Cutting Mistakes to Avoid – Tips for Wielding the Blades
You would think cutting fabric wouldn’t be too difficult. You have a good pair of scissors. Your cutting area is flat and smooth. But sometimes a challenging costume project will come up and you have to stop and actually think about how to cut it out.
Take a look at these points. Are you guilty of doing any of them?
- Lifting the Fabric off the Table When Cutting
It goes without saying that keeping the fabric flat on the table while cutting will produce more accurate results. I’m not talking about holding the edge up several inches closer to your face so you can see but the simple raising of the material before or while cutting. You want to keep the fabric as close to the cutting surface as possible.
- Making Short Snips Along a Straight Edge
Most sewers are guilty of this including me. You’re stretching down the table to cut the long skirt edge. ‘snip’ ‘snip’ ‘snip’ – you do this so you can cut as far as possible even when it’s out of your reach. Or it’s being lazy and only opening the scissor blades a little at a time instead of using the full blade.
Take long strokes with the blades instead of short cuts. This will keep a more even cut edge as well as use less energy. (Really! More snips take more time.)
Also, be sure to not bring the entire length of the blades together to the point. On some fabrics, the cutting motion completed with the point of the scissors will be off the straight cutting line. Keep the raw edge smooth by using long strokes that end before the points close. Open the blades and repeat.
- Using Scissors Instead of Shears
In the fashion industry they use large heavy shears (like 8”+ long blades) for heavy-duty cutting. (Makes it physically hard to cut short snips – see above point) So what’s the purpose of shears instead of scissors? What’s the difference between them anyway?
Scissors have the crossed blades and look like an even “X” when open. Shears are specifically one direction and have the lower blade bent so when you are cutting fabric, the long blade edge lays flat on the table thereby keeping the fabric closer to the table. The fabric is not lifted as much so you get a more accurate cut edge.
If you are cutting long straight edges like skirt panels, shears will make the job go faster. Your accuracy will be on target.
- Using Long-Blade Shears on Tight Curved Edges (Like Armholes and Necklines)
It just doesn’t make sense to try and cut out a bodice with humongous shears. There are way too many angles and tight curves to maneuver a large tool around them. Instead, pick up your smaller scissors. The shorter blade will be easier to guide and keep you right on the cutting line.
- Always Clipping into the Seam Allowance Perpendicular to the Seamline
In some couture and other fine dressmaking, you’ll find seams clipped but not straight into the seam allowance. The clips are made at an angle to the seamline. Sometimes each layer of fabric within the allowance will be clipped independently and the clips will be off set.
These techniques give the seam a smoother appearance (aka more professional look). They also help prevent ridges and bumps on the correct side of the garment.
For historical costumes with thick seams (a.k.a. many layers – you know what I’m talking about), grade the seams as usual but your clips can be straight to the seamline. Angled clips won’t make much difference here. Use the simplest method.
- Not Utilizing Rotary Cutters
Have you fought the craze of rotary cutting? Try it and you’ll never look back. Now I’m not saying to use rotary cutters exclusively, but integrate them into your fabric cutting time and you’ll notice a difference.
The large 45mm blades work well for long straight pattern edges. They also are great for cutting bias strips for piping or trims. Use a thick plastic ruler to keep your cutting in line.
Strongly consider, at a minimum, getting a small (28mm) rotary cutter. These are fantastic on those bodice armhole and neckline curves. You’ll also find them handy for smaller trim jobs. Just remember to always have a self-healing mat under what you’re cutting.
- Using One Pair of Scissors for EVERYTHING
This can kill your success for accurate cutting. As accomplished costumers we know not to use the same scissors to cut out the paper pattern then to cut our silk fabric. Paper dulls blades fast, so make sure have a dedicated pair just for patterning. (The cheap school/craft scissors around $2-3 work well for this.)
For your fabrics choose the highest quality shears you can afford. Use them only for fabrics. You might even have a pair for silks and another to cut cottons, linens and wools. And get some smaller thread snips or tiny scissors for your machine threads and hand work.
Remember, your cutting implements are valuable tools in your costuming arsenal. They can help your project go faster, make less work for you, produce professional results. Purchase the best quality you can.
What tips have you learned about cutting out your historical clothing?