Feb 2, 2011

Men's Shirt Sew-Along 2 -- Cut it out already!

Sew-Alongers, as exciting as yesterday was, it gets better today, way better.  We're ready to cut our muslin.

Our goals today are:

1. Lay out our muslin fabric in preparation for cutting, lining up selvage ends where necessary and locating grainline.

2. Cut our pattern pieces.

3.  Make choices about interfacing and cut interfacing.

Before we begin I want to talk about muslins.  Most people make a muslin, which is a sample garment, to test for fit.  (Sometimes a garment requires multiple muslins.)  I have chosen to approach my shirt muslin with the same attention to detail (or nearly) as I would my final shirt so we can learn from it together.

Especially for those who have never made a shirt before, this is an opportunity to try out techniques that are new to you.  It is also your chance to get to know your pattern inside and out.  The muslin doesn't have to be perfect of course, but I recommend taking time with it.  Any time invested in the early stages is time saved in the later stages.

Most of the time it takes to create a garment is not time spent sewing at our sewing machines.  It's the cutting, matching, pressing, measuring, etc. 

I do not recommend making a muslin out of a fabric that requires excessive pattern matching or that has a nap (i.e., that looks different when brushed up or down, like corduroy).  Vertical stripes, however, can be helpful with regard to finding grainlines and keeping verticals vertical.

We have very varied levels of experience.   Always work at the level -- and the pace -- that feels comfortable to you.  

With no further delay...

1. Sarai has provided sample cutting layouts for the Negroni shirt pattern.  Every pattern comes with these sample layouts.  Take a look at them.  I never follow these to the letter, choosing instead to purchase a little extra fabric so I don't have to worry about running out if I don't cut exactly as instructed.  But the layout will remind you which pattern pieces (like the back and collar) need to be cut on the fold of the fabric, as well as which pieces are to be cut parallel with the selvage and which perpendicular.  (For those of you who traced your pattern pieces yesterday, you should already have a directional arrow on all your traced pattern pieces.)

NOTE: Cutting on the fold does not always mean folding the fabric in two perfect halves; you can just fold in enough fabric to match the width of your pattern piece.  It took me a long time to figure that one out.

If I'm cutting a plaid or a loosely woven fabric apt to shift, I will take extra time to cut one layer at a time rather than two or more.  Plaids in particular must match.

2. I always keep the following on hand when I'm cutting:  a) rotary cutter, b) self-healing mat (the mat you see in my photos), c) an assortment of clear rulers and straight edges, d) fabric shears, 3) fabric pen (the ink is supposed to disappear in a day or two; doesn't always so use judiciously).

I always keep the following at great distance: a) pets, b) children, c) phones and other distractions.

Those who use rotary cutters will need weights to secure pattern and fabric.  I use glass paperweights, candlesticks, whatever I have around the house that is heavy and won't mark my fabric or damage my pattern piece.  A rotary cutter requires no lifting of the fabric edge (as fabric shears do) so there is remarkably little shifting on most fabrics and no need to pin (or stitch!) pattern to fabric.  Your cotton or cotton poly muslin fabric should be easy to work with and if it's not, find different fabric now.

I fold my fabric wrong-side-out generally (so I can mark things like darts on what will end up being the inside of my garment) and often pin the selvage edges together.  The selvage is the vertical, length-wise edge from the original weaving, as opposed to the width-wise edge that marks where your yardage was cut from the bolt.

If you look closely at my selvage, it looks different from the rest of the fabric: denser and white on the wrong side.

Each sewer probably has his or her own cutting strategy.  Here's the one that works for me.

I get a general sense of what pieces I'm cutting where, working only with whatever fabric fits on my self-healing mat (sometimes a long pattern piece will have to be cut in sections as I redistribute the fabric on my mat).   With my Negroni muslin, I decided to cut the back first.  I do this on the fold.  Since I have my selvage ends perfectly lined up and even pinned, I am confident that I am also even with the vertical grain.

I am fortunate: I can actually make out the fabric's grainline if I look closely at the weave.   Sadly this also reflects the coarseness of the fabric.

I secure my pattern to the fabric with my weights, open my rotary cutter and begin.  Only when I am ready to cut do I release the red safety button on my rotary blade.  I secure it again as soon as I am done cutting.   If I am shifting position or moving my fabric, I secure the blade with the safety button.  Make this a habit, please.  The blade is very sharp.

Having completed cutting my piece, I now transfer the notches and dots.  I clip a scant 1/4" slit for each notch.  No triangles or anything fancy.

For circles, I put a pin through pattern and fabric, and with a fabric pen mark my fabric (on both "wrong" sides as in the case of my folded back pleat for example, the fabric having been folded with "right" sides together).

My fabric piece cut and marked, I pin it to my dress form.  You can put it anywhere you want as long as it's out of the way but the dress form insures that I can identify the piece and don't get right and left sides confused.  NOTE: If your fabric has no distinct right and wrong side, NOW is the time to label it.  I generally label it in the seam allowance with my fabric pen.  Some people use colored adhesive tape.

The "RW" above is a note to myself that this is the right sleeve, wrong side.

