2: fabric prep & cutting

I’m shy.  Being so, I hate applying for jobs.  When I was in high school I needed to find an after school job, but secretly hoped some store manager would come knocking on my door and recruit me.  I dreaded the thought of putting myself out there, until my dad told me, “You won’t get a job you don’t apply for.  So go fill out some applications.”  And yes, I’m focused on our lesson here, I promise.  See, a lot of people want to sew, but they are white-knuckled terrified of cutting out their fabric.  If you can’t do step 1, how will you get to step 2?  So wipe those clammy hands off on your pants, and let’s get started.


The first thing you should do in preparation for a new sewing project is to preshrink your fabric.  I’m a big believer in this.  Some fabrics shrink, some don’t.  Sometimes it can be hard to tell, so why not get any shrinkage out of the way before you start!  There’s hardly a more tragic sewing ending than to make something wonderful, only to have it shrink the first time you wash it.

Depending on the fiber content of the fabric you’re working with, you’ll have different care/laundering instructions.  If you’re unsure how to wash a specific fabric that you’re interested in buying, ask an employee, they should be able to find the care instructions for you if it isn’t marked on the bolt.


Fabric washed and dried – check.  Now it’s time to quickly iron your material if it needs it.  Again, do this according to the care instructions for your fabric.  If it’s delicate, you don’t want a high temperature setting to melt your fabric.  Most irons have the settings marked to help you (cotton, silk, etc.).  True, your fabric will probably just get wrinkly from working with it as you sew, but ironing before you cut out a pattern is important.  If you skip this step, those big wrinkles could make your pattern pieces the wrong size.


And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for… cutting out your pattern pieces.  EEEK!  First, cut out the paper pattern using paper scissors, because your nice fabric shears (if you chose to invest in them) will be dulled by paper.  If your pattern has multiple sizes, and you need one of the smaller sizes, I’d suggest tracing it, rather than cutting the pattern down.  That way you can use the pattern again for the larger sizes if you ever need to.  I keep a roll of table paper on hand for my patterns.  Table paper is the crinkly stuff you sit on at the doctor’s office.  You can get a large roll that will last you nearly forever for a really reasonable price.  Just check out your local medical supply store (you have one nearby, even if you don’t know it).

With your paper pattern cut out, pin it to your fabric and cut around the bold outer line using your shears.  If a pattern says “cut 2” just fold the fabric in half, and cut out both layers at the same time.

For a straight edge cut, a rotary cutter, ruler, and cutting mat come in handy.  It’s certainly not necessary though, if you’re just starting out.

That’s it.  Wash, press, and cut.  Sometimes that’s half the battle.

And one more thing…

Remember when we talked about grain?  Most woven fabrics can be ripped on grain if you snip into the fabric and tear with both hands.  This just helps get that edge on grain to assist in cutting your fabric out.  Sometimes you can even use this method if your pattern requires strips or squares of fabric.


Cut out the sample squares for the Sample Book

1: fabric basics

In college, I took a 5 credit class called “Textiles”.  I love to sew, but that class was pretty overwhelming.  There was so much information taught that I was so obviously not going to maintain.  Having a resource, like a book or website, to turn to for specifics about fabric when you need it is awesome, but you only need to really know so much when you’re just starting.


The differences between these 3 fabric types are not found in the fibers used (cotton, polyester, etc.), but rather in the method used to make them.

1: Woven fabric is a non-stretch material (unless is has been woven with elastic, like in your jeans).  It’s produced on large looms that weave yarns together vertically and horizontally with an over-under pattern.  Because of this weave, the edges fray when cut.  The majority of fabrics found at the fabric store are woven.

2: Non-woven fabric is made of small fibers held together by heat and pressure, sometimes even glue.  When you cut it, the edges don’t necessarily fray, but the material can be pulled apart if you tug on two ends.  Examples of this are the felt you use for crafting, or even disposable diapers!

3: Knit fabric is the hardest to sew with, because it has a considerable amount of stretch to it.  Picture the sweater that your Aunt Jeanie knit by hand; knit material is mass-produced the same way, using knitting machines.  It doesn’t fray, but tends to curl at the ends when it’s been cut.  Knit fabrics are used for products like t-shirts and women’s swimwear.

If you have scraps of any of these 3 fabric types, cut a 1″ square and attach it next to it’s description on the “Fabric Basics” page in the sample book.

In this course we will be working with woven fabrics, because it is the most basic to sew with and maintain.  So let’s learn a little more about woven fabrics, shall we?!  Don’t be overwhelmed by the information, this is just to help give you a general idea of how the weave works, you don’t have to have it all memorized.


