Do these 4 KEY steps before you lay out pattern pieces on fabric!

You can lay out pattern pieces on fabric just as the pattern instructs and cut away the fabric and be ready to sew as fast as you want but I would like to slow your train down if that is the way you look at making a garment.

Because a well-made garment is assured when the crafter methodically and carefully considers the small details before doing any of the fabric cutting.

Until I learned and started paying attention to those details I noticed a drastic change in my finished project. I wouldn’t say my projects weren’t good before but I can for sure see an overall improvement in the way my finished garments now turn out.

What I learned is that when we cut out the fabric it is important that the grainline falls correctly throughout each pattern piece. This means that if one piece gets cut off the grain then it is likely that the finished garment won’t fall properly and the area that has been cut off-grain will look unpleasantly distorted.

However, the first steps that you do before laying the patterns over the fabric are even more important and that is fabric preparation and correct fabric layout.

And so in this article, I will discuss fabric preparation to pattern preparation to pattern layout plus also how to lay out fabrics with nap.

First step to do before laying the patterns over the fabric
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The first steps to do before laying the patterns over the fabric:

1. Fabric prep and fabric layout

Getting the fabric prepared and laid out properly is key. With this step skimmed you’ll for sure have a result that you most probably hadn’t desired!

Before laying out the fabric it is good practice to prep the fabric beforehand.

So how do you prepare the fabric before you lay it out?

Fabric prep

When it comes to fabric prep the first and foremost thing for a sewer is to preshrink the fabric.

After washing and drying the fabric, I always give the fabric a good press just to even out any creases. So that it lays well flat for the project to begin.

Lay the fabric folded with the right sides facing- selvage to selvage, corners all squared up.

When you lay down the fabric like this, have a look to see if the fabric lays well with the corners all squared up. You might find that the fabric corners don’t square up.

This is an indicator that the grain needs to be straightened.

How to straighten the fabric grain

To straighten the fabric grain either two of these tricks can be looked into to solve it.

1. Snip or cut the raw edges straight with the grain:

You’ll most probably have the raw edge not cut straight because when you brought the fabric from the store they must have most likely cut the edge not so truly straight. I find that to be the case almost all the time.

I’d always check for it to be cut straight. If it’s not then I cut the raw edge straight.

To do this with a cotton fabric all you do is with your scissors make a snip near the raw (cut) edge. Then pull the fabric piece ripping through to the end. What this will do is the fabric will rip away leaving the raw edge perfectly straight.

This method only works on cottons and that of alike.

With fabrics other than cotton the way to straighten the fabric grain is that you make a snip with scissors. Then you’ll find a loose thread in between the snipped fabric. Hold that thread and pull it away from the fabric by gathering and pulling bit-by-bit until you reach the other end.

Once that thread comes away from the fabric then you will find (looking closely) a prominent straight line. This is the straight grain. Now cut on that line as though it’s a guideline.

Once again, fold the fabric lengthwise with selvage to selvage just like before.

After doing this if you still find that the corners are not squaring up then the next bet is to true the grain…

2. How to true the grain of the fabric

The reason for truing the fabric grain is so that when you lay out the fabric it should square up.

To do this you may need someone to help you if the fabric is big for a single person to handle. What you do is each take the opposite diagonal corners of the fabric and just tug at it. This can be repeated on the other corners as well.

Then once again lay down the fabric folded lengthwise selvage to selvage. Hopefully this time the corners should square up.

The perfect Fabric layout

  1. Lay down your fabric on the table in this way with the pretty side facing up.

how to lay out fabric for cutting

2. When it comes to laying out the fabric, you fold the fabric lengthwise making the two selvages meet- like they say “selvage to selvage” while keeping the pretty side of the fabric on the inside (right sides facing).

How to layout pattern pieces onto fabric- selvage

3. What you should get is a long folded piece of fabric with the wrong side of the fabric facing up towards you.

With the selvage running on one side and a fold running opposite it. And the two raw edges on either end. With the corners squared up.

how to lay out pattern pieces on fabric folded fabric

What is the Selvage?

On some fabrics, the selvage is the solid white line and on others, it’s the fringed edge of the fabric.

2. Pattern prep and pattern layout on fabric

Just like getting the fabric prepared it is good practice likewise also to press out the pattern pieces. Just so we can get rid of the creases for the pattern to lay smooth and flat on the fabric so that we may achieve accurate results.

How to prepare the pattern pieces

Because we’re pressing paper just to smooth out the creases, all you need to do is set the iron on a low setting with no steam and gently press away.

