Monday, January 2, 2017

How to Fussy Cut for English Paper Piecing

English Paper Piecing Tutorial: Part V
Fussy Cutting

Now that you know the basics of English paper piecing, I thought it might be fun to give you a quick tutorial on fussy cutting. Fussy cutting is the act of cutting a specific spot on your fabric, usually finding repeats, in order to create a specific effect in your project.

They are by no means a requirement when doing English paper piecing.  Some people don't enjoy it. It uses a lot of fabric since you're looking for specific repeats, rather than just cutting edge to edge. It can also be tricky lining up the papers exactly the same on each cut piece of fabric. If you don't, then your centers may not line up properly.

It's work, but in my opinion, so worth it. You can achieve some amazing results when you fussy cut fabric. I feel like it adds a little something to my projects and can be used to tie different sections of the project together.

Fabric Selection

Some fabrics are better than others for fussy cutting. Once you start doing fussy cutting in your projects, you'll start noticing the best ones for your projects without even trying. They tend to jump out at you. You'll even start looking for specific fabric artists when shopping in stores and online once you recognize their signature styles. Some of my favorite fabric designers are...

Paula Nadelstern (Benartex)

Jason Yenter (In the Beginning)

Peggy Toole (Robert Kaufman)

and Chang-a Hwang (Timeless Treasures).

This is not even close to an exhaustive list.  Just a few of my faves.  If you want to see other examples of good fabric for fussy cutting, check out my Fabric I Love Pinterest page.

One of the most important things to look for in fussy cutting fabric (if you're planning to do repeats and kaleidoscope-type effects) is symmetry.  The repeats have to be identical in order for the fussy cut to work properly, particularly if you're doing centers.  If they are not precise, they won't line up.

Picking Your Cut

Once you have a fabric in mind, now it's time to figure out where to start cutting. It can be overwhelming to pick out an interesting shape or line. It's possible just to eyeball it and see what happens. That's how I did fussy cutting for the first two years I English paper pieced. Then I took a class with Sue Daley, and she introduced the mirror method, which has changed how I look at fussy cutting opportunities.

By using two mirrors hinged/taped together, you can open it and close it to audition different sections of your fabric.  In the picture above, you'll see I opened it just enough to give me a five sided shape.  I was using diamonds for my five-point-star centers, and after moving the mirror around the fabric, I saw a shape I liked. Here's where I decided to make my cut.


Templates make fussy cutting so much easier. You can make them yourself using cardboard or template plastic. I've done this for projects that had a ton of different shapes, making it cost restrictive to purchase every single template needed. But if I'm doing a project with only a few different shapes, I prefer to buy acrylic templates. They're a little bit thicker and more stable so that you don't accidentally cut a part of the template when you're cutting. They also come with the seam allowance already set up. I like the 3/8" seam allowance best.

Making the Cut

Once you have identified the spot where you want to make your cut, try to find a place on your fabric that you can use to pinpoint each time you cut your repeat. I try to find a line, dot, or some other element that stands out, both top and bottom so that I know not only where to cut each time, but to help me figure out where my papers will need to be lined up. (This is one of the tricky parts.)

In this picture, I used the green diamond on the fabric to align with the top diamond point on my template.  (Note that what's within the white outline is what's going to be visible when glued to the paper.)  For the bottom corner of the diamond, I centered it between the two brown lines. Notice that the very bottom edge of the template also lines up with a tiny diamond, which will help me with alignment while cutting.

Cut out however many repeats are needed for your project.  In this case, I needed five.

Flip one piece over and locate the alignment points you used when cutting the fabric. With most fabric, this is not an issue, but with some thicker fabrics, some of the elements don't always transfer all the way through to the back.  You'll just have to do your best to center the paper.

The paper has been lined up: the top point of the diamond along the green diamond of the fabric, and the bottom point of the diamond centered between the two brown lines.

Now you glue.  You'll need to be careful that the fabric doesn't shift under the paper.  I hold it tightly, do the first line of glue and fold over, then do the next line and fold without turning the piece. Once those two sides are done, it's easier to turn the piece so that you can glue the other sides without as much risk of it shifting.  However, if it does shift, just pull back the fabric carefully (to avoid stretching the fabric) and try again.

One piece done.

Once your pieces are glued, if they're for a center, meaning they will be touching, it's a good idea to line them up and make sure that the fussy cutting will be appealing and that it will line up.  With centers, you have to be a lot more precise in cutting and gluing because if your sides don't line up exactly, you will definitely notice it when they're sewn together.  I'm pleased with how this center turned out, so I can sew it whenever I'm ready.

But wait....

Just for fun, flip the pieces around the other direction, just to see what you get.

With fussy cutting, you always have the element of surprise.  While this wasn't the direction I'd originally planned when cutting my fabric, this arrangement appeals to me a little bit more.  So if you can, flip those pieces in different arrangements, just to see what you end up with.  Sometimes it helps to take a picture of both arrangements so you can go back and forth between the two to see which one you like better.  Camera phones are a very handy tool for this purpose!

All done!

Don't expect your first attempts to be perfect.  Fussy cutting takes a lot of practice, particularly with lining up your papers and gluing the fabric so that everything lines up.  So go easy on yourself and just play with fabric in a new way. Fussy cutting is a fun way to add a little something extra to your English paper piecing projects. Enjoy it!

Happy quilting!