Creative articles about sewing

“Irina” Sew Along – Week 2 – Cut Out Fabric

Welcome to Week 2 of the Irina Sew Along. This week is all about cutting out your fabric. I’ve got some tips and tricks for beginners about how to layout, check your grainline and cut out your fabric accurately but before we dive into that let’s talk about making a toile or a mock up! 

Making a toile

I mentioned in the last post that I made a couple of toiles. For the newbies out there a toile is a mock up that is made from cheap fabric to check the fit and design of a garment before you make it out of your final (more expensive) fabric. It doesn’t have all the detailed parts of the garment sewn, like hems, necklines and pockets. It is just enough seams sewn together to be able to try it on. It does take extra time to make a toile but it makes the sewing process more enjoyable when you are confident that the design is going to fit and look the way you want it to! Which usually translates to less unpicking!

I made a couple of toiles especially because I was changing the pattern so I needed to check that the pattern adjustments worked well. 

First toile

The first toile I made was to check the size of the original Irina pattern. I made it out of this bright patchwork cotton I had lying around and I was happy with the size, although the cotton was a bit stiff so it felt a little bulky. That’s why I decided I wanted to use a drapey linen so it was a bit softer. 

Whilst trying on the toile I had an idea to deal with the extra bulk. I grabbed a couple of long scraps, cut them to 30cm long and pinned them to the bodice at the base of each princess seam. These could then be tied together at each side and it pulled the dress in nicely! This is a good option for anyone wanting a slightly more fitted style without changing the pattern.

Second toile

Next I tested out my Merino Sleeveless Tunic pattern adjustments. First I made the bodice with the left over cotton fabric. I could see the pattern pieces fit together well but it didn’t demonstrate how it would drape with a softer knit fabric. So I made another one out of some scraps of knit. You can see how differently they hang made from different fabrics. 

You do have to remember when making a toile that the seam allowance at the neckline/armholes will usually get turned back with a facing or hem. So for a toile it’s best to cut off the neck and armhole seam allowances (1cm in this case) because this will allow the fabric to fall more like it will with the final garment. 

Third toile

Once I was happy with the Merino Tunic bodice I made a full toile so I could test the length of my skirt tiers. I wanted this dress longer because it is a winter version but I wasn’t sure how long. For this toile I made each tier 40cm long so the skirt length total was 80cm. As you can see from the side on photo I didn’t have enough of this scrappy fabric so complete the bottom tier. But this actually turned out great because I could turn the dress backwards and try it on at 2 different lengths! I decided on a length in between the 2 levels at the bottom which was 70cm total. I divided that 70cm in 2 which is how I ended up with both tiers of my skirt at 35cm length. You can of course have any length or amount of tiers that you like. 


Let’s talk Grainlines

Now we’re nearly ready for our final fabric but first we need to discuss grainlines so we get our lay out right. If you’re an experienced sewer who already knows about grainlines you can jump further down to the dress layouts section but if you’re not familiar with grainlines, then let’s talk about it!

Grainline refers to the weave of the fabric, specifically the direction in which the threads are going.  Dressmaking patterns always have a line on them to tell you which direction to lay the pattern on the fabric. This is because fabric has different grainlines and the garment will stretch, hang and behave differently depending which way they’re placed. All of this will effect the overall finish of your garment in how it looks and how it feels to wear. Understanding how the grainline works is important but if don’t remember all the info below just remember that the grainline on a pattern needs to go the same direction as the selvedge unless otherwise stated. 

So Crosswise, lengthwise, bias… What does all this mean?

Grainlines of Woven Fabric

Woven fabric is created by weaving two yarns/threads together on a loom at right angles to each other. This gives us a few different grainlines (directions of threads).

Lengthwise/Straight Grain (warp)

The lengthwise/straight grain is the very long vertical threads on a loom. This grainline has very little stretch and has the greatest strength. Garments are usually cut so the lengthwise/straight grain is going vertically on the body. This means the garment is less likely to stretch in length over time.

Crosswise Grain (weft)

The crosswise grain is the threads woven horizontally across a loom. This grainline has more stretch than the lengthwise/straight and generally goes across or around the body, providing more comfort when wearing a garment. 


