Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Basic Cutting Tutorial

A Cutting Tutorial
(For LauraBean)

First: I always use Mary Ellen's Best Press.  There are a million smells.  Cherry blossom is the only one that doesn't make me sneeze uncontrollably and get a snotty nose.  To be fair, I haven't tried the unscented version but I like the smell.

The major benefit of using this over traditional starch is that if you over-spray or saturate an area, when it comes time to iron there isn't a white caked up flaky mess.

And it smells good.  So.  

I haven't found it at any Joanne's.  
You'll probably have to hit a legitimate quilting store to find it.

So, the first step is to take your fabric and open it up.  Spray it with your starch.  I have my own "big board" so I can fit almost 2 yards of fabric (lengthwise) and from one selvage to the factory fold.  

The key here is to get rid of the factory fold.

Press the fabric so that it is smooth from selvage to selvage.

Now, take your nicely pressed fabric and line up the selvages.  The sides (where it was cut at the store) might not line up; you can see I've got almost an inch of difference.  It's ok.  We'll fix that in a bit.

Now, press your new fold.  It may or may not mirror the factory fold (not that you can see it now that you've pressed it into submission).  You can see where I've pressed half the fold (it's flat) and where I haven't pressed yet (the right side).

When you do this fold-pressing, you want it to look like the left side: when you go to square things up and cut, if it isn't pretty darn flat, it will mess up your measurements.


I am right-handed, so I begin by squaring up my fabric on the right side of my mat.  I also tend to use a wide ruler (this one is 8.5" x 24").  

You cannot see them, but I've also got about 10 True-Grips circles on the bottom of the ruler.  I'll talk about why in a second.

So, take your freshly pressed fabric and lay it on the mat with the fold by you, selvage away from you.  

Try to center it on the mat if it makes you happy, but that isn't as important as making sure the fabric is on the mat and not hanging off. 

So now you're going to put the ruler on your fabric.  Pick a measurement within the bottom inch (by you) and align it with the fold in your fabric.  


If you don't make sure your bottom fold is aligned with the ruler, your fabric cuts won't be square, straight, and true.  

Take your time and make sure you've got things lined up nicely.

I can't quite figure out how to rotate this picture, but you can see that my fold is lined up with the 1/2" measuring dots all the way across.

This is where those True-Grips come in handy.  I place my hand centrally on top of the ruler; the grips hold the ruler to the fabric and keep it from sliding around.  

NOTHING will piss you off more than having your ruler slip mid-cut.  

Trust me.

Notice my fingers are all inside the bounds of the ruler.  Believe me when I say it really hurts to cut yourself with a rotary.  

If you're really worried about slipping and cutting yourself, get a kevlar glove. I haven't seen any at the quilting stores, but I know kitchen supply stores have them for people who shuck oysters and dismember meat.

You are going to place your rotary blade at the bottom of your fabric and butt it right up against the ruler.  

I use my left hand to push down on the ruler and provide a stable guide for the rotary to roll against.  Keeping the blade pressed against the side of the ruler, push up with the cutter until you are clear of the fabric.

I have found that I can feel if the blade doesn't go thru all the fabric.  If you think this has happened (or you're not sure and want to be positive), make a second pass with the cutter.  

Just be sure not to move the ruler or it will destroy the cut you just made.

KEEP YOUR HAND ON THE RULER and put the cutter down.

Use your right hand to move away the excess fabric you just cut (the stuff NOT under the ruler).  It should move away freely and easily.

If it doesn't, then your cutter missed a spot.  Keeping your hand on the ruler, pick the cutter back up and carefully go over the spots you missed.

As a note: if this is happening a lot, it might be time to change your blade.  With a new blade, it will feel easier than cutting melted butter.  When you have to labor to cut the fabric, the blade is dull or chipped and needs to be changed.

When you have successfully trimmed the edge off (and taken your hand off the ruler), it will look like this:

This part is where my personal preferences tend to veer away from how other people cut fabric.  I can't promise my method is better, but it makes a whole lot of sense to me.

While my ruler is still in place (like the picture above), I fold over the fabric that was off to the left side of where I was cutting so that it's entirely on top of the mat (and ruler).

And I rotate the entire thing 180 degrees so that the ruler and cutting-side is now on my left and the fold is up at the top of the mat (away from me).

I put the excess fabric off to the right hand side now so that it's out of the way.

Now we are going to cut a specific width of fabric.  I need 3" strips.  So now I line up my freshly cut edge with the 3" mark.  

Lining this up is the same as when we lined up the fold with the 1/2" marks earlier.  You want to be as precise as possible and make sure the fabric hits the lines up and down the ruler.  (I couldn't get a better picture of this because of glare issues).

This will seem very no-duh, but when you are doing something that isn't a whole-inch measurement (like 1.5" or 2.75") make sure that you're using the correct measuring line from top to bottom.  When I first started quilting, I had quite a few mis-cuts because I would be at the correct mark on the bottom of the ruler and using an entirely different measurement at the top.  So double check.  You know, measure twice cut once etc etc.

So, just like before, my hand is on the middle of the ruler and I'm cutting with my right hand.

Just like before, I keep my hand on the ruler until I've moved the excess fabric away with my right hand.  I try to do this carefully so that the layers still stay aligned.

Now, the benefit (to me) of cutting this way is that I have control over the fabric I am actively cutting.  Clearly this method isn't going to work for pieces larger than my ruler, but I have a few techniques to bypass that issue (that I can do a tutorial on later).  

Now I'm going to show you what happens when you didn't take the time to make sure your fold was aligned correctly.

I deliberately didn't align the fold properly when I made my first straight cut.

Now, I've rotated the mat and I'm ready to cut a strip that is 2" wide.  You can't see it, but the ruler aligns with the 2" measurement all the way down the side.

I've made the cut and laid out the 2" wide strip. It looks entirely correct.  


When I press the strip open, you can see that the strip is not straight.  

I put a sheet of paper near the edge so you can see how the strip bows down from the center fold.  It isn't straight now that it's open.  I've seen this referred to as a "v cut" because of the shape of the opened strip.

The easiest and most reliable way to avoid a v-cut is to take the time to align your fold before you make the very first cut.

To recap:

1.  Press with starch.
2.  Make your own fold and press it really well.
3.  Take your time and align the fold correctly before cutting.
4.  Keep your fingers out of the way of the cutter.
5.  Take your time.
6.  Take your time.
7.  Take your time.  

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