Because I dye all the fabric I use in my work, I often have limited quantities of fabric to use when making a piece. Once I cut my fabric, it’s cut, and I can’t go backwards. But I have found a way to visually cut my fabric before cutting it for real by using some of the tools in Photoshop.

This process has limitations and can only give me an approximation of what the final piece will look like, but it’s enough to help me make decisions before putting scissors to cloth.

The rest of this (long) post explains the process of Using Photoshop to manipulate fabric, and it contains illustrations of each step. Click on each photograph to see it in a bigger size.

Here is a photograph of the original piece of fabric opened in Photoshop.

Uncut Fabric
In my sample, because the fabric in the original photograph is on an angle and hard to work with that way, I am going to crop the photo to cut off the edges and give a neater rectangle. My fabric has a label pinned onto it, but I will ignore that since it is hard to remove that in Photoshop and it doesn’t really impact the visual changes I want to see.

To crop the piece, select the Crop tool from the tool bar and drag a rectangle around the area you want to keep. The next photo shows the highlighted crop area which is outlined with a white rectangle. Once you’re satisfied with the Crop area, click on the check mark at the top of the page to complete the cropping.

(In general, it’s best to start with a photo that doesn’t require cropping, since cropping the photo at this stage of the process means that you can’t move pieces lower in the Photoshop pasteboard. But if you have to crop, the above instructions explain how to do so.)

Crop Area
At this point, there is only one layer in Photoshop. (If you don’t see the Layers box in Photoshop, go to Window (at the top of the application) and make sure that there is a check mark next to the word Layers.)

Because this layer is the Background layer, Photoshop doesn’t allow you to manipulate it. Therefore, the next step is to make a copy of the original layer in order to be able to work with it. To do this, right click on the background layer and choose Duplicate Layer. This will give you two layers, the original one and a copy of the original layer called Background Copy. You will now be able to work with the duplicated layer.

Duplicating Background
The next photograph shows that the two layers: the background layer and the background copy. The background copy is highlighted in preparation for the next step. (In Photoshop, if you want to do anything with a layer, you must highlight it first. You do so by clicking that layer with your mouse.)

Piece with Two Layers
You now have to decide which area of the piece of fabric you’d like to “cut”. (You’ll only be cutting it virtually, not in reality.) Use one of the selection tools to highlight the area you want to work with. In this case, I’m using the Rectangular Marquee tool. Make sure that you have highlighted the Background Copy layer before you make your selection. Otherwise you’ll get a message saying that the selection is empty.

Cut Piece Selected
After selecting the part of the fabric you want to “cut”, you need to save it to a new layer so that you can work with it later. To do this, hold down the Command key (Mac) or Control key (PC) plus the letter J. Doing so will save the selection into a new layer. You can rename the layer to give it a meaningful name or just keep the default name, here, Layer 1. In the thumbnail in the Layers panel, you can see a small image of the “cut” piece in the layer you’ve just created.

Layer 1
To move the new “cut” layer to a different location, highlight Layer 1 and use the Move tool to move it to a new location.
Layer 1 Moved
You may then want to select a second piece, “cut” and move it. The next photo shows the second piece to be “cut”. As before, select the Background Copy layer and use the Rectangular Marquee tool to select the area to virtually cut.
Second Cut Highlighted
Then, use Command and J (Mac) or Control and J (PC) to save the second “cut” piece to a new layer.
Layer 2 Saved
The next step is to move the second piece to a new location. To do this, highlight the layer (here Layer 2) and use the Move tool to move it elsewhere in the piece.
Layer 2 Moved
At this point, you may want to see what Layer 2 would look like if is was rotated it. To do this, highlight Layer 2 and then use the Rectangular Marquee tool to select the piece you want to rotate.
Layer 2 New Location Highlighted
While it is selected, use the Edit menu at the top of Photoshop. Choose Edit, Transform, Rotate 180 degrees to turn the piece upside down. (You can rotate the piece by any amount and then manipulate it further, but for this example, I’m rotating it 180 degrees.) The rotated piece is shown in the next photo.
Second Piece Upside Down
Once the selected piece has been rotated, use Command D (Mac) or control D (PC) to deselect it.
Now, since you’ve virtually cut off and made adjustments to the right hand section of the original piece, you need to get rid of it in your image since you can’t have it in two places at once. One way of doing this is by using the Crop tool. Highlight the Background Copy layer, and using the Crop tool, drag a rectangle around the left hand side of the piece, omitting the part of the original piece that you have just manipulated in Photoshop.
Altered piece selected for cropping
When you are satisfied with the crop area, click on the check mark at the top of the Photoshop screen. The final cropped piece will look like the photograph below.
Final Cropped Piece
You can continue to “cut” and further edit the piece using variants of the above steps.