Last week we looked at the types of pattern and some of the text you would find inside them, this week we’re looking at cutting terms:

Cutting Terms

The following are terms used when cutting out a pattern, and refer to common terminology used in patterns, and I’ve mocked up a pattern piece as an example:

Fabrics Being Cut


In general, bag patterns refer to the main fabric that appears on the outisde of the bag as the ‘Outer fabric’, with other fabrics that may appear being referred to as ‘trim’ or ‘accent’ fabrics. Usually pattern designers show the original pattern in a single main fabric with perhaps a single contrast for trim on the edge of a flap or a strap, although they may choose to show variations in mutliple fabrics. Remember that if you do decide to turn your bag into multicoloured loveliness rather than a single main fabric, you should make a note somewhere of the corresponding pattern pieces so that you don’t find yourself in a flap mid make when you don’t have an ‘outer fabric pocket piece’ from your main fabric because you’ve actually cut it from another fabric.


The lining is the fabric that appears on the inside of a bag, and also perhaps in the inside of an outer pocket – be careful when you cut out that you understand where all these lining pieces will appear, especially if there’s both an outer and an inner pocket lining that are cut from lining fabric. I have to admit that the lining fabric is often overlooked when I make bags because I’m busy thinking about how the outside will look, and it’s almost an afterthought, but well chosen lining fabrics can have a stunning effect on a bag, revealing a nice surprise when the owner opens it, perhaps in the form of a bright cheery colour in contrast to an all black outer.

How To Cut Bits Out

The Test Square

This is generally reserved for PDF patterns where you need to print the pattern pieces yourself, but if there is one, check that your test square measures the appropriate size after printing before you start cutting up your fabric, otherwise you might end up with pieces that are too big/too small.  To be sure that it does print correctly, in the printer dialogue, check that the box ‘Print actual size’ (or words to that effect) is selected.


WOF, or Width Of Fabric refers to a cut made from selvedge to selvedge. It’s most commonly found in bag making patterns in reference to straps or handles – in this case, double check the recommended fabrics and widths to ensure you have enough in one cut, otherwise you may need to join two pieces, eg if using 44″ wide quilting cotton rather than 60″ wide home decor fabric. I usually trim 1″ off the selvedge at either end, but the pattern my instruct otherwise. If it doesn’t mention it, use your discretion.

Cut With Grain

Woven fabrics are made up of warp and weft threads, which are at right angles to each other.  When you cut with the grain you follow these threads, which will ensure that the fabric doesn’t get stretched out of shape unnecessarily – in practice this means cutting parallel to or at right angles to the selvedges.  Generally it is a given that you will cut with the grain, but sometimes the designer might want you to cut at an angle to the grain to get a certain pattern effect, and will mark the piece accordingly.

Cut On Bias

Cutting on the bias means cutting diagonally across the warp and weft threads.  This allows fabric to be stretched when you want it to be, for example when making piping cord that you want to wrap round the curved edge of a bag.  By their very nature, pattern pieces with curves do have bias sections to them, so be careful not to stretch these when sewing or you can end up with wrinkled, bumfley bits.

Cut X from Y

Notation that’s often found on pattern pieces is something along the lines of ‘Cut 2 from outer fabric’, in fact there may be a list of things to cut as in the example above.  In this case ‘Cut 2 from outer fabric, 2 from lining fabric, 4 from fusible woven interfacing’ would tell me immediately that there would be interfacing applied to both the outer and lining fabric pieces – I might find it easier if I have a lot of pieces cut in this way that need interfacing to just apply a large piece of interfacing to the back of my outer and lining fabrics prior to cutting and save myself a bit of time cutting all the pieces individually. It might also tell me that I could save a bit more time by stacking all the bits together and cutting them all at once, but that very much depends on whether or not you want to fussy cut any of your fabrics.

Cut On Fold

‘Cut on fold’ is a way for pattern companies/designers to save on printing costs by cutting mirror image pattern pieces in half and instructing makers to fold their fabric so that the pattern piece fits on both sides of the fold, with the edge marked ‘fold’ up against the fold of the fabric as you can see on the example above. Whilst this is understandable from the company’s/designer’s point of view, as a maker it doesn’t always mean things match up very well since a thick piece of fabric, such as wool or tweed will have a noticeably bigger amount of fabric taken up in the fold than a thin piece of fabric such as quilting cotton, while using it against something like foam interlining will create a bigger piece again. There are 2 options to try and solve this: 1. You can cut out the thinnest piece of fabric on the fold and then use that as a template for cutting out all your other pieces (this works best for tissue patterns) or 2. You can photocopy/print out another half piece and stick it to the first one at the ‘fold’ edge then cut out each piece from flat fabric (this works best for paper patterns)

Cut X In Reverse

When you have shaped pieces in a symmetric bag, you often have mirror image parts, for example you make have a curved pocket on each side. In order to save on printing the same piece twice, one facing in each direction, pattern companies and designers use the notation ‘Cut X In Reverse’ where X is the number of pieces you need to cut by flipping the pattern piece over before cutting. So it might say ‘Cut 2 from outer fabric, 1 in reverse’ which means that of the 2 pieces you have to cut, 1 has to be facing the other way. There are a couple of ways of doing this depending on how much fabric you have and whether or not you want to fussy cut, so you could: 1. Fold the fabric so that you’re cutting both pieces at the same time or 2. Cut each piece individually, remembering to flip the pattern piece for the requisite number of pieces.