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Beginner Quilting Series- Part One: Fabric Selection and Cutting

Welcome! I'm so glad that you're here! If you're looking to make your first quilt or even just want to learn some of the basics of quilting, you've come to the right place! I'll be walking you through each step. Beginning this week, we will be learning more about how to select and cut fabric. I've even got some tricks for you! Have questions? Reach out to me! I'm here to help.

Quick Jump Links:

This week, we will be discussing how to choose your fabric and how to cut it!


To follow along and make the same quilt as me, refer to the fabric requirements list below!

Beginner Quilting Series Fabric Requirements:

Finished Size: 45" x 54"

2 Charm Packs- Quilt Top

1-yard Fabric- Quilt Top

1/2 yard- Binding

3-yards- Backing

Fabric Used in this Series:

You will need (120) 5" squares to make this quilt. If you would rather purchase 3 charm packs and skip the fabric cutting...go for it! If you have plenty of fabric at home and don't want to purchase anything, just cut it into 5" squares and follow along.

You can make this quilt however you see fit! Bigger, smaller, wider, or longer... you can use the fundamentals in this series to be creative! The calculations for this quilt leave plenty of room for overage (and for another project!). If you want to use the extra fabric to make your quilt longer, there is enough backing to do so.

Fabric Selection

Fabric selection can be one of the most exciting (or the scariest) parts of quilting! If you've ever walked into a fabric store you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed! Where do you start? What type of fabric do you buy? How much? How do I find matching fabrics? If you've asked yourself any of these questions...scroll down!

-What type of fabric should I buy?

Quilts are almost always made with 100% cotton or quilting cotton fabric. Stores like JoAnn's are filled with options!

If you are in question as to what type of fabric you're holding in a fabric store, check out the end of it. On the white bolt that the fabric is held on, you will see more information about it, including its manufacturer, what it's made of, and how wide it is.

-How much fabric do I need?

This depends on what you're making! As a beginner, the best way to learn is through simple patterns. Each pattern will have details as to how much fabric you need and how many different colors. It will also include how much fabric you need for the back of the quilt and to bind it. Don't forget about these! We will go into more depth about how to calculate binding and backing fabrics at a later part in the series.

-There are so many choices! How do I pick?

The struggle is real. So much fabric and not enough time to sew! The best thing that I can tell you is to walk into your fabric store with a purpose. Have a clear pattern or project in mind when going in to avoid buying unnecessary things or getting overwhelmed.

If you're making something that requires multiple colors/patterns: choose one that is your MOST favorite then build off of this! Then, use the tip below to find things that would match!

Color Matching Pro Tip: Look along the selvage (the strip along the top of the fabric that includes the fabric designer). Here, you will find color swatches included in the fabric you're holding! You can match colors exactly to these or try to find fabrics that include one or more of the swatches you see.

-I saw your last tip- but what's the selvage?

Good question! This is the strip running lengthwise along all fabric. You can usually spot it because it's white (but not always). Otherwise, you will see dots along the edge or a little frey on the end. This is usually removed during the fabric cutting process.

-Should I prewash my fabric?

The great debate among quilters! This is a personal preference. I have never prewashed my fabric for the simple fact that I am lazy. I've avoided it for years and ALL of the quilts that I've made still look just as beautiful as the day that I made them! Use your best judgment hear...I promise you can't go wrong!

-What are precuts and should I use them?

Excellent question! Scroll down for more information on precuts!

-I've got my fabric picked what??

Once you have your fabric picked out, you can take it to the sales associate to cut it into the length that you need. Refer to your pattern for exact cutting lengths. Most store associates are great at their job and can help answer any questions you may have! You don't have to know anything about quilt math except the yardage that you need from each of your fabrics. Here's a quick table showing the different conversions:

About Precuts

Precuts are exactly as their names suggest...fabric that is already 'pre-cut' into different sizes. They can come in a wide range of patterns from a single fabric collection or solid colors. These are a great option for beginners because it eliminates the need to cut fabric. You can open your pack and get started immediately! They're also great if (like me) you're not so great at color matching!

Precuts are available in several sizes:

For the quilt we are making, I chose to include charm packs. I'm terrible at matching fabric so I will often use precuts as a way to incorporate new patterns and colors that I wouldn't ordinarily choose.

A note on precuts: There has been some debate about using precuts because their cut measurements aren't always 100% accurate. While I have found this to be true in some cases, for example, a jelly roll strip that was a little wider than the advertised 2.5", it hasn't been enough to deter me from using these awesome little packs! Go with your judgment on usage.

Fabric Cutting

While you can get away with just a pair of scissors to cut fabric, that wouldn't be the most efficient or effective way to do so. Below, I'm sharing the bare necessities you need to cut fabric. You don't have to go crazy buying rulers! I am only recommending one you need and the other is just nice to have. These items are a little pricey but can be considered as long-term investments. I have used the same rotary blade (with new blades of course), mat, and ruler for over 5 years.

Fabric Cutting Supplies

So, you're home from the fabric store and ready to cut into your fabric to begin sewing! First, let's iron the fabric that we will be using for our quilt top. You can skip ironing the binding and backing fabric for now. We will discuss this later on.

Now, we're ready to cut! First, we need to create an edge that we can trust. Fabric is rarely (if ever) cut perfectly straight at the fabric store. Once we get it home, we need to make a nice straight cut that we can use to cut our strips from.

