Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ice Mom’s Guide to Sewing: All about Cutting

This post is part of Ice Mom's Sewing Guide.
Other posts in this series: All about Patterns, All about Fabrics, How to Dye Silk for Fabric Skating Skirts, Altering Your Growing Skater's Figure Skating Dress, Laying out the Pattern.

Like adjusting the pattern and laying it out, cutting is one of those unglamorous steps that you shouldn’t rush.  I have my cutting table in the center of my front room, a movie in the DVD player, two stools, one on either side of the table, and plenty of good light.

If you haven’t copied, adjusted and laid out your pattern yet, you need to do that first. Instructions assume that you’ve done that.

Make sure your shears or rotary cutter is sharp. Never let your kids or husband run off with your sewing scissors to cut paper, plastic, or sheet metal. I buy a ton of cheap scissors and plant them in every room of the house, sometimes two pair. This prevents anyone getting the ridiculous idea of using my good Ginghers for anything. I even keep those cheap scissors in my sewing room's scissor drawer, just in case anyone gets the very dumb idea of grabbing my Ginghers for something. I buy the scissors at the back-to-school sales in August, when they're at a deep discount. Ginghers, however, are never cheap.

If you don't remember the last time you've had your scissors sharpened, it's time to take them in. Call your sewing store to find out who does them and how long you'll have to be parted from your scissors.

  • Sharp shears
  • Rotary cutter and cutting mat (optional)
  • Sharp snips
  • Tailor’s chalk or disappearing fabric marker

  1. Make sure everything's flat. Fabric and pattern pieces need to be as flat as possible against the table. If they’re not, unpin, re-adjust, and re-pin. You’ll be wasting your time if the fabric is lumpy. It won’t fit right.
  2. Cut along the pattern cut lines. If you’re using shears, keep the bottom blade as flat against the table as practical. Try to cut very smoothly and do not lift up the fabric as you cut. If you’re using a rotary cutter, make sure your mat is under your pattern pieces. Roll the blade like a pizza cutter along the pattern’s cut lines.
  3. Cut notches. When you arrive at a notch, stop. Using your snips, snip along the triangle and up past the triangle’s point. The idea here is that you’ll extend the triangle’s side to about double its size. Come from the other direction to cut the other side of the triangle. You’ll be making a big X in the fabric. The reason you’re doing this is so that you won’t have to lift the fabric. If you need room for your shears to cut along the rest of the cutting line, use your snips to cut a few inches. Those inches will give you room to use your shears. (Note: sometimes seamstresses will cut through the notch and make a little snip into the seamline at the center of the notch. I do this in regular garment sewing where I have a more generous 5/8-inch seam allowance. With skating dresses, I rarely have that much of a seam allowance, so I just cut the triangles instead of risking cutting past the seam allowance.)
  4. Leave it on the table. When you have your piece cut, don't move it yet. Remember those marking holes you reinforced with paper tape when you adjusted and traced your pattern? This is a great time to use your tailor’s chalk or disappearing fabric marker to mark the spot. If you’re using the marker, remember that you can’t iron over the mark because it will become permanent.
  5. Unpin the pattern piece. I usually fold the piece and the fabric in half and stack them in order according to the pattern piece’s number or letter. That way, they’ll be in order when I want to sew them and I can refer to the pattern piece if I have questions.
  6. Finish cutting all pieces. Mark, unpin, fold, and stack.
  7. Keep some of your scraps. You’ll want them to practice on when it comes to sewing seams. If you have a serger, they’re great for running through the machine to make sure that your loops aren’t too loopy. I keep just a few scraps and throw the rest away - unless I so much fabric that I might be able to cut out a skirt panty, skirt, or extra pattern piece if I mess something up.
It’s pretty straightforward, but I want to encourage you to take your time. Rushing this or the other preparation steps will make for a poorly fitting garment.

Next time: sewing seams.

I have many talented seamstresses among my readers. Double-check me, please! Did I miss something? Do you do it better? Please comment so we can all benefit!
New seamstresses: leave your questions in the comments, too!

Do you have a question for Ice Mom or the Advisory Board? Terrific! Send me your questions! 
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Anonymous said...

I love love love your sewing blogs. Since I am the "Sewing Mom" persona, I have really enjoyed these posts. 43 ice show costumes later......

Finding sewing mom's at the club can be a challenge and to promote this skill is wonderful, especially if it keeps the costume costs to the parent at a minimum.

Keep up the great blogs and thank you for taking the time to keep up this site. It has been both entertaining and informative.

Ice Mom said...

Hello, Anony!

My name is Ice Mom and I'm a Sewer.

I feel like we need a support group!

Thank you for the kind words. I know I post a lot about sewing and I was worried about ticking off my non-sewing readers, so I thought I'd get 'em started. However, if they began in January with my first post, they're probably ready to throw their shears at me! We're just starting to cut! I think the pattern and fabric have been laid out for two, maybe three weeks!

Ice Mom

Alice in Wonderland said...

This may be a better comment for patterns verses cutting, but since cutting is so final, I'll add this comment - stretch velvet and lycra (I use milliskin the most) impacts how the skirt hanges. I've now taken to adding some length to the skirt back to ensure the coverage I wanted. The pattern that was an OK skirt length for milliskin was a tad too short for stretch velvet, so now when I'm cutting, I add a tad to the skirt back. You can always shorten it later. length.

Ice Mom said...

Hey, Alice.

