sew easy windows  
Ann K. Johnson
home button    -     photo button    -    articles button    -    store button     -   links button   



There are many different methods of cutting fabrics for sewing.  While we each have a favorite method, it is extremely important to be aware of all of the techniques and their special applications.  Custom work means adapting to different patterns, designs and fabrics.  This adaptability must extend to the very first step of the fabrication process, cutting the fabric.

Before we can discuss cutting techniques, it is important to understand the construction of fabrics.  We rarely deal with knit or stretchy fabrics, so the primary focus here will be on woven fabrics.  The process of weaving involves stretching the warp threads, the vertical threads, tight.  The weft or woof are the filling threads which run horizontally and are used to bind the warp threads on the ends to create the selvage.  The warp and weft lines of the fabric are referred to as grain lines or straight of grain.

The weaving process, when done properly, should produce a fabric length which is perfectly squared - the warp and weft are perpendicular to each other.  However, the action of rolling the fabric lengths through the dying, printing and sealing processes often pull the fabric out of square. The machines pull just a bit harder on one side than the other thereby pulling one end of the weft threads ahead faster than the other end.  The fabric is not square.

Do not confuse straight of grain with blocking/squaring. The warp and weft lines are straight of grain. They can be pulled out of alignment during processing causing the fabric to be out of square. The fabric can be cut along the grain line and squared using a blocking technique. However, when the pattern is printed on the fabric while it is out of square, we say the pattern is printed off the grain line. You can cut the fabric along the grain line and square it, but the pattern on the fabric will always be off grain.

The techniques for cutting fabric listed below begin with cutting following the straight of grain. This is always the best method to follow whenever possible because the fabrics themselves try to revert to straight of grain when hanging. However, subsequent techniques help you adapt to patterns on the fabric which are printed off square.

Cutting Techniques:

Straight of Grain.

This process involves cutting the fabric following the weft thread horizontally across the width of the fabric. Ideally, all square cuts should follow the straight of grain. This eliminates ripples and sagging in the finished product and the entire fabrication process is easier because of your confidence that the fabric is square. There are five techniques to use:

Woven horizontal lines:


If the pattern of the fabric has a woven horizontal line - not a printed on top horizontal line - you can cut the fabric following that horizontal line. This is the easiest method by which to cut on the straight of grain


cut to pattern


If the weft thread is large enough, you can often cut the width just by following the thread with your eyes



Pulling threads.

Snip thru the selvage. Loosen a piece of the weft thread and gently pull on it. Depending on how loosely the fabric is woven and how strong the weft thread is, you may be able to pull anywhere from two inches to most of the width of the fabric. As the thread is pulled, it will cause a puckering effect along the weft line.

pull thread

As the thread is pulled free, it will often leave a gap line. Once the thread breaks, cut along the pucker and/or gap line as far as you can. If possible, use the slicing technique to continue your cut line just a little farther past the pull line. Select a thread and pull again, continuing the process across the width of the fabric.

  • Tips:          
    • Place sheer fabrics on a dark surface or brown kraft paper to see the pull line easier.      
    • If the pull line does not show on the face of the fabric, turn it over. Often the pull line will  show better on the back of the fabric


A very sharp pair of scissors will slice through the warp threads easily while following a weft thread across the width of fabric. Open your scissors part way to find the sharpest spot. Use your alternate hand to hold the cut fabric down taut behind the scissors as you gently push the scissors along the width of the fabric. With practice, you will be able to feel when the scissors catch as they cut thru the weft thread - thereby warning you to slow down or stop and adjust your fabric to continue.



This technique is recommended only when the warp threads are very weak. Snip thru the selvage of the fabric. In short sharp bursts, tug the two sides of the fabric away from each other. Do not try to rip in one long motion. This technique should not be used if the ripped edge becomes too stretched out and rippled.


To date, there are only two fabrics I have found which can be ripped easily. They are the Roc Lon Rain No Stain lining and lightweight interlining.



Follow the pattern.

Plaids & checks.

If the pattern has a definite horizontal line, simply cut along that line. If the printed pattern is severely off grain, over 2", decide if the treatment design will accomodate this fabric. Roman shades, especially, need to be cut as close to straight of grain as possible. Once a piece is cut, if the cutting line is not square, you can block/straighten the fabric piece using the same method of blocking a piece cut on the straight of grain.


Floral or all-over patterns.

