Piecing 101: Accurate Cutting

July 25, 2014 § 12 Comments


When it comes to quilt making, accurate cutting can be just as important as accurate sewing.  Especially when there are a million tiny little pieces! The first thing you will want to do even before cutting is to press & straighten your fabric.  This just sets the foundation for better overall success.

everything blue fabric
(photo courtesy of Clothworks)

I’m sure you all know that when you cut fabric right off the bolt it is almost always a little crooked, right? Some fabrics are better or worse than others. Quilting fabric comes rolled on long tubes as the manufacturers receive it from the printing & dying facility.

Then it needs to be rolled onto a flat bolt.  When the fabric is placed on the machine that folds & rolls it onto the bolt, it can really get messed up if it isn’t set up properly.  Believe me, from working in a quilt shop, we hate those bad bolts as much as you do. They aren’t easy to cut and you end up with a funny shaped piece of fabric as well.  Cassie at Elegantitus shows some good photos of fabric rolls to bolts in her post over here.

So, getting back to cutting basics.


First, straighten your fabric.  Fold the fabric in half with selvages together. Hold the fold with your fingers on one side and hold the selvages in your other hand.


In this photo you can see that the cut edges from the bolt are lined up but the selvages are not parallel.


Shift the selvage side up or down until the selvages are parallel to each other.  Here you can see that the selvages are parallel but the cut edge is not. This is how your fabric will look. It may not be this dramatic of a difference. Or it may be more.  If you skip this step, this is why that “wow” or “bow” at the fold line of your cut strip occurs.


Carefully lay your fabric onto your cutting mat and line up the selvage with the grid on your mat.  Trim away the uneven cut edge from the bolt.


Now, there are many ways to cut from there.  Most people turn their mat around and start cutting, measuring from the left side of the fabric to the right.  These people often say to NOT use the mat to measure, but use the ruler to measure from the cut edge of the fabric, from left to right.  Your ruler may not match the mat.


Quilting teachers tell you to leave your fabric where it is, lay a ruler along the cut edge to measure from the right towards the left. Then lay your large ruler snug up next to that ruler, slide the first ruler away, and cut your fabric.  They also say to NOT use the mat but to only use rulers to measure.


What I do is a modification of the last one.  I measure from the right towards the left. But I use my ruler and line it up with the measurements of the mat.  The extra ruler seems like an unnecessary step to me.  I always look to make sure that at least two or more lines on the top & bottom of the ruler match the lines on the mat. This seems fairly accurate to me.

And for me, I have found that I cut more accurately using this method over the other two methods.  I recommend that you try each one and see which gives you the best results.

Sometimes, if you have to make a large number of cuts, it is easy to start being 1/16th to 1/8th inch off no matter which method you are using to cut.  Just line up the selvage with the mat again, trim off the little bit of uneven edge as in the beginning. Then beginning cutting again.  Nobody likes to end up with that curve at the fold of the fabric.

If you have a fat quarter, just line up the selvage to the mat, trim the edge to make it straight and start cutting using your favorite method.

Now, go forth and cut.


By the way, this is going to be the binding on my low volume quilt. I had to find something to cut up for you.

§ 12 Responses to Piecing 101: Accurate Cutting

  • Whiskers says:

    Ohhhhh, you hit on one of my biggest pet peeves! I paid for ALL of that material, I want to use it all. I use the lines on my ruler to line up with the lines on the mat. I’ve had an Olipfa ruler (it has a little “lip” that slides along the outside edge of the mat) for a long time (some of the lines are very worn) that I love. Can’t really cut with a ruler that doesn’t function the same way.
    I think some of the “wonkiness” we have in our quilts-in-progress comes from cutting fabric off-grain.

  • susan says:

    i think this is a great post anita. people dont realize how off the fabric can be. and squeeee i see a pinnie~

  • Excellent tips. I have rulers of two different brands and was finding inaccuracies between the two. I often trim as you mention to get the fabric straight then rotate the entire mat to start cutting. I like your idea of using the mat lines, this would give less potential for perspective/visual straightness errors due to the depth of the ruler.

  • Lostinspace says:

    The best thing I did lately was buy a 8.5″x 24.5 “ruler by Creative Grids but I think you can’t mix rulers, I have always had trouble when I do that.I would love to know what you call that thing you are holding your ruler down with?

  • erin says:

    this is a great post – it is amazing how crooked the fabric can be off the bolt. taking time to straighten and true it up is imperative. and cutting is so subjective – everyone things their way is the best. i say, whatever works! (i cut just like you, anita!)

  • As a beginner quilter, (in that I have never made a quilt before), I can see how even from the beginning, how important tools and tips can be.
    My Christmas wish list is growing longer and longer.

  • Great info, Anita, esp for beginner quilters. I used to use that first method, but now I flip the fabric around after trimming the crooked piece (I secure w/ a few pins first). I find that measuring/cutting from the left is faster and more accurate for me. I use my mat as a guide only and measure w/ the ruler. I’m also a big fan of the long Olfa “lip” ruler when cutting across the WOF. In addition, I’ve lined all my rulers w/ clear vinyl….really helps to keep the ruler from slipping!

  • Great tutorial, Anita. I had no idea that the fabric came on rolls like that, so that was fun to see, too!

  • This is good stuff. Yes, straighten your fabric. I have very little trouble with grain, I think because I do this. Also, I generally try to cut along the selvage, since the weave is more stable. And I use the mat lines, even though everything I read when I was a beginner said not to. Seems like at that point, I’m using my ruler as a straight-edge, so I can change rulers with no problems that way.

    May I reblog? I’ll also add you to my tutorials and tips page. Thanks.

  • Mrs. Geek says:

    Welp, can I blame my crooked cutting on this? hahahah I know it’s mostly my bad cutting but it’s good to know even if I’m trying to cut straight, if I don’t have it lined up right, the fabric will work against me. Good stuff! Thanks for the tip!

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