Woven fabrics stretch when pulled along any bias grainline which are lines at any angle other than the lengthwise (warp) or crosswise (weft) grainlines. True Bias, which has the greatest stretch in a woven fabric, is at a 45 degree angle to the lengthwise (warp) and crosswise (weft) grains. Garments that need more drape can be cut on the bias and bias binding uses the 45 degree angle so that the fabric will stretch and bend around curves nicely.

Have a go pulling your fabric in each different direction and see how different they feel. 

Knit Fabric Grain

Knit fabrics are different because they’re made from a single thread going back and forth in a series of rows of interlocking loops. This loop structure is what gives knit fabric its characteristic stretch. There are many different types of knit fabrics that have different amounts of stretch but the important part to know is that you still need to place your pattern grainline on the lengthwise/straight grain because, same as woven fabric, this direction has the most strength.

Like woven fabric the lengthwise/straight grain on a knit fabric goes the same direction as the selvedge. The selvedge can be a bit harder to see on a knit fabric because it is often the same colour as the rest of the fabric. If you look closely the selvedge edge will be neat and tidy and sometimes you can see little holes along it when held up to the light. As apposed to the crosswise cut edge which will have fluffy cut ends of loops that unravel when stretched.  

Layout your fabric

To layout your fabric for cutting we need to put the selvedges together and lay it out flat on a table or on the floor. Quite often your fabric will not be cut straight at each end so when you put the selvedges together it’s best to hold the fabric up and see if it looks flat or if there are pulls in it. 

This fabric is folded in half length wise. The selvedges are together, horizontal along the top but you can see the fabric is pulling so shift the selvedges along each there and realign your selvedges until the fabric hangs flat.
You can see here the fabric is hanging flat so we know that the fold is along the lengthwise/straight grain correctly.

Once you can see it’s flat lay it down on a table or on the floor. If using a very slippery fabric it can be very hard to make sure the fabric is straight so here is a few tips.

  • You can put a few pins in down the selvedge to hold those edges together.
  • Use the edges of your table as a guide to help square up your fabric.
  • You can also use some gentle masking tape to hold the edges in position.


Layout the pattern

When laying pattern pieces on your fabric for cutting make sure you place the grainline in the same direction as the lengthwise/straight grain, (same direction as selvedge), unless otherwise stated on your pattern pieces/instructions. Some pattern pieces the grainline will be in the printed in the middle and some pieces the grainline will be printed along the centre front or centre back edge. If your pattern piece say “Cut 1 on fold” or similar you need to place that line on a folded edge of fabric that is on the straight grain. 

On the “Irina” pattern the centre front piece (1) says ‘Centre front fold straight grain’. That is your grainline to place on the fold.

Measure the grainline distance

Measure from each end of the grainline on the pattern piece to the folded or selvedge edge of the fabric to ensure the grainline is straight.

Step 1.

Measure the top of the grain line to the fold or selvedge edge. Put a pin in at the top of the grainline. 

Step 2.

Measure from the bottom of the grainline to the same selvedge or folded edge and adjust the pattern position so that they measure the same. Pin the bottom of the grainline. You can then continue to pin all around the pattern piece.


Cutting out 

There aren’t too many tips for the actual cutting out part. Just double and triple check you’ve got everything correct before you start cutting and use sharp fabric scissors. There are a few things to note for each of the dresses so check out the details below before you start cutting.


Linen Colour Blocked Dress

For the Linen colour blocked dress there are a lot of pieces that you only need to cut a single piece instead of the more common ‘cut 1 pair’. To save fabric, lay it out in a single layer rather than folding it in half at the selvedge. Have a look at the layout photos for each linen colour below but I’ll tell you now, that I actually forgot this piece of information when cutting out! I cut out all of the bodice pieces with the fabric folded and ended up with enough for 2 whole dress bodices! Silly me! This turned out to be helpful because I had spare pieces for testing but if you want to save fabric, do as I say and not as I do. Not to worry though, those pieces won’t go to waste. I will put them together later with some more of the scraps and make a t-shirt version of the dress.

Start by sorting your pattern pieces into 3 piles for each different colour of linen. When laying out your fabric you may need to rearrange your fabric in between cutting pieces to accommodate the ‘cut 1’ and the ‘cut 1 pair’ pieces. Lay your fabric out in a single layer, measure your grainline against the fabric selvedge, pin and cut out all the top pieces. Then fold the rest of your fabric in half and cut out a pair of sleeves.

