5 Ways to Make Cutting Out Patterns Less Tedious

Five ways to make cutting out patterns less tedious. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.

Ask any home sewer what she dislikes the most about sewing garments and she’ll probably say cutting out patterns. We’re all so eager to get sewing and working with our fabric that we hate anything that stands in our way. But the cutting-out-pattern stage can be almost enjoyable if you practice these five tips:

Five ways to make cutting out patterns less tedious. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.1) Don’t pin your patterns.

Cut your dependence on pins and I promise you will be so much happier! I stopped pinning my pattern pieces to the fabric years ago after I saw a video of the Chanel atelier working on a collection. The woman cutting out a gown used weights to hold the pattern in place atop the fabric, and she placed and re-placed the weight on the pattern as she cut. Not a single pin was used to hold the pattern to the fabric. I have four dressmaker weights like the one in the photo above, and find that this is enough to keep patterns in place. When I’m done cutting a piece I fold it with the tissue on it, and then place it in my project bag. Sometimes I’ll put a pin in a smaller piece, like a facing, just to keep the tissue and fabric together more easily.

Five ways to make cutting out patterns less tedious. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.2) Use the sharpest and best scissors you can afford.

Another game-changer for me was upgrading my scissors. I use Kai dressmaking shears and they cut through fabric like butter. I almost wept the first time I cut fabric with them, it was that delightful. Many people swear by their Ginghers. Use whatever kind of scissors you like: They should feel comfortable to hold and operate, and they shouldn’t give you any kind of resistance with most fabrics. Keep your scissors nice and sharp. And it’s ok to use your good scissors to cut through pattern tissue and pattern paper.

Five ways to make cutting out patterns less tedious. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.3) Cut out patterns during your cheerful time of day.

You will enjoy the cutting-out process so much more if you allocate it to a time of day when you’re feeling alert and generally cheerful. I like to cut my patterns out during the day on Sunday. I’ll cut out one to two patterns at a time, but never more than that, and I take my sweet time. Never cut out patterns when you are tired or your mind is elsewhere. You will have epic fails and you’ll do things like cut out two left front bodices and not have enough fabric to correct your mistake.

Five ways to make cutting out patterns less tedious. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.4) Cut on a table that’s high enough and big enough.

This tip can be a challenge for anyone living in a small space, like an NYC apartment. Think about other options that might be available. Can you impose on a friend? In the past I’ve used both a friend’s quilting studio and office conference tables after work. Just make sure you clean up after yourself—don’t leave threads and tissue scraps on the floor. Also, think about getting a folding table that you can store out of the way when you’re done cutting, like under your bed.

Watch something entertaining while cutting out patterns.5) Treat yourself to some entertainment while cutting out.

I park my iPad on my cutting table (also known as my dining table) and watch Netflix while I’m cutting away. I’ll save episodes to watch, so I associate cutting out with good things like watching a fresh season of a favorite series. Or, try listening to an audiobook or some music. Just remember not to get too distracted while you’re cutting, or else—uh-oh.

 

Five ways to make cutting out patterns less tedious. On the McCall Pattern Company blog.

We’ve been sewing since 1863.

71 comments
  1. Awesome suggestions

    1. I am recently returning to sewing after 20+ years. So I bought beauiful linen fabic to make a cute top from Vogue. As I pinned the pieces today, I realized the patern cutting lines are very confusing and I cut on the wrong size. There are line sand then there are dashes???? Would you like to make this any more confusing? Is Vogue cramming too much into a small space? If anyone out there can guide me on this, I sure would appreciate it.
      Thanks in adance.
      Sandy

      1. A high lighter can be used to mark the lines you need to use. Then when cutting it will be less confusing. Do this on the table, not with the fabric underneath just in case the high lighter bleeds throug the paper. Good luck!

      2. If you would like to preserve the original pattern for future use, you can use a tracing paper to copy the size you need. I use exam table paper. There are other paper on rolls that can be used, too.

        1. Great Idea !!!!

  2. I would also add make pattern cutting the only thing you do during your ‘cheerful’ time. Don’t move onto sewing. Save that for another day. That way you will be really focused on cutting out your patterns right. I say cut three patterns out in a day max then call it quits. It’s perfectly fine at this point to reward yourself with a drink.

