That cute little whale last week got me onto a sewing kick! So I thought I’d start a new series – the Basics of Sewing!
Sometimes when we’ve been doing something for a while, we forget that the smaller steps may not be common knowledge. A beginner sewist might go to start a project… And realize that she’s actually not quite sure how she’s supposed to cut out her fabric. And that’s okay! We all start somewhere. And of course, learning how to properly cut and measure your fabric is exactly where you should start 😉
In this tutorial, I’ll just be showing you how to measure, cut, and hem a straight edged piece. If you are following a pattern, that cutting process will be a little different. If you’re a super duper beginner, I would suggest starting with a flat and straight project, like a scarf, a throw blanket, or a pot holder. This is also a very useful basic skill to have for everyday life – for hemming curtains for example!
Let’s start off with what you’ll need.
- Fabric of choice
- Tape Measure
- Fabric Scissors
- Pins (for hemming – these are optional)
- Something to mark with (I used a pencil – not pictured)
Start off by finding the edge of your fabric. Just a tip: those little holes and frayed edge are called the “selvage”. You’ll likely want to cut this part off. So, when you begin measuring, don’t include the selvage and start measuring from just inside it. You’ll also want to consider what exactly you’re doing with this fabric piece – are all four sides going to be hemmed? Only one side and the other left open to be sewn to something else? You’ll want to add a few things to the finished measurement (the measurement that you want to have once the piece is finished) depending on your plans. If you’ll be sewing one side of the piece to another piece, you’ll want to add at least a quarter of an inch to that side for the seam allowance. You’ll need to do the same for each side that will be sewn to another piece. If you’ll be hemming, you’ll want to decide how thick of a hem you want. I usually do an inch deep hem for most simple projects like hemmed curtains (I’ll be showing this project in particular in a moment). When hemming, you want to fold the edge twice so that the raw edge is folded inside. Which means that if your hem will be an inch deep, you’ll want to add two inches for that side to your finished measurement. Your math might look something like this: 36 inches (finished measurement) + 1/4 inch x 2 (two sides will be sewn to another piece) + 2 inches x 2 (two sides will be hemmed with a 1 inch deep hem) = 40 and 1/2 inches.
It’s easiest to start measuring by making one width measurement and one length measurement along the two straight sides of the fabric, if at all possible. This will help you make right angles. For a rectangle or square that is! If you’re measuring out a triangle or other such shape that does not have right angles, you’ll want to do the math on that and use a protractor to measure the angles.
When you’ve found the length that you need, make a little mark. Then go back and make lots of little marks all along the length, every couple of inches, using your tape measure to keep them straight in line. Then you can either leave it like this if you’re confident that you can cut in a straight line (having a marking every couple of inches makes this fairly easy) or if you’re less confident, you can use your tape measure as a straight edge and connect all the dots to make one long, straight line.
Then, starting at the end of the line you just made, measure perpendicular to the line (and parallel to the other edge of the fabric, if you can) to find the width of your piece. Mark the width in the same way: make a mark at the measurement for the width that you want, make marks every few inches along that width, and then connect the dots.
Now that you have two lines and one right angle, you’re going to want to measure your length and your width at a few different points to make sure that the piece stays symmetrical. I’ll explain what I mean.
You now have one length line and one width line. They should meet at a corner at some point. Starting a few inches away from that corner, place the edge of your tape measure against one of your lines. It doesn’t matter which line you start with but to help me explain, lets say you put the edge of your tape measure against the width line. You’re now going to make the same length measurement that you made before, but parallel and a few inches away from the first length line. Make a marking ONLY where the edge of your piece is going to be this time. Continue doing this all the way up your width line, measuring the length every couple of inches. What you’re doing is essentially the same thing that you did for the first two lines: making lots of little dots to connect in the next step. But this time you’re placing your tape measure perpendicular to the line that you’re creating, which is helping to make sure that your angles stay true and your edges don’t slowly taper in or out by accident. I know this is really hard to envision and I couldn’t get a good picture of my fabric so I drew a diagram 😂 (see above)
Do this both ways: measuring against the width to find the second length line and measuring against the length to find the second width line, like what is shown above. Once you have all these markings made, you can connect the dots again to make solid lines.
This diagram and the one below show what could happen if you don’t measure this way: If you make no markings at all, your cutting line could curve in drastically as you go so that your piece would be misshapen. And below: if you only made a marking at the corners, your cutting line might not remain straight the whole way, again leaving you with a misshapen piece. All those little markings you’re making are helping you to get straight lines.
And now’s the fun (and easy) part… Cutting! Cut along your straight lines and your piece is ready!
Now for the hemming. I’m going to demonstrate this on a curtain but you could skip the bonus step below to hem just about any piece.
Bonus step: if you’re hemming curtains, the easiest way to measure is to hang the curtain, lay the excess fabric out flat, and measure up to where you want the curtain hem to land. For mine, I need to remove 11 inches for the hem to just barely graze the ground.
As we talked about above, I’ll need to add 2 inches to that measurement for a 1 inch hem. When hemming curtains, you’ll need to think about it a little bit backwards; instead of adding 2 inches to 11 to make 13, I want to subtract 2 from 11 to make 9. Think about it like you’re adding those two inches to the finished measurement of the curtain, even though what you measured was the part that you’ll be cutting off. You don’t want your curtains to be too short!
Make your markings and cut off the excess fabric.
And now, you’ll ACTUALLY get to the sewing part of your project. The measuring and cutting always takes the longest 😅
Once you’ve got your sewing machine all ready to go, fold the raw edge of your fabric up 1 inch.
Then fold up another inch to fold that raw edge inside.
Then sew it down, giving yourself a decent seam allowance. You can pin everything down first to help make the sewing easier, or you can be a rebel like me and just fold as you go 😂
And this is what the finished edge will look like! Use your new-found skill to hem curtains or jeans, or to make a blanket or tea towel. Basically, you’re more of an adult now.
What other small steps would you like to see a tutorial on? Let me know down below!