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Facing your Fear: Cutting into Woven Fabric

No matter how experienced a sewer you are, there is a terrifying moment when you cut into your own woven fabric for the first time. Will it unravel if I touch it? Will the sewing machine tear it apart? These thoughts can be paralyzing. Here are some tips to put you at ease.

Clockwise from top: rotary cutters, dressmaker's ham, perpendicular pins, walking foot, and cross grain stitching.

Fabric Prep

1. Find the cross grain. Weave in a different color thread at both ends to clearly indicate the cross grain. Otherwise unravel each end until you have a complete weft thread.

2. Sew two lines of stitching close together on both ends of the fabric on the cross grain to prevent unraveling. Zigzag between them if needed. Wash and dry as appropriate.

3. Straighten the fabric. If the cross grain and selvedge are not perpendicular, pull the fabric on the diagonal to straighten it. Steam iron.


1. Be realistic. Collars, set-in sleeves, buttonholes -- No. Select patterns with simple construction. Browse such sites as these: Daryl Lancaster's, The Sewing Place , Sarah Howard's Etsy shop:

2. Make a muslin first. I know this sounds painful but trust me, it is not a painful as making something that doesn't fit. If you don't have any muslin, an old sheet or thin table cloth will work too.

3. Note stress points in the pattern that might need interfacing or extra stitching, such as armholes and side slits.

Cutting Out the Pattern - the moment of truth!

1. Cut on a single layer. Do not try to cut out the pattern on folded fabric and risk it slipping. Remember to flip the pattern pieces for right and left sides.

2. Use a rotary cutter. With scissors you have to pick up the fabric, which can make it unravel as you cut. A rotary cutter (18mm or 45mm) cuts cleanly without any fabric movement. And the gridded rotary cutting mat makes it easy to keep the fabric on the grain.

3. Worried about unraveling? Pencil or chalk around the pattern pieces, then put Fray Check just inside the lines. Let dry before cutting.

Sewing Machines

1. Buy new needles. You'll need a sharp fine needle -- size 11 or 12 -- to go cleanly through the fabric.

2. Invest in a walking foot. This accessory moves the top fabric along with the bottom using an extra set of feed dogs, preventing slippage. You need to buy one specifically for your machine's make and model.

3. Use the Down Needle position. See if your machine allows you to set the needle position down so you can pivot fabric easily without missing a stitch.


1. Always pin perpendicular to the seam.

2. Don't sew over pins. Remove them as you come to them.

3. Buy pins with beaded heads so they won't poke through the fabric and create holes.

4. Hand baste if matching is critical. It is faster than ripping out an entire seam.

Seam Finishes

1. Utilize the selvedges. Try to place straight seams on a selvedge.

2. Hong Kong Finished Seams. Search the internet for videos and instructions on how to enclose the seam edges neatly. Dritz's "Seams Great" is a thin nylon strip to use for this.

3. Sewing machine stitches. Check out those stitches you've never used, especially the zigzag with straight stitch combo, for a alternate finish.

Using an Iron

1. Press, not iron. Press and hold the iron on the wrong side to open the seam. Lift, move and press the next portion. Ironing back and forth just creates wrinkles.

2. Press as you sew. Use steam if your fiber can handle it.

3. Consider buying a dressmaker's ham to press curved areas. Or roll up a thick towel.

Need supplies now?

Michaels has several stores in the NYC area. They sell universal needles that fit any machine, rotary cutters, mats and rulers, and Fray Check. Their website shows inventory by store location.

Steinlauf & Stoller -- 221 W 37th St @7th Ave -- sells muslin, interfacing, pins, rotary cutters and a wide variety of notions.


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