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Techniques for Cutting Fabric Strips 
With More Accuracy

by Charlotte Wolfe -- Charlotte's Sew Natural


This is a simple tip that can save you time & fabric (which translates into money!).  This should make anyone happy!

Accuracy is important in lots of things, including quilt making.  The accuracy of each step in making a quilt affects the ease & accuracy with which the next step can be taken.  So if you can improve the accuracy of the first step, "cutting", the entire project is off to a better start!

This tip is simple to execute using a little math - multiplication and division.

First cut a rectangle with a width that is a multiple of your desired strip measurement, then cut the strips, always using the same straight cut edge to measure from.  With this technique, you will get truly straight strips every time because the edge that you are measuring from remains constant.  It is not being trimmed a little bit with each cut.  Typically, you lose/add a little bit at the top of each strip cut and so after you have cut 2 or 3 strips you no longer have straight cuts, but are actually cutting "wedges", "parallelograms" or some shape other than true rectangles.  This creates all kinds of problems, depending on how you are using your strips.  If you are using a folded piece of fabric, you may have to trim the edge to 90 degrees again and again to avoid cutting "V" or "W" shaped strips (wasting fabric, costing $$).  You may need to re-cut strips (wasting time) or re-calculate & cut new pieces to get next pieces to fit  because you can't really see that extra 1/16" that is added to the top of each strip but when 4 are sewn together have added up to 1/4" extra (wasting time, fabric and getting frustrated!).

So read on to learn the step-by-step how-to, and then incorporate this new technique into your quilt making habits!

Start with the size strip you want to cut.  Let's use 1 7/8" as my example (because 1/8 inches can be harder to cut accurately than many other measurements and it will illustrate the value of this tip in a hurry).

Multiply your strip size several times to get different measurements.
1 7/8" x 2 = 3 3/4",  1 7/8" x 4 = 7 1/2",  1 7/8" x 6 = 11 1/4", 1 7/8" x 8 = 15"

Now take your largest square ruler - I recommend a 12" minimum, but even larger (like a 15" in this case) may be better.  (Let me mention here, that I rotary cut everything.  But you could use a really fine marker, like a Clover Chacoliner, in it's place and cut with scissors on the fine chalk line.  Just remember, we are striving for accuracy here!)

Let's start with a "fat quarter" of fabric.  (For those new to quilting, a fat quarter is half of a 1/2 yard, & so should always be 18" long by approximately 22" wide.  I always try to cut my strips from the "lengthwise grain" of the fabric - see Tip:  "Value of Straight Grain Piecing" for this reasoning.) You can use other lengths of fabric but I'm going to use a fat quarter for my example and so am using 18" in length.  If you are using anything less than an 18" square ruler (& 18" is TOO big and awkward a ruler, in my opinion), you must fold your fabric to fit completely under the ruler.  Fold the fat quarter in half lengthwise, matching the selvage (woven edge) to itself so that you now have a 9" long by 22" wide rectangle that has a long folded edge, is square on the selvage side and probably uneven, non-matching on the other edges.

Lay your square ruler on top of this rectangle.  Line up the fold of the fabric with the edge or a line on the ruler and trim off the selvedge.  You have a cut edge that is a perfect 90 degree angle to your fold. Slide (carefully, as not to disturb the fabric) your ruler so that you have the size rectangle you need under the ruler.  For this example, we will pretend to only have a 12" square ruler, so I will gently slide it 3/4 of an inch, so that the clean cut edge I just made is on the 11 1/4" line of the ruler.  (This is the maximum number of 1 7/8" strips I can get out of 12".) Cut on the other side of the ruler, making sure that the ruler is still accurate along the folded edge.  You now have an accurate 11 1/4" rectangle underneath your ruler from which you will be able to cut exactly six 1 7/8" strips.   (I have cut approximately 10" off of my fat quarter & will set that aside for use later.) 

Now comes the math, and a calculator may be handy for some of us!  Subtract the width of 1 strip from the measurement of your cut rectangle.  (Ex.: 11 1/4" - 1 7/8" = 9 3/8")  Carefully place this line of your ruler on the original cut edge. (If you are right-handed, this is edge is on the left side of your rectangle, as you are cutting on the right-hand side of the ruler.  If you are left-handed, the original cut edge is on the right-hand side of the ruler and you are cutting on the left side.)  Now cut.  What is NOT under your ruler is the accurate width strip.

Continue doing the math, subtracting the width of the strip from the rectangle size that is under the ruler, moving the ruler to the new measurement, and then cutting.  If you need more strips than you produce with one rectangle, cut another rectangle and repeat the steps.

Tips for the Tip-

Tip #1:  Mark your ruler with tape on the measurements you need so that you don't have to do the math every time.  It makes it go faster and also helps prevent mistakes even when you are doing easy measurements like 2" strips.

Tip #2:  If you are doing a tricky cut, like 1 7/8", it is a lot easier to first cut a larger, easier measurement.  Cut 3 3/4" strips, then cut these in half, making two equal 1 7/8" strips.  Improving accuracy is a worthwhile goal. Having said that, may I remind you that there are no "Quilt Police" and that you should always be proud of your projects.  If you now see it's "short-comings" (and one always does by the end of a project!), learn from them and vow to do better on the next one.  By all means, do not point them out to everyone you show your finished work to!  They are probably so in awe of you for your work and you DESERVE to "bask" in their admiration!

Charlotte Wolfe is the owner of Charlotte's Sew Natural, 710 N. Main St., Newton, KS 67114. Also www.sewnatural.net on the internet.  She has owned her own store for more than 16 years, and been in the business of selling fabric for over 22 years


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