When you buy material off the bolt at the fabric store, it comes with a set width (45″, 60″, etc.), which will be labeled on the end of the bolt.  The length of your cut of fabric will depend on how much you choose to purchase.  If I buy 1 yard of fabric (36″) that comes in a 45″ width, I will end up with a piece of fabric 36″X45″ to work with.  The two sides of your material that run lengthwise are usually manufactured with a bound edge that does not fray, known as the selvage.


The yarns that are woven along the length of the fabric, alongside the selvage, are called warp.  The yarns that run along the width of fabric are called weft.  Sometimes a pattern is woven into a fabric by using varying colors of yarns in the warp and weft, creating stripes, checkers, or plaid.  Other times, a pattern is simply printed on top of a pre-woven material.

For your first sample, cut 4 strips of paper 1″x5″ of one color, and 4 strips of paper 1″x5″ of a contrasting color.  Lay them out in warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal).  Weave the strips together loosely and then push the warp and weft “yarns” close together to create a tight, secure weave.

Add this sample to the sample book on the “Fabric Basics” page.


The warp threads indicate the grain.  In other words, the grain of the fabric runs along the length.  When pattern pieces are cut off grain (slanted), the end result can end up skewed and twisted.


Bias is the 45 degree angle of the fabric.  Try tugging on a piece of  woven fabric along the width.  No stretch.  Now try tugging on the same fabric along the length.  Still no stretch.  But, if you tug on it at a 45 degree angle- there’s some stretch!  That’s called the bias.  Sometimes a pattern will tell you to cut something out on the bias to take advantage of that stretch.


Find 1 yd. quilting cotton (preferably a solid color) for the  sample book

An Introduction to Sewing – FREE

Before you tell yourself that you just don’t sew, that you don’t have the patience, that you aren’t creative enough, that home economics in junior high school brought you to tears… take a deep breath.  Sewing, like anything else in life, is a learned skill.  Just take it one itty bitty step at a time, and  before you know it, you’ll be a wiz!

In the seventh grade everyone was required to take a sewing class for one-quarter of the school year.  We made a wind sock that you hang from a tree in the yard as outdoor decor.  All straight lines, and what I can only assume was horrific execution.  My mom hung it in the yard with a smile on her face, but thinking back on it, I can’t remember the day it came down.  I’m sure she left it up long enough for me to forget about it and then threw the ghastly thing away.  Truthfully, I never cared for the wind sock, but I learned that I thought sewing was fun.  The other project I remember making was a pair of mittens.  To this day my dear, old friends still tease me on occasion about my “squashed banana hand mittens”.  They were terrible.  I don’t think I ever wore them.  But I still liked sewing.  From there my mom taught me more about sewing and reading a pattern, and I just… experimented.

These e-courses are designed to build on each other, so you can take it one lesson at a time, and move at your own pace.  Tackle it with a friend; pick and choose the projects and techniques that interest you most; read and re-read the concepts that you have the hardest time with.

You don’t have a sewing machine?  Borrow one from a neighbor for a while, and then you can take the leap and get your own if you decide that you like it.  YOU CAN FIND INFORMATION ON THE SEWING MACHINES USED BY ALL OF MY FAVORITE SEW-Y BLOGGERS HERE.

If you’re interested in the introduction to sewing course (why not! it’s FREE), read on, and I’ll talk a little bit about the materials you’ll want to have, and what you can expect from the course.

  1. Shears– Anytime I ask my husband to hand me my scissors (in reference to my Gingher shears) he says, “They’re not scissors, Stace.  They’re SHEARS.”  His mama taught him well!  Shears run at about $35.00 (USD), so if you have a nice pair of scissors that will do the job, don’t let me stop you!  Use what works.  But if you are in the market for some good shears, I say go Gingher.
  2. Seam Ripper– There is no shame in having to use a seam ripper, we all do!
  3. ThreadI always stock up on all-purpose thread when it’s on sale.  It’s a good idea to keep black and white on hand (at least I use those colors the most) and a spool to match the project that I’m working on.
  4. Bobbins – Have a few empty bobbins on hand (you’ll learn how to thread it soon)
  5. Straight Pins– Pins are a heaven send, especially for beginners;  they don’t need to be fancy, just functional.
  6. 1 yd. sample fabric- Most of the lessons in this course offer samples of the techniques being taught.  These samples can be compiled in a binder, along with the PDF Sample Book Printout (this printout includes simplified explanations of each sample).  Prints can be distracting from the techniques being shown, so it is suggested to get a solid color with a contrasting thread color.



Ready to start?

‘Introduction to Sewing’ Lessons:
1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9     10