Maw & Mo Sew Along: Fabric & Cutting

Who knew there would be so much prep work before sitting down at the sewing machine?  I hate to burst your bubble, but there’s a lot more we have to do on this road to Simplicity 2305 by Cynthia Rowley.  (See part 1 & part 2.)

I remember when I started sewing, I read on someone else’s blog about how little time we actually  spend at our sewing machines.  The process of “sewing” is actually a lot of varied activities and the sewing machine is just a small part of what do, although it is very important!  I think all of these skill areas require a certain amount of expertise and all of us have some part that is our least favorite.  For me, I’m usually so eager to start seeing my garment take shape that I start to feel impatient with the cutting process.  The thought running through my head is usually, “Ugh!  Am I done already???”  I have learned I am not alone in this sentiment.

By this point, Madelyn and I had figured out our pattern sizes.  The next step was to choose fabric.  The pattern envelope gives you recommended fabric suggestions and when you’re first starting, it’s usually a good idea to follow the recommendations.  When you’re more advanced, you can start to play around with different kinds of fabric to create different effects.  I ended up choosing some sort of silky print from my fabric stash — it was about four yards of mystery fabric that had been gifted to me from Sarah’s mom when Mama Bauer cleaned out her old sewing studio.  After some choosing, Madelyn settled on a seriously gorgeous shade of cobalt blue charmeuse.

Mr. Giles approves fabric

This pattern also called for quite a bit of interfacing.  Gertie did a fantastic blog entry all about interfacing a while back, so I will not regurgitate it here, but let you read it on her blog.  Basically, there are different types of interfacing and some are higher quality than others.  I have a serious amount of what is probably not-so-great quality interfacing, but I need to use it up and that is what I did on this project.  I will make the focus of one of the next sew along posts all about using the fusible interfacing that this pattern requires.

In the meantime, let’s move on to the next step.  It is really imperative that you pre-treat your fabric, which means you take the raw yardage that you’ve just acquired and wash and dry it as you would want to do with your finished garment.  Pre-treating prevents your garment from shrinking later, which would be really unfortunate!  While your fabric is in the washer and dryer, it’s a great time to cut out your pattern pieces.  I like to trim the tissue about a 1/4″ from the largest size line.  Then I will iron my tissue pattern pieces with a low-medium DRY iron (just say no to steam on this part).  Ironing the pattern pieces helps to make sure that when you lay them down on your fabric, you will be working with the true shape and size of the pattern piece.

freshly ironed pattern piece

Usually I do this next step while I’m in the store, but since I already had my fabric, I matched my thread choice after I was finished pre-treating the fabric.  You’ll remember I talked about matching thread to fabric not long ago, and I used the same technique but for this dress it was a little trickier because the fabric was a multi-colored print.  It’s easier to see what color will blend in best when using the single thread method.  For this dress, I sewed with the navy blue thread because it blended in better than the red thread.

matching thread to fabric

Now we get into… *drum roll, please*… cutting fabric!  Dun! Dun! Dun!  This was Mo’s Moment of Terror.  I actually made a special video for her to help her get over her (understandably) nervous feelings about cutting into her gorgeous fabric, but it was a truly horrible video so you will never see it here.

Here’s the trick to cutting fabric:  CUT IT.  I know, I’m being cheeky!

But on a more serious note, really… cut the damn fabric.  If you’re just starting out, you shouldn’t spend wads of money on fabric anyway.  I don’t think it’s worth it yet because you’re still learning.  You will make some really nice garments later after  you’ve learned some solid skills and then it’s worth it to pay some more money.  But if you purchase some reasonable fabric (this is where I love JoAnn Fabrics for their sales & coupons) you will have less cutting anxiety.  The other trick I do is I round up on the recommended yardage on the pattern envelope.  I do this to accommodate two things:
1)  To accommodate any shrinkage from the pre-treating process (especially if I’m working with a cotton or linen!).
2)  To give me a little wiggle room if I make any boo-boos while cutting out my pattern pieces.  You have no idea how many times the extra half yard has saved my derriere in the past!
So, if the envelope says to purchase 3 1/4 yards for a dress, I will order 3 1/2 – 4 yards depending on the type of fabric.  If it’s cotton, I’ll order 4 yards.  If it’s a rayon that I know won’t shrink, I’ll order 3 1/2 yards, just in case.  It is true, sometimes I end up with a decent remnant, but you would be surprised how often I end up with very little left overs.  If you order your fabric online, you will often be forced to order in whole numbers, so you’ll want to round up anyway.

