Your Bag Making Tool Kit - Measuring, Marking, and Cutting: Part Two

Lisa Stewart beginner bag maker cutting tools marking tools measuring tools tool box

We're continuing the discussion of the "tools of the trade" for bag making success. If you missed the first part, check out Your Bag Making Tool Kit - The Sewing Machine: Part One. Next up is measuring, marking, and cutting. 

A successful bag creation starts at the cutting table. The pattern designer has supplied you with a pattern, measurements, and instructions on how to get the pattern onto your fabric. Failure to follow the designer's instructions and doing sloppy work during preparation of your fabric may result in a homemade, rather than handmade, bag. Accuracy in measuring, cutting neat edges, and transferring markings for reference as you construct the bag are critical components.

Let's begin with the pattern:


Many bag patterns have rectangular pieces. These require measuring and cutting, rather than printing pattern pieces. A gridded mat and gridded ruler can become an essential part of your bag making tool kit. You could get by without either of them for measuring and drawing out your pattern pieces, but they do make efficient use of your time and insure accuracy.

With a gridded ruler, you can quickly check the one inch check square on a pattern. If you plan to use a rotary cutter (discussed below), you will need both the mat and the ruler. Be warned that it is easy to think you need ALL the rulers and mats available. A self-healing mat of 24" x 36" and a thick 24" acrylic ruler will last a really long time. (If you don't leave the mat in the sun in your car, or drop the ruler on it's end - lesson learned). 

And it's always good to keep a tape measure hanging around your neck for when the ruler has disappeared under a pile of pattern pieces and you need to measure something quick. Keep a hem gauge close by also for that same reason!

Holding the Pattern on the Fabric:

Generally, it is best NOT to use pins when cutting out a bag. Vinyl and cork don't like pin holes - if you have to pin, do so in the seam allowance. Fabric weights and tracing the pattern onto the WS (wrong side) of the fabric are the general preferred methods. You can use a variety of items for fabric weights - I've even used a stapler and a tape dispenser and just moved around as I trace.

I purchased some large 1 1/2" washers at Lowes and lay those on the pattern. You can pin cotton fabric, but if you get in the habit of using weights and tracing, the cutting out part will go quicker and no worries of pin holes or fabric bunching. Not using pins will preserve your pattern pieces longer, too. 

These were very greasy - be sure to give them a bath and dry thoroughly


If you want cute weights for your sewing room, there are tons of tutorials for making them, including wrapping the washers with ribbon or yarn.

Photo by SewFearful

Rotary Cutter:

An additional bonus of using pattern weights is that it makes it easy to cut straight lines with a rotary cutter. Just push the weight out of the way to lay your ruler down and use the rotary blade to get a nice crisp cut.

Rotary cutters come in various sizes, 18 mm, 28 mm, 45 mm, and 60 mm. I prefer the 45 mm size.  Patricia says the 60 mm is great for cutting heavier fabrics, and the advantage is that a bigger blade doesn't wear out quite as quickly. I have found that because generally I am just cutting one layer at a time, that the blade lasts much longer than when I am cutting quilting cottons in multiple layers. The Fiskars brand shown here has a blade guard. 

If you are new to using a rotary cutter, practice on different weights of scrap fabric to get the feel of how much pressure you need to apply. Generally, you do not want to go too slow when cutting as it is difficult to maintain equal pressure, but going too fast can cause your cutter to "jump", causing a jagged cut. Take the time to practice, and you'll be a pro in no time. Connecting Threads has a "right-to-the-point" video. 


A good pair of sharp scissors is indispensable for cutting. You can get by without a rotary cutter, but not sharp scissors. I find it useful to have a small pair to keep at the sewing machine and the larger pair at the cutting table. I purchased a set of Kai scissors and love them.

Kai 3 S-series 3 piece set - not affiliated

Don't use the regular household scissors on your fabric - it will chew up the edges and interfere with your seam allowance. Additionally, a pair of pinking shears can finish seam allowances nicely. 


There are a variety of fabric marking tools on the market, each with pros and cons depending on the fabric and where the marks need to be made. When transferring marks from a pattern to the back side of the fabric, an ink pen or pencil can be sufficient (ink on vinyl - NOT cotton). However, ink when heated by the iron can transfer to the iron or smear, so take that into consideration when you quickly pick up something to make a mark! 

Pilot FriXion (pronounced friction) pens were not originally made for marking on fabric, but have quickly become favorites among quilters. They come in a variety of colors and thicknesses. Before marking your beautiful fabric, check on a scrap. The marks vanish when heated with an iron, even through a press cloth. Check that on your scrap with your iron, too.

Be warned that cold can make the marks return, though I have heard it has to be REALLY cold. I have not tested this in the freezer, but you may want to avoid using these pens on the exterior of your bags. Dritz also has heat erase pens, as well as other brands. 

There are other disappearing markers, some are air soluble and others are water soluble. If you are not going to finish your project in one sitting, I do not recommend the air soluble! Wax markers are good for dark and print fabrics and can also be removed with heat. 

Chalk markers are another option. There are the old standby chalk pencils, chalk holders, and now refillable chalk pens. Be warned that chalk can be difficult to remove, and on vinyl it may smear across the fabric. 

If you don't want to make any marks on your fabrics, you can use a Hera Marker or a point turner and make indents in your fabric. 


All of the tools necessary for getting your pattern to fabric accurately and quickly are available at a variety of retailers and online. 

Now that you're knowledgeable about measuring, marking, and cutting, head on over to the final part of Your Bag Making Tool Kit - Pressing, Securing, and Finishing: Part Three.

Did you miss part one of this three part series? Check out At The Sewing Machine: Part One.

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Whether you are a beginner or an expert bag maker, we'd love to have you join our Facebook Pattern Group. Ask questions, give guidance and encouragement, share your makes. Patricia is always quick to answer questions, and loves your feedback. 
Please feel free to comment, but be aware that Shopify doesn't offer a way for us to respond. If you have any questions, please PM through Facebook, or email us at We'd love to hear from you!





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