Have you ever finished sewing a shirt or dress only to find that it hangs crookedly when you wear it? You can often trace this common problem all the back to the first steps of the sewing process, when you may not have cut out the pieces of fabric exactly straight. Learning how to cut fabric straight will save many future sewing projects for you!
Common ways to cut fabric straight include using the grainline on knits or pulling a thread on wovens. Using rotary cutters and a mat often provides a crisp line, as does using careful marking and good dressmaker’s sheers. The best way to prevent the fabric from shifting while cutting is to use fabric weights or painter’s tape to hold it in place.
In this article, you will learn how to pick the best method for cutting your fabric straight. You will discover nine easy ways to cut fabric straight. Finally, you will find tips on how to cut long pieces of fabric.
Why is It Hard to Cut Fabric Straight?
Cutting fabric straight can prove challenging because the manufacturer stretched out the material, you didn’t line the fabric up properly before cutting, or the cloth was not cut straight when you purchased it.
You can easily learn how to cut your fabric properly using any of the nine methods listed in the next section. But before you dive in, do a little prep work to save you a lot of time and bother later on.
First, always prewash your fabric before you embark on cutting out anything. Many types of cloth will shrink or stretch slightly in the wash, so you don’t want to save that step for after you sew a project!
Next, always iron or lightly steam your fabric to remove wrinkles. Iron lengthwise with the grain of the fabric. You can’t line up and cut straight on a piece of wrinkled material.
Before you can check the straightness of your cloth, you need to know how to find the grainline. Get up close and personal with the fabric for this step. If necessary, pull out a magnifying glass or take a pic on your phone and zoom in. You want to clearly see how the threads cross or loop over each other inside the material.
You can check two kinds of grainline depending on whether you have a knitted or woven fabric. Woven fabric has threads that cross over and under each other, and knitted fabric is made out of one long thread in many tiny loops.
For woven fabrics, the grainline means the warp threads that run parallel to the selvage. The cross grain, as you might expect, means the threads running perpendicular to the selvage.
For knitted fabric, the grainline also runs vertically down the fabric, parallel to the selvage. But in this case, you will not see one straight thread. You will see what looks like long, tiny braids running vertically down the length of the material.
Now that you know how to see the grainline, check if your fabric squares up before cutting.
- To see if your fabric squares up, try spreading out the length of fabric on a flat surface and folding it in half to match up the selvage. The selvage is the long woven strip down the side of the material, often in an undyed color. This woven edge keeps the fabric from unraveling.
- You can often tell if the fabric lies square by doing this. If you get a bubble in one edge when you try to align the selvage, it does not lie square. You can also spread the piece flat to see if it looks perfectly rectangular or more like a skewed trapezoid.
- Finally and most importantly, check to see if that vertical grain line runs parallel to the selvage.
- Sometimes, one side may have shrunk a bit during the prewash, or perhaps the lady at the fabric counter in your favorite craft store did not cut the length of the material perfectly straight. The good news is that you can quickly square away those skewed sides.
- If you did not do this already, spread the fabric on a flat, hard surface. Use a steamer or water spray bottle to dampen the cloth.
- Now stretch the corners in the opposite direction to return the fabric to a square shape.
- Double-check by folding half again and making sure the grainline runs parallel to the selvage.
Once your fabric is washed, ironed, and squared up, you can start cutting!
How to Cut Fabric Straight: 9 Methods
You can cut fabric straight using a good pair of scissors or a rolling rotary cutter. You can even use a craft knife to make clean cuts. Check out these nine simple methods to master cutting fabric straight!
The most traditional way to cut fabric straight is to use a pair of quality dressmaker’s shears and a marking tool.
- Start by finding a 90° straight-angle ruler like this one or a clear acrylic T-shaped ruler. You could also make your own out of cardboard using some careful measuring with a regular 12” ruler if you want to get crafty!
- If you plan to cut more than one layer of fabric, pin the layers together near where you plan to cut.
- Align one side of the ruler with the selvage of the fabric. This puts your ruler on the grainline. Line up the perpendicular side of the ruler about an inch below the ragged, short end of the material.
- Now you can trace the perpendicular side of the ruler to draw a straight line, using either a washable fabric marker or tailor’s chalk.
- Use sharp sewing shears to cut down your marking.
- Do this on both short ends of the fabric to square it up. Then you should have a perfectly straight length of fabric, with the grainline running perpendicular to the selvage.
