Before diving into sewing with your pattern, fabric, and sewing tools at the ready, proper preliminary preparations are key to a beautifully finished piece.
1. Pre-Washing and Straightening the Fabric
Fabrics can come with skewed grains or shrink upon first wash. Straightening the fabric's grain, known as 'straightening,' and pre-washing it to pre-shrink are critical steps that make a significant difference in the final look and ease of sewing.
Many Japanese-made fabrics are pre-treated to prevent distortion and shrinkage, eliminating the need for pre-washing and straightening. However, some fabrics may require special attention to colorfastness and ironing, so it's recommended to check with the store when purchasing.
Neatly fold the fabric and place it in a laundry net for washing.
Use two poles to hang and dry the fabric.
For cotton and linen
These materials tend to shrink, so it's best to pre-wash them. Fold neatly, place in a laundry net, and soak for 30 minutes to an hour. Press gently to remove water and hang in a shady, flat area to dry.
For cotton knits
Soaking in water can help straighten most distortions. When hanging to dry, pull the fabric gently along the length and width to align. If distortions persist, iron the fabric from the back while still slightly damp.
For wool knits
Apply steam with an iron, pull gently to straighten, then lay flat to cool down (a process known as 'relaxing').
General Tips for Knits
For fabrics like jersey knits that tend to curl at the edges, especially when cut in small quantities, soaking may exacerbate curling and make handling difficult. Instead, try laying the fabric flat for 1-2 days post-purchase (relaxing) to help reduce curling.
2. Laying Out the Pattern
Distinguish between the fabric's length and width
Knit fabric stretches more across the width than the length. Align the pattern's grainline with the fabric's warp threads for a comfortable fit around the body.
Pay attention to the pattern's fold line
When a pattern edge is marked with 'wa,' align it with the fabric's fold and cut the fabric doubled over.
Decide on focal points where the pattern should align when sewn together and place your pattern pieces accordingly.
Even for patterns marked with 'wa,' cutting the fabric unfolded and using the 'wa' line as an axis for marking can help prevent pattern mismatch.
Pro Tips: When transferring the pattern onto the fabric, avoid stretching the material. Knits are stretchy, and applying too much force can distort the marks. Using pins can sometimes cause the fabric to shift, so secure it with two or more weights instead.
3. Cutting the Fabric
Keep the fabric steady
Once the pattern is in place, move yourself around the fabric to cut without shifting it. Slide scissors underneath, then stabilize the fabric with one hand while cutting with slow, wide scissor strokes.
If the pattern has 'notch' symbols, mark them on the cut fabric. Notches are small 2-3mm snips in the seam allowance that serve as guides when sewing.
Pro Tips: Use sharp fabric scissors or a rotary cutter for cutting. A rotary cutter is especially handy for knit fabrics and small pieces. Avoid pushing down on the fabric with scissors while cutting.