    1. Awesome tip, Mary! I like it!

  3. I’ve brought cutting projects to work and used the board room table to lay out and cut – after work hours. It’s quiet, I have a huge surface and I can easily concentrate on the task. Of course this means being organized to collect and bring the essentials from home but once that’s done, it’s a project I anticipate with enthusiasm after a day at the office.

  4. Great post! I agree, the cutting is the most irritating part of the process. Some time ago I mined my garden and found some lovely rocks, round and flat, that I scrubbed and actually ran through the dishwasher to use as pattern weights. Much like your rectangular weight I had a grill press (for keeping meat flat when grilling) that I didn’t use. It is a wonderful pattern weight.

  5. A folding table is a life-saver for sewing in a small space! I got an inexpensive one ($40 US) and store it behind a couch when I’m not using it. It provides a big surface for cutting but is still lightweight (plastic) and can be moved and put away easily. Plus it serves as a good signal that I’m “in the zone” and should not be disturbed. 🙂

  6. Great ideas! Thanks for sharing them. I hate cutting out, especially when its something that is somewhat complex – the McCalls diagonal striped maxi sundress pattern and a stripe knit just like the one on the pattern image have been sitting on my dining table for the last several days. I just know it’s going to be a bear to match those stripes! Yes, iPad video does make the process more enjoyable. But not if you’re dependent on subtitles! I’m hooked on Korean Dramas right now, and it just doesn’t work to try and watch them while cutting out or sewing.

  7. These are great tips!!! I already know two things I need now: heavier weights, and a taller table. Thank for the tips…Keep ’em coming!

    1. I’m short, old, and have a bad back and I love to sew. I decided to try to make one of the craft tables on Pintrest but it kept getting more and more complicated and expensive. One day while in Lowes, I discovered the Kobalt Work Table. Its not pretty like the cute little white craft tables, in fact it is really industrial looking. It is 39″ tall and 30″ wide and 72″ long. I don’t have to bend my back to cut and I placed my plastic bins and baskets under it. Its the only thing I have found this tall without making it. The store put it together and a friend picked it up and delivered it to me. Boom! an answer that didn’t break the bank or my brain trying to put it together.

  8. Cut out lots and lots of projects at once. Mark darts, notches, right and wrong side, top of piece (if necessary) during the cutting-out stage. Fold or roll each piece together with its pattern piece — if you are cutting multiples of the same pattern, stack them together with the pattern piece. Store each project in a bag or box with its pattern envelope, any notions you’ve already gathered, and any notes to yourself that you need to remind you what you meant to do.

    I find that cutting multiple projects lets me organize sewing better — I can sew three or four garments at the same time, if I’m using the same color of thread and needle size, for instance. And if you are sewing a mini-wardrobe, you’ll finish all the pieces at about the same time. No sad orphans lurking in the corner of your sewing space, never to be combined with the slacks/shirt/jacket/skirt that you meant to mix and match for the next season.

    1. Hi, I have ‘elephant’ legs to raise my dining table to the right height for cutting out. These are table raisers and mine are grey, wider at the bottom with a big aperture so almost any table leg can stand in them and they are sturdy, but light to insert and remove. Makes the dining table that bit higher so it is 35-36″ – perfect for standing up and cutting out without giving back ache!

      1. What a great idea! I need to find some of those for my dining table. Thank you.

        1. Hi Elisa, I just did an internet search to find these, looking for Table Risers. A lot of healthcare outlets have them for people with difficulty lowering themselves onto sofas too so that might be another source.

          1. I bought mine in Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

  9. Cutting out fabric is my favorite part! When I read the head line I thought you meant the paper pattern pieces… which is not so fun, but not a big deal.

  10. These are great tips if you dislike this step! Though I actually enjoy cutting out pattern pieces and prefer to cut them all out at one time while watching Netflix or unwinding at the end of a work day. A nice way to start a new project without too much thinking. I have a number of weights that I use to place several pieces at once (as much as can fit on the table) so I can cut them out with my rotary cutter fairly quickly. What I dislike most is fitting, and then having to adjust the pattern pieces. Lately I’ve been going with patterns that don’t require too much adjustment so I can get started on the project itself.