Squaring Your Fabric:

Note: Right-handers will be making their first cut on the right side of the mat/fabric. Left-handers will be making their first cut on the left side of their mat/fabric. These directions are primarily for righties. If you're left-handed, plan to do the opposite, or whatever is most comfortable. Don't forget to check out the video above for more details on fabric cutting! All of this will make much more sense.

-Step One: Iron your fabric.

-Step Two: Fold your fabric in half (selvage to selvage, the same way it came off the fabric bolt). Make sure that the fabric has no wrinkles or waves in it and that the selvages line up throughout the entire cut of fabric. I will usually align the selvages starting in the middle of my fabric first, rather than starting at one end and lining up the edges. As I mentioned before, the fabric is rarely cut perfectly straight off the bolt. We have to square up our fabric before we can trust the edges.  I'll show you in the video what I mean by this!

As demonstrated in the video, it's important to make sure that your fabric is folded straight so that we can ensure a nice straight cut. Otherwise, you will cut, unfold your fabric, and see a really wonky line!

-Step Three: Lay your fabric, folded side closest to you, on your cutting mat. Align the folded edge of your fabric with the zero line along the bottom of your cutting mat. (Photo above).

-Step Four: Take your long ruler and align it with the edge of your fabric along the 36" perpendicular line (right side of the cutting mat as in Diagram 1). This should be the last line on your cutting mat.

Make sure that the bottom folded edge of your fabric is aligned with one of the horizontal lines on your ruler...and the ruler's right edge is lined up (from top to bottom) down the 36" perpendicular line on your quilting mat. You know that you are creating a nice straight cut. We are creating a 90-degree angle if this helps for visualization. If you are left-handed, you are essentially doing all of the steps but in the other direction!

-Step Five: Once you are happy with your ruler placement, hold your ruler down with one hand and use the other hand to use your rotary blade to cut. Have you ever heard that saying 'measure twice, cut once?' Measure twice! I'm not talking from experience here (ok, maybe I am), but it's a very sad day to realize you either cut the wrong measurement or your fabric wasn't cut straight!

*For longer cuts, such as this, it's a good idea to pause about halfway through your cut to reposition your hand higher. If you don't do this, it's easy for your ruler to slip a little bit, causing your cut line to no longer be straight.*

Now that our fabric is square, we can work through the next part of quilting...understanding pattern instructions and continuing to cut our fabric.

For the quilt we are making together, a regular pattern would say something like this under 'Cutting Instructions' or whatever the verbiage may be to let you know how to cut your fabric:

Cutting Instructions:

Cut (5) 5"x WOF strips.

Subcut into (8) 5" squares for a total of 40 squares.

What this actually means:

-Once your fabric is square, you are going to be cutting 5 strips; each 5" wide and however long your fabric is (WOF: width of fabric). Most patterns assume that your fabric is 44" long. Most of the quilting cotton you see in any fabric store is about this length. If you are curious about the width of your fabric, check the end of the bolt for more information or ask a store associate for help.

-After you're done with this, you will lay your 5" strips out and cut them into 5" squares. If you're carefully lining them up, you can usually cut multiple strips together!

Cutting Fabric into Strips:

-Step One: Carefully flip your fabric over so that the nice straight edge you just created is lined up on the opposite side of your mat. Again, we want to make sure that the folded edge is lined up with the zero/horizontal line on the bottom of our mat, and that the straight edge that we just cut is now lined up with the zero perpendicular line on the left side of your mat.

-Step Two: We need to cut 5" strips from our yardage.

Align your fabric with the edge along the 0" perpendicular line on the left side of your mat and the 0" horizontal line along the bottom.

Locate the 5" perpendicular line on your cutting mat. Place your ruler just to the left of it. You don't want your ruler directly on top of it or your strip will be a tad too long. Essentially, you want your rotary blade to be moving directly on the 5" line of your cutting mat. Once that strip is cut, move over to the 10" line and repeat. Then the 15", 20", 25" and 30". If you need to reposition your fabric, feel free to do so! Just make sure that your fabric stays lined up with the perpendicular and horizontal lines on your cutting mat. They should also be aligned with the bottom edge of your fabric!

If the width of the strips of fabric that you need are less than the width of your ruler, you can just use your ruler to cut the fabric. To do this: From the left edge of the fabric, slide your ruler over 5" and align the 5" perpendicular line on your ruler with the squared edge of your fabric. If you look closely at your ruler, you will see clear areas inside the lines so you can see your fabric. Take care that your fabric is lined up inside this and you can see your fabric through the clear part of the ruler. The bottom fold of your fabric should also be aligned with one of the horizontal lines on your ruler. Hold your ruler with one hand and cut your fabric with the other. Set this strip to the side and continue to cut the others. You should have a total of 5 strips cut.

-Step Three: Now that your strips are cut, use one of the two methods above to cut your blocks from the strips. If the strips are stacked on top of each other carefully, you can work through them two at a time. I wouldn't stack more than three. You can either line your fabric up with your ruler, using a horizontal line with the bottom edge of your fabric, and the 5" perpendicular line, or align your fabric with the lines on your mat to cut. Repeat this process for all of your strips. You should now have 5" blocks cut!

There are several different ways and techniques you can use to cut fabric and every quilter may tell you differently! It's what works best for you. I know that cutting fabric can seem very daunting. I promise this is something that gets easier with time. It does take practice to cut accurately!

Here's a quick recap: So far, you should have 40 blocks cut from your background fabric, and 2 charm packs for a total of 124 blocks. We will be using 120 of these in the next part of the series! Click here if you'd like to be notified of future series posts!

I will see you for Part Two as we lay out our blocks in preparation to piece our quilt top together! Leave a comment below if you have more questions!



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