Before you grab those amazing new fabric shears… don’t forget to iron your fabric (or steam out the wrinkles if your fabric should not be ironed).  You’ll remember when I did this for my polka dot dress that was featured for National Sewing Month last fall.

ironing fabric before sewing

To get started cutting, you can follow the pattern instruction diagram that is supposed to help you maximize your fabric.  They will tell you how to lay out your pattern pieces.  By now, you’ve probably taken a break for dinner, you’ve been doing so much prep work!  It’s a great time to chow down on your yummy salad and have a good read.  Those pattern instructions are like a cookbook — in the same way you want to study a recipe before you light your first burner, you want to dissect your pattern instructions.

sewing pattern layout

Image courtesy:

Threads has an excellent tutorial on understanding your pattern layouts.  Part of laying out your pattern pieces is about laying your fabric properly.  There is a “right side” and a “wrong side” to your fabric in most cases (some fabrics don’t have this distinction, in which case, more power to you!).  You want to match your selvages, which is just a fancy way of saying that the edges that were not cut by the kind lady at the fabric cut counter, but the edges that were on either edge of the loom that wove your textile.  Sometimes you’ll see the name of the company and fabric design printed on the selvages.  Fold your fabric so that you put the two selvage edges together with the “right side” (pretty side of the fabric) on the INSIDE of the fold.

When you pin your pattern pieces down, you’ll be pinning them to the “wrong side” (underside) of the fabric.  You’ll want to use lots of pins or pattern weights and true up your grain line to make sure that your pattern pieces drape properly.  You had no idea it was this complicated, did you?  This was about when Mo’s head was ready to explode.  Collette Patterns has a great demonstration of grainline that you can read here and I really recommend it!  This pattern that Mo and I did together had a LOT of pieces cut on the fold of the fabric.  So, all you have to do is observe the markings on the pattern piece and when it says “Cut 1 on fold” you will want to lay it down on the fold of the fabric and pin in place.

Simplicity 2305 cutting fabric

When cutting the pattern pieces, you have multiple ways of getting this done, but the most direct way is to cut the tissue and fabric at the same time.  When you use this method, you want to cut just to the outside of the line, being careful that you continue to cut the correct size line when there are curves (the other sizes can get distracting sometimes).  There is great debate in the sewing world about cutting notches.  Some people snip inward, but I prefer to snip a triangle pointing outward because I don’t want to worry about cutting a notch into my seam allowance.  When you’re first starting, I would recommend cutting an outward notch at every triangle you see.

Simplicity 2305 cutting fabric

It’s supposed to go without saying, but I’ll say it here anyway, that your fabric shears should never ever ever ever ever ever ever EVER be used on anything other than fabric.  The tissue is so light, it doesn’t affect your shears, so don’t worry about cutting through it.  But be careful that no one else in your household decides to use your precious fabric shears for cutting the grocery coupons out of the Sunday paper!

As you cut your fabric pieces, there is another trick you can use to stay organized:  keep your tissue pieces pinned or folded with your cut fabric pieces until you sew them up!  This comes in really handy for the final step in cutting… cutting all of the interfacing pieces.  After all the fabric pieces are cut, then you want to tackle your interfacing.  You will cut it similarly to how you cut your fabric — fold the interfacing together with the fusible side folded on the inside.  I often skip cutting the notches on my interfacing because they’re not really needed in that capacity.  When I’m done cutting interfacing, I match those pieces with their fabric sisters and keep the tissue patter pieces together with all the little bits.

Simplicity 2305 fabric and interfacing cut

And now we’re ready to start working on pattern instructions!  But first, I’ll go into fusing the interfacing to the fabric in the next post.  Yes… there is still more prep work to be done!  Hang in there.  Mo feels your pain…

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