Monday, February 27, 2012

Home Dec Sewing 101 - Cutting Fabric Straight

Several young ladies in my life have asked me about sewing.
Since I am right in the middle of helping My Baby Girl sew the nursery for her baby girl - who should arrive around May 1 - I thought I'd do a few tutorials on sewing.

Today's tutorial will discuss:

how to cut fabric straight
what is the selvage
what is a repeat  
a few tools a home dec seamstress should invest in

If the fabric design you have selected is a solid, a small print or a  busy-but-subtle pattern, you can use a carpenter's square to run along the side of the fabric and mark, or cut, across the top edge.  You could also cut the fabric on a grid. Decorator fabrics come in 54" widths and are usually wound onto a tube.  Dressmaker fabrics, which may be what you choose to decorate with, will come in 45" or 60" widths, and are usually folded in half and wrapped around a bolt.  If you are using dressmaker fabric and it has a crease - never assume that the crease is in the right place.  Lay out your fabric, match the side edges together, and iron a new crease. Also, don't try to get the top edges to line up perfectly before you make the cut. The crease down the center from the factory may be off and there could be a considerable difference at the top, once you get the side edges lined up.

When you do iron in a new crease, do it with a light touch. You will eventually want to iron out all of the creases in your finished product, thus you don't want to create one that will be difficult to remove.

Tip from Ellie:

When I'm sewing curtain panels, I pull up the rug in my entry, tape a long strip of masking tape lengthwise on the floor, and then tape off my cutting lines - using a carpenter's square to ensure I'm cutting the fabric at 90 degrees in relationship to the side.  I then lay my very long pieces of fabric lengthwise on the floor and match up the creased edge of the fabric with the long piece of tape.  I can now cut my panels by laying the fabric across the cutting lines to use as guides.  This is much easier and more accurate than measuring each panel individually.

Sometimes when the design on the fabric is more prominent, you'll notice that it does not line up with the weave of the fabric.  This means if you cut your fabric with the method above, you will likely end up with a pillow or panels where the design runs downhill.  To solve this problem, line up a ruler with the design near the top of the fabric and make your cut there.  Now use a carpenter's square to cut the sides at a 90 degree angle.  

Another way of making a straight cut on fabric is to pull one of the cross threads completely out of your piece.  This will leave a little channel and you can cut along where the thread was.  This is especially important if you wish to fringe the edge of your project.

What is the selvage?

The selvage is basically the finished sides of the fabric.  It is almost always best to trim about 1/2" off of each side to get rid of the selvage - unless it is important for your repeat.  (See below)  The selvage is a tightly woven area that keeps the sides from raveling, but it can affect how nice your curtains hang because it is a tighter weave.  If you leave it on, your seams may pucker some.  With most home dec fabric, you do not want to wash it first because you want to allow the fabric to keep its nice, crisp appearance.  Should you ever need to wash your finished project, the selvage might shrink more than the rest of the fabric.  It is just best to trim it off.

What is the repeat, then?

When you look at the design printed on a fabric, you will notice that after a certain number of inches - the pattern repeats.  If you measure between the design and when it starts over, this is called your repeat. When you are sewing wide projects like panels for wide windows, tablecloths, bedspreads, etc., you will likely want to "piece" more than one length of fabric together.  When purchasing your fabric, it is important to know what your repeat is because you will need to purchase extra fabric to ensure that you can match the horizontal designs from one length of fabric to the next.  I will post a tutorial on that in the future.  Sometimes you'll need to keep the full selvage in order for this to work out, but we will discuss that another time.

Finally, there are a couple of tools you should invest in if you plan to do much sewing of any kind.  They are:

A rotary cutter
A self-healing cutting mat
A clear ruler designed to be used with a rotary cutter.

Your sewing will be much more accurate with these tools, and your hands will thank you very much.

It can be daunting to sew items for your home that are larger than a pillow, but YOU CAN DO IT!  It just takes breaking down the big projects into smaller, more manageable projects.  (I feel like the Home Depot here!)

So, are you ready to make some lined curtain panels?  In the next tut, I'll show you how to determine how much fabric to purchase.

Thanks for stopping by,



  1. Thanks for this...I'm new to sewing and am finding cutting fabric straight a bit of an issue! I will try this x

  2. Congrats on the new grand baby. Can you share by the way, what the brand/designer name is for the blue/gold/brown fabric. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Teresa! All I can tell you about the fabric is that I purchased it off of a scrap table at Hancock Fabrics. So sorry I cannot be more help than that.


I LOVE your ideas and comments. Thanks for taking the time :)