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Tips for Fussy-Cutting Fabric

Isolating and cutting out a specific pattern or print is referred to as "fussy-cutting." Here are some tricks and tips to know when using this technique.

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Whether you’re making a kaleidoscope or “I Spy” quilt, or trying to achieve a specific effect from novelty prints, stripes, or other directional prints, when you want to cut an exact part of a print, pattern, or shape, follow these steps for easy fussy-cutting.


Using a Viewing Window

Prevent surprises by using a viewing window to help you fussy-cut any shape:


1. Trace finished-size shape on a piece of frosted template plastic that is at least 2" larger on all sides than desired shape (Photo 1).

2. Using a crafts knife and ruler, cut away the interior of the shape to make a viewing window (Photo 2).

3. Move the viewing window over the fabric to isolate the desired portion of the print. Mark position with pins or chalk (Photo 3).

4. Remove viewing window and remark as needed. Add seam allowances and cut out the print portion with scissors or a rotary cutter and ruler.



Using an Acrylic Ruler

Use commom ruler sizes to fussy-cut square or rectangle shapes:


1. If you can’t quickly tell where the center of your ruler is, temporarily designate the spot with a piece of tape (clear or masking) marked with an X.

2. Center your fabric motif under the ruler, then use the outside of the ruler as a cutting guide (Photo 4).



Five Tips:

  • Fussy-cutting almost always requires more yardage.
  • Because you align shapes with a fabric’s print instead of its selvages, fussy-cut pieces often aren’t on grain. Starch fabric to stabilize it for cutting and stitching. 
  • Keep in mind that motifs on a preprinted panel may not be the exact same size or shape. If you’re concerned, measure motifs that look especially large or small to make sure they’ll fit in a consistent-size piece. 
  • For a quicker alternative, use tracing paper to position the piece you want to cut. Trace or photocopy both the finished-size and seam lines on multiple sheets of tracing paper. Lay a marked sheet of tracing paper on the fabric, placing the desired area within the seam lines. Using a rotary cutter and acrylic ruler, cut through all layers at once.
  • You also can purchase acrylic rulers and templates made just for fussy-cutting common shapes. Or, for squares or rectangles, block off the portion you need with painters tape or vinyl-cling material.