How to measure, choose, and cut out fabric?

by Leanna Levine | Last Updated: March 10, 2017

You’ve decided what you want to make? Awesome! Now comes the fun part, fabric shopping!

Fabric shops are like candy stores. Bolts and bolts of beautiful fabrics.

But before you can start buying, you have to know how much fabric you’re going to need, right?

1. So how is fabric measured?


Fabric is generally measured by the yard, or by the metre.

When we say ‘one yard of fabric’, this refers to one yard of the fabric measured along the selvedge × the total width of the fabric.

1 yard = 0.9m = 36 inches = 3 feet

The width of the fabric is the distance measured between the two selvedge ends of the fabric. The most common widths are 36”, 45”, 54”, 60”, 72”, and 118”.

You can either buy a whole yard of fabric (or any number of whole yards), or you can buy it in some common fixed sizes.


What’s the difference between a regular cut and a fat cut?

It’s basically a long, thin strip v/s a chunkier, broader piece.

Half yard/metre – This would be the entire width of the fabric × half a yard/metre in length.

Fat half – This would be half the width of the fabric × a whole yard/metre in length.

Quarter yard/metre – This would be the entire width of the fabric × 1/4th of a yard/metre in length.

Fat quarter – This would be half the width of the fabric × half a yard/metre in length.


Fat quarters and smaller sizes are used mostly for patchwork and quilting.

To calculate how much fabric you will need for a project, take the finished size (remember to include the front and the back both wherever applicable), add the seam allowances, and then add a little extra in length to allow for shrinkage. This chart shows the amount of fabric needed for some common projects.

If you buy less than the required amount, you won’t have enough to complete the project. And if you buy a lot more, there will be unnecessary wastage.

2. Next you need to choose the right fabric.


Fabric selection is extremely important. It will affect the final outcome, and also the ease of cutting and sewing.

Seen a beautiful fabric, and want to use it even if it is not recommended for the pattern? Don’t! It can prove very frustrating later on!

Choose the fabric based on the desired weight, thickness, weave, drape, special properties (for example water-resistance), and ease of sewing.

For beginners, quilting cotton is one the best fabrics to work with. It is extremely easy to sew, doesn’t slip or stretch, and can be used for lots of different kinds of projects.

Fabrics like chiffon, silk, and satin look gorgeous, but are a little tricky to sew. They tend to slip during cutting and sewing. Likewise, the stretch in knits makes them very comfortable to wear, but a tad more difficult to sew.

Don’t worry, once you gain some experience, you can sew pretty much any fabric! A little tension adjustment, the required needle and presser foot, and you’re good to go.

3. How to cut out fabric?

Got the right fabric? Now it’s time to start cutting!

Before you start-

  • Iron the fabric. This will remove the creases and wrinkles (if any), and help the fabric lie flat. (If you’re working with cotton, or other natural fibres, you might want to pre-wash the fabric to avoid shrinkage)
  • Now draw or trace the patternon the fabric using a fabric marker or chalk. You can also pin the pattern on the fabric, or use a template.
  • Plan out a proper cutting layoutto ensure the most efficient use of the fabric, and to minimize wastage.

Example of a cutting layout.


  • If you’re using a fabric with a directional print, make sure you follow the direction.You don’t want the foxes facing down!
  • Align the pattern correctly on the grain. You can cut on straight grain (warp), cross grain (weft) or bias grain, depending on your project requirement.

Straight grain has minimum stretch, cross grain has a little more stretch, and bias grain has the maximum stretch. The grain will also affect the drape. You can refer to this article to understand fabric grain in detail.


Now we get to the actual cutting. You can cut the fabric in either of these ways –

With a pair of scissors


  • This is the simplest way. Scissors are great for cutting curves, small details, and notches.
  • Always use fabric scissors. And remember don’t use your fabric scissors to cut anything else!
  • Make long, clean cuts. Short, uneven cuts lead to jagged edges.
  • Ensure that the fabric is lying flat on the table. If you lift the fabric in the air and then cut, it might distort the shape.
  • You can also use pinking shears for a zigzag edge. That prevents the edge from fraying.

With a rotary cutter


  • Using a rotary cutter can initially seem a little more difficult than using a pair of scissors. But once you master this skill, you’ll realise it’s not!
  • Rotary cutters are great for cutting straight seams really fast. This is particularly useful for quilting.
  • Along with a rotary cutter, you will need a self-healing mat and an acrylic ruler.
  • Always cut with a sharp blade, and put the safety latch on AS SOON AS you finish cutting!

By ripping the fabric


  • Make a notch on the selvedge at the point you want to rip. Now just tear it from there.
  • The ripped edge tends to curl, so iron it flat.
  • This is done to get a perfect straight grain.

Remember ‘measure twice, cut once’. This will save you from making lots of silly mistakes.

And now that your fabric is cut out, head over to the sewing machine!