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Getting your pattern from a book or website into a stack of cut fabric pieces isn’t difficult, but there are a lot of little tips that can make it easier.

Check the seam allowances

You’ll see two lines on my patterns, like Flower Bear. The outer one is the cutting line, and the inner one is the sewing line - the seam. Some patterns only give you one line, and that can be dangerous.

If the instructions aren’t clear, sometimes you can’t readily tell if a seam allowance is included (common in commercial garment patterns) or not (common in Japanese patterns). Walk two dissimilar seams - say, a head gusset and head side - and see if they match up better on the given line versus on an imaginary line 1/4” (or 5mm) in from the edge. Of course, sometimes you will be expected to ease a seam, so it’s not a sure-fire way to tell.

If you’re enlarging or reducing a pattern, remember that the seam allowance will grow or shrink too.

My preferred method is to cut off the seam allowances on my patterns and just mark the seam line. Just don’t forget you’ve done that and cut to the marked line, or trace all your patterns and then realize you didn’t trace them far enough apart. Write “add seam allowance” on your pattern pieces if you plan to re-use them.

Print-to-fit… won’t

Make sure your printer is set to 100% (or at least a consistent percent) if you’re printing downloaded patterns. This can result in some cut-off edges if you’re printing an A4 pattern to US Letter paper or vice versa, so you may have to monkey with the printer settings to get things to work. Printing A4 to US Legal will work without cutting anything off.

If you’re printing from GIF or similar files, printing at 100% may pose problems if the creator wasn’t consistent about the DPI when saving the files, so be sure to check the previews.

Cutting out a pattern

If a pattern has chunky lines, try to be consistent about cutting down the middle of the line - although I’ve seen at least one pattern designer say that their pattern was designed to have the lines cut off, so read any pattern notes.

If it’s a pattern you’re going to use regularly, transferring it to cardboard or stencil plastic is a good idea. If you’re tracing around a paper copy to transfer the pattern to the heavier stock, make sure you cut off all of the traced line, or your pattern pieces will grow.

Tranferring a pattern to fabric

Most of the types of fabric I use let me trace around a pattern with a fine-point permanent marker, so I just draw the seam lines right on. Test your fabric - if a marker will show, use a chalk pencil or disappearing pen (fabric stores sell these).

Sometimes you don’t have to transfer the pattern at all. If you trace the pattern onto plastic-backed freezer paper, you can iron the paper onto felt or many other fabrics and it will stick. Cut the paper and the felt at the same time, then just peel the paper off. (Obviously this doesn’t work for transferring seam lines, but felt is often sewn with no seam allowance.)

If you don’t have freezer paper, you can get a similar effect by punching holes in the interior of the pattern, then putting tape over the holes to stick it to the fabric.

Pinning a pattern to fabric is a last resort; it puts a “wave” in both fabric and pattern, and if the wave doesn’t match you end up distorting the shape.

Cutting the fabric

Take a permanent marker and write “FABRIC ONLY” on your fabric scissors and enforce that rule. Paper dulls scissors, and sharp scissors are the most important thing for cutting fabric.

If you’re cutting a pile fabric—a faux fur or mohair—cut only the backing, not the pile. Slip the point of the scissors blade along the backing to lift the pile out of the way as you cut. If it’s a dense fur, you’ll probably want to come back and trim the pile in the seam allowance—an offset embroider scissor or an electric hair trimmer are great for this. Don’t go over the seam line or your project will have bald patches.

If you’ve traced the cutting line rather than the seam line, make sure you cut off all of the traced line, or your pattern pieces will grow. (Again.)

Don’t clip curves or points yet, even if they’re marked on the pattern.

Keeping track of everything

Don’t lose track of which side is the right and wrong side. This is obvious with pile fabrics, and probably doesn’t make a difference with most felts, but it’s still a good habit to be consistent.

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