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 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.
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.
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.
Perhaps, you should read my other popular sewing tutorials if you are interested in sewing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This method is mostly good for a sturdy cotton fabric.
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.
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