How do you learn best? The beginners guide to cutting out.

How do you learn best? The beginners guide to cutting out.

Beginners guide to cutting out.

There are a lot of assumptions made when it come to fashion, textiles, and sewing terminology.
If you didn’t study Fashion and or textiles at school or college, will you have any sewing knowledge? Is picking up a pattern and buying fabric daunting for the first time?

How do you learn best? Do you have a good memory? Learning is so much more accessible these days, what with online YouTube tutorials and the internet.

I have gained my knowledge from the different job roles I’ve had and from books and if there is a gap in my knowledge, I self teach using the internet and going on courses. I started working on Saturdays aged 14. Sadly and some may be surprised but very little knowledge was gained whilst in education. I am more of a practical, visual learner and have learnt on the job!

Learning on the job
I started out as a shop assistant, in the pattern and fabric department in John Lewis Brent Cross. Here I learnt loads about fabrics; the widths, weights, usage, grains and textures. I was doing my degree at the same time, so this job really helped me then and still does to this day. How much to make this and that? I remember people used to come in and ask me, how much do I need for a skirt? I would firstly answer, a short, long, flared, straight, circle or mini skirt? Then we would find out how wide the fabric was and go from there. Usually 1 to 2 lengths, depending on fabric width. At college I learnt basic sewing skills, they had some amazing technicians, a dress-maker, a tailor and a couturier.
Then after college I became a design room assistant (glorified sample cutter) where I learnt about pattern layout, costing, pattern cutting and cutting fabrics. This was a high street supplier so everything was cheap polyester and mostly stretch. I would cut out garments all day, with several daily trips to the buyers always laden with samples.
Then I was a Design assistant in a bridal company; learning most of my couture sewing skills and silk fabric knowledge here. Then back to college to learn how to teach, and onto teaching textiles for a further 16 years. I taught GCSE and A Level textiles mostly, students made a broad range of products, teaching me how not to make something, how to trouble shoot, to make anything and everything from a bag, to baby grow, to bra, to ball gown to jean jacket to suit.
All my various jobs I had to cut fabric, measure fabric and how to rip fabric straight. I have a breadth of experience and have picked up a few tips along the way, some more basic (easy when you know how) than others. lets start with cutting fabric.

Grain line:

A grain line mark on a paper pattern piece is the long straight line with arrows at each end that shows how to position the piece accurately on the fabric’s grain.

Measuring from selvedge edge to grain line:

It is so important to make sure your pattern pieces are on the straight grain. If they are off grain your garments will twist and hang to one side. Use a fabric tape measure and line up the grain line illustrated on the pattern with the edge of the fabrics selvage edge. Do this at both ends of the grain line arrow. Use pattern weights initially, this way you can adjust the pattern accordingly without having to take any pins out. Once it’s accurate you can then add the pins.

Make sure your fabric is straight. Line the selvedge edge up with the table edge. Tap the fabric into place, let the fabric go where it wants to go, avoid pulling it/forcing it into place. Here’s a little sketch of the selvedge and straight grain.

Cutting out chiffon:

Chiffon is a very fine fabric that moves and is almost impossible to keep in the same place. Using dot and cross paper, sandwich the chiffon in between 2 layers of paper. Taping the paper to the table first and then the chiffon and so on. This stops the chiffon from moving when you cut. Pin your pattern on top and cut through the 3 layers.


Once you have all your pattern pieces aligned with the straight grain, pin them in place. Always pin within the seam allowance width. You may damage the fabric and the last thing you want to see when you have spent hours sewing is a hole down the centre front. Also don’t use hundreds of pins, I have seen students spend hours pinning, I’m wondering why it’s taking so long and when I look they have about 50 pins on a 30 centimetre panel. 3 to each side is more than enough.

Using weights:

I am not very experienced here as I have always worked with fine woven fabrics, but I do like to use these when I am making sure my pattern pieces are on the straight grain. Also when cutting out smaller projects like Patchwork. I love these weights:

Tight selvage edge
If the edge is tight snip just 1 along the edge to open it out, the same as you snip a sleeve to ease it in.

Cutting out:

Fold your fabric in half, selvage edge to selvage edge. Understanding which edge is the selvedge edge all depends on which way you lay your fabric. I did find this hard to teach when showing students. The raw edge at one end and the finished edges either side. If you look closely at fabric, you can see the grain running down the fabric.
Always cut out with the right side inside/face down or if on the fold the right side should be together. This is so you protect the fabric, keep it clean.

Fabric with a pile:

Pile is the raised surface or nap of a fabric, consisting of upright loops or strands of yarn. Examples of pile textiles are carpets, corduroy, velvet, towelling. The pile should always run down the body. Stroke your fabric, the smooth direction should run down the pattern pieces. Also all pieces should run in the same direction, for example with trousers both legs need to be placed the same, same with sleeves. If you don’t do this you will see a shade difference. If the front panel is going down the fabric and the back up, this will show at the side seam.

Pattern layout:

Laying out your pattern on the fabric to prepare for cutting is an important step that must be done carefully and accurately for great-looking results. All paper patterns have suggested layout options dependant on the fabric width. I however sometimes cut more than one thing at once, so I lay all my pieces down with pattern weights and find the most cost-effective way first. I have memories of my first boss slamming his phone down, then storming over to my cutting table. He would make me move to one side so he could cost a pattern. He had a call from the factory, probably advising a price of a good 10,000 products. This I can image came to lots of money, so it had to be right. If they didn’t have enough fabric and the garments needed to be in the shops the same day, someone would be in trouble. He was a hot-headed man, but now looking back I can appreciate why he got so worked up.
This experience did affect me in a positive way, as when teaching I would always encourage using every scrap of fabric and seeing a student cut a small shape right in the centre of a big piece of fabric, well we had words.

I would definitely recommend going to college, but ultimately you learn more on the job!

If you would like to learn some more, please come and join one of my sewing workshops, see the link below: