Marking & Cutting

Posted by Kathleen Fasanella on Jun 21, 2005 at 4:51 pm / Patterns, Quality, Sewing, Tutorial / Trackback

You have to know this before you get anywhere near the welt pocket project. When you’re learning something new, everything can seem equally important and you may not be sure which concepts are your real priorities. Another problem is if you mis-prioritize something here because it is similar to something you already know or you think that you already know how to do it well. Whatever. I don’t know how to make these things stand out in your mind but if you don’t read another thing, read this: Your greatest priority is to mark and cut correctly which is -most likely- not the way you learned to do it.


Industrial practices place an entirely different weight on cutting. The fabrics and patterns are cut according to highly controlled standards. Cutting is much more important in industrial sewing; it’s one of the major reasons why our stuff looks better than homemade. In home sewing, cutting is a necessary and boring task you have to endure just to get to the fun part. You can’t look at it that way anymore. There is no part of patternmaking -or sewing- that is MORE important than cutting correctly. And again, correctly means placing different priorities on the task, the first of which is accuracy. To be consistently accurate -I cannot say this enough- Cut All Lines Away. Cut Them Off. All of Them. Always. No Exceptions. That thick outline is not a frame or any part of the pattern piece. It’s outlining the boundary of the piece, like a fence only this fence is not on your property; it’s on your neighbor’s. Cutting ON the line is NOT close enough. Cut it off.


In the photo above, you can see the patterns are reinforced with fusible interfacing. I did that because the tissue is too delicate for me to work with -this is a cute vintage style from the 40’s. The lines are shown cut away. If you don’t cut your lines away, whether they’re drawn on paper or traced onto fabric you’ve made your pattern that much larger -or smaller. The cutting away of lines applies every day and in every way. No exceptions.

neckline_concave_smallerFailing to cut lines away makes the pattern grow. For example, failing to cut the lines away on a curved neckline conversely make it smaller. Worse, a collar which is sewn into the neckline is getting bigger than its reciprocal set down seam -depending on the shaping of course.

At right is a sample illustration of a neckline traced out several times. Nearly always, a  neckline is concave. If you draw around a concave neckline -keeping the shoulder line and center front static, the neckline (or a crotch line) will get smaller.

collar_straight_largerNow, at the same time your neckline is getting smaller, your collar -say a mandarin or some other sort of straightish collar- is getting larger (at right is a sketch of the end of a straight collar). So while your neckline is getting smaller, your collar is getting larger and the two will never fit together. This is one reason why you can’t grade a pattern by extending the boundaries of every edge by some determined amount. Proportionately, the concave areas get smaller and the convex or straight edges get larger.

Now on to marking.
It’s hard to explain this but when you’re measuring off a line-say adding a seam allowance- you need to place your ruler with the baseline of the ruler (shown here at 3/8) underneath the line you’re measuring off of because you can never get your pencil line precisely at the 3/8″ because the ruler edge is in the way.


So do it like this. It is a mistake to put the ruler line right on the line because the allowance would end up too big. For pattern making, I only recommend one kind of ruler; either the B-95 (below)


or the B-85 (below)

made by C-Thru. Most people use the B-85 (both are 2×18) but I don’t like it as much because the 1/8 on one side of the ruler is just a hair larger than the 1/8 on the opposite side. Any apparel industry supplier will sell the B-85’s. If your supplier doesn’t carry the B-95, you can get that at most art supply stores.

At this point -based on past experience- I get a whole bunch of mail from people protesting that their home sewing quilting rulers are just fine for this job and maybe you’re right and I’m wrong but I’m sticking with this. The quilting rulers don’t have all the divisions or have a metric side either. Plus they’re big and clunky and cost a lot more. The B-85/95’s are $2 or $3 each. I have about 6 of them. Also, these make lousy fly swatters because the ends will shatter. Don’t ask how I know that.

Lastly, these two things are the first things I ever learned in design school. I’ve been extremely dismayed and appalled to learn that many people who are much better educated than I am -with 4 year apparel degrees or better- never learned what I learned on my very first day. If you don’t cut and mark correctly, you’ll have nothing but trouble with your welt pocket. Industrial sewing is precise.