- From that point, you can measure to cut out any size of a straight square or rectangle and use the ruler and marking tool again to help you cut these out.
2. Rotary Cutter
Another super easy way to cut fabric straight is to use a rotary cutter and pattern weights. A rotary cutter looks kind of like a pizza cutter. The sharpened disc spins as you roll it down the fabric, quickly slicing through to provide a clean cut.
- Start by picking out a rotary cutter like this one. You will also need a cutting mat beneath your fabric, or the cutter’s blade will slice through your work surface.
- Prep the fabric and get it squared before smoothing it onto the cutting mat.
- Next, either measure and use a marking tool to draw the shape you plan to cut or use pattern weights to hold a sewing pattern on top of the fabric.If you want to measure and make markings, try using this clear acrylic ruler to help.
- If you do not need pattern pieces, place pattern weights down the edges of the cloth to hold them in place on the mat.
- You can use anything small, heavy, and flat on one side as a pattern weight, such as fishing lures, magnets, or metal washers.
- Finally, hold the rotary cutter at a 45° angle. Always cut away from your body.
- Roll the circular blade of the cutter down the outside edge of the pattern pieces or along the marking you made.
3. Pinning Knits
One of the best ways to get knit fabric straight before you cut is to pin the edge down along the grainline. This method takes some time, but it removes the danger of curling edges on knits that can often skew the cloth off a straight line.
Because knit fabric has a structure made from one long, continuous thread in millions of tiny knitted loops, it has a lot of stretch. It also tends to curl up along any cut edge.
- First, look closely at the cut edge. Spot the grainline by finding any long, vertical strings of loops that look like a tiny braid running through the knit material.
- Stick a sewing pin in that braid so you don’t lose sight of it.
- Fold under the edge with that braid running just on top of the folded edge.
- Keep going down the length of the fabric, pinning the edge under, and making sure you keep that same braid just on top of the fold.
- Once you reach the end of the fabric, you will have a straight edge on the grainline running all the way down the material.
4. Pulled Thread
Another old-but-good way to cut straight with the grainline of the fabric is to use the pulled thread technique. This method only works with woven fabric, so don’t try it on a knit–you might damage the cloth!
- First, spread out your woven cloth on a flat surface and make sure the selvage lies straight.
- Now, find the cut end of the fabric–the short end that lies perpendicular to the selvage.
- Look closely at the loose threads on that cut edge. Pick out a warp thread pretty close to the selvage (remember, warp threads run parallel to the salvage, down the length of the piece of cloth).
- Wrap the tail of the thread around your fingers and gently pull on it.
- You will see the fabric gathering or puckering around the thread as you pull. Keep going, pulling gently and smoothly until the whole thread comes out of the fabric into your hand.
- Now you will have a tiny, empty line down the fabric where you pulled out the thread! Simply cut down this perfect grainline to get a straight cut.
- If the thread snaps as you pull on it, set it aside and cut down to where the thread broke, following that empty space. Then pick up the thread and begin again!
5. Knits Grainline
Another way to cut a straight line down a length of knit material is to follow the grainline by sight.
This method is a little rough-and-ready, but if you have a visible, large knit, it does save some time.
Simply find the grainline in your knit fabric and cut it down. Make sure you stay on the same “braid” of loops as you cut vertically down the material.
For knits using finer threads with tiny loops that you can hardly see, the pinning method described earlier works better, though it requires more prep work.
6. Printed Design
While not a fool-proof method, you can often quickly cut fairly straight on a piece of woven fabric by following a printed design in the cloth, too.
- Does the fabric have checks or stripes? Pick a line in the design and cut along it. This saves you all the time using an angled ruler to mark the lines yourself.
- Does the material have a floral pattern that runs in a line? Use this and a ruler to help you quickly draw a straight line and find the grainline of the fabric.
- Does the fabric have large designs spaced far apart but in a vertical straight line? Use these reference points to connect your ruler and help you mark a line down the grainline.
7. Craft Knife
If you do not have a rotary cutter or sewing shears, you can cut fabric straight using a craft knife. This is not as easy as using scissors, though, because the knife will usually only cut through one layer of material at a time.
- If you need to cut a straight line down the fabric, after prepping and squaring up the material, place a clear ruler next to your knife and use that edge to guide the blade.
- Only cut one layer of material at a time.
- Use pattern weights to hold the cloth in place as you cut. You may also need to place your hand flat on the cloth to hold it in place against the drag of the knife blade.
