What is fussy cutting?

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Picture of Ingrid Alteneder

Ingrid Alteneder

Hey there, I love fabric, sewing, quilting and most of all Foundation Paper Piecing. Welcome to my blog!

What is fussy cutting patchwork and how to use it in Foundation Paper Piecing, English Paper Piecing, or quilting in general?

I have been quilting for a long time, and I remember the days when I was cutting fabric for a quilt and was giddy with joy when the pattern of the fabric ended up centered in the shape I was cutting.
Little did I know back then, that this was actually ‘a thing’.
It’s not only a thing, it also has a name……..
It’s called FUSSY CUTTING.

sailing-yacht-quilt-block-pattern, fussy-cuttung-foundation-paper-piecing,boat-quilt-block-pattern


As I went on, on my quilting journey I noticed that some people were really ‘lucky’ and got their print centered all the time…. really lucky indeed.
I have to confess till then, I was still trying to use up as little fabric as possible and it didn’t even occur to me, that someone would deliberatly just cut an image out of a piece of fabric.


why didn’t I think of that?

So there is was, FUSSY CUTTING .
A whole new world opened up to me.Fussy cutting is when you cut your fabric to showcase a specific area of a print rather then cutting random pieces.

There are different reasons for fussy cutting depending on your project or quilting technique.
You use fussy cutting to:
1. Feature a particular part of a print
or you
2. Use a specific part of a print in your quilt pattern to enhance the pattern.

These reasons also determine the techniques and tools you use.

So lets start with featuring a particular part of a print:

1" hexies fussy cutting, blue hexies , fussy cutting with hexagons
fussy cutting with differen English paper piecing shapes

1. This method is usually used with English paper piecing, but also with squares, triangles or other geometrical shapes.

You can use acrylic templates to cut your shapes or make your own templates out of cardboard.
The advantage of acrylic templates is, they’re easy, reusable, see through and include a 1/4″ seam allowance.
If you make your own template, which is absolutly fine, draw your shape on cardbord and add 1/4″ seam allowance, cut out the desired shape and you’re left with the seam allowance ‘frame’ , which you then use to cut your fabric along the outside line.
Either way, place your template on your particular part of your print and cut along the outside lines with your rotary cutter or fabric scissors. I prefer a rotary cutter, so the fabric can stay put on my cutting mat and I don’t move the template by accident.

acrylic templates different shapes and home made tepmlates
home made hexagon template
acrylic template on fabric

For geometrical shapes its best to use an acrylic ruler, these can be easily placed on top of your print and your design can be centered accordingly.
Make sure you don’t forget the seam allowance, trust me it happened to me more than once, that I cut a cute image only to notice afterwards that I had fogotten the seam allowance.

fabric with acrylic ruler

basic acrylic ruler 6″x 12″

Fussy cutting to enhance your foundation paper piecing pattern:

several boat quilt block patterns, steam boat quilt block, sail boat quilt block pattern

several boat quilt block pattern

2. This is a bit more tricky , as you’re not only working with a mirrored image, but also with weird angles in the pattern sometimes.
Let’s start with the easier part placing a particular part of a print on your foundation paper piecing segment.
This can be done to give an eye more life by using a dotted fabric, or by adding some print detail to an otherwise simpler background, as I did with the seals in the orca pattern.
This is fairly simple if the part of the segment that you wish to place the print on is part 1,
as shown in the photos below.
I always use a fabric glue pen, it just makes your life so much easier.
The dolphin and the orca pattern are featured in my new book. Which can be pre ordered here.

fussy cutting for a dophin eye
dolphin quilt block pattern
fussy cutting the background fabric
orca quilt block pattern

It becomes more challenging if it is any other number of a particular segment and has weird and pointed angles on top of it. But there are a few tricks.

placement of first part of segmentcutting the fabric

1. First you place your segment wrong side (unprinted ) on wrong side of fabric.
Here I chose the pirates for part B1. I use a fabric glue pen, and glue the segment onto the fabric (glue only B1).
If you’re planning on doing this a lot, a light box comes in very handy, but for starters just hold your segment and fabric against a light or your window.
2. Cut out, with aprox 1/4″ seam allowance, around the perimeter of B1. You can use a ruler to do this and a rotary cutter, I usually just use fabric scissors and eye ball it.
(I trim the seam allowance after sewing part 2 and 3.)
Then sew part 2 and 3 with your chosen fabric for those parts.

trimming of seam allowance with acrylic ruler
fussy cutting in foundation paper piecing

3. Trim the seam allowance. I am using here the add-a-quarter-ruler, since I want this particular seam allowance to be super accurate.
4. Now place the segment part B4 (wrong side of paper on wrong side of fabric) over your fabric folding back the seam allowance of B3 and glue in place. ( just glue B4, with just a little bit of glue, you’ll remove it later)

fussy cutting with foundation paper piecing
fussy cutting with foundation paper piecing

5. Cut out roughly and mark with water soluble pen, where fabrics should align.
6. Then trim along the raw edge of  B3. Use a ruler and rotary cutter you want this to be accurate.

fussy cutting with foundation paper piecing

flip over fabric right sides together

7. Place your pattern segment printed side down and flip the clued(yes un-glue!) fabric backwards. Right sides together with the previous fabric. Align raw edges and he marked lines. Then sew along the line between B3 and B4.

fussy cutting in foundation paper piecing

finished fussy cut sails

8. Fold the fabric over, an its exactly where you want it to be .
Finish this segment and then all the other segments, assemble your quilt block and
voila your little happy boat isn’t just a happy boat, it actually tells a story.


Fussy cutting in foundation paper piecing takes for some practice but it is extremly rewarding and turns a simple quilt block into a stunning make.
You find all the boat patterns including the little happy boat here.
Is this something you guys would want to try?
Or do you  have other techniques for fussy cutting?
I’m really curious so cant wait to hear from you all.
Ingrid xx

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