Learn to Sew Lesson #7: Lay Out Your Fabric
Find your layout
Your guide sheet should provide you with a diagram for positioning your pattern pieces onto your
fabric. So find the layout in your guide sheet that corresponds to:
- The particular “view” you’re making
- The size you’re making
- The width of your fabric
You may also be given a choice of a with nap or without nap layout. A with nap layout will have all the
pattern pieces laid out in the same direction so that the nap (fuzziness) in the finished item will run in
the same direction. Use the with nap layout if your fabric has a nap to it or is a one-way design (a print
with a “right side up” to it) Use the without nap layout for all other fabrics.
Once you find your layout, circle it. With so many layouts printed on the page it can be easy to get
confused. And circle the diagram in pencil so you can erase it if you decide to make a different version
Note that you don’t have to follow the layout shown in your guide sheet. But it’s likely to be the layout
that uses the least amount of fabric.
Straighten your fabric’s grain, if necessary
Sometimes woven fabrics, especially lower quality fabrics, are off-grain. This means their lengthwise
and crosswise threads aren’t running perpendicular to each other the way they should.
Fabric pieces that are cut off-grain can lead to a finished item that doesn’t hang quite right on the
body. Therefore, before cutting your pattern pieces from your fabric, it’s important to make sure the
grain of your fabric is straight, and if it’s not, to straighten it.
For instructions on how to straighten a fabric’s grain, see How to Straighten Fabric Grain.
Fold your fabric
Lay your fabric onto your cutting surface. If there is excess that doesn’t fit onto your cutting surface,
don’t let it hang off the side of your table. This could stretch the fabric. Instead, fold the excess and
leave it at the end of your table.
Many fabric layouts require you to fold your fabric in half lengthwise to double it, matching the fabric’s
selvedges (the factory finished top and bottom edge of a length of fabric). Fabric is doubled like this
because usually two of each fabric piece are needed.
However you may see other types of layouts in your guide sheet:
- Sometimes a layout will require you to fold about one third of your fabric up lengthwise, leaving
the top part of the fabric a single layer. For this layout, use your ruler or yardstick to measure
from one selvage to the other all along the length of the fabric, making sure the distance is the
same so that your fabric is folded straight.
- Sometimes a layout will call for folding your fabric lengthwise from both the top and bottom so
that the selvedges meet in the middle. This kind of layout can be useful when there’s a
permanent crease in the middle of your fabric from being folded on the bolt.
- Sometimes a layout will call for cutting your length of fabric into two pieces, doubling one piece
and leaving the other piece a single layer. With this type of layout, I suggest laying out the
folded section first, then cutting off the end of your fabric for the other pieces.
When folding your fabric, you can either fold it right sides together or wrong sides together. Folding
your fabric with the right sides together can make it faster to prepare your pieces for stitching because
often you’ll be required to stitch fabric pieces with the right sides together. Folding your fabric wrong
sides together can be useful when you’re working with a print and you need to see the print to
position your pattern pieces onto the fabric a certain way.
After you’ve placed your fabric onto your cutting surface and folded it, smooth out any wrinkles.
Lay your pattern pieces onto your fabric
Following the diagram in your guide sheet, place all of your pattern pieces onto your fabric first before
pinning them down because some pieces may need to be adjusted or shifted.
Your layout may indicate placing the edges of some pattern pieces directly on the fold line of your
fabric. This is to make it easier to cut out the right and left sides of a much larger piece at once. To lay
your fabric piece on the fold line, lay the solid edge of the pattern piece right against the fold of your
fabric. When you cut out this pattern piece out, don’t cut along this folded edge.
Pin your pattern pieces to your fabric
After you’ve laid all of your pattern pieces onto your fabric, pin them in place. As you’re pinning, work
left to right, bottom to top. And as you pin, smooth the tissue paper as flat as you can.
Pin your pattern pieces on grain (straight):
Any pattern pieces you’ve placed on the fold line of your fabric will automatically be on grain. All the
other pieces need to be measured as they’re placed to make sure they’re straight.
All of your non-fold line pattern pieces should be marked with a horizontal arrow. You want this arrow
to be exactly parallel to the fold line of your fabric. Pin your pattern piece in place at the left end of the
arrow. Then measure from this side of the arrow to the fabric fold with your yardstick. Then measure
from the right side of the arrow to the fabric fold. Shift the right side of your pattern piece up or down
until the measurement matches the left side. Pin the pattern piece in place at the right end of the
arrow. Pin the rest of your pattern in place. Repeat for all of your other pattern pieces.
As you pin, place your pattern pieces as close together as possible. This is to ensure that you use the
least amount of fabric.
As you place your pins into your pattern pieces and fabric, keep your fabric as flat as possible on your
cutting surface. In other words, as tempting as it may be, don’t raise your fabric and put your hand
underneath to pin.
Where to place your pins:
Place your pins into your pattern and fabric close to and parallel to the edges of your pattern pieces. If
you were to place your pins perpendicular to the edges, you’d run a greater risk of accidentally cutting
into a pin.
Place pins about 3” apart along straighter edges and closer together around curves. Place a pin into
each corner of your pattern pieces. Smooth the pattern pieces as you pin them down.
Cut out your pattern pieces
Now that your pattern pieces are pinned in place, carefully cut along the outer lines of each piece. Use
longer scissor strokes on straight areas and shorter strokes around curves. If you’re making a garment
from a multi-size pattern, just remember to cut along the line for your size. Be careful not to
accidentally hit a pin when you cut, this could damage your scissors. And again, as tempting as it may
be, don’t lift your fabric up with your hand as you cut – leave it as flat as you can on your cutting
When you come to a notch (the little triangular or diamond-shaped symbols along the edges of the
pattern pieces), mark their place by making a triangular notch outward or by clipping into the edge of
the fabric 1/4”.
Cut out lining and interfacing
Repeat these steps for your lining and interfacing. You may need to use several of the same pattern
pieces you used for your fabric.
When you’re eager to start sewing your project, I know it can be tempting to put this off until later. But
it can be annoying when you’re on a roll with your sewing to have to stop to cut something else out.
So I recommend doing it now, while your cutting surface is set up.