Fabric Cutting – Paper or No Paper

Cotton with Paper

I have been sewing and cutting out patterns on all types of fabrics for decades. Over the last few years I have heard about cutting out your patterns with a layer of paper underneath. I have always dismissed it because I didn’t see why it was necessary.  I finally decided to put this theory to the test.

The theory is to lay paper down on your table, lay your fabric on top of the paper, then lay your pattern on top of the fabric and pin through all three layers.  The paper on the bottom is supposed to grip and support your fabric better and keep everything from shifting; therefore, your pattern when cut is more accurate.

The first thing I had to do to test this theory was to have an open mind.

I drew a fake front bodice pattern on copier paper, I chose three different fabrics to make it a true test – cotton, rayon lining (slippery), stretch velvet (stretchy and has a nap).  I was told that the industry uses unprinted newspaper and that tissue paper was too thin for the bottom paper layer.  I did not have any of the newsprint so I used what I make my patterns on, Speedball Tracing Paper.

Cotton Fabric –

I tore the cotton fabric to get an accurate grain line. I steam pressed the fabric to make sure there were no wrinkles.  I laid the fabric on a gridded cutting board, aligning the grain crosswise and straight.  Pinned the pattern, measuring the grain line from the selvage / grid line to make sure the grain was perfectly straight. Then I cut it out with scissors.  I repeated each step and cut it out with a rotary cutter.  I wanted to see if cutting a pattern out with scissors or using a rotary cutter would change the accuracy. (The picture was taken from an angle that distorts, so the lines appear to not be aligned, but they were.) Cotton No Paper

I repeated each step, but this time I laid a piece of the tracing paper on the gridded mat, then the cotton fabric, pinned the pattern through all layers and cut it out.  To be fair on all tests, I used the same amount of pins and in the exact same holes.

I liked using tracing paper because I could still see through it to see the gridded mat for better grain alignment, where the newspaper print isn’t transparent so I wouldn’t have been able to use my grids as alignments.  You don’t have to have grid line mats for cutting out fabrics, but I like them because that is how I know for sure that my fabric grain lines are straight in both directions.Cotton with PaperComparison

Using the paper layer it was harder to pin, especially trying to use the same holes.  Geometrically it is harder because you have another layer that is stiffer to pin through, so the pins can’t bend up as close together.  I started out using silk pins but later changed to a little longer and thicker pin, because the silk pins would bend too much when coming up from the paper layer.

I had a little cotton fabric left over so I folded it, put it on the paper layer, placed the pattern edge on the fold and cut it out.  I found no accuracy differences.

Scissors versus Rotary cutter – no difference

Conclusion – Paper layer not necessary with cotton and stable fabrics


Rayon Lining

I chose rayon lining to test because it is a slippery fabric that shifts a lot. The shifting can make the grain line to not be accurate, causing hanging, droopy issues on the finished design, and inaccuracies in fit.

To make this test I used all the steps as I did with the cotton with a few exceptions.

You cannot tear the fabric to find the true grain line so I pulled some threads.Lining - Pulling Threads

To pull threads you make a 1/4″ cut into your fabric at the selvage towards the other selvage, gently pull the cut apart, take your fingers or a pin and fray out two threads.  Gently pull the threads (the fabric will gather up) the whole width of the fabric.  The object is to pull the threads completely out revealing the true grain line.  Go slowly and gently because it is easy to break the threads.  If the threads break you might have to start again or sometimes you can continue to shift the gathers to the side until they are flat. In this case, of the thread breakage, the two threads will still be in the fabric but they have shifted showing a slight line you can see.  If you are able to pull the threads completely out, the line is more defined and easier to see.Lining - Alignment

This picture is showing the ruler aligned up with the line that the pulled threads created, the true grain.  (Don’t pay attention to the blue tape on the ruler, that was for another project. LOL) You can see how much the cut edge was off from the true grain line, a little over 1/2″ on the left and then dwindling down as it goes to the right.

Lining - TapeI use painter’s tape to tape my slippery fabric down to my gridded mat to keep my fabric grain line true and it also helps hold everything in place when a cat jumps up to help me. LOL This pictures shows the pulled thread grain line that I used to align to the gridded mat before taping it down. When using the paper layer, you can still use the tape down method, you just tape it to the paper and not the mat.

Comparison –

Scissors versus Rotary cutter –  The cutting came out smoother especially in the curves of the armsyce when using the rotary cutter rather than the scissors.  When cutting with scissors I can be more smooth by cutting down from the shoulder seam, stopping at the deepest curve where it is starting to go out to the side seam, slide the fabric/pattern around and then cut from the side seam in to match where I quit cutting before.  This is where the paper layer pays off because you can easily move your fabric/pattern easily without disturbing the placement of the fabric/pattern/grain, turning it by grabbing the paper layer and not the fabric.

Lining - No PaperLining - With Paper

These pictures show the comparison between cutting with scissors using no paper – Left picture

Cutting with scissors using the paper layer – Right picture

You can see that by using the paper, the edges are smoother.  Notice the left side of the pattern.  The pattern cut with paper is more straight, which will create a much nicer seam and a more accurate fit.

Comparision - ArmscyeHere you can see the inaccuracies of cutting without paper.  The blue fabric represents the true pattern and the black underneath is the rayon cut without the paper layer.  The blue was also cut with a rotary cuter making a smoother armsyce.


This comparison shows how the rayon cut without the paper layer has added about 1/16″ in some areas, which may cause problems in fitting and with the hang of the design.

Comparision - cornerThis comparison shows how a corner was clipped off when a paper layer was not used.

Conclusion – Use the paper layer with any slippery and non stable fabric.


Stretch Velvet

I chose a stretch velvet for two reasons, it would represent cutting out a knit and a nap.  For those that have worked with napped fabrics like velvet you know that the pattern pieces tend to walk, or shift when pinning, cutting and sewing. These can be challenging to work with, but the end results can be quite stunning.

Napped Fabric with paper


Scissors versus Rotary cutter – I did not see any significant difference between using scissors or a rotary cutter.

For this particular fabric I did not see a difference in accuracy, for paper versus no paper, BUT I know I would have seen one if it had been a slinkier knit.

Conclusion –  Paper layer is not necessary for a non stretch nap (but it does make it easier to handle).     Definitely USE the paper layer on stretchy knits.

Now to throw a different look at this paper versus no paper process – if you thread stitch all your seam lines (couture technique) and sew using the seam lines as your guide and not the edge of the fabric, it doesn’t matter how accurate the edges of the fabric look, but I would still use the paper layer on slippery, flimsy, really stretchy fabrics because the paper layer will grip the fabric, keeping the grain straight and allowing you to turn the fabric/pattern easily to be able to cut from different angles.

I hope you have enjoyed this comparison, I know I have learned something new and I plan on using paper with all slippery, flimsy and really stretchy fabrics.

Have fun sewing and here is to more accurate cutting!

9 thoughts on “Fabric Cutting – Paper or No Paper

  1. Great scientific study, Martina! You included a control sample along with your various experimental samples. Way to go!
    I worry about dulling pins and scissors with paper, so I usually cut my rayon linings a little large to account for some lack of accuracy. I know in industry that would not work.
    I do think, based on your study, that this would be essential on something like a silk charmeuse blouse. In that case, I’d stop worrying about dull anything!
    Thanks for your thorough review!

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