How to Cut Squares for Quilting or Patchwork

showing squares cut out and laid out in design

In this tutorial I’m going to go through the steps in cutting squares for making quilts or patchwork projects. If you want to learn how to sew the squares together, then check out my article How to Sew Squares Together for Quilting or Patchwork.

large patchwork Jenny project bag sitting on stool

This is the method I used to make my quilted jacket and the patchwork design for my PDF sewing pattern, the Jenny Project Bag (photo above). I’ll be using squares for this tutorial since they are the simplest to work with when learning to quilt.

However, If you want to learn how to cut 60° triangles for quilting projects, like this lined zipper pouch I made, then check out the tutorial How to Cut and Sew Triangles for Quilting – it’s easier than it looks!

Let’s get started!

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Supplies You Will Need

Square Up Your Fabric

After you have decided on the fabric you’re using for your project, it’s time to prepare the fabric by “squaring it up”. Decide what size squares you want to cut – in my example I’m cutting 3 1/4″ squares. I’m using a 1/4″ seam allowance when sewing them together so that I end up with 3″ squares once sewn together.

Start by finding the fabric’s selvage edge. If you’re using scrap fabric, it may be cut off and I will go more into what to do if this is the case later on.

What is the selvage (or selvedge) edge on fabric? The selvage is the tightly woven edge on fabric that goes along the straight grain/lengthwise direction. It’s usually a pretty visible border, but sometimes it can look similar to the rest of the fabric. Below is a picture of the selvage edge on several different fabrics:

showing the selvage edge of different fabrics

The selvage edge is usually pretty straight, so I use it to help straighten up the rest of the sides of the fabric piece to help make exact squares. In the picture below, you can see that I’ve moved my ruler close to the raw edge of the fabric before using my rotary cutter to cut off that edge.

What is the raw edge of fabric? The raw edge is the cut edge of fabric that usually frays and is not perfectly straight.

Line up the short side of your ruler along the selvage (either at the top or the bottom), then cut along the long edge of the ruler with a rotary cutter. Your fabric is now squared up and you have a straight edge to work with.

using the selvage to straighten the edge

How do I cut fabric with a ruler and rotary cutter?

  • Place one hand with your fingers spread out like a spider in the middle of your ruler.
  • Apply firm pressure and try not to shift the ruler. If the ruler does move, just line up your ruler and try again.
  • Take the rotary cutter in your other hand and line up the blade along the ruler right before the edge of the fabric.
  • Start to move the blade with an even pressure along the edge of the ruler. Not too hard that you’re straining and not too soft that you don’t cut through the fabric at all.
  • Make sure you’re still pressing down on the ruler so it doesn’t move and “walk” your hand up the ruler if needed (stop cutting when you do this).
  • Cut along the ruler’s edge until you’ve gone past the fabric edge.
  • Keep pressing down on the ruler while you’re moving the cut fabric away. This just keeps your fabric in place in case there are any thread stragglers that didn’t get cut by the blade.

Cut your fabric into strips

Next, I flip the fabric so the bulk of it is to my right (I’m right handed, so this may be the opposite if you’re left handed). Line up your ruler along the straight edge that you just cut at the width that your squares are going to be. I’m cutting 3 1/4″ squares in my example, so I’ve lined up my ruler along the 3 1/4″ mark (see picture below).

Cut along the ruler edge with your rotary cutter. Now you have a strip of fabric that is the width of your squares.

using the straight edge to cut a strip the width needed

Cut the strips into squares

Next, you will cut the strip of fabric into squares. I started by cutting off the selvage edge at one end, making sure to square up the edges using my ruler.

Flip your fabric around so the length of the strip is to your right and line up the ruler at the width of your squares. I’ve lined mine up at the 3 1/4″ mark. Cut along your ruler and you will have your first square! Continue along the length of your strip of fabric until you have enough squares that you want or until you’ve reached the end of the strip.

about to cut squares from the strip of fabric

How to cut squares from folded fabric

Another method for cutting squares is to cut with the fabric folded. This is helpful when you have a larger piece of fabric or if you’re needing a lot of squares. This follows the same steps as above except you will start by lining up the selvage edges and fold your fabric in half (pictured on right).

Square up your fabric by lining up your ruler along the selvage and cut off the raw edge.

cutting off raw edge of fabric

Line up your fabric at the width you want and cut a strip. You can continue to cut strips if you need to or move onto the next step of cutting squares.

Starting at the non-folded edge, cut your squares from the strips – You will get two at once! Continue down the length of the strip until you reach the folded edge. Un-fold the last little bit and sometimes you can fit one more square out of the end piece.

What if I’m using scrap fabric and it doesn’t have a selvage edge?

Sometimes you may want to use up scrap fabric that doesn’t have a selvage or straight edge. You will need to make sure you’re cutting “on grain” which means that you are cutting along the horizontal or vertical threads in a woven fabric. Woven fabric is made with vertical threads (the length grain) intersecting with horizontal threads (the cross grain) that creates a non-stretchy fabric. However, if you stretch the fabric along the bias, it becomes flexible and stretchy.

One way to find the grain is to stretch your fabric. If you pull your fabric and there is no stretched at all, then it’s on grain. If you feel the fabric stretch, then it’s on “the bias” and your fabric is turned so the intersecting threads are at an angle. You don’t want to cut your squares out on the bias because they will warp when sewing together.

If you’re using a fabric with a grid pattern, like a gingham, then you can easily find the grain along the lines of the pattern. Below is a diagram to help further explain fabric grain:

fabric grain diagram

Here is also a quick video of how I cut squares from my scrap fabric.

Continue cutting until you have enough for your project. Have fun with and experiment with different fabrics and mixing patterns – there’s really no “right” way!

Then arrange them in your desired pattern and sew together. There are a couple of techniques that help to get neat seams and corners when piecing squares together and I go through those in my article How to Sew Squares Together for Quilting or Patchwork.

showing squares cut out in piles

Thanks for reading and hope this was helpful! Happy sewing 🙂

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