Monday, 20 June 2011

ABCs of Sewing: C is for Cutting out

Cutting out is probably my least favourite bit of sewing. It's not because of the absolute terror I feel every time I cut into a crisp, pristine length of fabric. No, my hatred lies elsewhere.

As my mother says, sewing is 90% cutting out and pinning, and only 10% actual sewing. The sewing bit, I like. The other bits, I endure. The reason for my loathing? It probably has to do with the fact that cutting out requires precision and care. To get the best results, you want to be consistent and careful, making little marks to help line up the pieces and ensuring the pattern doesn't move. I am not good at this.

It is worth being good at this, though, as dressmaking and pattern-following kind of relies on it. Too often when I work from a pattern I have to fudge or fidget pieces to make them match up, whereas if I'd just taken more care when cutting I'd have had a much simpler job.

I dream of a laser cutter, or barring that a small nimble-fingered assistant who delivers stacks of neatly cut, folded and labelled pattern pieces, complete with their delicate parchment pattern piece pinned on top. Until then, here's what I've learned about cutting out. As with many things in my sewing room, do as I say, not as I do.

1. To pin, or not to pin? Apparently, the more pins the better. My mother pins like mad. But I find the more I pin, the more I shift the pattern pieces and mess myself up. I create puckers and folds and tears where there needn't be. (And you can read that 'tears' both as rends in the garment, and weeping. They both happen.) My preferred method, where possible, is to simply weight the pattern down. An old seamstress friend would use heavy, smooth rocks instead of pins - something I will definitely do in my (imaginary) sewing room!

2. Choose your surface wisely. Again, I preach from experience. I have cut through rugs, papers, and layers of fabric that I didn't mean to cut through. The best surface is a big table, if you have one. I don't, so I use the floor. But I should really remove the children's toys before I use the floor. And maybe sweep up, too. Nice as it is to pick up your fabric covered in toast and apple juice...

3. Different projects call for different methods. (And levels of care, for the matter.) For some things, you can get away with an extra inch here or there. Others, you can't. For example, I made a child's sun hat a few weeks back. Only I ignored the precision required in the measurements and now the child's sun hat fits me, and not my 18 month old. Oops. But as far as methods go:
  • Applique: When it comes to appliques, you have to be quite careful with your cutting. I find the easiest way to get a neat shape is as follows. Trace your shape directly onto your Bond-a-web (make sure you flip it over if it has a right and a wrong way, like letters!). Cut loosely around the shape and then iron it onto the fabric. Once it is fused on, cut it out along the lines you traced for a neat, sharp shape.
  • For quilting, a rotary cutter and board are your friends. You will need a good ruler as well, and the cost does add up. Look on the internet for the best deals. I use an Olfa 45mm rotary cutter, a small omni mat (although if I could do it again, I'd probably buy a bigger one), and a 6x18 inch ruler. Once you've got your rotary cutter, though, you'll never look back. You can cut through several layers of fabric at once, quickly, and with great precision. Great for cutting squares, strips, and triangles for bunting!
4. Choose your tools well. You will absolutely need a good pair of scissors. Don't use them for anything but sewing. Buy good pins (with appealing colours on top!) and a pin cushion to keep them in. My mum had a great one that she could wear on her wrist - I've not found one but I'm on the hunt!

I'm not saying cutting out will ever be fun, but hopefully this will help. And if nothing else, it might serve as a cautionary tale (see photo).
    The sun hat, meant to be for a toddler. Oops.

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