 years already and had this problem only 2 or 3 times.

A related article is “Laying out, marking and cutting sheer silk chiffon”, you may find it interesting also.

If you want actual examples of projects where I used the methods above, please look at “How to sew a dress without a pattern” and “How to sew a fitted sheet (from 100% silk fabric)”. In both cases I needed to square up the fabric before sewing.

Do you have any questions? Do you know other methods to cut fabric straight?

Please leave a comment below. cool

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24 Comments

  1. Bharati

    Very very usefull and knowledgeable.

    Reply
    • Olga Balasa

      Thank you! I am happy my tutorial was useful.

      Reply
  2. Yvette

    Great tutorial !

    Reply
    • Olga Balasa

      Thank you for stopping by!

      Reply
    • Alli

      I don’t see the point to #7 either…
      Unless you have an item like a thin sticker you can line up the laser to on the wall or table ect.

      Then line up the laser to the sticker and cut. 😕

      Reply
      • Olga Balasa

        Well, it may work, you are right!

        Reply
  3. Deborah

    Great tips, so helpful. I’m currently working with fleece for the first time and didn’t know the best way to insure fabric was straight. I’m sure one of these methods will be the answer. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Olga Balasa

      Sorry, I am so late with my reply. Thank you very much for the comment! I only work with 100% cotton fleece (it’s a knit fabric) and it’s quite easy to cut it straight because the material is not thin or slippery. I am not sure about polyester fleece (like polar fleece) but I hear that it’s an easy fabric to work with. What was your experience?

      Reply
    • Josie

      I want to tell you about another method I have used. I have no idea what the product is called, but it was a tool that projected 2 lines at 90 degrees to each other. I lay my fabric out straight and flat, line up one of the laser lines with the salvage edge, and the other one becomes my cutting line. I liked to mark my cutting line with a non-permanent writing tool, then cut because the scissors lift the fabric and made the laser line either disappear or become wonky.

      Reply
  4. Stacy

    Excellent information! Thanks for the great detail and the photos. I didn’t realize how important this was and that it could ruin your finished garment.

    Reply
    • Olga Balasa

      Thank you very much for commenting! I am happy that my work is useful. Sorry for the delayed reply. I overlooked lots of comments because of my new phone.

      Reply
  5. Rachael

    Very useful and understandable

    Reply
    • Olga Balasa

      Thank you very much!

      Reply
  6. Carol

    Where have you been. I have been looking for an answer
    about cutting fabric. You are a god sent
    t. What a lucky break i found this on pinerest. I cannot thank you enough.
    Happy holidays.

    Reply
    • Olga Balasa

      Thank you very much for stopping by! I am so happy you found my tutorial helpful. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

      Reply
  7. Mary

    I’ve been sewing for many years and am familiar with these techniques and found them very well explained and a great review. Thanks for your work.

    Reply
    • Olga Balasa

      Thank you for your encouraging words! I am happy to know my tutorial was useful!

      Reply
  8. Susan August

    Thank you so much–I use reclaimed fabric and of course nothing is straight and scissors–next tools are rotary cutter and rulers!!

    Reply
    • Olga Balasa

      Thank you for stopping by! Rotary cutters are great, of course, but I like to use sewing shears also. I wonder – where do you buy reclaimed fabric?

      Reply
  9. Lene Wold

    Thank you for many well needed techniques.
    I am a beginner and this is the best guide I have found.
    Lots of hugs from Norway 🙂

    Reply
    • Olga Balasa

      Thank you for your sweet note! Good luck with sewing!

      Reply
  10. Grandma G.

    Great information, thank you. I’ve been sewing for over 60 years, am familiar with most of these methods, and I’d like to add a little trick I use for knits. I press them first with Best Press. It adds body to the fabric and makes it easier to handle when determining the grain. It makes it easier to cut as well. I find that cutting knits with a 28mm rotary cutter is much more efficient and accurate than using scissors.
    So much for my 2 cents!

    Reply
    • Olga Balasa

      Thank you so much! I heard about this method from my friends recently but I didn’t try it yet. Knits are not easy to cut sometimes especially lightweight knits. I think I am going to use this method from now on. And you are right about the rotary cutter tool, I should use it more often.

      Reply

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