  11. I back all of my pattern pieces with freezer paper, then shorten pieces that need shortening, next all paper pieces are cut on the size line I use, blending where needed. Facings and collars are extended on a separate paper so they can be cut as a single piece. Before cutting I fuse interfacing to fabric for easier cutting of fused pieces. And finally I cut everything out with a rotary cutter on a large high table. Rarely do I need to do any fitting and just sew up the garment.

    1. Great idea. I never thought of doing this. I do cut some of my own patterns that I design out of freezer paper.

  12. Cutting out is not so bad for me, it is the marking I do NOT like.
    I used to mark everything and now, it is such a pain for me to do so.

    Also, with cutting out my patterns, I don’t cut precise until I lay it on the fabric. I only cut the patterns away from each other and make sure I have all the pieces I need for that project cut and ready to lay on my fabric. Then I just put the rest of the pieces back in the envelope unless it is pieces I know I would never sew- then I just toss them (of course, once I have again verified I have everything I need) 🙂

  13. I’ve always loved cutting out the fabric. I find the sound and the feel of the scissor cutting through the fabric very pleasing. Especially with a good pair of scissors.

    1. A good pair of scissors is a treat I bought myself, and makes a task I enjoy even sweeter. I am a pinner, and I went to the longest sharpest ones I could find (the ridiculously shiny round head ones, look like they are dipped in tinsel) which made the one ‘meh’ part better.

  14. Great blog post, so useful.

  15. I love cutting out the fabric, esp if it’s from my stash, and if I don’t have quite enough – love the challenge of getting something out of less than the pattern says. My beef is cutting and attaching the interfacing, so weights would help! Just want to get into the sewing once it’s all cut out.

  16. Good post today Meg. I find cutting outing to be easier with the right tools. You are very right about the scissor, good ones and sharp. (mine are needing a good sharpening.) I have not left the pins behind yet, but your post may be just the nudge I need. The cutting out is when I have to pay close attention to any fitting issues, and also if I want to make any design change. I usually put on old movies and enjoy the process. Just wish I had more time to devote to my hobby.
    Keep the post coming.

  17. I loved the blog and would like to receive more of them.

  18. Cool topic, My cutting routine:

    1. Tuesday is cut day binging on my favorite Netflix shows
    2. Place my 4×4 foot plywood cutting board on my waist high bed (am only 5’2″ hahahaha)
    3. Then pull out my extra large food cans as weights
    4. Grab hold of my Ginghers and take a deep breath

    🙂

  19. A number of companies make folding cutting boards, they are just large sheets of cardboard (like very big packing boxes) with a grid marked on it. Its easily folded as its scored. You can open it put it on your bed and cut out without worrying you will cut your duvet, then fold it away and put it in a cupboard. In the UK they sell for about £10 but you could just use a flattened big box. Not ideal in terms of height but you could also do it on the floor. I also like the take it to work suggestion above.

    1. Those are fairly common in the USA, too. Problem is having a bed or table big enough to open them out, sometimes (if you use part of your bed top as additional storage for clothing, for instance). I used to cut out on the top of the chest freezer in my basement. Now I use the dining room table, which doesn’t get used for anything else, tra la. Any guests eat with us in the kitchen. And sometimes I do drag big projects to work — I work at a church — and put all the tables in the fellowship hall together to make a massive work surface.

    2. Cool I didn’t know that thanks!

  20. i love your tips! I am working on someday getting a table made for myself. The height of the table is important, I am 5’9″ and bending over gets old. I got me an adjustable one.

  21. Cutting is a long process for me. Each pattern needs to have the alterations calculated to fit me correctly. It ends up being done a little per day as I get inspired. It’s necessary to pin the entire pattern to make sure my needed alterations fit the piece of fabric. Cutting space consists of the living room floor and a cardboard cutting board. I pin and roll it up as I go in my limited space. I sometimes have to go back and rearrange things. Pattern weights might work if it wasn’t a garment. In case you are curious, I have to alter waist length by 2 inches longer, sleeves/armholes by 2 inches wider and sometimes increase cup size. Love the newer patterns with built in bust adjustment pieces! The rest of any other alterations can be done during construction on my Uniquely You dressform. The adjustments must be done before cutting. All of it an absolute labor of love!

