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How To Cut Out a Sewing Pattern

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Preparing your fabric and cutting out your pattern is just as important as the actual sewing. Take time with this stage for perfect results.

Washing Your Fabric

This is one of the most important steps in dressmaking and although it means you can’t start sewing straight away – it really is worth doing this. Fabric can and does shrink and run so it’s best to pre-wash it either by hand or machine depending on the fabric type. This will have got all the shrinking out of the way before you start to stitch.

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Pressing Fabric

It’s important to press all your fabric to remove folds and creases so that it’s flat and wrinkle free. This makes it easier to lay out, pin into and cut accurately. For cotton fabric, press it whilst it’s still slightly damp. For other fabrics, test them out first to see what temperature to use and whether or not to steam press.

Preparing The Pattern

Many patterns come with a variety of options for different finishes so you may have more pieces than you need. Read the guide sheet which comes with the pattern to work out which pieces you’ll need – these are usually numbered to make this stage easier. Roughly cut out all the pieces you need outside the lines as it’s easier to do this first. Use paper scissors for this NOT your fabric scissors as the paper will blunt them.

Next, press your pattern pieces to remove folds and creases so they will lie flat on your fabric which will make your cutting much more accurate. Use a dry iron on a low heat but check on a small section first that the ink doesn’t smudge.


Most patterns come as multi sizes with a different style line used for each size. The pattern user guide will have measurements on it to help you decide which size you are. Measure yourself accurately, wearing just the underwear you intend to wear with the finished garment, not over your clothes and choose the size which is closest to your body measurements.


Once you’ve decided your size, cut along the corresponding lines on your pattern. Take care when you reach fiddly curves – particularly on bodice pieces, that you cut along the correct lines. Keep all the pattern pieces flat after you have cut them out. If you prefer, you can trace over the pattern using dressmakers tracing paper then you’ll keep your original patterns intact so you can use and trace it again in different sizes.


The pattern guide will have a cutting layout, if not several of them, and you need to choose the correct one. Often there are different cutting layouts for different width fabrics or with or without ‘nap’. The nap is the term which describes the textured surface of a fabric such as fur, fleece, velvet and corduroy. If you gently stroke the fabric you’ll feel the direction it lies flat in and this is the nap direction. It’s good to always take notice of the nap as it is also present on silks and satins even though you cannot feel it easily. The light will fall on the fabric in different directions so it’s best to cut these out using the ‘with nap’ layout. If you have a print which just faces in one direction then use the ‘with nap’ layout.


The best place to lay out your fabric is on a table as it’s easier to lay, pin and cut out your pattern pieces. But if you don’t have a table big enough then you can use the floor – just make sure it’s really clean so you don’t mark the fabric.

Smooth the fabric out so there are no wrinkles and creases and it’s as flat as possible. Take a close look at your selected cutting layout and see how the fabric is arranged. The selvedges are the woven edges of the fabric and are often labeled on the cutting layout so you can see how the fabric is laid out. There are a few different ways this can be done so make sure you understand how this works.

Right side vs Wrong side

The layout will show either the right side or the wrong side of the fabric. The right side is the front of the fabric which has the print on it. If it’s a plain fabric then sometimes it’s hard to decide which is the right side – so just choose one and stick to it (you may need to label it to make sure you cut out and sew the correct side each time).

Single layer

Just place the fabric down as a single layer either right side or wrong side up depending on the instructions.

On the fold

Often you need to fold your fabric either right or wrong sides together so simply follow the way the layout shows you to. Some pattern pieces need to be cut on the fold so they will open out as a bigger symmetrical piece once cut. Press the fabric gently to make sure you pin your pattern right up to the fold and to ensure it’s straight. Other pattern pieces are just pinned to a folded piece of fabric so that once cut you get two pieces.


Following the cutting layout you have chosen, lay the pattern pieces in the order shown. Most pattern pieces are laid right side up but the layout will show you if they need to be right side down instead. Most patterns include a standard 1.5cm (5/8in) seam allowance in the pattern pieces but do check your pattern does include this. If you need to add a seam allowance yourself then make sure you space your pattern pieces far enough apart to allow for this.

Once you are happy with the layout, check to make sure that the grain lines of the pattern are parallel with the selvedges. You can judge this by eye but it’s better to measure to be sure. Measure from one end of the grain line to the selvedge then from the other end of the grainline to the selvedge making sure the measurement is the same.

You can now pin your pattern pieces carefully in place.


All the markings on your pattern pieces need to be transferred to the fabric. Don’t miss out this step as these are really important for matching up fabric pieces later on and for positioning elements such as darts and pockets.


These are the triangular marks on the cutting lines and are used for matching fabric pieces accurately. Cut small triangles to mirror the notches on the pattern outside the cutting line.


These indicate where darts, zips or pockets are going to be positioned. Ziplines are usually indicated with a zig-zag line. Mark these on your fabric using a fabric marker, pin or tacking stitches – whichever you prefer.

You can learn more about pattern markings here.


Use a sharp pair of large dressmakers’ shears. These have a long blade, which will give you a much smoother cutting action and therefore greater accuracy. Some people prefer to cut with the pattern on the left and some with the pattern on the right so try both to see which gives you greatest accuracy. If there are any smaller fiddly sections then use a pair of smaller sharp scissors to cut these parts accurately. Cut smoothly along all the cutting lines, snipping the triangular notches as you go.


Keep all your pattern pieces pinned to the fabric until you need them so you know exactly which piece is which then you can begin to sew!

Shop our range of dressmaking patterns here.

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