Tracing and MarkingImportant! Should have been included in this entry
The 7 minute cutting test
The 7 minute cutting test pt.2

Entries in this series (links open in a new window):
Zippered welt pockets
Welt-Reece machine operations
Marking & Cutting
Welt and paper jig
Welt pocket construction

23 Responses to “Marking & Cutting”

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Mia Arenas
June 21st, 2005
5:22 PM

Commenting on the B-85, I always double check those C-Thru rulers because I’ve picked up plenty of them that were very inaccurate. One I had not checked before I purchased (then threw away the receipt and packaging), was offset by a 1/16 at the least. That makes a world of difference when it comes to accuracy.

June 21st, 2005
5:33 PM

I love the B-95! In fact, it’s time to stock up again. I had several – I don’t know where they disappear to. I love the fact that they are flexible – great for measuring curved lines.

June 21st, 2005
5:48 PM

My favorite supplier carries both kinds. I also prefer the B-95; the metric side is fabulous if you’re following a draft in a foreign pattern book. You don’t need to recalculate allowance or anything, just draft from the metric side.

June 30th, 2005
1:23 PM

Staedtler makes a thinner version of the b95/85 which is nice bc they bend round curves better and dont shatter as much. They are about a buck more from and I found mine at staples in the technical drawing/drafting section. BTW they do teach you proper cutting and marking on the first day still but so many turn up late ;)

October 14th, 2006
12:50 PM

OK, so I’m really really late to the party, but thank you for that (obvious in retrospect) tip about cutting.

I should have thought of it myself, but didn’t.

unreliable narrator
May 16th, 2008
10:16 AM

What’s funny to me about this is that I showed up for my first quilting class a few months ago….with B-95 in optimistic hand, only to have to buy a quilting ruler immediately–they gave me a 10% discount, but still I was peeved; I kept waving my flexible little ruler around telling everyone how it was the best ruler ever. And thank you for the cutting AWAY tip, and the HK posts! I love the site and its refreshingly tonic, stroppy tone. :o)

Laura Bell Smith
July 12th, 2008
6:58 PM

I’m totally stunned. I’m one of those that has a BS in apparel and I was never taught to cut off the edge of patterns (!) Once you explained it, it makes TOTAL sense. Thanks for teaching me what my professors didn’t.

Ann Riceman
August 4th, 2008
5:34 PM

I am also stunned………..never was taught to cut the lines off. Darn! About the B rullers, they are wonderful again because of being so flexible. You learn something new every day I say. Thanks again for all the really good info.

Tracing and Marking
September 15th, 2009
1:22 PM

[…] sewing contractor who didn’t have much experience. This is somewhat related to a previous brief tutorial I wrote on marking and cutting. Specifically, this entry is about the proper method of tracing […]

[…] it was lack of a Best Practice. There is a best practice to prevent this. It’s called Always Cut the Line Away. Always. No Exceptions. You might think it doesn’t matter, that you’re the only one doing the work but as you […]

November 25th, 2009
2:28 AM

I love this post!

February 13th, 2010
9:11 PM

lol you’re a funny writer. I love your site!

February 15th, 2010
11:02 PM

I totally understand the cutting the lines off, to me it made sense. I wish the guy I paid a few hundred dollars to to do my cutting for me last time thought like that. He didn’t. Sometimes he left up the 1/4 inch extra, sometimes he cut up to 1/4 inch too much, making for rather interesting assembly, especially because my underwear design does not get serged, so Farwa and I did a lot of trimming on the assembled panties. Needless to say, for the next patch I will just go and buy a knife and pay someone to help me lay out the fabric (it gets heavy :) )
Well, and then there is the fact that I mark with Crayola markers….can’t leave THAT showing lol

May 26th, 2010
7:16 AM

Kathleen thanks so much for this information I can’t believe I didn’t know how to cut out a pattern properly…can you cut off the line with a rotary cutter…or do you have to use scissors…I hate scissors they fatigue my hands so much…any idea of a good alternative or a great brand of scissors?