Spread the width of the fabric across the table. Align at least one edge of the fabric along the straight edge of the table. Smooth the fabric to eliminate any stretched or puckered areas. Determine a point on the pattern which repeats across the width of the fabric. Draw a line from one point to the next. Use the straightedge to continue the line to the selvege edge. Cut along that line.



Square the fabric to a straight edge.

This technique requires a professional workroom table. This table is typically five feet wide and eight or more feet long. It is covered with padding and canvas and bound on the sides with a rule strip. Horizontal lines are drawn on the table in one inch increments. Often, vertical lines are also drawn, creating a one inch grid over the entire surface of the table. Fabric is laid out flat on this table with both selvage edges aligned with the edges of the table. Some workrooms use a 60 inch ruler to draw a line horizontally across the fabric from one ruled side to the other. Other workrooms use a large T- or L- square to draw the horizontal cutting line. You can also ‘peel back’ the fabric as you cut, simply following a horizontal line drawn on the table.


Measure from the selvage edge.

When railroading fabrics, the selvage edge can be used as a true straight edge to measure into the width of the fabric and mark for vertical cuts.


Fold the fabric to obtain a straight edge.

Some fabrics defy all efforts to cut following a grain line or aligning to a square table. These include laces which are too stretchy and/or slippery to square to a table, embroidered sheers where the warp and weft have been twisted, blackout and insulated linings with fused layers and heavy weight upholsteries with fused backings. What you are doing here is establishing a straight edge based on the fabric. The edge you achieve will look square, but will not follow the thread line.

When all other methods fail, this one is very effective for cutting fabrics. Fold the fabric in half lengthwise, aligning the two selvage edges. Smooth flat. Fold the end of the fabric up about 10-12 inches, keeping selvages and side fold line aligned. With all sides aligned the bottom fold line is now a straight line. folding
Measure from the bottom fold up to the shortest point. Mark that measure across the width of the folded fabric. Cut along that line. This gives you a straight edge. You can now cut shorter valance pieces by measuring from the cut edge up and drawing a horizontal line across the fabric. To cut a long width of fabric, fold the bottom of the fabric up one half the finished measure of the required cut. Measure from the fold to the edge of the fabric along the width of the fabric.

This method should be chosen as a last resort. The fabric is cut based on where it wants to fold and smooth, therefore you will probably be off grain, sometimes by quite a bit. The fact that the fabric wants to be this shape may aid you in that it will handle with little trouble despite being off grain. It is a satisfactory method for cutting large pieces in workrooms which do not have a large table space on which to work.


Deciding which technique to use:

For the most part, I have listed the techniques in the the order in which fabric can be cut as close to the straight of grain as possible. I mentally follow this list every time I begin work on a new fabric. My personal feeling is that cutting on the straight of grain, while it may be a bit slower than squaring to a table, pays back later in the fabrication process and installation. When you know for sure the pieces of panels, valances, jabots, and shades are cut square, the pinning and assembling is so much easier. You can hem sides and bottoms and align edges with confidence that they will hang straight and true. Swags will hang perfectly symmetrical. Even bias cut swags will hang just a bit askew if the piece from which they were cut was not squared properly. This can be adjusted, but the time you saved at cutting is now lost during fabrication.



I highly recommend studying and practicing each one of the techniques described above. It is my feeling that 90% of the quality in each job is established at the cutting stage. If the treatment is not cut and squared properly, a cascading series of problems will occur as it is assembled, and no amount of dressing at installation will make it hang perfect. However, any workroom which understands how to cut and square properly at the first step will find that the entire fabrication flows smoother with more consistent quality in the end product. .

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy:

Fearless Pattern Repeats - Part 1 - Basics of pattern matching and handling various types of repeats.

Fearless Pattern Repeats - Part 2 - all about stripes & plaids

Half-Drop & Drop Match Repeats

Cutting Techniques

Squaring Fabric

Return to the Sew Easy Windows articles Table of Contents page.


Member of:

WCAA - Window Coverings Association of America

Drapery Pro

Professional Windows

Workroom Association of America

Custom Home Furnishings Academy - Instructor

Greater Cleveland Drapery Professionals

WCAA logo         WCAA award










home button    -     photo button    -    articles button    -    store button     -   links button

©2001 - 2003 - 2004 - 2005 - 2006 - 2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2010            

AKJ Workroom & Sew Easy Windows