Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Becky Brown on Fussy Cutting

"Thrifty" from the Austen Family Album by Becky Brown

The BlockBase sketch I gave her of  "Thrifty."

Fussy-cutting Queen

She sees a lot more potential than I do.

I am thrilled that Becky Brown has been making the models for my various blocks of the week and blocks of the month. She is a great stitcher and she really knows how to make the most of the fabrics. 

Over on those free BOW and BOM blogs she's created a flurry of fussy cutting. See the links in the left side column.

Amethyst from the Grandmother's Choice BOW by Thalia T.

Jack's Delight from the Grandmother's Choice BOW by Thalia T.
Thalia is another fussy-cutting fan.

Here's Barbara's plan for Block #5 in the Austen Family Album 
with a simple square on point in the center.

Becky sees that big area as an opportunity to really show off the fabric.
She often cuts squares into 4 triangles to create a kaleidoscope effect.

Readers have been asking how Becky does it so she's written a post here explaining her methods for adding pieces and interest to the blocks---her words in purple:

"The success of fussy cutting is more about the fabric than just the sewing, as evidenced in the simple block above. The dramatic center square is composed of 4 fussy cut triangles.... 'Fussy cut' meaning carefully choosing the place on the yardage to cut the triangle."

First she adds more seams and makes a plastic template.

"I use Shrinky Dinks Frosted Ruff 'n Ready plastic to make templates. The frosted side is easy to mark with placement guidelines. "

The formula here for the template: Take the finished size of the square and add 1-1/4 inches to it.

Then cut your clear plastic template
with two diagonal cuts. You only need one of those triangles for a template.

Becky's template...

Photoshopped to show the cutting and placement lines.

The template includes seam allowances.On this template I marked a vertical line and a horizontal line just to keep everything straight. (For this example I marked around the edge in red to help you see it better.)

To make your template: Tape the plastic sheet to your cutting mat, mark it where you want to cut and do so with a rotary cutter (not the one you use for fabric) or an Exacto knife. 
A mirror image

Not mirror image---Becky's dog Oreo

Position the template so the right and left sides are mirror images, in other words, the same---but reversed.
Cut the first triangle. I do this with a rotary cutter. 

(Once I have cut my first fabric triangle I do NOT use the plastic template for the other triangles. You could label it and keep it for future use, or do like I do and throw it in a pile with other unidentified plastic templates that always get mixed up.)

4 identical pieces

I use the fabric triangle to cut the remaining pieces. Keep your fabric straight and position the cut triangle over the fabric so that it exactly matches up and rotary cut the next piece, being careful NOT to cut the top triangle.

Now the fun begins when you have your 4 triangles and put them together. If you have cut accurately and sewn accurately you will get good results.
Here's a detail of a small square Becky has fussy cut.
Tips for fussy cutting: 
  • I seek out fabric with a repeating pattern: Stripes, either floral-ish or strong geometrics always give dramatic effects when fussy cut.

Stripes from Barbara's Metropolitan Fair line last year

  • Starch your fabric BEFORE you cut it out, making sure you keep the grain lines straight so nothing gets distorted. My preference is spray starch I get at the grocery store. Spray it on the front and/or back of the fabric so that it feels like lightweight paper. Starch makes machine piecing more accurate; just remember to do it before you cut out the pieces, never after. 

  • Avoid putting a prominent part of the fabric at the center point. (notice how I used a place on the fabric that would be forgiving). You do not want the focal point of the square to call attention to a little distraction.

  • If you are reluctant to start cutting into beautiful fabric, make some photo copies of your fabric and experiment with cutting paper. I think you'll be amazed with the results and well on your way towards seeing fabric in a new way and a devotee of fussy cutting!

Oreo fussy-cut in kaleidoscope fashion.
You get a different look if the triangles are not a mirror-image repeat.


  1. My favorite fussy-cut example is the last one using Oreo! ;)

  2. Great tips and something I should pay attention to when I cut out fabrics for blocks.


  3. great tips! and great work!

    I've been gathering a bunch of HST and QST from the ticking blocks, and trying my best to label them 1/2 or 1/4 of the size of the square they started out, so they are easier to find the second time around.

    also, if you buy transparent milk jugs, they make good template making materials.

  4. Excellent tutorial....very thorough! Thanks, Becky. Now I might have to rise to the challenge of your level of fussy cutting!

    High River, AB, Canada

  5. You certainly got this right....Beck y makes it look easy. She deserves that tiara! :)

  6. BRAVO, BRAVO et merci pour ces précieux conseils !!! Je vous admire depuis longtemps ! Merci !

  7. I'm a fan of Becky's! Her fussy cutting shows off Barbara's beautiful fabric.

  8. Amazing talent - you see what is essentially a rather plain/straight forward block turned into a miniature masterpiece!

    I am inspired. Thank you for postig these beauties Barbara.

    Smiles, JulieinTN

  9. GENIUS!!! LOVE this instructional. This is awesome.