The 7 minute cutting test

At the start of my classes, we do a cutting game. It’s like “tell a secret” but with paper. It seems like a silly exercise when we could be doing much more important things but that’s the point. It is mind numbing and it should be pointless. Unfortunately the results of the exercise show the need of it is quite the opposite of pointless. Dispensing with the controversy at the start of class is the easiest way to build all of the other skills needed in production pattern making. It works like this:

  • Draw a rectangle 2″ x 6″. Cut it out. Mark this piece as #1.
  • Take piece #1, trace it and cut it out. Label this piece #2.
  • Take piece #2, trace it and cut it out. Label this piece #3.
  • Take piece #3, trace it and cut it out. Label this piece #4.
    Lather, rinse and repeat until you have 8 pieces.

That’s all you have to do. I just did it and timed it; it took seven minutes. Do you have seven minutes to play the cutting game?

Supplies: Pattern paper, pencil and scissors. If you don’t have oaktag pattern paper you can use a manila folder. If you have paper you prefer to use for pattern making, that’s your choice.

Cheating: I hope nobody cheats. Cheating is defined as making piece #1 and tracing it out seven times instead of using piece 2 to trace piece 3 etc. Cheating would also include drawing the 2″ x 6″ rectangle eight times and cutting those out.

Submit your entry: When you’re finished with your eight pieces, stack them with the smallest one (#1) on top. Take a picture of it in such a way as to show the layers to best advantage and send it to me or leave a link in comments where the photo can be found. If you can’t upload a photo, send the photo to me and I’ll edit your comment to add a link to your photo. You can always email me from the “About” page.

Note: If you know the solution or point of this test, please refrain from mentioning it in comments. You can weigh in with part two to come. Thanks!


  1. Kathleen says:

    Only one taker? Oh come on people. Do you realize this is the one thing nearly everyone doesn’t know how to do properly? Pretty shocking really. I hate to have Brian out there exposing himself when he’s got so much company. C’mon, if you think you’re an expert, let’s see your best effort.Report

  2. Kate Rawlinson says:

    Okay, here’s mine:

    My method probably counts as cheating, but it does represent my real-life ways of working, so I went ahead anyway. I use a heavy tracing paper for my patterns because they go through so many permutations and I like to make sure I’m getting the lines the same in each incarnation (although I do sometimes trace things on to card/oaktag for final patterns, or for blocks/slopers I’m going to keep). I used a straight edge to trace the lines through (didn’t measure them, obviously) and a scalpel to cut the pieces out, since that’s what I do with small, straight-edged pieces. They still seem to get fractionally smaller as they go along though – the last one is about 1mm out.Report

  3. Kathleen says:

    Kate: I understand you work this way but this exercise is not intended to be a measure of how one individual works. It’s a long story that I can’t post yet but my points will be made (painfully) clear later. It’s really important to do it the way I described for reasons I can’t explain right now.

    I know people think this is too simple or obvious that it’s not worth their effort but I’m going to use these results to show you what I learned on my very first day in pattern class. Tragically, people end up with four or even 6 year fashion degrees and haven’t learned this. It is vitally important, the bedrock of everything you do. Whether you intend to or not.

    It’s not what you don’t know that’s the problem, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so ~paraphrasing Mark Twain.Report

  4. LisaB says:

    I finally got around to this. I stacked the pieces # 1 through #8 in this photo.
    #1 isn’t necessarily smallest on all sides, so I just stacked them numerically.

    Photos of the ends are at these two links.

    My paper wanted to curl a bit, so I tried to weight it down for the photo shoot.

    I know the answer so I’ll refrain from commenting on my cutting mistakes.Report

  5. LisaB says:

    Oh…forgot to mention that I didn’t have my computer nearby when I did the exercise and couldn’t remember the exact size we were to use. Mine are 2″ x 8″.Report

  6. Donna S says:

    Yes, I did it. And it turnned out just about the way I expected. Fairly accurate but not as it could be if I had used only one template. My father probably could have done this with complete precision. I, unfortunately didn’t get that gene. I hang out with a bunch of ladies who quilt and they would have looked at this exercise as totally rediculous. Good quilters do some amazing precision work.
    I taught every grade from kindergarten through comunity college and many sewing classes. I am never amazed at what students don’t know, but get really blown away when a student knows something. Or even better when they know more than I do.
    Sorry, uploading photos is not one of my favorite activities.Report

  7. LizPf says:

    Just finished (though I took out the materials as soon as I read this post). I think I know the point of this so I used Kathleen’s cutting rule #1, and was extra careful — I flunked cutting in kindergarten. I did take care to follow my traced lines exactly (allowing for rule #1. Sorry if this is cryptic, but I don’t want to give anything away.)

    Even so, #8 is about 1/8″ longer and 1/16″ wider than #1, and developed a couple of subtle curves.Report

  8. anna says:

    I am here cutting card and wondering how to get a smooth line. I know it is somehow possible. What is the best posture, type of scissor and method?
    I got called out on aircutting in class the other day.

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