May 26th, 2010
3:07 PM

See the rotary cutter post, again, it applies to industry. Take what you can use and leave the rest.

I wrote a post comparing scissors but it was for paper scissors, not fabric ones. Most people get fabric scissors right, it’s paper scissors that are the oversight.

Donna S
June 26th, 2010
6:56 AM

I teach sewing to home sewers and have adapted as many practices from industry that are practical for home sewing. When using those flimsy home sewing patterns I back them with freezer paper. The trick is too shrink the freezer paper first by swiping the iron over it a few times, then carefully lay the pressed tissue on top and and adhere with a dry iron. I have also used spray mount and adhered them to tag and then cut out as prescribed above. Only use a “good” spray mount as the cheap stuff doesn’t work very well. In time the tissue does come loose but I can use my pattern over and over and treat it as a master block for drafting.

December 31st, 2010
8:13 AM

Let the quilters swear by whatever they want to. I have found too many rulers that where usually off by 1/16″ compared to an etched stainless steel ruler. The B-95 rulers are usually quite good. I check them with my handy dandy stainless steel ruler (12″ or 8″ model made for machinists).

Still looking for an equivalent B-95 in cm. The inch grid with one cm scale is the most popular even here in China.

[…] Jeans and pants fitting tutorials Marking & Cutting Jeans fit so lousy these days Jeans fit so lousy these days pt. 2 Yet another pet peeve: Waistbands […]

Laurie T
February 19th, 2012
1:14 PM

Yup, browsing through old posts on a Sunday afternoon. Must add this bit regarding the B-85, and maybe the B-95 too. The edge is ever so slightly beveled on the underside, so that your .5mm mechanical pencil can fit in quite tightly on the accurate line – whatever you’re measuring. The quilting rulers are cut straight on the edge for the rotary cutter to fit exactly against the edge. The two types of rulers, B-85/95 and quilting rulers, serve very different purposes. If accuracy in drafting is what one is after, then no, the quilting ruler won’t do it.

Paul mentioned checking his B-85/95 rules with an etched steel ruler – excellent suggestion. I’ve seen B-85s that were actually ‘off-grain’ so-to-speak, with the lines no parallel to the cut edges. You do have to examine a C-thru ruler very carefully before buying.

Barbara Christensen
May 16th, 2012
5:58 AM

“Your greatest priority is to mark and cut correctly…”. Amen! I have just found this website and imo it is THE BEST.period.end of discusion.

I was blessed with an extraordinary Home Ec teacher in high school. To this day, everytime I sit down to sew, I hear her voice in my head, “Now girls, let’s not look homemade.”. Marking and cutting were of the utmost importance in the ciriculum. The second most important imo is ironing. To me it is “the tell” of a homemade garment…everytime. I iron after every single step. Sorry, off topic.

Sadly, alterations except for hems was never taught. Over the years I tried to teach myself without much success. In looking through this website, I see clearly why I didn’t stand a chance by myself.

Thank you so much.

July 14th, 2012
1:06 AM

I have been sucked into your website and it’s not letting me leave. As a home sewist and budding pattern drafter, there’s so much useful information here. Must cut the lines off… must cut the lines off…

August 22nd, 2012
8:13 AM

This is great never thought of this, so insightful. How I wish I knew earlier. Could you teach me something
about putting my design ideas on paper nd I also mean pattern making. Great work. Will like to receive mails from here.

[…] I should also stress that unless otherwise specified, all pieces match exactly -down to 1/64th of an inch. This jacket also has anatomically correct armholes and sleeves. This means there is no sleeve cap ease in them. If anything, the sleeves are just the tiniest bit smaller (on the order of 3/16th total) which you won’t even notice but will facilitate insertion. There is 1/2″ ease in the front lining where it sews to the front facing but this is all. There are also very few notches so the few that there are, are pretty important. It will be very important to cut correctly -cut all lines away. […]

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