0411 035 820
Select Page

by | 3 Aug, 2020 | Sewing, Tutorial

Learn-to-Sew: Cutting Out From Paper Patterns

So you’ve chosen a pattern you’d like to tackle. How do you go about cutting out from it? Let’s break it down…

Choosing Fabric

First you’ll need to choose some suitable fabric for your project. Sometimes a project is inspired by the fabric. In which case, check that the project suits the fabric but more often than not you’ll see a project you want to make and then you’ll go looking for suitable fabric. It is important to choose the right fabric for the project because the success of the finished product hinges on it. I talked about this a little in the post All About Fabric. You won’t get the effect you want if you use a cotton drill to make a flowy summer dress but the cotton drill might be the perfect fabric for a structured skirt. To help you, patterns often have a recommended fabric guide. If you are in any doubt, however, the sales person at the fabric store should be able to help you.

The pattern will also give you an indication of the amount of fabric to buy. If you are making a garment, you’ll have to have a general idea of your size (or the recipient’s size). The pattern will list the required amount of fabric depending on the size you are making and the width of the fabric (the most common width is 112cm but 150cm is another one you’ll see).

And, while you’re at the fabric store, don’t forget to pick up all the other bits and pieces you’ll need to make the item such as thread, zippers, buttons, lining and interfacing. It is so frustrating to get home ready to start your project and find you don’t have everything you need.

Preparing the Fabric

I know you want to jump in and start making as soon as you get home but I highly recommend washing your fabric before you take to it with the scissors. Of course, if the fabric is not washable skip this step! However, some fabrics do shrink in the wash and you could end up with a garment that doesn’t fit. After all your hard work, you will be sad so do take the precaution of washing your fabric before you start. While it is washing, you can get prepared in other ways such as threading up your machine and…

Preparing the Pattern


If you are making a garment, you need to have accurate body measurements before you cut out your pattern. The main measurements to take are around the bust/chest, the waist and the hips. You may also need to know lengths such as the distance from the waist to the hem. Your pattern should give you an indication of the measurements to consider and this deserves a blog post of its own so look out for that in the future!

Don’t assume that because you buy a size 14 off the rack in a store that you will need the size 14 on the pattern. Pattern sizes seem to vary and most of the major pattern brands are in US sizings which do not correlate to off the rack sizes in other parts of the world. I’m always horrified to read the size the pattern recommends for my measurements (because US sizing is smaller than Australian) but I need to put these thoughts aside and know that I am going to have a garment tailor-made for my size and shape when I am finished – and it won’t have a size tag attached!

You might also find that you are one size at the waist and another size at the bust or hips. What size do you cut out? Well, you can alter the pattern but that also goes beyond the scope of this post (stay tuned for another post). So choose the larger of the sizes to be sure that there will be enough room over your curvier bits!

Cut out the pattern

Once you have selected your size, you can cut out your pattern. A garment pattern is generally multi-sized so there will be multiple lines around each pattern piece, often with a different type of dotted line for each different size. If you are the smaller size, you’ll need one of the inside lines. Some people prefer to trace their size from the pattern onto tracing paper so as not to cut off any sizes they may want to use in the future. I have to admit that I am too lazy for that. However, I am also a bit cheap and don’t want to have to buy a pattern a second time if I want to make it in a larger size sometime in the future. Therefore I generally cut only around the outside line of the pattern pieces and only use the inner lines when I’m cutting the fabric. This is probably not the way to start if you are a beginner. In the beginning, go to the effort of tracing the pattern, or sacrifice the larger sizes, to ensure your cutting out is accurate.

You will need to find all the pattern pieces for the project you have chosen. Often there are a few variations to chose from within the pattern and each will require some different pattern pieces. The instructions will tell you the pieces you need (they are usually numbered). On the big brand patterns, you will find the list of the required pieces in the cutting layout section.

Now you know which pieces to cut out, cut out those pieces. No need to cut out the others. And remember – don’t use your fabric shears to cut the paper pattern!

Adjusting the pattern

There may be adjustments you can make to the pattern before cutting your fabric. One obvious one example, is the length of the leg for a pair of pants. Patterns often indicate a place where you can lengthen or shorten the pattern piece to match your measurements. Do this now if necessary.

Laying out the pattern on the fabric

Before I start talking about laying out your pattern, I want to just direct you to All About Fabric if you need to brush up on terminology such as selvedge and grain. I’m going to use these words a bit…

Now your fabric is washed and dried and your pattern is cut out, you are ready to lay out your pattern on your fabric. First of all, check if it is necessary to iron either your pattern or your fabric. Usually the fabric will be crease-free enough but if it is pretty wrinkly, give it an iron first for best results (don’t forget to check the correct iron temperature for your fabric!) New patterns rarely need much ironing either but if you are using one that has been roughly stuffed back into the packet you might find it needs straightening out with the iron (without steam).

Your pattern should have a cutting layout guide so study that before you start. Find the guide for your size, style and fabric width. Also, if your fabric has a nap or a one-way design, there may be a different layout given. To cut out a pattern, the fabric is usually folded in half with right sides together so that you can cut duplicate and mirror image pieces accurately and quickly. The cutting layout will indicate how the fabric should be folded. 9.9 times out of 10 you will fold it with selvedges together, along the grain of the fabric. Occasionally this will not be the case so check carefully.

So fold the fabric as indicated and make sure it is nice and flat with no bits caught up or folded unintentionally back on itself. Lay the pattern pieces onto the fabric according to the layout guide. You might be able to save yourself some fabric by moving the pieces a bit closer together but ensure they are not overlapping at all.

Once you are satisfied with the layout, pin the pattern to the fabric or use pattern weights to hold it in place.

With simpler patterns and, for example, tutorials that you find on the web, there may not be a pattern layout provided. It might take you a bit of thinking through to make sure your fabric’s design runs the way you want it to on each piece or to work out the most efficient use of the fabric for the pieces you need. You are a bit on your own with this so check it twice before cutting (“Measure twice, cut once.” applies here!)

Cutting the Fabric

Using your fabric shears (or possibly your metal rule and rotary cutter), carefully and accurately cut around your pattern pieces through both (all) layers. Leave your fabric flat on the cutting surface and slide your shears under the fabric without lifting it too much (that is why fabric shears have the angled handles). Leave the pattern pinned to the fabric for the moment because next we are going to…

Transfer pattern markings to the fabric

Your pattern may have a number of different marks that need to be transferred to your fabric to help you construct your garment or project at the sewing machine. These include notches, dots and pleat guides to name a few. If you are not sure what these are, see my post on sewing terminology. Use a disappearing fabric marker or tailor’s chalk to transfer these markings to the wrong side of your fabric. Note, however, that disappearing fabric markers do actually disappear over time (sometimes quite quickly) so only use this method if you are going to sew straight away. Another way to mark the fabric is to cut the notches outwards from your pattern as you cut the fabric out. Adjacent to the triangular marking on the pattern, cut a triangular lump pointing away from the pattern piece.

I also recommend marking which is the wrong side of the fabric if it is not obvious (often the case with a plain coloured fabric). When I am making some things, such as a pair of pants, I will also put a large ‘F’ on the front pieces and a large ‘B’ on the back pieces in tailor’s chalk on the wrong side of the fabric. The front and back are often very similar and it quickly becomes confusing which is which. Be more subtle if the fabric is light in colour or thinnish and the chalk is likely to show through though.

Get sewing

And that is all there is to cutting out. You’re ready to sew. If you have any more questions, ask away! I love hearing from you.

Cutting Out Pinterest Image