Sunday, January 16, 2005

Step 8. Cutting the Fabric

1.  I place the fashion fabric, right sides together, on my large cutting table (a ping pong table completely covered with a gridded cutting mat), and align the selvages to one of the gridlines.

Note:  Sometimes it is difficult to determine the right and the wrong side of a fabric.  Fabric is sometimes shipped from quality vendors with the right sides together, but this is not always the case.  I look at the fabric very closely, sometimes using my lighted magnifier, to detect whether one side has more thread floats than the other (I want the thread floats to be on the wrong side to minimize snagging).  Occasionally, it is just a matter of personal preference.  On these "close call" types of fabrics, I pin a couple of safety pins into the right side along the length of the fabic so that I am consistent in using the same side for all of my pattern pieces. Using the safety pins to denote the right side becomes helpful if I have to cut another piece later on in the process, after my fabric remnants have been stored.

2.  Next I test the fabric's grain by clipping a tiny bit into the selvage at one end of the fabric and pulling a thread across the crosswise grain.  I check the alignment of that pulled crosswise thread with the grid to ensure that the entire piece is positioned on grain with respect to the cutting surface.  Sometimes that results in the selvages not being aligned. If they are seriously misaligned, then the fabric is off-grain and must be straightened before the pattern can be cut.  If the selvages are wavy or dimpled, as sometimes happens, then it is harder to tell whether the fabric is aligned properly.  In that case, I find a lengthwise thread slightly away from the selvage to check against the crosswise pulled thread.  The fabric is properly aligned when the lengthwise threads (selvage) and crosswise threads are perpendicular to one another.

3.  I have previously cut my paper pattern on the cutting line, or on the stitching line if I plan on adding the seam allowances with chalk or by using a rotary cutter with a spacer arm.  I have included any desired alterations on each pattern piece.  Although I pressed the paper pattern before the paper fitting process, I press it once again, taking care to avoid touching the iron to any areas with tape on them. Note: A friend sent me a sample of paper tape found in the "booboo" section of the drugstore where the bandaids are sold.  It can be ironed over, unlike Scotch tape.  I use a warm iron.  I never use steam because it will shrink the tissue paper. 

4.  With the help of large, gridded rulers and T-squares, I place each pattern piece on the fabric, aligning the grainline with that of the fabric.  I check the grainline carefully several times--first, when I place the piece on the fabric and secure it with pattern weights, second, after the weights have all been placed, and finally just before I cut.

Note:  Sometimes I have traced the paper pattern onto Patternease or Pellon Tru-Grid, ensuring that the pattern's indicated grainline lies along one of the grid lines.  This paper fabric is not always true in scale, however.  Although it is drawn with a 1 inch grid, the spacing is not always constant across the length and width of the paper fabric.  For that reason, I choose one line of the grid and mark it as my grainline on the pattern piece.  I always verify the grain with respect to that single line.

5.  I don't often align the pattern pieces the way they are indicated in the pattern layout in the guidelines.  I use my best judgment.  In general, for a jacket, I like to lay the pieces side by side as they go onto the jacket, keeping the corresponding notches at the same level.  I do this especially with tweeds or other fabrics which have even the most subtle patterning.

Note:  I usually try to use the "with nap" layout with most fabrics.  I study the fabric carefully to see whether there is a color or texture difference when the fabric is viewed from each direction along the lengthwise grain.  Even when I am relatively sure that there is no difference, I still try to use the "with nap" layout if I have enough fabric.

6.  If the fabric has a pattern, design, stripe, or plaid, I match all designs at each seam, wherever possible. I take extra care to look at any design on the bust or the derriere to ensure that no eye-catching design element is placed where I wouldn't want it in the finished garment. 

Note:  This whole process is more complex than described here.  Refer to sewing books regarding matching plaids, stripes, or one-way designs.  Essentially, with the fabric doubled, each piece is a mirror image of the one below it.  Unless one is good at visualizing the layout of a design on a mirror image and exactly aligning the layers of fabric, it is usually best to cut the pattern on this type of fabric in a single layer, flipping the pattern piece over for its complementary piece.

7. Next, I check the grainline of each piece once more.  Then I check each piece off my list that I previously checked or highlighted on the pattern insert.  I want to make absolutely certain that each piece is accounted for before cutting.

8. I check each piece against the pattern layout, making certain that any unusual indications have been adhered to, and verifying that whatever I changes I may have made in the layout have been well thought through.

9.  Now  I take a break.  I walk around the cutting table, looking at the layout from all sides.  I think about the garment's final look and check to see whether the layout supports that vision.

10.  I begin the cutting process at one end of the fabric and continue systematically toward the other end. I do not lift up any of the pattern pieces until the entire cutting process is complete.  I usually use a rotary cutter.  Occasionally I will use shears, especially my microserrated dressmaker shears, with fine fabrics or with polarfleece.

11.  Going back to the end where I first started cutting the fabric, I use a small pair of scissors to score around each pattern piece, ensuring that there are no connected threads. (I especially have to do this if I have used a rotary cutter).  Again, I move systematically down the length of the fabric, examining each pattern piece separately.

12.  Next I transfer any pattern markings and add any tailor tacks as needed.  I check every single pattern piece to ensure that I have not neglected a marking.

Note: I always use fine elastic thread in a large-eyed needle to place my tailor tacks.  The elastic thread does not pull out of the fabric the way conventional thread does.

13.  I pin a tiny gold safety pin into the seam allowance on the right side of each pattern piece, so that, should they become separated, I will always know what I have designated as the right side.  I remove the pins during the fusing or underlining process, or as I attach the piece to the garment if it is not underlined or interfaced.

14.  I remove the marked pieces from the cutting table, grouping them in stacks according to the body part:  Front pieces, Back pieces, Sleeve pieces, Lining pieces, Interfacing pieces.  I try to keep the pieces in these stacks throughout the assembly process.  I know it sounds stupid, but it is sometimes possible to mistake a side front for a side back piece, so keeping the pieces in their corresponding stack minimizes the chances that I might make a goof.

15.  I repeat this entire process for the lining, interfacings, and underlining.

Note: I know sewists who stack the fabrics one on top of the other and use the rotary cutter to cut through them all at the same time: fashion fabric, lining, underlining, and interfacing.  I have never used this method, so I can't comment on it one way or another.  It might be fun to try, as long as the accuracy of the cutting line is not compromised.

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