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How to Piece like a Rockstar – Part 1 – Better Cutting Methods

This post has been edited to add in this video on 10/12/2017.


 I want to start this off my saying that you are making a quilt. The little things really don’t matter. Like if your points line up, or if your edges are wobbly, or if you have a pinch or two in your quilting. These little imperfections are okay. You are making something with your hands.

The whole idea is to enjoy making the quilt, or snuggling up under the quilt or even giving the quilt to someone you love.

It’s not to beat yourself up about.

So relax, shake off the pressure, it doesn’t REALLY matter.

No quilt policing goes on here. And for heaven sakes, if you see a quilt where the points are cut off or the seams don’t match, do not announce it to the quilt maker. It’s just plain mean.

That quilter just finished making a huge labor of love. That is a job well done. Lopsided blocks and all.

Quilting is my therapy, I don’t want to follow rules, so don’t.  Make your quilt and be happy doing it.

When I first started quilting, I was a piecing nightmare.  Who cares?  I just finished a quilt!

But then, after you have made many quilts, when quilting is something you do on a daily basis, when those half square triangles aren’t quite triangle or the very worse when you have made twenty blocks and half of them are off by a half inch and you desperately and creatively sew them together anyway, wash your quilt, and then find out that all your seams have split open. THAT is the moment when you realize that if you had just taken the time to press your seams open, if you had just spent a little more time making sure your 1/4″ seam was accurate, your quilt could have come together with less headaches on the way and not riddled with split seams after a few washings.

We are not going to call them rules. Rules are not for art, and quilting is an art. We are going to call them guidelines.

Guidelines that will not only give you pleasure at seeing all your hard work look as close to perfection as the human body can make (nothing is perfect) it. But MOST importantly, that everything comes together easily and almost effortlessly. Following just a few simple guidelines will make you not hate quilting or sewing.

You will never say, I’m done, nothing I ever do comes out right. You will never say, I can’t do this. You will never finish twenty blocks and some be distorted so you throw them in your closet never to see the light of day again and all your time and effort wasted.

Never again.

In this series we will cover:

Better cutting methods

How to make half square triangles

Nesting seams and pressing tips

How to make flying geese

Making the most with your mistakes

In quilt making, you start with cutting fabric, so that is where we will start in this series.

After you choose fabrics, you cut them.  And cutting is the first place you can make a mistake, and that mistake can follow you around all the way to the end of the quilt.

 These images on the left are where my seams didn’t meet up.  These were cutting errors.  All of my squares did not get cut the same size.  When I started sewing them, I had no idea which ones were correct, and I tried to force it into submission, and it didn’t quite work out for me.

So this cutting error followed me to piecing and will follow me all the way to when I square up my quilt.

Now here is how to avoid cutting errors.

First, you need supplies.  We all have different size spaces that we can use to sew, but you should have the biggest rotary cutting mat that you size space can cope with.  A 24×36″ mat is a good place to start.  I’m using a Sullivan’s cutting mat in 36×59″ size (which I love).  You will also need a ruler and a rotary cutter.

The bigger your mat the easier.  BUT just because you don’t have a big cutting mat doesn’t mean you can’t cut accurately.  It just means you might have to fold your fabric to get an accurate cut.

This is a half yard of fabric to the left.

Obviously, I’m not going to achieve accurate cuts with it wrinkled like this, so I always iron my fabric first.  If you use starch, it will make it a little stiff which makes it even easier to get it to cut accurately.

So I always start by ironing my fabric.

Some patterns will instruct you to cut a WOF (width of fabric) strip, and then subcut that strip into squares, so let’s start there.

If you are new to quilt making, you may want to cut one fabric at a time.  If you have been cutting fabric for sometime, you might could cut more fabric all at once.  When it comes to cutting strips, I like to stack my fabrics into threes (so six layers of fabric because a half yard is folded).

You want to use the rulers or markings on your cutting mat.

So you see the fabric on the left is lay horizontally on the 1″ line as straight as I can possibly get them on that line.

Now, I’m going to cut to straighten my edge first on the 5″ vertical line.  So you want to lay your fabric over that line.  In my case, I’m stacking three fabrics, but remember you don’t have to do that.

Using your ruler, (I use one like this one), line it up with the 5″ vertical line.  This ruler is long enough so that it’s on the 5″ vertical line at the bottom of my fabric and the 5″ vertical line at the top of my fabric.

I want to line it where I can still see the vertical line.  You don’t want to line it up where you can’t see that line.

You will also note that the other markings on my ruler are also lining up with the other markings on my mat.

Here is a close up shot.

With your left hand holding down the ruler, and your right hand holding your rotary cutter (or vice versa if you are left handed), you will cut right along the ruler. Hold it firmly down. Only cut about halfway, and then you will adjust your left hand higher on the ruler. This will insure that your ruler doesn’t move, thus moving your fabric or getting a wonky cut.

So now your fabrics should be lined up evenly.  DO NOT MOVE AWAY THOSE SKINNY CUT FABRICS YOU JUST MADE.  Leave them be for now.  I can’t tell you how many times I moved them and it moved the fabric as well.  This would cause my fabrics not to be lined up correctly.

Let’s say my pattern called for a 4.5″ strip.

You just cut your starting fabric on the 5″ marking, so now you are going to adjust your ruler (without moving your fabric) to the 9.5″ line on your mat.  The same way we did at the start, you will cut on the 9.5″ line.

Don’t forget to line up your ruler where you can see the mat’s markings and double check yourself by noticing the ruler markings and the mat marking lining up.

If you have made all the cuts you need on these fabrics, now you can move them.  Toss the skinnies.

Fun Note: If I have tossed A LOT of skinnies into my trash, I like to take a look at them.  They are so pretty sitting in the trash can altogether like that.  🙂

Now what?

I mentioned above that some patterns will tell you to cut say (20) 4.5″ WOF strips, and then tell you to subcut them into squares.

If that is the case, don’t move your WOF strips too much.  I like to make the strip cuts and then whip them around on the cutting mat, all still stacked up just the way I cut them.  This way, I don’t have to re-align.  I’ve already done that.

On strips, I like to hold my ruler with my fingers on one side of the strip, and my thumb on the other.  This just helps me make sure that nothing moves.

I feel like when I have errors in my piecing, most of them come from cutting.

Some Reasons for Errors:

my blade wasn’t sharp enough and the fabric moved

I didn’t iron my fabric first

I tried cutting too many fabrics at once

my ruler moved because I didn’t hold it down properly.

I feel like the more people I watch rotary cut and the more classes I take on the basics of quilt making, the more I can learn.  You never know who has this tiny difference in the way they do things that could make things even easier for you.  So I’m always looking for better and more streamlined ways.

If you have a way of doing something you think is easier or faster, please use the comment section and let me know.  We can all improve.

I physically can not cut fabric

One day, I may not be able to stand at a cutting mat for hours and cut tiny squares of fabric.  If this is you, I am now offering ready to sew pieces.  I am one of the weird ones who enjoy cutting fabric (I really do!). You may not be, so please have a look at my ready to sew section.  It’s new and I’m working on it.  If you don’t see something you need, drop me a line and we can work together to get you what you need where you can just sit and start sewing.

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