Fussy Cuts for the Look You Want


What are “fussy cuts” anyway?

Hi Everyone, first of all, for those of you not familiar with the term “fussy cut” I thought it would be helpful to define it.   A fussy cut is a term used in sewing and often in quilting, where a piece of fabric is cut in a way to place a specific design or area of print on a specific location or feature of the end product, rather than simply cutting the fabric in random pieces with no regard to the design.

When I was showing my daughter some fabric recently that I was planning on making a wristlet from, she mentioned that one of my options had a design that was too big and would be best used for something large, like a tote bag. For the most part, she was right. However, if I use this fabric which I LOVE so much (the butterfly), I can still make the wristlet by using fussy cuts. That way the images will be exactly where I want them to be! As you can see in the photo below, the front of my bags have several small pieces, yet it doesn’t look in disarray because every image is strategically placed. I’ve labeled them in order of placement which I will explain further. The pattern I’m using is the Paige Wristlet – Cellphone Case which can be used as a wristlet or a crossbody. Available in my Etsy Pattern Shop or Craftsy Pattern Shop.


OK, lets get started!

I’ll start by explaining a few important things to think about first.

Extra Fabric:

The first and most important thing to remember is that you will definitely need more fabric than your pattern calls for. To be on the safe side, I usually at least double my fabric. There are so many determining factors such as how big the images are, if you are using all the images, or just choosing a few favorites, and how many pattern pieces you will be using from them.


As a rule of thumb, I always cut my straps first if I’m making a shoulder bag or crossbody bag. The last thing you want to do is fussy cut all your pieces and not have a piece big enough for your straps. If you are making a wrist strap, which is only about 14 or 15 inches long, this is not such a big deal. Since the straps are so narrow, you may or may not want to use the fussy cut method with them. Also depending on what your fabric design is, you may want to use a contrasting color such as your lining fabric for them.

Fabric grain-line:

Normally I’m a stickler for keeping my grain-line a certain way. When you are using fussy cuts on something so small, this isn’t going to be an issue. The only rule is not to cut any of the pieces at an angle (on the bias), only cut across the grain, or along the grain-line.

Read  your pattern first, and look at your pattern pieces:

You should really always read your pattern first. When fussy cutting you are going to need to know how the item is assembled so you can cut your pieces accordingly.


If you have never used the fussy cut method before, you might want to make a template out of plain paper (such as the original pattern piece as shown) or tracing paper. Tracing paper is best because you can see through it. Once you are used to cutting this way, you will probably be able to do it all “by eye” and won’t need the markings on the paper templates.

Things you are going to need to know:

The seam allowance for each of the four sides including zipper placements; if any of the design will be hidden by a pocket or something else; and if any of the fabric will be folded back or “rounded” in any way.

Always make the biggest fussy cut first.

For the wristlet I’m making, that would be the back. As you can see on my samples I have drawn lines where the seam allowances are and if you look at the bottom of the paper, you will see that I also took into consideration where the fabric will be at the bottom once I square off my corners. That won’t be showing when carrying the bag, so I will center my image above that line inside the large square. I think I like the way these two butterflies look in this area!


Now I’m going to move onto the front of the bag.

There are 5 pieces that make up that panel. In the second photo I have made letters A-E which is the order I’ll be assembling them.

Let’s start with piece A.

This will be the front zippered pocket, which will also be the front and center of the bag. What do we know about this fabric piece? We know that there will be 1/4 inch seam allowance at the top (where there will also be the zipper opening) and 1/4 inch at each side. We also know that the bottom will be 3/8 inch seam allowance. So do we center our image inside all those margins? No, because we also know that the bottom of the bag will have boxed corners which means that the bottom edge of the pocket will become part of the bottom of the bag and will not be shown, just like the back of the bag we just cut. By pacing the tracing paper onto the other bag, you can see what I mean. By the way, I just love this butterfly, it’s my favorite, so I want it to be front and center!

5fc6fcAnother thing to remember is that this particular piece has a zipper at the top. It is important that when stitching this piece to the zipper, you are stitching the upper edge of the fabric even with the edge of the zipper. That way when you flip the piece away from the zipper, it will be shown the correct way.

You will now cut the top of the zipper pocket (piece B), keeping in mind that it will be stitched to the zipper along the bottom edge. You will notice that I chose a simple part of the fabric for this part. I felt it would be too overwhelming for a super colorful image right above my pretty butterfly. It’s the butterfly that I want to stand out on this pocket.



Remember that the butterfly is not perfectly centered because the bottom part of the pocket will not be shown when the purse is being used because it will act as the bottom of the bag. I also thought this pretty, pink zipper would really make my butterfly stand out! If you notice on the other bag, I really wanted my Paris stamp to be front and center, so it is! And also for the tan bag, I wanted the lettering to be above the zipper.

Now we can move on to the front center panel (piece C).

Here is another piece that you have a lot more than seam allowances to consider when cutting your fabric. All but a small amount of this piece will be showing. The rest will be hidden by the pocket. Be sure to make a note of this on the pattern piece.

8fcAs you can see, I went the simple route for this piece, as I did for the tan purse too.

On to our final two pieces (D & E) that will complete the front of this bag.

There are two side panels on each side of the pocket and center panel. For this bag I thought it would be cute to have butterflies on those panels. For the tan bag, I liked the idea of the words going downward.

9fcIt took me some time before I finally decided to have my butterflies flying toward the purse instead of away from it. Also notice that the butterflies are closest to the top of the bag rather than the bottom. This is because the bottom portion of the piece will be “rounded” over to create the bottom of the bag just as the other pieces.

So there you have it!

The seasoned seamstress probably already knows about this fun designing technique. If you’ve never tied to use fussy cuts in your projects before, I hope you will give it a try. It’s one of those things that makes you feel like you’ve really created something unique and special.

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Hi! I'm Sheryl from Sher's Creative Space. I love to spend time in my studio creating with fabric, ribbon, beads, buttons, and anything else I can find. I like to have open fabric storage because I'm so inspired by color and enjoy putting various fabrics together. I can spend all day in there playing and creating! I blog at Sher's Creative Space Blog.


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5 Responses to Fussy Cuts for the Look You Want

  1. Anita says:

    I bought a yard or so of clear vinyl, and then traced my patterns from that to be able to see exactly where to put the pattern pieces for the design placement I wanted.

    And a big “yes!” to buying extra fabric!


  2. Linda Moon says:

    I love the bag, and your explanations. Although I am an experienced sewer, having all these notes together is very helpful! But what is that fabric! Beautiful!!

    • Sher says:

      Thank you Linda. I bought the fabric at JoAnns. It’s by artist Susan Winget. I’ve been pondering going back and getting more, and I think you just talked me into it!

  3. Pamela Joy says:

    Very thorough explanation Sher, thank you for posting it on So Sew Easy!

    Deby, we miss you terribly! Hope all is well!

  4. Kimberly says:

    Love this blog, Deby and Mayra! Deby, your video tutorials are some of the very best out there, you explain everything so clearly and concisely, and are an excellent presenter. There are only a few sewing tutorial presenters who are enjoyable to watch, and you’re at the top of my list of favs!

    Thank you for this post, Sher. This is very timely, as I’m preparing to cut pieces for a bag and definitely want to go the fussy cut route to center a large design feature from the fabric. I think most folks would understand the basic idea of centering a specific feature (if they choose to do so), but allowing for seam allowances, zippers, corner boxing, etc. was the part that was tripping me up a bit, so thank you for the excellent explanation!

What do you think?