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 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 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.
Sometimes you will need to square up fabric before cutting if you see that the fabric is OFF-GRAIN. Do you know how to find out if your fabric is on-grain or off-grain? For this, I have another tutorial on how to square up fabric, and even a YouTube video check it out.
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.
There are quite a few methods to cut fabric straight. But before measuring and cutting you will need to do some preparation.
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.
✅ Ok, now you are ready to learn different methods of cutting fabric perfectly straight.
1. Pulling a thread
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. The image and short video below show the process.
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2. Cutting knits and some woven fabric straight
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 at how the cut edge of the fabric aligns with the other edge of the table perpendicular to the first one. You might 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.
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.
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 straight (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. I also found the following tip on a different sewing site: you can flatten your knit fabric for cutting using a spray starch.
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.
This assuming that you have more fabric than you need of course.
3. Using a Large Cutting Mat
The third method is good if you have a special cutting mat, large enough to accommodate the fabric width. 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 (this will in effect mark the median line of the fabric). You will end up with a line parallel with the selvages and equally distant from both sides.
Fold the fabric along this line, selvage to selvage. This line can now be used as a reference since we know it is parallel to selvages.
You might wonder why we don’t simply fold selvage to selvage? The answer is, because sometimes after washing the selvages are no longer straight and it may take some creative marking to find the median. Look at the image below, it is a simple piece of cotton which after pre-washing has become a very good example. The curved selvage is obvious.
Now 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. The following short video exemplifies the procedure:
4. Ripping the Fabric
The fourth method is very precise also: it’s ripping the fabric. You have probably seen this done in stores, it is the fastest method to cut fabric and when applied correctly, works like a charm. This method is applicable only to natural woven fabrics of good quality.
But it does not work for all fabrics or in all situations. Only some woven fabrics can be ripped. I rip many lightweight fabrics – silk, cotton, even thin wool. Don’t rip woven fabric or with elastane in it. Never rip fabric along grainlines. It’s only good for direction on crosslines going perpendicular to selvages (selvage to selvage rip). 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 a small distance 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 but you do know where they were initially.
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.
And here is how the fabric edge looks after ripping:
5. Folding Selvage-to-Selvage crosswise (not lengthwise)
This 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 in the middle of the fabric piece or close to the middle, but not very close to the edge because you need a length of selvage to make sure you align it properly. You can use this method when you need to cut the fabric perpendicular to selvages.
You will need to make sure selvages are straight before folding, otherwise it will not be possible to use this method.
Fold the fabric in half in length and carefully align selvages. Smooth the fabric with your hands, so there are no wrinkles anywhere. And the folded line will be straight.
6. Cut Using the Pattern
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.
Using the pattern already on the fabric it is not difficult to cut either parallel or perpendicular on the pattern lines; you may need to draw helping lines using a ruler or triangle, or you may work without, depending on the pattern
7. Using Laser Guided Tools
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 not something I would consider.
8. Cut Rectangles
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 as needed until you reach the other selvage line.
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 this is the topic for a different tutorial.
I often have questions from my readers on how to cut CHIFFON fabric straight. I know one very useful trick about cutting chiffon so check out a related tutorial “Laying out, marking and cutting sheer silk chiffon”, you may find it interesting also.
If you want actual examples of projects where I used some of 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)”.
Do you have any questions? Do you know other methods to cut fabric straight? If you do, or have any other suggestions, please use the section at the end of the page to leave a comment.
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