I work piece by piece.  The more organized you are the easier it will be.  Some people check the pattern piece off the instruction list as they cut it.  Some people move each pattern piece away as it's cut, or store each piece atop the corresponding piece of cut fabric.  Do whatever keeps you organized.

Little by little the fabric gets cut.

I take extra time to make sure I have clearly marked my sleeves.  The top (or cap) of the sleeve will have two notches in back, one notch in front.  The sleeve placket will be marked near the BACK (two notches) half of the sleeve, where the sleeve will meet the cuff.   Take the extra time and you won't get your sleeves confused.  It has happened to me many times, friends.

I also clip to mark folds and/or centers.  So for the pocket I'll clip at the narrow "first fold" and the wider "second fold" line, a scant 1/8".

If you are not cutting directly on the selvage, you will have to find the grainline of your fabric.  It may or may not be visible just by looking at the fabric.  I do this in a number of ways, with triangles and rulers.

3.  If you are using interfacing, cut that too.  Interfacing is generally attached (fused or stitched) to the outside-facing side of two matched sides, i.e., the outside of a cuff, collar, collar stand.  If you are interfacing your facings (in Negroni, those long narrow verticals that line up with your left and right front edges and will eventually be turned under) this does not apply.

The rule is generally: crisper side facing out, which makes sense if you think about it.

We've already talked a lot about interfacing.  For my muslin I am using self fabric for the facings and cuffs, and fusible woven for my collar, just to experiment.  Take advantage of your muslin and experiment!

I decide to do my undercollar, inside cuffs, and under pocket flaps in red gingham.  These will not be interfaced.


NOTE: I like to gently dry press my cut pattern pieces before I sew anything.  Any fabric cut off the grain is apt to stretch.  Keep steam pressing to a minimum and handle gently.  (Tomorrow I'll talk about staystitching.)

Friends, that's all we're doing together today.  I am here and on Flickr to answer your questions and we are privileged to have a great many experienced sewists with us as well.

If you have your own system for cutting, marking, or organizing that you wish to share that might be helpful to others, please do so.   

Happy cutting, everybody!


  1. I'm a bad girl in that I'm not technically making a muslin. AND my first attempt is a plaid!

    I generally use a rotary cutter as well, but this time not. I don't have a big enough mat to make a go of it with this project. To make my traced off pattern, I used Tru-Grid which was a total PITA, but worth it. It feels like fabric and is drapeable, so it's sorta like a muslin.

    For matching a plaid, I take the fabric to the pressing table and iron it in half where I want my pattern repeat to be. That becomes my fold line. Since I'm using the vintage McCall's, I wanted the hem line to be on a specific part of the plaid, so I laid the pieces down so that the part where you turn up and hem is identical on both front and back. The good part about this is that when I go to press up and hem, I've got a nice straight line that matches so I don't screw it up. I have "issues" with hems, lol. I have a hard time making them line up nicely on fabric that doesn't have an obvious match. Which drives me bats.

    I'm not sure what I'm using for facings, because I'm using a vintage piece of fabric and there is what there is! I mught have to use lining fabric just so it's not "itchy" to the one who will be wearing it. That man is SO sensitive. I swear. *I* could wear the fabric with no complaints... Harumph.

  2. I was bad and have had mine cut out for a week already! I'm also bad for not doing a muslin. I hate making them and the fabric was so cheap that I'm not too worried about it...if it doesn't fit I'll just go back and buy more of the fabric.

  3. Wow, two self-confessed "bad" girls already. This is like a Russ Meyers movie.

  4. I'm hoping I can find time to cut my muslin (an old sheet actually) tonight. It might be tomorrow though - tonight is cat litter box and turtle tank cleaning night.
    Ironed my pattern pieces last night. No need to cut them out as the pattern is a vintage one used by my mother-in-law to make her husband's shirts. Oddly, the pattern was cut with pinking shears, but very precisely and with each triangular notch also cut out exactly. No pin holes in the tissue, so I guess she used weights too. It's kind of a sentimental thing using this pattern because I'm fond of my mom-in-law, and it makes me feel a little closer to her.

  5. Thanks for these very good detailed descriptions of cutting. I learned something today. One of these days though you could make yourself some pattern weights. But I like your can do attitude, and I know your muslin will be good enough to wear. And your final product will be amazing.

  6. Woot! Maybe I can keep these stir-crazy kids occupied long enough to cut mine out, too! So exciting! We are having the CRAZIEST weather here in Dallas..we had a bad ice storm, and it's not warmed up enough to melt anything, and now we're having rolling power outages. Plus, we're don't have the kind of road clearing stuff more northern states have. Oh yeah, and schools are all closed AND we don't have the kind of cold weather gear to spend much time outside. It's crazy! but, I'm not worried! I can catch up: I can sew a whole shirt in an evening, if I must, but BOY HOWDY am I jealous!

  7. Hi Peter, thank you for the great tips! I have a muslin question - should the muslin fabric all be the same? I have a lot of quilters' cotton leftover from other projects that would be perfect to use for muslins but it tends to be in smaller lengths. If the pieces are similar in weight can I use them together in one muslin? Thanks!