  22. I know what I’m going to do to earn extra money when I retire! Hire myself out to cut all your patterns! I might be serious. It’s my favorite part of the whole sewing gig (besides the fabric shopping).

    1. One just needs someone in the house who is eager to have a project made!! My daughter by age 10 used to lay out and cut for me, after I had checked the layout to be sure it was all there and correctly laid out. I missed her very much when she went off to University. Now she has four boys, works full time, and Grandma has orders for P J’s, jogging pants, etc with preferred colours named and of course styles. Only ‘cool’ will do!!

  23. I quite enjoy cutting out, but still use pins, which can be tedious if you have pinned something in the wrong place. I will have to try weights! I have several pairs of Kai shears, which are wonderful! My trouble is, I change my mind several times about what I want to do!!! I have been using Marcy Tilton pattern Vogue 9081 and Vogue 9004, which is good for using different fabrics – I enjoy matching patterns and colours.

    1. Weights are easily come by. You can use canned goods from your cupboard. You can buy purpose-made ones, or get big heavy washers or nuts at a hardware store — be careful to coat them with some kind of varnish, or they can rust and stain your fabric. Old sports trophies can be disassembled for parts. Some of them have real marble bottoms, but even the fake marble is heavy. And some of the wooden bases are heavy enough to use as pattern weights. They are smooth and have straight edges, so they can also be marking tools. You can turn them on their sides to hold down narrow pattern pieces. They’ll hold down a stack of paper pattern pieces when a stiff breeze blows through the window, or when you turn on a ceiling fan. Or if your pet decides to “help” you.

      1. Old sports trophies, what a brilliant idea!!!

        1. There is only so much room for two-foot tall elaborate third-place trophies for a church softball league that has been running since 1967, in anyone’s trophy case. The “trophy police” have been known to quietly dispose of entire decades of awards at a time.

  24. I also enjoy cutting and the challenge of pattern placement for prints and such. I have one of those inexpensive cutting tables from Joanns and it has worked very well and gives me the option folding it away to a smaller footprint. I only cut one pattern at a time. Each piece is cut out with the black lines cut off. Then the wrinkles are ironed out. Then I start placing, often different from the pattern layout, as I am very short and can usually squeeze things in much tighter. Once the pieces are cut out and placed I use weights and a rotary cutter. My weights are big hunks of glass I’ve picked up over the years, pretty and practical. Like you, I then fold them up with the tissue and put aside. I rarely sew on the day I cut but I usually do mark them right away.
    Great post, Meg.

  25. It is the searching for the pieces in the multi-style patterns I dislike. Most times I use self drafted patterns. When I use commercial I often leave out a piece then have to unfold and search again, and that takes up my sewing time. I usually use a large catalog envelope and after I find the pieces I put everything back in there. https://www.facebook.com/thppatterns

  26. Great tips! Thank you so much.

  27. On patterns that I’m going to use lot—- I first iron them to baking paper (The one side of wax melts and sticks to the patter paper making it more stable and durable) I’ve even been know to do it with a couple of layers.

  28. Love the tips and will definitely use them.

  29. I have a grid cutting mat on my dining room table, same size as the table, never leaves the table. 40″ x 72″ Cover it up with a table cloth when I need to. I can watch TV from it when laying out and cutting. I just wish the table could be made taller when cutting, it can hurt my back. An adjustable height dining room table! That would be great.

    1. Dora, I’ll bet that you could use those bed risers for your dining room table. Some are adjustable, so you can get the perfect height for you!

      1. Bed risers on my dining table! 5’11” and a cranky back, this could be a game changer!

  30. Thanks for a reminder! I have developing rheumatoid arthritis, so stick pins hurt… I design doll dresses with old Simplicity and Vogue patterns, love every moment an idea develops. So this idea will assist me….

  31. To raise a normal table to a good cutting height you can use bed risers. They raised mine about six inches, which was perfect.

