I’ve been sewing for more than half my life (admittedly, easier for me to say than for others), and I’d like to think I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way, specifically in working with commercial patterns. I owe most of them to my grandmother and my mom, but I thought I would look really smart if I made it into a pretty list and took credit 😉
One of the things that it took me a while to be comfortable with was straying from the provided cutting layouts on commercial patterns. It’s actually way easier for me now to make up my own as I go along than try to use the pattern’s.
I always start by roughly cutting out the pattern pieces and lay them out from there, after making any initial alterations. Here are some of the things I keep in mind.
- Grainline – pattern pieces will have a line drawn through the middle to align with the grainline. When you rearrange pattern pieces, make sure to keep the grainline parallel to the selvages or perpendicular. (When I want something cut on the bias, I use a ruler to mark a 45º angle from the grainline.)
- Directional patterns and nap – if my fabric has any nap or a directional pattern, I make sure that all my pieces are facing the same way (and the right way). I often use the grainline to help with that.
- On-the-fold pieces – some pieces need to be cut out on the fold, some don’t. If I am rearranging my pattern pieces because my fabric is oddly shaped, I make sure I have enough room to create the necessary fold (or to trace it out flat) before I start cutting.
- The size line –if I haven’t used a pattern before and haven’t cut to my size line, I always make sure that the cutting lines don’t overlap, not necessarily the edge of the pattern.
- The little pieces – often, I’ll focus so much on getting the larger pieces to fit really closely together that I completely forget about the little pieces in a pattern (facings, collars, etc). To make sure I still have enough room for these pieces, I lay out the bigger pieces first and hold them down with pattern weights as I rearrange the little pieces around them.
- Hems – if I’m cutting out a skirt, I consider the hem I want first. I generally have to shorten skirts (because I’m short and like my skirts short), so I always start by shortening the pattern before I cut (using the lengthen-or-shorten-here lines, not just adding extra to the hem). I also take into consideration how deep of a hem I want and add fabric accordingly.
- Matching prints – Working with prints is more than just making sure they are facing the same direction. Actually matching prints takes way more fabric than normal, especially if the repeat of the pattern is large, so I always make sure to buy extra in the store. This tutorial is great for helping match patterns.
- Alterations that can’t be done before cutting – any alterations you can do on the pattern pieces before cutting should be done then, but some can’t. If I plan on making alterations to the pattern (specifically to the lines of the garment) later, I take that into consideration when cutting. For example, I usually have to add width to the side seams on my bodices, so I give myself some extra room when I cut out (or just sew it with a smaller seam allowance).
I hope this list is helpful to you sewists! I know making it made me realize how much consideration goes into the process.
Do you have any other tips or tricks for making the most of your fabric when cutting out your patterns? Any comments on my ideas? I’d love to hear them 🙂