8. Without Fabric Moving
You can prevent the fabric from moving as you cut in several ways using tools like weights, painter’s tape, and pins.
One of the most annoying things that can happen as you try to cut out a pattern on your carefully squared fabric is that the material gets caught on your hand or your cutting tools and shifts off its alignment before you can finish cutting.
To avoid this, you want to use tools to keep the material in place.
- If you want to cut out a sewing pattern, locate the grainline printed on each piece. Align the piece with the grainline of the fabric. Pick one warp thread above the grainline marking in the pattern piece, and stick a pin in it. Then do the same on the opposite side of the pattern, right below the grainline marking. This makes sure the pattern piece will not shift off the grainline as you cut.
- After you square up the material, use a piece of painter’s tape to hold the edges of the fabric down to your cutting mat before you start cutting.
- If you plan to use a rotary cutter, use pattern weights. This holds the fabric down and makes cutting around curves and edges easy.
9. Ripping Fabric
Believe it or not, you can also rip fabric to get a straight grainline before you cut out pattern pieces. Many high-end quilting or sewing stores use this method to “cut off” the length of fabric you want to buy. They just mark the measured length you want and rip the material!
- Start by making a tiny snip just inside the selvage, parallel to the selvage.
- Hold both sides of this snip and just rip, really hard.
- The fabric will tear straight down the grainline down the length of the cloth.
- You can use this to get a straight grainline or to rip out long, straight strips of fabric for things like smocking, quilt binding, etc.
- You can also use this method to get a straight edge for super-long items like curtains!
What is the Best Tool to Cut Fabric StraightThe best tool to cut fabric straight is either a pair of sharp sewing shears or a rotary cutter, depending on your preference.
As a pro tip, five-dollar kitchen scissors from Ikea do not count as sewing shears. Of course, you can make anything work in a pinch or when on a budget. But try to save up for real sewing shears–these sharp, heavy, durable scissors will hold a precise edge and help you cut perfectly straight lines.
If you use scissors to cut through folded fabric with multiple layers, make sure you pin the layers together. If you use a rotary cutter on more than one layer of cloth, use pattern weights to keep the cloth from shifting as you cut.
If you sew professionally, you may also want to look into a high-speed fabric-cutting machine like this one. These tools can cut straight lines incredibly quickly, but they cost an average of $300 and require proper training.
How to Cut Long Lengths of Fabric Straight
The best way to cut long lengths of fabric straight is to secure the material in place and use extra-long tools to help you cut quickly.
- If you do not have a long cutting table, try duct-taping together two large cutting maats and placing them on a hard floor. This way, you can use a rotary cutter to cut a long piece of cloth straight down.
- To keep your lines straight, tape together two rulers to guide your rotary cutter.
- After you find the grainline and square up your fabric, try using a long length of painter’s tape to hold the edges of the material down to your cutting table or the floor so the fabric does not shift as you cut it.
- If you use scissors to cut a long piece of fabric straight, smoothly open and close the shears so that the whole length of each blade slices through the fabric with each cut. You don’t want to snip your way down a long length of cloth because you will end up with a jagged cut!
How to Cut Fabric Straight for Curtains
You have to get your fabric on grain and square to cut fabric straight for curtains.
- Since you often use a heavy-weight woven fabric for curtains, you can try ripping the cloth down the grainline to get perfectly straight edges for your curtains! Don’t try this with thick velvet or thin sheers, though.
- One of the quickest ways to cut long drapes quickly is to duct tape two cutting mats together by taping on the back of both mats to hold them next to each other. Then align the fabric on top of the mats and cut all the way down smoothly.
- After you cut out your curtains, hang them up overnight before you hem them. This allows them to drape properly, and you won’t end up with a crooked hemline!
The best way to cut fabric straight is to learn how to find the grainline and get your fabric square before cutting. Both woven and knit fabric has a grainline, which is the warp thread running vertically down the material. You also need to prewash and iron the fabric before cutting it to make sure that it remains straight after you sew it.
Once you have the fabric prepped, you can use scissors and marking made with a 90° angle ruler to cut straight. You can also use a clear ruler and a rotary cutter to easily and quickly cut a straight line down the fabric on top of a cutting mat. You can even use less familiar techniques like ripping fabric down the grainline or slicing with a craft knife to cut fabric straight!
What is your favorite way to get fabric straight before you cut? Do you like shears or a rotary cutter better? Leave a comment below to let us know!