  8. Provided they are equally stable -- and my sense is that quilter's cotton is pretty similar weight and hand -- I'd say it's OK. Anybody else?

  9. It's OK to use different similar fabrics for a muslin. It doesn't have to be pretty.

    My muslin is cut (since Friday - another bad girl!). Today I'm working on cutting out the Ren Faire breeches. All 30+ of them.

  10. Learning from you already. I had a duh moment yesterday while reading through your post. I never thought to line up the edge of the tracing paper with the straight edge of the pattern piece. That saves time and tracing for a straight line. I can truthfully tell you I probably would never have thought of that on my own. Can't wait to get cutting tonight.

  11. I'm not sewing this sew-along, but I'm read-along'ing, and I want to thank you for the little "aha!" moment of pinning the cut pieces to your dress form as you go! I usually drape them over a chair. Invariably, I will need the chair for something else, or want to take a look at one of the pieces & have to dig through all of them to find it....you (some of you) have been there, done that, I'm sure! So this is a nice little gem for me, thank you!

  12. OOOOh Baby ! Awesome combination and fabrics !


  13. Hey, Peter. I could use a lot more detail on you free hand cutting with a rotary cutter. Tried it today and everything shifted; fabric, pattern, cutter, mat, the fabric rose up in front of the cutter blade and eventually shifted the whole top layer of fabric in a section. Odd that with so many pictures, there isn't one in the post with rotary cutter to mat. Seems extremely unstable to me, so I'd like to see more about it. Lane

  14. Very nice post Peter. Appreciate your clear and thorough directions. I too am a read-alonger as I promised my husband a Batman costume for our anniversary...so no shirt for him! but I genuinely enjoy your posts.

    I would like to offer a word of caution about pinning your cut pieces to your dressform. By doing this I think you are risking the cut edges which are not on the straight of grain, like your shoulder and side seam from becoming stretched as they hang on the form. This of course becomes a bigger issue with loosly woven fabric. I like to put my cut pieces in a deep tray. I place my cut pieces along with my thread, notions and the pattern there, as I rarely get to work on any project straight through.

    Continue to enjoy the process.

  15. I have never found the perfect official fabric marking pen so I use something that is abundant in my house and has never failed me. Crayola washable markers come out every single time.

  16. Oye, Lynne, I never thought of that. With cotton shirting, pinned in multiple places, it should be OK (I hope).

    Lane, this may help: When I cut my fabric the mat is on the floor and I am on my knees, directly above it. My weight is in my left hand, which is supporting me. I am cutting with my right.

    The weights are holding the fabric and pattern down. You can use a bit of your left hand to hold things too -- provided your hand is NOT in path of the cutter (and nowhere near it ideally).

    You may need more weights on your fabric. If your fabric is too thick -- terrycloth comes to mind -- or if your blade is insufficiently sharp -- this could cause some shifting, in which case I would recommend pinning pattern to fabric.

    I think the most important thing is that your body be above your fabric bearing down on it. I'll post some pics of this tomorrow.

    Does anyone else have any tips for this, perhaps someone who uses their cutter and mat on a table?

  17. A major snow storm today provided the perfect opportunity for getting my muslin cut. Yikes, it took forever! I'm using a woven gingham as suggested by DPC. I struggled keeping things running straight both horizontally and vertically. Hopefully things will line up in the end. I cut the front band extra long so I can shift it to keep the checks aligned. If today is any indication, it will take me 2 days to cut my final fabric!

  18. Lynne, thanks for the point about potential stretching....I'll definitely keep that in mind, & won't do any pinning on the form with loose weave or unstable fabrics :)

  19. Erin thanks, that is an awesome tip, we have plenty of those Crayola washable markers too! I have sometimes wondered (since I can't for the life of me find my supposedly air-erasable fabric pen) but never been game enough to try.

  20. Lane, are you cutting through the pattern paper at the same time? If so, don't do that. ;-) Run the rotary cutter along the pre-cut edge of the pattern. Place your pattern weights at the edges of the pattern, but not so close they impede the path of the cutter.

  21. Another thought Lane - are you using a small cutter or a bigger one? Bigger ones are better for the long stretches of cutting. I used to use a smaller one for tight curves, but I've gotten good with the biggie so it's pretty much all I use.

  22. Rotary cutters are evil. Don't feel any obligation to use them, merely because some people use them. Unless you're making lots of straight cuts, their only advantage is that they use throw away blades, so you don't have to think about sharpening shears.

  23. I had problems with my rotary cutter and slipping sliding fabrics too, when I first used it. Now I just press down very hard. I cut on a table. Cutting on the floor probably means you naturally press down more anyway

  24. Ok, i'm a bad boy, i haven't managed to get started yet, either with copying my pattern or cutting out a muslin piece, all my stuff is at work. I'm hoping to be able to get to it this weekend. Fingers crossed!


  25. I haven't cut my muslin yet either- between work and toddlerdom I haven't had a chance. I'll get to it this weekend. One thing, I've never cut interfacing with muslins- is it really necessary?


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