Learning to use a rotary cutter for fabric is an essential tool that every sewer and quilter must know. It’s a great time saver when cutting long strips of fabric for quilting projects and can give clothing crisp, clean lines.
A rotary cutter is a tool with a handle and a circular blade, not unlike a pizza cutter. The blades are extremely sharp and can be replaced when they get dull. They come in a variety of different sizes; smaller ones for curves and corners and larger blades used for straight lines.
Rotary cutters are a relatively new invention. The first one was developed in 1979 by a man named Yoshio Okada, who sought a solution to blades constantly losing their sharp edges quickly. Since then, rotary cutters have become a vital tool in the sewing and quilting world.
Today, you’ll learn all about how to use a rotary cutter safely and efficiently, as well as how to cut fabric correctly. We’ll also give you some tips and tricks that’ll turn you from rotary novice to rotary pro in no time at all.
Rotary Cutter Safety
Rotary cutters are an extremely useful tool. However, at the end of the day, it is a blade, and it must be used safely and carefully. Make sure you invest in a high-quality rotary cutter, and always use it as directed. Read up on standard safety practices when working with sharp blades. We’ve compiled a list of tips below to help you develop safe rotary cutter practices and avoid injury.
- When cutting straight lines, use a ruler as a guide to act as a buffer between your hand and the blade.
- Rotary cutters usually come with a safety, a plastic cover that clips over the sharp part of the blade. Always place the safety on when the cutter is not in use.
Keep your blade sharp. Most knife injuries are caused by dull blades since the user has to apply more pressure, and rotary cutters are no exception.
- Discard your blades safely when they’ve dulled. A poorly placed blade in a trash can is a recipe for disaster. Use thick tape to surround the sharp edges before you put the blade in the garbage.
- Always cut on a rotary mat to ensure the blade moves slowly and evenly and doesn’t bump into any grooves that can cause the blade to jump.
- Store it safely. Always leave the safety on, and make sure it’s in an area where kids and pets can’t reach it.
- Always cut away from the body, and always cut standing up for greater control.
- Apply even pressure as you glide.
Following these tips will ensure you don’t injure yourself and that your rotary cutter remains a safe and helpful tool.
How To Use A Rotary Cutter
Before you begin, you’ll need to gather all your materials. Of course, you’ll need a rotary cutter with a variety of different blade sizes to suit your needs. You’ll also need a long quilting ruler and a square quilting ruler, depending on the size and shape of the fabric pieces you need to cut out.
Another essential material to purchase is a rotary mat. This is a large mat that can be spread over your table and is used to create an even surface when cutting. There are two basic types of rotary mats; plastic and self-healing. Plastic mats are usually a bit cheaper, but over time, they can develop small grooves and cuts on their surface. This can affect your ability to cut a smooth, straight line, and it can also be dangerous and cause the cutter to jump and cut you.
Self-healing mats are a bit more expensive, but they’re worth the investment. They’re made from a material that closes up after being cut with a blade, so you’ll always have a smooth, perfect surface to work with.
You’ll also need material to cut. If you’re a complete beginner, you may want to practice on some inexpensive pieces of fabric until you get the hang of it. Stiff fabrics are easier to rotary cut, so that’s a great place to begin practicing.
Square Up Fabric
Once you’ve gathered all your materials, you can begin the actual cutting process. The first step is to square up your fabric. This means cutting off excess on the edge of the fabric piece, so it’s at a 90-degree angle with the fold. Store-bought fabrics are usually cut imperfectly, so squaring up ensures that you’re beginning with a clean, straight edge.
To begin, fold your fabric along its length, lining up the two selvages. Ensure that your fabric is straight, with no pull lines. Press it with an iron to get it completely flat if you have to. Depending on how large your fabric is and how large your cutting mat is, you may need to fold it over twice, creating four layers of fabric. However, try to avoid this if you’re a beginner, as extra fabric layers make inaccurate cutting more likely.
Now, place your fabric on the cutting mat, with the fold near the bottom edge. The side you’re going to square should be on the left. Most rotary mats will have horizontal and vertical lines running across. If so, line up the fold with one of the horizontal lines. If your mat is unlined, line up the fold with the bottom edge of a square quilting ruler.
Your square quilting ruler should be placed on top of the fabric. Your square ruler’s left edge should be close to the left edge of the fabric but inside the edge. The fabric left exposed is what will be cut off.
Place a long rotary ruler to the left of the square ruler, lining them up, so they’re flush. Make sure the horizontal lines on each ruler precisely line up with the fold. You can now remove the square ruler, ensuring you hold the straight ruler in place. Place your hand at the vertical center, but ensure your fingers are out of the cutting path.
Holding the ruler securely, you can now use the rotary cutter to cut along the ruler’s edge. Your fabric should now be perfectly squared up.
Cutting Long Strips
Now that your edge is squared up, you can begin rotary cutting the strips you’ll need for your project. This is easiest done with a square quilting ruler, as it has straight lines traveling both vertically and horizontally. Always ensure that the side you’re cutting from has been squared up.
To begin, place your square ruler on top of the fabric, lining up the bottom edge with the fold. Then, slide your square ruler over to the left so that the overlap of the ruler and the fabric is the desired width of your fabric strip. For example, if you’re cutting a three-inch strip, the three-inch mark on your square ruler should line up with the outside edge.
Now, you can begin cutting your strips by running the blade across the straight edge of the ruler. Continue this process until you have the desired amount of fabric strips. With every few strips that you cut, check to see if the fabric is still squared up by lining up your square ruler and making sure the fold and the fabric edge still make a perfect 90-degree angle. If not, just square up the fabric again and keep going.
Cutting Bias Strips
Sometimes, you’ll need to cut strips along the bias, which is the 45-degree angle that perfectly intersects the fabric. The bias is usually stretchy, so bias strips are used to make quilt bindings and flexible applique shapes.
To cut a bias strip, align the 45-degree mark on a long rotary ruler with the fold. Hold the ruler in place, and cut along the right edge. Then align the line corresponding to your desired width with the angled edge of the fabric, and align the 45-degree mark with the fold once more. Rotary cut along the right edge once more to create a bias strip.
Rotary cutters are an important tool for quilting and sewing. They allow you to cut crisp, straight strips of fabric with ease. However, rotary cutters can be dangerous, so it’s important to remember to always use them as directed and store them safely. When rotary cutting, be sure to take your time and practice precision to ensure you end up perfectly straight fabric strips every time.
If you love all things quilting and sewing, be sure to visit the Love Sew website for more helpful tutorials, tips, and tricks. We also have an extensive catalog of sewing tools that will help you perfect your craft and create beautiful projects with ease.