Now is also a good idea to separate the required pieces to sew the view of choice. This will save you from any possible confusions.

How to layout pattern on fabric

I start off with the bigger pattern pieces. I also start with the pieces that have the foldline arrow marking on them or the pieces that say the words ‘place on fold’.

These pieces are simply to be placed on the fold area of the fabric.

Then I move to the pieces that have the straight arrow markings. This is known as the grainline marking.

The straight Grain line marking

The grainline is the long straight arrow running down a pattern piece which directs you to place the pattern piece parallel to the selvage.

To layout these pattern pieces this time you will need the assistance of a ruler and with each piece that is placed on to the fabric you measure from the top end of the arrow to the selvage and the same also for the bottom end of the arrow to the selvage.

The aim is to get the grainline marking perfectly parallel to the selvage and so for example, if the top end of the arrow measured 4 inches to the selvage then it should also measure 4 inches on the bottom end of the grainline marking.

3. Pinning pattern pieces to fabric

Pinning down pattern pieces is pretty simple. Yet it isn’t personally my best method.

My method of choice is the use of pattern weights. So until I explain that method more in-depth here’s the pinning method.

So, to pin down pattern pieces I would start by anchoring down the corners while running my free hand along to smooth the piece down flat.

Then pin away the gaps in between wherever needed.

Just watch out to keep all the pins pinned on the inside of the pattern pieces so that when you come to cut the fabric that no pins get caught in the scissors.

Pattern weights

As I said this is my preferred method to anchor down pattern pieces to the fabric.

Why? you ask

I think it’s the minor OCD side of me that feels like the pinning process can distort the fabric layout.

I just feel like that I go through all the effort to lay the fabric grains all straight as possible and then if I fiddle with it after that by pinning then it messes it up… call me a perfectionist… I don’t know!

Anyway, this is a method of choice by many others too as you can actually buy pattern weights to hold down the pattern pieces.

Anything works as pattern weights! something that has some weight to it is good! I use tuna cans and sardine cans from my kitchen cabinet- gets the job done!

4. Transfer pattern markings to fabric VERY IMPORTANT!

This is the last step before removing the pattern from the fabric.

When I say that this step is very important I’d like to justify my point.

So here’s a made-up scenario of which you’ll hopefully get a gist of what I mean:

Imagine you are sewing a coat with two big patch pockets to go in the front and you skipped on marking the little dots/circles after you’d cut the fabric, you’ll quickly realize now you will have to use your ‘visual judgment’ so that you can place the patch pockets that also are level on both sides

… I mean chances are you’ll get it right (if you have a skillful judgment) otherwise the project will just have to, unfortunately, be a “homemade” looking item. Now, I don’t know about you but I don’t want to walk around wearing that!

It may seem that the markings are so minute that it can be skipped, without the markings you’ll be lost. Trust me!

To transfer the markings onto the fabric, you can do tailors tacks or use the dressmakers tracing paper.

What is ‘pattern printed side down’

Pattern instructions may sometimes instruct you to lay out some of the pattern pieces down on to the fabric with, the printed side facing down on to the fabric. All it is, that you’re being told to lay those particular pieces the opposite way around.

You’ll know which pieces have to be placed with the printed side down as those pieces are shown on the pattern instructions as the shaded pieces.

Cutting patterned fabric “with nap”

Any patterned fabric that has a direction, for example, fabric printed with trees. Wouldn’t it look rather silly if a garment was made with the tree trunk on the top and with the branches on the bottom?

Likewise, any fabrics that have a pile, for example, velvet also have a direction. You’ll find that if you run your hands down the velvet, the area will look darker than the rest of the fabric. Therefore you have to be sure to cut this fabric with the pile running in the same- one direction with all of the pattern pieces you cut out.

So in the sewing world, any fabrics that have a direction like such are known as fabrics with Nap.

Fabrics with nap are cut with all the pattern pieces running in one direction.

If your fabric has a nap don’t worry because I have noticed that almost always, sewing patterns do consider the fabric nap and they have a separate drawing of cutting layout on the pattern instructions.

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The FIRST 4 steps to do before laying the patterns over the fabric

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Carol Fierro

    I have a question. Is it possible to place a pattern on the fold rather than cutting that piece and sewing the seam up the front?
    The material has a pattern which I wanted centered on the front without a seam.I am making overalls for a 2 year old.

    1. Shazia Begum

      Sure yes, you can! Just make sure you don’t place the Pattern Piece Edge on the fold of fabric rather, the seam line on the fabric. This way you won’t end up with the cut pice bigger than expected. I hope that helps.

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