  32. I have loved reading all the great suggestions in the comments.

    I have cut out on my kitchen table (3′ X 5′) for years. There are only two things I do not like about cutting out: one is that I have never been able to do it in my sewing room and the other is I need a bigger, taller table. I like to cut using a cutting mat with grid which helps to keep grain lines straight. I also use a rotary cutter, cutting as many pieces as I can this way. Since I am usually using stash fabric, I often do not have exactly the right yardage. Thus I rarely follow the pattern layout and instead have to devise ways to fit all the pieces onto my fabric. Often this means cutting facings in one, adding a facing in another fabric or lace for hems, lining to the edge etc… I have many tricks to make it work. I also find that matching stripes or plaids or border prints takes time and accuracy. I enjoy being meticulous and exact when cutting out. I once engineered cutting out a bias Ungaro dress in only 2 yards of 54″ prized Liberty silk! For this reason, I can’t imagine watching TV while I cut, but I love to listen to music.

    I am in the process of setting up my new sewing studio in our FROG (finished room over garage). For my cutting table I am using 2 Ikea “Liatorp” sideboards which measure Width: 57 1/8 “, Depth: 18 7/8 ” & Height: 34 1/4 ” I will place a wooden table top- a piece of ply with a lip edge – to make the cutting table 5′ X 8′. A 5′ X 8′ self healing cutting mat with a one inch grid will sit on top. The sideboards have glass doors and shelves, a few of which will hold my Vogue Vintage Counter Catalog collection and project bins. I am thinking of putting a shelf about 15 inches below the table top between the 2 sideboards to hold large rolls of fabric. There are 2 small drawers which can hold pins and rotary cutters. I use weights or pins depending on the fabric. I plan to hang my cutting rulers off the side of the table. Ikea also has some rods which hold small containers which may be useful. I may use a magnetic knife rack for my scissors, but I have a very cute badly behaved small dog, so that may not work.

    My daughter, who is an architect, has designed the studio. I am keeping a clipboard on Pinterest as the project progresses. Ihttps://www.pinterest.com/mrscrumpet/frog-design/

  33. Currently I have taken on my children as my apprentices even if they are aware of it or not. I’m hoping in the next year or so I can outsource my cutting to my daughter. Now if I could get them to do the dishes and taxes…

  34. I cut out on Monday’s. I bought 2 30″ door and braced them together on top of sawhorses. I use my basement for cutout, country music or sermons play in the background.

  35. For pattern pieces I know I’ll use many times, I back them with fusible interfacing. They are much more durable and don’t blow around.

  36. I like cutting out, once I get over ” is this really what I want to do with my fabric ?”

  37. I could not believe how wonderful pattern weights were the first time I tried them and highly recommend this instead of pins. The pattern weights I use are simply canned goods and canned soups from my pantry. I ordinarily have enough on hand to have plenty for my project, and then return the canned goods back to my pantry when finished, eliminating the need to store “dedicated” pattern weights. Works great for me!

  38. I use a large piece of insulation styrofoam bought at the hardware store (originally 8×4) cut to 6 x 4 and it is a nice 1 1/2 in thick. You could use the entire 8×4 sheet if you have the room, but I did not. I then cut the 6×4 into 2 long pieces (6×2 twice) and taped them carefully together in the middle with duct tape so I can fold them back together to store in my sewing room – very lightweight, which I also needed. I put this large piece on my dining room table (with 4 extra blocks of styro foam at the corners underneath to rise it a bit so I don’t have to bend over too – making it waist-high. It’s perfect for me – plus as a bonus, I can push pins into it if I need to hold pieces on it when necessary. Maybe not the most aesthetically pleasing design but works for me!