Really? You get length problems with stretch velvet skirts? I've sewn it tons of times and never had a problem.

Do you think it's because of the pile?

I think it's good advice to cut skirts with extra length - it certainly won't hurt.

Has anyone else ever had this problem?

Ice Mom

Alice in Wonderland said...

Hi Ice Mom, i don't use the leotard method, I have seams where panty/skirt/bodise come togther, and yes the strtch velvet skirt seemed just a tad shorter -could be the amount of stretch in the fabric or the pile (stretch velvet looks great and was fun to sew) but since that compulsory dress I've now taken to adding some length on the skirt. It's such a "pain in the butt" to realize after the skirt is set in that's it's a tad to short. Not by much - but enough to annoy me. Everyone else is watching the skater skate, and I'm watching the skirt!

Ragamama said...

I'm having hem issues with my daughters artistic dress. It's the first dress I've done from start to finish and for the most part it looks great. It's an a-line ? dress with some gathering at the neck. (ok it looks a lot better than it sounds lol) Anyhow I measured the hem evenly all the way around and it looks perfect when she off the ice but when she's on the ice the front looks longer. I figured this is because she leans forward a bit when she skates so to balance it out I took the front up a little bit but now the back looks short. I'm a bit of a perfectionist so that's really not helping matters. Do you have any suggestions or do I simply leave it alone. Everyone who's seen it including the coach says it looks fine but I can't help feeling like something is a little off. As an artist I'm never completely satisfied with the end result is it the same for sewers?

bethalice said...

Ragamama, you sound like me. I know every little "mistake" in the dresses I have made, but no one else can find them. Did you shorten the front from the hem? Or did you take it up from the waist?

I have to add at least 2-3 inches to the back hem for my dd - she has a bit of a sway back and bubble bum, so skirts (whether for skating or church) fit funny.

bethalice said...

What do you use to mark the fabric? I have tried tracing paper, chalk, pens, and they all rub off before I am done. I usually put tape on the garment where the mark is needed, and mark the tape (removing it just before I sew).

Since fabric sometimes looks similar on both sides, I will mark one side as the wrong side with pieces of tape (I also write the pattern number/letter on the tape). That way I am consistent. I used black lycra once that looked the same on both sides, but upon closer inspection they were different. One caught the light differently than the other. When the outfit is sewn is when the differences can really show.

Ice Mom said...

Hi, bethalice.

I reinforce the pattern marking spots with medical paper tape on both sides and cut out the marking circle with the tip of sharp snips.

Then I use tailor's chalk - not that nonsense that comes as a pencil with some sort of broom on the other end. I use the rectangle pieces and rub the heck out of them against the fabric. My spots fade, but they never disappear.

I also have a chalk wheel (red with a refillable top) that I use to trace the occasional line. (Never refill these. The mess is incredible.)

I have disappearing ink markers; however, they have their drawbacks:

1. An iron will set the ink indelibly. I can't tell you how many times I've done this, which is why I use chalk.

2. Ink that disappears over time always fades before I sew, which is freaking annoying.

3. They dry out. Maybe that's just my markers. Bah!

4. They can be kinda pricey. Under $5, but still. For one marker?

Chalk is cheap. I love chalk.

Ice Mom

Ice Mom said...

Hey, Ragamama.

You're not going to like this answer. You could rip out the seam where you attached the skirt, cut a new skirt that's longer, and then attach it.

That sounds a lot like work to me, but that's the best solution I have.

Good luck!

Ice Mom

P.S. I've gotten to the point where I don't make many mistakes anymore when I sew figure skating dresses. However, many, many garments I've sewn have mistakes in them.

The trick is to hide them well. :)

Ragamama said...


It's reassuring to know that I'm not the only one who notices every little imperfection in their creations. I took the dress up at the hem. It doesn't really have a defined waist. It's just killing me that I can only make it look good either on or off the ice but not both at the same time.

bethalice said...

Hmmm... Are you saying the back still looks shorter than the front? Or are you saying the back now looks too short? Did you touch the back at all?

What pattern did you use? I have a kwiksew that sounds similar.

Ragamama said...

Well first the back was longer and I was like there's no way that can be right so I made sure it was even all the way around. That didn't look right either so I took the front up a little bit and kinda tapered it to work with the back but now I'm thinking the back looks too short. I Feel like I should take the back down and the front up. I think it was right originally but I second guessed myself and now I can't stop. Another problem is is that it's not a skating dress it's just a plain ol dress made from a vintage pattern (Mc calls 3696).

grs said...

I use safety pins to mark pattern pieces. A big safety pin goes on right side of skirt front, and then if I need to mark other places, little safety pins, always on the right side. Where the point of the pin goes into the fabric is the spot I need to mark. I use high quality quilters basting safety pins.

I have sewn the skirt on backwards so many times it's ridiculous. Even with the pin :-)

Ice Mom said...

Hey, CRH.

Experience talking, hey? My husband still teases me about a men's dress shirt that I made for him over 20 years ago. It had two left sleeves. :)

Ice Mom

Anonymous said...

No person's body fits any single pattern. Things have to be adjusted for each wearer. Here is what I do: make sure the item is too long prior to hemming. The person wearing the item MUST try the garment on with the same underwear they will be using when wearing the outfit (more important for us adults that need bras etc). Then pin the hem line to the correct length. Make sure the person is standing up straight and looking straight ahead. This will take care of bums and boobs that make the hem line hang funny.

Silver Blades