History Of Fussy Cutting


We discuss the fascinating and fun history of fussy cutting.

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History Of Fussy Cutting

Fussy cutting is simply using one part of a piece of fabric and not others. Fussy cutting of animals is hugely popular on baby and "I spy" quilts. But you don't have to limit yourself to specific elements such as flowers or animals.

History Of Fussy Cutting


This photo shows the moon, planets, and stars added to a quilt of the universe.



The history of fussy cutting goes back more than 250 years to the 1700s in England. Broderie perse, also called cutwork applique, also appeared in the 1700s, but was most popular in the 1800s when expensive chintz florals were cut to display on cheaper fabric. These quilts use fussy cutting to create a repeated pattern in the quilt from just one design element of the fabric, such as using just the palm trees from this fabric. Of course, this may be wasteful because much of the fabric design is not used.



Fussy cutting enjoyed a revival in the 1930s when it became popular to include fussy cut blossoms in the hexies of a Grandmother's Flower Garden. Other names for fussy cutting include specialty, selective, and fancy cutting. Sometimes you see the term "window cutting." With this technique, you would use a template to position the cut. This technique helps you keep your cuts the same size if the fabric elements vary in size. Kits are available that include templates for hexies, triangles, diamonds, etc.


The large floral print fabric shown here is perfect for fussy cutting.



The large flower on the right jumps out and begs to be fussy cut. To demonstrate how it would be used in a Grandmother's Flower Garden, look at the flower against a dark background hexie.



For someone who flunked cutting in second grade, the idea of fussy cutting for a quilt strikes fear for this quilter. Some major points for ease of cutting are:

  • PLAN - to make best use of your fabric.
  • Buy extra fabric to allow you some freedom.
  • Press all fabrics before cutting.
  • Remember to allow for the seam allowance when cutting unless you are using a raw edge.
  • If you are cutting on the bias, the fabric may stretch. You can use starch before cutting to maintain the shape.
  • Use a 28mm rotary cutter for more control.
  • Make sure you have selected quality scissors.
  • Cuts don't have to be square. Cut a few different ones and play!


Fussy cutting is also popular for kaleidoscope quilts. Some of these techniques use specially designed mirrors to see the images as they will appear.


Fussy cutting is also used in scrapbooking, so look at some of the designs from other crafters. Ideas are everywhere!


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Attaching individual pieces of fabric to a background to form a design.

Same As: Appliqué

See Also: Freezer Paper Applique, Needleturn Applique, Machine Applique, Reverse Applique, Shadow Applique
The direction of a piece of woven fabric, usually referred to simply as "the bias" or "the cross-grain", is at 45 degrees to its warp and weft threads. Every piece of woven fabric has two biases, perpendicular to each other. Non-woven fabrics such as felt or interfacing do not have a bias.

Same As: Cross-grain
Fussy Cut
The cutting out of specific areas of a fabric to use the image or motif on the fabric. Often used to isolate animals, flowers, etc from a Conversation Print or Novelty Print fabric. A template may be used to cut out many images to be the same size for use in a block. Because the remaining fabric then looks like Swiss cheese, it is wasteful of fabric.
A quilt block pattern that is pieced so it looks like an image seen through a kaleidoscope.
Method of using an iron to press seams and blocks. This means simply pressing downwards on the seam with the iron from above and not moving the iron back and forth which can distort the block or seam.
Raw Edge
An unfinished fabric edge of a piece of fabric or a quilt block. For applique, an edge which has not yet been turned under with stitching.
Rotary Cutter
A very sharp tool that looks like a pizza wheel which is capable of cutting through multiple layers of fabric.
Seam Allowance
The width of fabric left to the right of a sewn seam. In quilting this is traditionally 1/4 inch. For sewing garments it is usually 5/8 inch.
Pattern pieces made out of paper, cardboard, plastic or metal, giving you something to draw around so that you can accurately replicate any shape.
Debi Warner
Author and humorist, Debi Warner, retired after many years as a clinical librarian and information specialist. She has her Master’s in Library and Information Science and achieved a Distinguished level in the Medical Library Association’s Association of Health Information Professionals. She has worked on teaching physicians to use computers and electronic resources. She also worked on several grants teaching the public how to use the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus public database and is co-author of several articles on health literacy. She took up quilting after retirement in 2012 and chaired the Rio Grande Valley Quilt Show in 2019. She currently teaches several quilting classes over Zoom and writes for QuiltingHub.
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