Cutting the mid section you can do the same. Layout a single layer of fabric and cut your lower bodice pieces, x 1 of each. Making sure they are up the right way and you haven’t flipped the pattern piece over. For the top skirt pieces, lay the fabric out in a single layer and cut out one skirt piece. Then, if using a fabric that is the same on both sides this linen, you can rotate the pattern piece 180 degrees and cut out another piece. Doing it like this saves a lot of fabric, however if you’re using a printed or one sided fabric you won’t be able to do this so you will need to flip the pattern piece over and cut out another skirt piece that creates a pair.

Cutting out the bottom of the skirt, do the same as what you did for the top of the skirt above. Either cut 1 and rotate or cut 1 and flip pattern.

Don’t forget about your pocket pieces! You could cut these out of any colour as they will be hidden inside. I cut them out of the dark green linen only because I had the most of that fabric. 

You should end up with 3 lovely piles of linen dress pieces like this and don’t forget to snip or mark all your notches. If you snip them, cut a little 5mm snip into the seam allowance of the fabric or you could cut a tiny triangle shape to make it more obvious.


Merino Sleeveless Tunic dress

Cutting out this dress, I cut a strip of fabric off and folded it differently for the bodice pieces to the rest of the skirt. I also utilised the amount of fabric I had and made the width of the skirt tiers fit what I had. I SQUEEZED this dress out of 180cm of a 150cm wide fabric. But if I had more, I would have added another strip of fabric to the skirt to add more volume in the gathers.

This is the layout I had. The selvedges are together along the bottom horizontal edge and the top horizontal edge is the fold. The red dashed line is where I cut a strip off and you can see how I folded that part in the next photo. The Top Skirt Tier is cut down the fold to make 2 pieces which allows us to put the pockets in later. The Second Skirt Tier pieces are cut on the fold so they are twice the width you can see here.  

Here is the top strip I cut off for the bodice pieces. Because both the bodice pieces are cut on the fold, you can fold the fabric so that the selvedges meet in the middle instead of one side. Cut both bodice pieces out and piece left can be used for facing pieces.

I added a very light iron on interfacing before cutting out my facings. You don’t have to do this but I find it make its easier when working with a knit fabric. If you find you don’t have enough fabric to cut out facing pieces, you can cut them out of a similar colour and weight fabric. It won’t matter because they will be on the inside. 


Week 2 Complete!

That’s it for cutting out info. As always, please ask any question in the comments below. Next week we will be talking about binding and bodice assembly but we will also look at how to add machine embroidery to details to really make your dress unique.


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      • sewfuntoys EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.


        I re-shaped pattern piece #2 to better accommodate the grading of sizes. I am ready to sew the side panel & have a question about which side of pattern piece #2 goes toward the front seam? In this photo I show a pen on the right side of pattern#2 that will go towards the (front bodice). Is this correct ??  Thanks

        pin shown in picture near slopped side

      • Anna Hicks EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.

        Hi No, it’s actually the opposite side from the pen that goes towards the front. You want the convex curve there which helps add the bust shaping 🙂

      • sewfuntoys EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.


        Thanks for the reply. Glad I asked before I had to pick out stitches! The size & grading I performed worked & the toile is exactly a good fit. Here are pics I took so far.

      • Anna Hicks EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.

        Fantastic! Good work on the grading. Can I suggest a little adjustment for something I can see happening in your toile. There is a bit of extra fullness at the bottom of the back bodice panel seam. It might flare out and look funny once the skirt is attached. I would straighten up this line down the side bodice piece and that will take care of it. 🙂

      • sewfuntoys EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.


        Thanks for noticing the flare in the side panel area. I will make the adjustment in the pattern prior to cutting out my “designer fabric”.

  • sewfuntoys EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.

    I’ve cut out my toile (muslin). Just the first 3 pieces (bodice sections). Now I’m going to attempt to sew it together today & check if fit adjustments are necessary. My first “trial” will not have the sleeveless version. Let’s see how it goes. I’ll post photos with hashtags #IrinaSAL. 

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