Sweater quilt: cutting the patches and whether to stabilize

Q:  Do you have any advice on how best to cut your sweater patches? 

A:  Yes!

First, save the largest pieces of your sweater (generally the front or back) for the largest patches in your quilt. Cut what you can from the sleeves first, then the front and back.

Second, add 1″ to your cutting dimensions. For example, my design called for 10″ squares, so I cut them 11″ x 11″. 

Third, Controlling the stretch of the sweater while cutting is much easier if you use a ruler that covers most of the sweater piece, be it a sleeve, front or back. This is the reason for the 20″ ruler, which you could use to cut all the patches; however, the smaller 9″ square ruler, for example, was easier to handle when cutting the 6″ x 6″ squares (5″ x 5″ finished size). That’s why it’s listed as optional on the supply list.

Some sewers used a sheet of paper or a piece of cardboard as a template to cut their patches, but the ruler provides much greater accuracy than either of those items. You will have fewer sewing headaches caused by distorted patches if you use a ruler.

Fourth, when you position the ruler on your sweater piece, remember to include your seam allowance!

  • Cut along the top and right sides of the ruler.

cutting 10 inch square

  • Rotate the cutting mat 180 degrees or walk to the opposite side of your cutting table.
  • Do not pick up the sweater to turn it!
  • Gently lift the ruler off the sweater piece and align the correct ruler marks along the edges you just cut.
  • Cut along the remaining two sides to get your patch, remembering to include your seam allowance. (There is a reason I keep saying this. Can you guess why?) 

If you pick up the sweater piece after cutting the first two sides, it will stretch and you will NEVER be able to accurately align your ruler lines on those edges in order to make the next two cuts.

single square

Handle the ruler, not the sweater!

Here is my stack of 10″ squares:

I cut fifteen 10" squares (one from each sweater).

I cut fifteen 10″ squares (one from each sweater).

The last item on the supply list I furnished the other day was a vacuum cleaner with a crevice tool attachment. Once you cut the first sweater, you will understand the need for it.  You will (frequently!) want to capture all the fuzz shed from cutting the sweaters. If you don’t, it will accumulate on your mat and cutting table, fall to the floor, stick to your clothes, clog up your rotary cutter and spread to the other sweaters!

After cutting just one square, my mat looked like this:

Be diligent about vacuuming the fuzzies!

Be diligent about vacuuming the fuzzies!

Here are my six 15″ x 10″ rectangles:


Q:  If the sweater pieces are so difficult to handle, why not stabilize them before cutting the patches?

A:  One sewer did this and was

quite pleased with the ease of handling her patches. She used a spray adhesive to affix a piece of scrap cotton to the wrong sides of sleeves, fronts and backs before cutting her patches.

I considered this, but felt that over time, the cotton backing would separate from the sweater patches and then twist, roll and bunch up inside the layers if the project wasn’t heavily quilted. If I quilted my project as planned, the quilting stitches would hold the cotton in place; however, the extra fabric would also bulk up an already bulky seam allowance, which was something I didn’t want to have to manage, so I decided not to stabilize. Chalk it up to my low-risk approach toward the treatment of fabric and needlework.

Q:What about incorporating the ribbing around the sleeves and bottom into the patches?

A: If it moves you to do so,

go for it; it’s entirely up to you.


You just need to be mindful of the difference in how the patch will behave as you sew over the ribbed area versus the non-ribbed area. For this reason, I chose not to include this portion of my mom’s sweaters in my patches.


Leave a comment

Filed under sweater quilt

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s