Speed Cutting for Quilts

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When I was young, my mother worked for Pendleton Woolen Mills sewing the plackets on shirt sleeves. The shirts were sewn production style, with each seamstress making one section and passing it along. Listening to her talk about this sewing method was my first introduction to efficient sewing methods.

Cut around the little triangle points on clothing patterns? Not me—I learned to clip into the seam allowance instead. I drove my home ec instructors just a bit crazy, but they were open to new ideas.

One of my favorite time-saving techniques is speed cutting strips and units for my quilts. The more time I can keep the fabric next to the cutting mat and not move it around, the better. Let me demonstrate by cutting 2" strips and 2" squares using a 6 1/2" x 12 1/2" ruler.

This picture shows a full width of fabric folded twice and aligned with a horizontal line on the cutting mat. First, I square up the fabric by trimming off the left edge. I love my OLFA Quick Change Rotary Cutter for this because it can be used by left- or right-handed people. I use my left hand to trim off that edge (cutting very slowly!), then align the 6" line of the ruler on that newly cut edge. Be sure the black line of the ruler is on the fabric.

Second, I use my right hand to make my first cut with the ruler.

Then I slide the ruler to the left, lining up the 4" mark along the left edge and making a second cut. Note that I never lifted the ruler off the fabric, I just slid it to the left.

The final cut is made after I position the 2" line of the ruler on the left edge of the fabric.

Voilà, three strips cut in no time! Let's move on to some squares. I like to lay all three strips of fabric next to each other, all lined up on a horizontal line of the cutting mat. Folds in the strips should be to the right side.

We're going to do exactly what we did for the strips. Square up the strips by trimming off the left edge. Leave the ruler in place. Cut through all three strips on the right side of the ruler.

Slide the ruler to the left, never lifting it off the fabric, and line up the 10" mark with the left edge. Cut through all three strips on the right side of the ruler. Leave the ruler in place and slide it so the 8" mark is lined up with the left edge.

Continue in this manner at the 6", 4", and 2" marks. You've cut 2" squares in record-breaking time!

Do you ever make strip-pieced nine-patches? This method works wonderfully for that! The picture below shows the strip set. I've already trimmed off the left edge, made the first cut at 12", and am moving the ruler to the left after each cut.

Make cuts at 12", 10", 8", 6", 4", and 2" and you have six nine-patch units ready to sew.

How about Lone Star quilt units? This technique works just as well when making strip-pieced units that are cut on a 45° angle. You start with strips that are offset on one end.

Line up the 45° mark on your ruler with the top edge of your strip set. Your first cut is on the left side of the ruler.

My strips were cut at 1" and sewn together, so my units need to be cut at 1" wide. I know, I'm a little crazy…but this method works with any size strips! Because I'm working with such small pieces, I'm only going to cut four of these at once.

Move your ruler so that the 45°-angle line is still across the top of the strip set and the 4" line is positioned on the left edge of the strip set. Cut along the right side of the ruler.

After you've made that cut, slide the ruler so the 3" line is positioned on the left edge of the strip set.

Repeat using the 2" line and 1" line. Woo-hoo! You've got four perfectly cut Lone Star units in record time.

I know it takes a little time to get used to this method, but I believe it's a skill that's worth practicing. I know that over the years it has saved me hours of cutting time, which gained me hours of sewing time!

Put Joyce's speed cutting tips to use making the beautiful quilts in her new book, Fantastic Stash Quilts!

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