A Free Lesson

from Judy Martin


Short Strips: Better, Faster Rotary Cutting

© copyright Judy Martin 1996. All rights reserved.

We all know that the lengthwise grain of the fabric is more stable than the crosswise grain. If you have any doubts, hold a piece of fabric with your hands 6" apart on the crosswise grain: bring your hands together, then quickly pull the fabric outward with a snap. Now, repeat on the lengthwise grain. Even with the selvedge removed, the lengthwise grain is significantly firmer. Furthermore, on any fabric, the printed pattern aligns perfectly with the lengthwise grain, but often does not follow the crosswise thread. So why are we taught to rotary cut crosswise strips? Let's think about this for a minute. Just because you learned rotary cutting with crosswise strips doesn't mean that you can't do better.

Got it figured out yet? Congratulations! Lengthwise strips! The solution is so obvious, I don't know why we haven't been doing it all along. What could be easier than cutting 18" lengthwise strips from half yards and fat quarters? When I introduced this concept in Yes You Can!, I called these Short Strips. When I cut 9" strips from quarter yards, I called them Mini Strips. Now my scissors are the loneliest tools in my sewing room.

With Short Strips you don't have to choose between following the print or the thread: you can have it both ways! You don't have to choose between stable grain and quick cutting: you can have it both ways! And you don't have to choose between scrap variety and quick cutting: you can have it both ways!

Even though many shapes for rotary cutting end up with sides on both the lengthwise grain and the crosswise grain, you will do better to start with a lengthwise cut. It's always best to start with your best foot forward. And for some shapes, such as diamonds, two sides are on the straight grain and two on the bias. Short Strips yield a lengthwise edge and a bias edge, whereas crosswise strips yield a less stable crossswise edge and a bias one.

Often, when you cut crosswise strips, you cut through two to four layers of folded fabric to yield one 44" strip per cut. With four layers of fabric for Short Strips, you will get 72" to 88" total strip length from a single cut. Hey, that's a lot faster!

I like scrap quilts, and I don't want to use a 44" strip of any one fabric, let alone 72" or 88" worth of strips. Instead, I layer four different fat quarters or half yards, aligning lengthwise grains, to cut four different 18" strips in one stroke. I still get 72" of strip length from one stroke. Sometimes, when I want the maximum scrap variety, I use quarter yards for Mini Strips just 9" long. Layering four fabrics offers the further advantage of easier alignment and more precise cutting because there is no fold.

Short Strips cut on the lengthwise grain can be made using the same strip and patch dimensions used for crosswise strips. You simply make the first cut parallel to the selvedge. If you are following a pattern that calls for 44" strips, the yardage should be approximately the same for Short Strips. You will need 2-1/2 times as many 18" strips to yield the same number of patches. However, by cutting Short Strips through four layers, you can cut them in about 2/3 the time you would have taken for ordinary strips.

If you are accustomed to cutting fabric with the lengthwise grain running from right to left on the table, you don't have to change that. Simply place the selvedge or the cut lengthwise edge parallel to the front edge of the mat. Layer the fabrics, trim off the selvedges together, and measure from the trimmed edge. Short Strips are short enough to cut from right to left or left to right. Directions are the same for right or left handers. People like me who are easily confused about right and left and who can't remember which end to trim will find this method infallible.

Short Strips can be used for strip piecing, where they offer the advantage of being short enough to be easy to hold in the proper alignment as you feed them into the sewing machine. They can also be used to cut individual patches in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Give Short Strips a try. Let the perfect grain instantly improve your patchwork.

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