Ask Dana–Cutting fabric and Guilty over kid’s clothes

by Dana on September 27, 2011

I think every kid learns in grade school, there’s no such thing as a dumb question.
(Well, sometimes there probably is). But my mom always took it a step further and reminded us that if we had a question to ask…chances are that someone else in the room had the very same question. It’s totally true.

So I’m starting a new series here on the blog–maybe a biweekly thing–to answer some of the “same question” emails I get from you guys! And for lack of a more creative title, I’ll just call it: Ask Dana

I definitely don’t have all the answers (or even 2 percent of them) but I’ll do my best. If you have a question you’d like to ask me–anything? Just shoot me an email at:
danawillard (at) gmail (dot) com

Okay, here we go…
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QUESTION:
I’m a beginner when it comes to sewing…I’ve been trying to teach myself for about a year. Here’s my problem, I can’t cut straight lines when cutting fabric. I know, it sounds like I’m a kindergartener trying to learn how to use scissors. But, really, when cutting long pieces of fabric, I can’t keep my lines straight so everything comes out kind of wonky in the end.

Can you help me? Do you have any secrets or tips? Or do I just need to keep practicing?
- Caitlin

ANSWER:
Yes, cutting fabric is a basic skill sewers need but please don’t feel like a kindergartener asking about it! We all struggle with straight lines. With a few tools and tips, we’ll get you on the straight path.

There are two main cutting tools I use:
* Rotary cutter
* Pair of scissors or shears.
Every sewer should have both. I’m not partial to brands and you don’t need to spend a lot of money but they both come in handy.

Rotary Cutter
Straight lines are easiest to cut with a rotary cutter, clear ruler, and cutting mat. These tools are second-nature to a quilter since they spend hours cutting small, straight, precise lines. But they’re helpful with traditional and garment sewing too. If you’ve never used these, pick them up! Use a coupon from Joanns (if you shop there) or buy them when they’re on sale.
The rotary cutter has a sharp blade that rolls along next to the ruler, for precise cuts. Keep it locked when not in use.
The mat protects your table from cutting marks and comes in various sizes. The larger the mat, the longer the cuts you can make (though large mats are bulkier to store in a craft room). The mat is marked with grid lines (typically in inches) and goes hand-in-hand with your clear ruler. Use both tools to measure how wide you’d like the cut to be. Then put some pressure on the ruler with your hand and use the rotary cutter to roll along next to the ruler for a very precise and straight line. Most mats also have diagonal 45 degree angle lines, which help when cutting fabrics on the bias.
Now the downside to using a rotary cutter is that unless you have a very large cutting mat to protect your table, you can only make smaller cuts (my mat goes up to 18 inches). So when I need to make larger cuts I use….

Scissors (or Shears)
A great pair of scissors is a wise investment. I have these Gingher dress-maker’s shears which you can buy online and in most fabric stores. It’s good to have scissors sharpened once every year or two–depending on usage and whether you think they need a touch-up. And never use your sewing scissors for cutting paper. I know it’s tempting but it will dull the blades. Instead keep a pair of craft scissors in the sewing room for your paper needs.

When free-hand cutting long straight lines there are a few tricks that help:

Obviously if your fabric is marked with lines, use those as your guide. Fabrics with dots or a recurring pattern print will also help keep you in-line.
If you’re someone who cuts on the floor….use the lines in your wood, tile, or linoleum flooring to help you stay on-path.

Most often I use a ruler to keep “markers” for me along the way.
For instance:
Say I need to cut a long 5 x 40 inch rectangle of fabric…..

First I make sure the edge of my fabric is cut as straight as possible (I eyeball this cut or use the wooden planks on my flooring to see that I’m in a straight line). Then I make my first cut 5 inches from the edge. And I hold my ruler or tape measure about 10 inches down from where I’m cutting, as a marker. This helps me see ahead, to gauge how wide 5 inches is as I continue cutting to that marker. Then I slide the tape measure down another 10 inches and keep going…all the way down to 40 inches.
Sounds silly to explain but it really helps me stay in a straight line. Of course you can always draw a line on your fabric but that takes just as much time to measure it all out and make sure you’re the same width all the way down. So just go for it and start cutting!
And like you said…practicing will always help you improve.

Good luck!
- Dana

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QUESTION:
Hi Dana, I am wondering how much of Lucy’s wardrobe would you say is handmade by you? I live outside of the US but I’m going to be stateside and I’m making a run to good ole Target…and I’m feeling guilty about buying new clothes. I really should just try and make some for my kids.

Thanks,
Jen

ANSWER:
Guilt over buying cute kids clothes at Target? Never!
I love Target.
(But you all know that).

You know, the funny thing about blogging is that we’re able to create a persona for ourselves….a perception of reality. I try to be as honest and as “me” as I can on my blog. But I’m sure some of you develop an image of how our family life might be. And I would hate for anyone to think that my kids’ wardrobes are entirely handmade. Not at all. If you notice in my photos, most our outfits are “semi-homemade”–they’re a mix of original and purchased items.

I love to sew for my kids but it’s impossible and impractical to make it all. So I pick and choose my projects based on “wow” factor and simplicity. I enjoy projects that are fairly simple to make and allow a lot of room for my own style–such a cute shirt that stands out. I avoid projects that are time-consuming and show little returns–such as a pair of jeans or a simple white T-shirt. Why slave over it when I can buy a cute kid’s pair at Old Navy for $10??

I also mix our handmade clothing with thrifted items and repurposed looks. Just a touch of handmade here and there will give your clothing originality and save you money.

But most of all, do what works for you and your family. If you only have time to make one skirt the entire year…then embrace it. Don’t sweat over it and enjoy that special skirt! We should never feel guilty about the amount of “handmade” we infuse in our lives. The fact that we even want to sew is wonderful in itself. And…if you’re only going to be in the states for a short time, definitely spend more money than you think you should at Target. We’ve all got your back, should your husband come questioning.

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Thanks for the emails and questions!
If you’ve got something to ask, please email me at:
danawillard (at) gmail (dot) com

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Angie September 30, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Thank you so much!! This helped me so much. I just made my first pillow and couldn’t figure out how to make the fabric straight!

Reply

2 Kat Ezat October 18, 2012 at 8:37 am

I’m also scared of cutting straight lines, but feel relieved that I’m not the only one!!!

I’m making a kimono in pure silk, so I needed that reassurance! I already made a practice on in cotton that you can see here:

http://lifesjewelsonstring.blogspot.de/2012/05/handmade-cotton-kimono.html

But the endless lines to cut into silk is scary!!!

Thanks for the great tips.

Reply

3 Meghan November 21, 2012 at 11:51 pm

So very helpful, I literally used the lines in my wood floor as a guide by sliding the scissor blade along the grove as I cut. Thanks Dana!

Reply

4 jenny February 14, 2013 at 4:58 pm

i just got a pair of pants made of 95% modal 5% elastane they r to long can i cut them or will they fray or should i take them up they were from victoria secret i have to trim all yoga pants and fleece pants as im 5 feet even not 5/11″ lol or take in all my pants and knit dresses but do not want to do the wrong thing please help thanks jenny

Reply

5 Latoya February 15, 2014 at 11:03 am

Greetings,

I am in need of 95% Rayon with 5% Spandex apparel fabric blend at 160gsm that stretches 4 ways. Typically what type of knit accomplishes this? Tricot, Jersey, 4 way stretch jersey, Double knit, interlock, purl knit, any guidance would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Latoya

Reply

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