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Patchwork Pillow Sham Sew Along Part 2: Cutting and Laying out your fabrics.


Welcome to post 2 in our   series – now the fun begins! I have been lucky to see the photos many of you have chosen for your pillow sham in the Facebook group and I cant wait to see them cut and laid out ready to sew. I love the diversity of prints chosen.

Before we begin I created a glossary of common fabric terms for everyone to use and refer back to – it is easy for me to forget that for many this is a whole new world filled with terms that seem like a completely different language. There is an added barrier too if you are moving between the metric and imperial systems, it is no wonder many people are daunted before they even begin their journey. Feel free to download or pin this as something to refer back to along the way. If you think there are terms missing then please let me know in comments and I will update the image for all. I will include another for specific quilting words in my next post when we start piecing.


Ok let’s get into it.

Cutting your fabric:

Taking the time and cutting your fabric properly will ensure the best finished result. I always recommend a rotary cutter, ruler and mat and will be using those today. That said though if you are new to quilting or sewing and haven’t invested in these tools yet don’t worry. Draw a 4.5″ square on cardboard, cut it out and use it as a template with scissors. So long as you cut carefully you will still get a great finish.  Everything comes down to time and patience with quilting and cutting is a very important step.

1. Work out the number of squares you need:
For the completed top you will need 35 squares that measure 4.5″ each. To work out the amount of squares you need simply divide 35 by the number of fabrics you are using. For my sham I ended up with 20 (I couldn’t choose lol) so needed to cut 2 of each print.

2. Iron well:
This is so important! Make sure your fabric is well ironed and sits lovely and flat. If it is a very fine cotton like lawn or quite creased this is a good time to use your spray starch if you have any. That will help keep the fabric under control while you are cutting. If using starch it is important to only use it before you cut or after the fabric is pieced. It will cause the fabric to shrink slightly so if you use it in the middle of the process you could find yourself with pieces that don’t quite line up.

3. Get ready to cut:
Fold your fabric in half (if a fat quarter) or in quarters (if a yard/metre), widthways or selvage to selvage. Place it on your cutting mat and line the bottom fold up with a horizontal grid line.

Quilty tip: Do not cut more than 4 layers of quilting cotton at a time as it can cause slipping and distortion of the bottom layers.

4. Cutting:
Line up the edge of your ruler to a vertical grid line (or the 1/2″ line of the ruler to the grid line depending on the size of the square). You will be trimming off all the uneven and messy end.  Apply even pressure to the ruler to cut it from moving and use the rotary cutter to cut the whole length of the fabric. Move ruler to the next cutting line (4.5″ away to the left of your first cut line) and repeat. You will now have a 4.5″ strip of fabric.

5 Cutting your squares:
Turn your strip sideways, lining the bottom edge up with a horizontal grid line. Using the process above cut your strip into 4.5″ squares.

6. Repeat with each of your fabrics until you have 35 squares.

Laying out your patchwork top:

Now comes the fun part. Lay your squares out as 5 rows of 7 squares. There is absolutely no rule on how to do this however I have a few basic guidelines I try to follow each time. I am a fan of a random look for my patchwork however many people are happier to have a patterned layout – you do you! These are the basic guidelines I follow:

* No fabrics the same to touch each other
* No fabrics the same in the one column or row
* Mix colour, light and shade evenly across the rows to keep the eye interested.
I always lay my squares out then walk away for half an hour and make a coffee. I like to come back with fresh eyes and see what sticks out as needing to be changed. In this instance I made a small change. Funnily enough looking at this post I can see a couple of  things I would move, I may decide to do that when I sew or just leave it as is. You can move fabric around for days and still always find another switch you could make so it is best not to over think it.

Once you have finished with the layout, layer each row on top of each other from right to left so the left side fabric is sitting on the top. Number each row and then stack on top of each other, alternating the angle as you go. You are now ready to sew!

Sewing with a border print:

You may have a sweet border print that you are dying to use, it is so easy to adapt this top to include one. The finished size for your sham will be approximately  20″ x 28″ (51 x 71cm) and all you need to do is cut your border print as a 4.5″ strip then rather than dividing that strip up into smaller squares leave it. I always try to make sure it is slightly longer than 30″ just so that I have some wiggle room when assembling. I always prefer to overcut than undercut in some circumstances. And instead of cutting 35 squares you will only need 28. Layout as below.


The strip looks shorter when laid out like this due to the fact there is no seam allowance for it. It will even up when sewing

Fussy Cutting:

One last thing I love talking about is fussy cutting. It wastes fabric but can be so effective when you are working with feature prints – as you can see in the mermaid squares above. In the strip below I could easily have got 4 squares but decided to forgo 2 so that I could get those mermaids centred – I am so happy I did as it looks so much better!


Leftover Squares:

I often find myself with left over squares when I cut my projects. Now I keep them all together in a plastic bag marked with their size for any future projects. Nearly  of the Sugar Beach fabrics in my patchwork sham were leftover squares from my Sugar Beach quilt! Every so often I go through them and make up some ready-made things for my shop or as gifts for friends. I have a whole drawer in my sewing room set aside for these different bags and it is amazing the treasures I find in there when I go looking!


And with that Part 2 is a wrap! I hope you have found this to be a good read and you have learnt some tips along the way. As always I hope you pop into the Facebook group to show me your laid out tops so I can swoon! Our next post will be Sunday night and we will be finally piecing our top and getting it ready to quilt – exciting.

xxx Sarah

The Patchwork Pillow Sham tutorial runs over 3 weeks.

Sunday 5 August ~ Tools for quilting and Fabric Selections
Wednesday 8 August ~ Cutting and laying out your top
Sunday 12 August ~ Piecing your quilt top
Wednesday 15 August ~ Pinning and Quilting your top
Sunday 18 August ~ Finishing off your quilted sham




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