Thursday, October 3, 2013

Busy Blocks: Beginner Cutting Tips

Soooo who thought sewing would be easier than cutting? *raises hand and looks around* Just me? Well, that figures. I find myself almost sweaty-nervous (sorry for the overshare) every time I even think about the next time I have to break out my rotary cutter. My hesitation stems from the idea that cutting is first step that has the potential to really screw you up. Yes, fabric selection is crazy-important, but that doesn't affect the more technical parts of quilting like matching seams and not "cutting off" (with a sewing machine) the points of every half-square triangle block (try as I might).

Sensing my nerves, Kathy assured me that this quilt and all of my future ones can "absorb a million small different errors." Taking her far too literally, I felt a sense of panic wash over me—if I'm freaking out about this one issue, how many millions am I ignoring?! I snapped back to reality when Kathy told me to focus on what'll absolutely drive me crazy. (Who guessed "Everything" was my reply? You know me too well.) Focus, she told me, on "perfecting" those things and take a proverbial chill pill instead of worrying about every detail. As long as the same error isn't made over and over and over again, the quilt will look perfectly fine. Here are a few other top tips from Kathy on cutting:

  • "Having the top of the ruler move a little each time a strip is cut is a really common error that has to be protected against. That's one big reason I love the anti-skid circles on Creative Grids' rulers, but it can still happen if you're not careful."
  • "Lots of beginners get overwhelmed when they have a large chunk of fabric. Just concentrate on what fits on the mat and then readjust when you've cut to end of the mat."
  • "Keep cutting, cutting, cutting! It WILL get easier and easier. Beginners are normally afraid to cut, but, with practice, I promise it will get easier."
  • "Strips are always cut on the width of fabric unless you're instructed to cut lengthwise. Patterns always make a big deal out of cutting lengthwise, so don't be scared of missing this step. Double check yourself early on by making sure the strips have selvage at the top and the bottom."

For Busy Blocks, cutting wise, I had it pretty easy (Kathy's words, not mine). After she altered the instructions a bit to include the half-square/quarter-square triangle ruler, she gave me a rundown on understanding the cutting instructions. All but a few pattern designers base their cutting charts on fabric being 40 inches wide (enough though high-quality, 100% cotton quilting fabric is typically 44/45 inches) to account for wiggle room. With that in mind, she gave me a quick rundown on squares. If, for example, a pattern wants us to cut two 5-inch strips (with the intent of squares being cut from said strips), you can get eight squares (40-inch wide fabric ÷ 5-inch squares) out of each strip for a total of sixteen squares (eight 5-inch squares × two strips). Yeesh, that's a lot of numbers. As a visual learner, I think this explains it a bit more clearly:

How to figure out the number of strips needed for squares | See Teri Sew

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After my lesson, I got to work. Over the course of two days, I managed to cut out all of my squares and develop a major backache. (No one warned me about quilting requiring stretching!) Now, even though I forgot to photograph this joyous occasion, I did, at least, think to snap a photo when I was halfway done.

The squares are destined to be the outside of the hexagons and the long bits of folded fabric will be the block centers.

Next up is tackling half-square triangles! Since I also record and edit all of The QP's YouTube videos, I have a general idea how to use the HST ruler. If you need a refresher—I know I will after my next class—watch our tutorial on making half-square triangles both the traditional way and with a handy ruler.


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