Knit cutting questions

I will be out of the office much of today as I’m attending a funeral for a family member. Although unexpected, condolences aren’t required. I just mention this as the post I’d anticipated publishing won’t be up until later this afternoon. Also, I won’t be around to weed out any spam comments so please refrain from clicking on any links they may post as we don’t want to encourage their continued visits to this site. In the meantime, here is a question from my mail. If you have ideas and suggestions, please submit them via comments. This message is from Erica:

I have a question about cutting I hope you will post on your blog for some feedback. (I am now addicted to your blog)

I am a small start-up business in Atlanta, GA designing and making baby essentials using organic and other sustainable fabrics. Resources here in Georgia are dwindling and difficult to find- especially to service my small-scale needs. I have found a local company for my cutting but they have very little experience cutting knits- the cutter too is 69 years old and I’m afraid may have a bit of a shake in his hands. Anyway, my sewer and I are seriously exploring the option of investing in a stand-up automated knife to cut my pieces in her workspace. I don’t want to take any chances with cutter ruining the small pattern pieces. Are there any tips you can offer regarding cutting my own knit goods? I would greatly appreciate any thoughts/suggestions you may have on this subject.

Your book is my bible- I LOVE it and have learned so much from it.

Honestly, my first thought is to tell you I’m a chicken! I’m not so brave as many of you suppose and those knives scare me :). I know it’s a matter of becoming acclimated to using them so I can only urge you to do as I say and not as I do (sorry). I bought one of those round knives rather than a straight knife but I can’t recommend it because I haven’t used it much.

My other thought is infrastructure related. Bringing your cutting in house means you’ll need to have a method to plug in the knife overhead. This usually means that you’ll need a raceway which is an overhead electrical track outlet. The end of the cord of the straight knife will have an adapter that fits into the raceway. I’d be interested in hearing the solutions that others have used.

Also, you’ll need to make a decision regarding the power that the knife will need. Many of those knives need 220 which probably means you may need an electrician (depending on local zoning regulations) to install the raceway or overhead outlet. For some reason, I don’t fear electrical work like I do cutting knives so I’ve installed 220 circuits myself but I wouldn’t recommend you do that unless you’ve been working with electricity for awhile.

Lastly, have you thought of putting an ad in the paper looking for a cutter? You may be surprised at how many former cutters are in your area. You may have other options than just this one cutter you know of. Also, you could ask your local machine dealer for a referral. Actually, ask anyone who is industry related in your area.

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  1. christy fisher says:

    I used to do swimwear cutting for a medium sized operation in Florida. I do not know how large you are, or what kind of layout area you have- how long are your tables, etc..
    but here are some things to consider with knits:
    The spreading of the fabric is crucial.
    The more layers you have, the more chance you have of “shift” and tension problems from to to bottom layer.
    Staples help, but even with an upright knife, you can have pull and shift when if you are doing small runs, try to avoid too many layers.
    Kathleen is correct about the knives. We used an upright at the swimwear factory, but I like my “little chickadee” rotary the best. I still have to have a runner area for it, but it uses standard current and I have a heavyweight extension cord attached to it and it is draped over a pipe fixture above the cutting table…
    It works for me. heaviest recommendation is to be really careful with your spreading…and if possible use lots of weights. Georgia, there probably are a ton of workers who have formerly worked in Tshirt factories (that have since closed). I’ll bet you could find one with an ad- as per Kathleen’s suggestion.

  2. Gigi says:

    I don’t know how many layers you’ll be cutting at a time but when I did small runs of custom hockey jerseys and pants I used a Cassie rotary cutter (I think it’s similar to the Birdie) with great success. It sliced through thick layers of Ponte (that lovely bullet-proof polyester that is used for many athletic uniforms) and Cordura very easily. My friend Sharon, who used to manufacture children’s clothing, used Cassies exclusively in her cutting room.

  3. Big Irv says:

    Erica, It is imperative to have good lighting overhead to aid in your visual inspection of the fabric and to see that the layers are uniform when spread.
    Use a yardstick or a long piece of dowelling to smooth the fabric layers.
    I wouldn’t attempt too many layers at first if using a straight knife. Be sure to practice both straight lines and curves. Use alot of weights in the beginning to. If you dont have weights, use
    clean bricks covered in foil. Invest in a cutter’s chain glove. (it goes on the hand that is not guiding the knife).
    Cutting is more than just cutting fabric. You will need to learn about characteristics of the fabrics you are cutting (especially stretch knits)and how to lay a markers and much more. Good Luck

  4. Erica says:

    Thank you for all the thoughts and suggestions. I have since decided to stick with my cutter as he has 35+ years of experience. Of course my knits are softer and more cumbersome to work with than what he’s used to but I’m going to see how the next batch of cuts come out. Many of you have mentioned making the stack shorter to minimize shifting. Is a stack of 40 layers of knits too high? That’s how high we spread the fabric last time I was up there. We left to let the fabric settle so I’m not sure how it went. I’m going to suggest weights next round of cutting we do.

  5. Good decision to contract the cutting. You do not mention quantities, but there are likely sewers in the area that do cut and sew. You could also contact the Atlanta Apparal Contractors Association or post a need with the American Apparel Producers Network ( Another option is a full service vertically integrated manufacturer…like us of course. Our minimums begin at 360 pieces per style useing stock fabrics and colors.

  6. Deanna Bartee says:

    Erica, When I did cut and sew sub-contracting this is how I did it:
    1: I had the feed rail installed overhead (I had the personnel and equipment to do so) WOULD NOT recommend cutting without it!!!! (The cord of the cutter dragging across the goods would mess up the lay)

    2: I hired a 50-60 year old EXPERIENCED!!! cutter…BOY DID I LEARN A LOT FROM HER!!! Perhaps your current cutter is old…but if he’s good you can learn a lot from him!!!!

    3: We used a cutting table and a manual spreader…again I would not cut any other way!!! unless it is to get more automated.

    4: Spreading..and yes you have to smooth each layer with a “long yard stick” CAREFULLY!!!…also we put tissue paper and a wax paper periodically throughout the lay. (My understanding is that the tissue was used to separate every 12 layers-a counting thing for the machine operators, but the wax paper actually assisted the knife in the cutting process…keeping the knife cool by easing the cutting)

    5:we layed the marker on top and yes we used weights but I valued the pins more than the weights. Now, I was working with wovens not knits…so that may be a difference but this was crucial for us to keep everything in place: Think of LONG hat pins…they were stuck down through the marker into the fabric all the way to the table…STANDING at opposing angles around each piece…in from the edges to avoid interference with the cutting knife…(I guess a good analogy of this would be sticking tooth picks into a cake to keep the layers together)

    In our case the weights kept the fabric OVERALL from shifting, but the stand up pins in each piece were indispensible for accurate cuts from my perspective.
    We have several knives including the stand up and the round…We used the stand up, and I agree that they can be “scary” but if treated with respect while using they are not that bad to use. I can cut with them. (It’s about as nerve wracking to me as using one of my husband’s power saws)

    Now for the problems that could arise:
    1. you have to keep your blade sharp and knick free…dulled blades or knicked blades will mess up a “Lay” very quickly!!!

    2. For that reason I found it invaluable to keep extra blades on hand so that in the middle of a cut we wouldn’t have to order a new blade…that would have really slowed down production!

    3. Cleaning We kept debris from building up behind covers, etc…If I remember right that goes for both kinds of knives

    That’s all I can think of at the moment

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