Sewing patterns come in a number of forms, both in paper format and online.  When the templates in them are used well you get a nice, well assembled item, however it’s quite easy to introduce errors in certain sections that lead to frustrating misalignments and poorly fitting pieces.  We’ll look at patterns for quilting, bag making and more and look at ways to try and relieve some of those frustrations.

General Tips:

  • If you are making big box patterns where the pattern pieces are on tissue paper, it is generally recommended to transfer the pattern markings to something else, such as gridded paper or something like Swedish tracing paper.  By doing so you avoid frustrations such as the tissue paper tearing while cutting out, and it also allows you to make adjustments to the pattern without destroying the original in case you need to refer back to it.  The adjustments tend to apply most to clothing patterns where you may need to blend sizes depending on your measurements, but can apply to other patterns that you intend to manually resize by inserting or removing sections.
  • If you are cutting out patterns printed on regular copy paper or card, use a good pair of paper scissors or even a craft knife to accurately cut out the shapes.  In the pattern piece for the wedge below (free Dresden Spool Pin Plate pattern by April Henry, available here) you can just about see where I used a craft knife to cut through the paper and directly onto the template plastic I had below it.

  • If you are cutting directly around a paper pattern piece, be very careful not to cut the paper, otherwise the more the pattern piece is used, the less accurate it becomes.  It can be useful to use a ruler on any straight sections – do this by placing a ruler on top of the pattern piece aligned to the edge.  It is also worth using a small rotary cutter, either 18 or 28 mm if there are tight curves involved.
  • If you are using a copy paper/tracing paper pattern, use pattern weights to hold the pieces in place on the fabric, this leads to less distortion of the fabric than using pins.  You can find a free pattern for some easy to make pattern weights here.  Here are some weights in use for cutting out the end sections from the Kismet Trinket Box pattern by Sara Lawson, available here.

  • If you have a PDF or paper pattern that requires you to cut fabric on the fold, take a second copy of the pattern piece and stick it together on the fold line.  This will improve accuracy because the fold adds in additional fabric unless you’re cutting something tissue thin.  Really thick fabrics can add up to 1/2″ to a piece as I’ve discovered to my cost in the past!  The net result can be that if you’re using the same piece on the fold to cut a thick outer fabric and a thin interfacing, your interfacing will end up smaller.  In the case below I was using some glitter vinyl that can’t be folded to be cut for another of the Kismet Trinket Box pattern end pieces.  As this piece was rotationally symmetrical I was able to stick them together with the text right sides up on both sides.  For patterns that are not rotationally symmetrical you will need to stick the second piece wrong sides up.

  • If you have to print out several pieces from a PDF pattern to stick together, it’s worth leaving a little paper to overlap on one side of each join.  This just makes the pattern piece a bit more stable.
  • If your pattern pieces are small enough you can create a sturdier plastic piece by transferring from the original paper pattern to template plastic.  This can then be used with a rotary cutter or to draw around onto the fabric before cutting out.  Template plastic allows you to preserve the pattern piece much better than a paper one since it doesn’t bend or get torn.
  • Remember that if you are drawing around a template piece to transfer it to the fabric then you are adding a little dimension to it since your choice of marking tool cannot actually draw where the edge of the template is, only alongside it.  The smaller the pattern piece, the bigger the effect that will cause when pieced together, so it is worth cutting out the template just inside the line on the printed pattern to counteract this issue.

Quilting Patterns:

Quilting patterns are by far the easiest to cut out, albeit rather tedious at times, mainly because the shapes that go into making them must tessellate when sewn together, whether the shapes are straight sided or curved.  For the most part there’s a ruler or a die cutter than can help you to accurately cut pieces out, so any sewing-related issues aside, your quilt should go together nicely.  From an accuracy point of view, even if there’s a printed piece for, say, a triangle, it’s worth hunting for that ruler or die cut and a quick google should throw up many options if they are not mentioned specifically in the pattern – the cost of the ruler or die will be far less than the cost of the wasted fabric when it doesn’t fit together otherwise!

Bag Patterns:

Some independent patterns come with the instruction to cut around a glass to get a rounded corner.  This is all well and good, but glasses come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re not the easiest to cut around!  Something like this corner cutting template from Creative Grids is very useful to have in your arsenal.

I hope this helps, but if you have any other questions or tips, please let me know!

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