    1. Ah – good idea. But one couldn’t use a rotary cutter on styrofoam.

  39. After reading so many replies I wanted to say cutting out in one day is so fun when you know what ahead. I attend fashion design classes at a local community college , and my teachers has learned me to keep well used patterns on hangers or large zip locked bags. Also bed raiser are very useful for tables that need heightened will try to keep up with new season seniors can always use information

  40. I bought the best collapsible sewing/craft table at Walmart quite a few years ago. It was so much cheaper than the expensive designer sewing cabinets. It’s perfect height and has storage for so many items. Each side will drop down making it a large medium or small surface plus when folded it takes up very little room. It has caster for rolling too! I’ve only had to replace the magnetic door closures on the side doors. I believe it was around $225 and I have used it heavily and moved it around for over 15 years! I recently purchased 2 of their South Shore Annexe Work Table and Storage Unit Combo which I lined one wall of my small room with, making a bridge between the two out of melamine, for a continuous surface down the entire wall. I even made shelves under the bridge part for craft machine storage. It also has storage for so many things. I made a designer sewing room on the cheap. I agree the most tedious part of the sewing process is cutting and marking. Maybe sometime in the future we will have a machine at home that will do it all for us!?

  41. I’m also tall. I cut out the main bits on the extending dining table, but the smaller fiddly bits are done on the kitchen top, at 36″, the perfect height for me. I always used to cut everything out on the floor, but now have two knee replacements so that’s out of the question now! When using iron on interfacing, I iron the interfacing onto the fabric BEFORE cutting out. I also use the lightest interfacing on almost everything – I mainly sew light summer cotton clothes for Mediteranean holidays. Pure cotton clothes in the UK are so difficult to find.

  42. I just picked sewing back up – when I read the wax tips I wanted to smack myself in the forehead – I kept thinking what is the wax for in my sewing box, where dis u even get it. Uhmm duh! Hit me like a ton of bricks and now I’m feeling stupid but relieved. My grandmother would be ashamed – well after she stopped laughing at me. So glad to have that tip back in my Arsenal. Thanks ladies

    1. What is the wax for? I’m a newbie sewer and I don’t know about this. Thanks.

  43. The pattern weight idea just “rocked my world”!! I had never seen or heard of that before, and pinning is what takes me soooooooo long! The table info was great too. My back gets so tired by the time I’m done, so maybe a higher table would be more efficient. Thanks for sharing this information!

  44. Thanks so much! This is definitely going to make my sewing much more enjoyable! I’m terrible with pins, but I never know there was an easier way that was still accurate. I’m going to my local sewing store for some new scissors and weights today!

  45. My 11 year old granddaughter and I have been sewing together for 4 years. When she was first interested we started at the beginning, picking out pattern and fabric, She learned to read the pattern for yardage and notions and would be able to say how much she needed. For about the 1st year she would say how much fun it was to cut it out. I remember saying to myself that I wondered how long that “fun” would last but was encouraging. Now it is an ordeal and takes twice as long to get the job done. I will introduce weights inplace of pins and maybe we can find some fun things that would work. While watching TV or a movie works for me, I think she would be too distracted. When my daughter was still at home, our bargain was that she cleaned up after dinner so I could see for her. I never minded cutting when I didn’t have to do dishes.

  46. I’ve stopped using pins and find it so much more enjoyable, for smaller pieces where a weight is impractical or for the edges of patterns that are pointed and can curl up I use small pieces of masking tape, it’s cheap, small pieces are easily torn off the roll and its easy to peel back off the pattern and fabric, or sometimes I leave it on and wrap a small piece over the edges when cutting has finished to keep the pattern and fabric together to identify pieces later on

  47. I didn’t realise that all home sewers were women!

  48. I am new to the pattern world . This will be my first pattern project…the memory bear from simplicity. I will be making it for a friends great grand daughter who is 5yrs old and has luekemia. I have cut the pattern now onto the fabric. Is there a way to cut multiple pieces at one time by maybe folding fabric up? For instance i need 4 arm pieces cut out of the one arm piece supplied…no left and right arm just one pattern piece.. Just not sure how to make sure that my design side of fabric is going to be cut correctly and facing the right way when done. Hope i have explained this correct and not confusing. sorry if so. appreciate any help 🙂

    1. HI Kathy, there will be a right and left arm – just one pattern piece though. It sounds as if you need two pieces per arm, so have a seam running down both outside of arm and under arm. You fold fabric, usually right sides together and place pattern on it, so when cut out, you have a left and right piece (ie two pieces). You can double up the layers if you like and can cut through more – so you fold fabric right sides together twice to get two left and two right pieces. However, iI wouldn’t advise this on pattern pieces that require total accurate seaming as multi-layers can shift when cutting.

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