25 June, 2015

A Year of Talking Quilts - First Cuts

There are generally two camps when it comes to cutting fabric - those that are nervous to do it and those that can't wait.

The nervous ones of us are worried about wrecking the fabric. Worse than that, we've put the fabric on such a high pedestal that a rotary cutter is far, far beneath it. In that case, the fabric is so awesome it can't be cut.

We've all been that quilter at least once.

Most of the time, however, we can gleefully cut up our fabric, excited at what is to come. Cutting represents the first real hands-on step of making. Before we cut it's all been scheming and dreaming. Before fabric is cut it only represents quilt potential.

That, by the way, is precisely why we should cut it. Fabric isn't a stock or money in the bank. It's value only comes from being used. Admiring it on the shelf lets you know that there is more pretty in the world, but actually using the fabric for what it was intended for, gives it true value and purpose.

Just like there are two camps when it comes to fabric I find that there are two types of cutters - those who cut every single piece of fabric out before they sew a stitch and those who cut as they go.

The first group are generally following patterns with very specific instructions. Indeed, patterns are almost always written with cutting instructions first. Gets this bit out of the way so you can get to the real business of sewing. But if you make a mistake and don't have extra fabric, then you need to cry or get creative. Or both.

The second group cut as they go. A little bit here, enough for a few blocks there. It is more stop and go, for sure. But it is really just another route to the same finish. If you are improvising, testing a concept, or unsure how many blocks you want to make, this is likely your chosen path. This route can both save and waste more fabric, depending on how much you cut and end up using.

Personally, I don't often cut everything first. When I am designing quilts for publication, this is when I do it. In that case I usually draft the pattern, check my math a million times, then cut everything. This effectively gets me testing my own pattern. If I have to, I will go back and make changes or cut more. But when I do cut first I am always surprised at how quickly it all comes together afterwards!

Because my true love is improv piecing, and often using scraps, it isn't often that I am spending a lot of time cutting and prepping for this kind of sewing. I might grab scraps and start, or cut a bit and play. After stopping and regrouping I will decide what more I need. Or if I even need more.

No matter what kind of quilter you are, there is something so satisfying about the sound the rotary cutter makes. Almost like the scrape of wet sugar on a plate, but uniquely its own. It is always the start of something good.

Since we're talking about cutting, I wanted to give you a few tips on successful cutting:

- Always have a sharp blade in your rotary cutter. If you are getting frustrated with your cutting, change your blade.

- Cut to the lines on your ruler, not your mat. (In fact, I have my mat flipped over so it is a soft grey, not that awful green).

- Before you make your first cut, and periodically as you cut, square up your fabric. Almost everyone tells you to line up your selvages, line up the ruler on the fold, then make a clean cut on the edge. Just make sure that when you line up your selvages the fabric is hanging straight. If it isn't then you need to shift the selvage edges right and left until it does.

- Make sure you close and lock your rotary cutter after every cut. Every. Single. Time. Even if you are the only one in your sewing space, please do it. I've seen too many injuries from open cutters. Better yet, invest in a retractable one.

- If you do not have the luxury of a cutting table, use your kitchen counter. Your back will thank you for the extra height. That is, unless you are short and it is more comfortable on a regular table.

- Never leave your cutting mat in direct sun or in a car. Then warp and will never go back in to shape.

- Replace your mat every few years, more or less depending on how often you are using it. Self healing only goes so far. But if you are cutting based on the lines on the ruler, not the mat, you can rotate and flip it to give it a longer life.

- This should go without saying, but pay attention to what you are doing when you are cutting. Trust me, my missing fingertip can explain to you why.

This is the fourth post in a year long series on all the steps of making a quilt. Musings and thoughts on the process. 


Elaine M said...

Great tips. I never cut after 7pm.

curious said...

Elaine, I agree with you, never cut in the evening. One, light isn't that great and two, no matter how many times you measure, it seems the mistake is made with the fabric you have the least amount and need the most. Sincerely, Paula K.

liniecat said...

Im a reluctant cutter and yes once the gin has passed my lips of an evening, I dare not rotary!
Good tips to have to hand thanks : )

Leanne said...

I do not enjoy the cutting much, although I like it better now that I have a table that I can adjust to the right height for me. I never cut all the fabrics for a quilt, what if I changed my mind part way through, which I do a lot. Also, the sewing distracts me.

Leanne said...

I do not enjoy the cutting much, although I like it better now that I have a table that I can adjust to the right height for me. I never cut all the fabrics for a quilt, what if I changed my mind part way through, which I do a lot. Also, the sewing distracts me.

elizabeth said...

I am always hesitant to cut. But the past year I have become braver!!:) thanks for the tips!

Karen said...

Oh, yes! Scrape of wet sugar on a plate! The sound of the blade is a sign that I'm committing to a new quilt. And I love that you hear something sweet in the offing :)

Anne / Springleaf Studios said...

For years I have been hesitant to cut into "precious" fabric so your statement . . . "It's value only comes from being used" really struck me. This is so true. Belonging to a bee where we sew with our stash has helped free me of my hoarding just a bit. Once I know what I'm making there is great satisfaction in cutting. I finally feel like I've taken the first real step toward making. I usually cut as I go since I design my own quilts and want to check sizes etc. But there's a lot of benefit to having it all cut first. Plus there's less mess hanging around.

house on hill road said...

I have always been a cut-as-you-go type of person, but lately I find myself cutting everything first because: 1) I hate cutting; 2) I often have the attention span for cutting after dinner when I don't have the attention span for actual sewing; 3) If everything is cut, I am more likely to sit down at the machine when I have a spare 10 minutes or so during the day. It so interesting to see my preference change...I wonder why that is!

Meghan Firster said...

Love your blog and thanks for writing this. Such perfect timing for me! I am trying to get the courage to cut into a few of my long-admired-from-afar fabrics. I'm coming to the realization that there will always be another new favorite and need to get my current faves into projects for everyone to enjoy.

cinzia said...

"actually using the fabric for what it was intended for, gives it true value and purpose" love this! once you make that first cut the possibilities are endless! great post.