Quilt Cutting Basics

Whether you are new to quilting or looking to refresh, this is a one-stop guide for quilt cutting basics in addition to some new tips! This written guide provides all the necessary simple steps, but if you are a more visual learner, check out this thorough video tutorial.

Before starting any project, it is very important to properly prepare. This means knowing how to cut fabric for quilting. Although it may seem overly simple, cutting quilt pieces requires the right materials, patience, and knowledge. 

Knowing how to cut fabric for quilting can be quite intimidating: if it is done incorrectly, a lot of fabric can be wasted. But don’t worry! This quilt cutting guide will help you successfully create a beautiful work of art. 

Simple Quilt Cutting Guide

Knowing how to cut fabric for quilting is very important, and the process is fairly exact. The importance of cutting basics cannot be underestimated in quilting

Accurate and precise measurements are key; sometimes even the mat does not have perfect measurements, so it is important to have a reliable ruler. Before making a single cut, double-check all measurements and remember to include an allowance for the seam一 this should be about a quarter of an inch. 

It is also very important to preshrink your fabric and many quilters also starch before beginning. This ensures the fabric stays as straight as possible with no unexpected creasing, folding, or shifting. Don’t worry about frayed edges on raw fabric as those will generally be cut off or covered by the quilt binding. 

If you are a bit nervous, you can always practice on cheaper fabrics until you are more comfortable with the quilt fabric cutting tools and movements. This gives you the opportunity to get used to your tools and how the fabric moves.


Beginner Quilter Terms


  • Fabric selvage. The edge of the fabric, often woven very tightly to prevent fraying and torn edges. It is important to take note of these special edges in order to accurately finish cutting fabric for quilts. When cutting quilt pieces, it is best to try to not use selvages because the difference in thickness may cause irregular lumps.
  • Truing. Basically trimming, truing is done after your major fabric cuts to ensure pieces are all identical. It is very minor, as you don’t want to change the shape or size of the fabric overall.


How To Cut Fabric For Quilting

There are two basic ways to cut fabric for quilting: rotary cutting and die-cutting. Generally, it is recommended for absolute beginners to use the rotary method, as it is a bit easier to become comfortable with and requires simpler materials.


How To Use A Rotary Cutter


A rotary cutter is a tool resembling a pizza cutter, but is extremely sharp. It comes in different sizes, useful for making a variety of patterns. The rotary cutter is perfect for cutting strips of quilting fabric, both short and long. 

Before using the rotary cutter, you will also need a quilting mat and a transparent quilting ruler. Rulers with non-slip backs are preferred as they help the fabric stay in one place throughout the cutting process; they come in different sizes and shapes. Smaller sizes are useful for templated patterns, detailed shapes, or smaller pieces of fabric. 

Helpful tips to keep in mind while using a rotary cutter:

  • Stand. Standing while cutting gives greater control and visibility over the fabric. 
  • Don’t bend your wrist. A straighter wrist means less chance of injury.
  • Cut away. Don’t cut towards yourself!
  • Firmly hold the ruler. With your non-dominant hand, which will be doing the cutting, firmly hold down the ruler to prevent sliding.
  • Keep it moving. Pick up and move the ruler as you cut rather than sliding it. Otherwise, it could shift the fabric; it is important to keep the fabric stationary in one place throughout the entire cutting process.
  • Keep it sharp. Always check your rotary cutter has not become dull over time. A sharp rotary cutter is not only easier to use, but safer. Oftentimes, the cutter will come with replacement blades.


Here are the basic steps for how to use a rotary cutter. Follow this and you’re on your way to becoming an expert quilter!


  1. Press and flatten your fabric. Make sure there are no bumps or creases.
  2. Find the leading edge. The stores do not always cut exactly straight, so it is necessary to fold the quilting fabric and match up the selvages. 
  3. Line up the fabric to cut exactly perpendicular to the fold line created in step two. This is absolutely essential and one strategy to guarantee a straight cut is to line up the fabric with the mat underneath. 
  4. Firmly push down on the overlaid ruler. Remember to keep the fabric from moving at all during the cutting process!
  5. Evenly push the cutter the full length of the fabric.
  6. Check all measurements for the next cut and repeat the process!


Some benefits of rotary cutting for cutting quilt pieces include:

  • More accurate and precise than scissors. Accuracy and precision are necessary for making good quality quilt blocks and quilts with clean edges.
  • Can cut through multiple layers at once.
  • Easy to use. (But be careful! Cutting quilt pieces requires concentration to avoid cutting yourself or cutting the fabric crookedly.)


Cutting Quilt Pieces Method Two: Die-Cutting


Another available option for cutting fabric for quilts is die-cutting. The die-cutting method involves using a die-cutting machine and form die. It can cut triangular pieces and other shapes to make patterns within your quilt. 

Basic steps for using a die-cutting machine:

  1. Place the die foam-side up. The foam should be on the top and the fabric sits on top of the foam.
  2. Place the fabric on top of the foam side of the die and use the mat to cover it. 
  3. Push into the middle.
  4. Turn the handle in the desired direction.


Like the rotary cutting method, die-cutting has many benefits:

  • Fast. The machine can cut between four and six layers at a time, depending on thickness.
  • Identical output. Being able to handle more layers of fabric means more identical cuts are able to be made. 
  • Saves fabric. Less precious fabric is wasted than by hand cutting.
  • Automatic seam allowance. Since this machine is made for cutting fabric for quilting, it can automatically account for the seam allowance, saving you time and effort.


Cutting And Finishing Corners


Sharp, clean corners give your project a professional finish. They may seem daunting, but are actually simple once you get started! Like with cutting your material, creating nice corners for your quilt begins with proper measurement.

Typically, a quilt will have an extra bit of fabric added onto the edges to form the corners and clean up the sides. This is also known as quilt binding. It basically holds together all the layers of the quilt. 

There are several different methods for attaching the binding. However, before that step comes cutting the fabric. When you are cutting the binding fabric strips, be sure to leave a sizable extra length. Always triple-check your measurements!

What Do I Need for Cutting Quilt Pieces?

It is helpful to have all the necessary materials prepared before you begin your project. When cutting pieces for quilts, you may find you prefer one method for certain shapes or sizes and a different method for others. It all depends on your personal preference!

Regardless of which method (or combination of methods) you choose, these are the basic materials needed for cutting fabric for quilts:

  • Mat. Quilting mats will have measurement lines on them and are usually made from durable materials such as rubber and vinyl; this does not make them impervious to cuts and scratches, however, and over time you may need to replace your mat. It is recommended that beginners use an 18” x 24” mat.
  • Rulers. These are absolutely essential for cutting quilt pieces. Transparent rulers are the best option, as it allows you to line up your fabric exactly with the edge. Like the mats, quilting rulers come in different sizes; if you are beginning a larger-sized project, a bigger ruler will be much more helpful.
  • Cutter. Whichever method you choose, you will need either a handheld rotary cutter or a die-cutter machine. Be sure to have extra blades on hand, as you never know when yours will need replacing!
  • Scissors. When truing the edges and cutting stray threads and batting, you will definitely need an ordinary pair of scissors handy.


Let’s Get Started!

Every project begins with cutting quilt pieces and good preparation means a successful project. Making a quilt takes time, dedication, and concentration. It is important to measure and cut properly in order to guarantee your project goes smoothly. Just as important as the preparation is having the right materials.

Just by taking the time to read this guide, you have already started your creative journey off on the right foot. Happy quilting!

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