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Cutting Tips

Cutting Quilt Fabric with Rotary Cutter, Cutting Mat & Quilting Ruler
By Barb Bergquist

Any experienced quilter knows that the key to easier quilt construction starts with accurate cutting.  So here are some tips to help you when working with your rotary cutter.

  • Work on a hard flat solid surface using a cutting mat made for a rotary cutter.  Make sure the surface is large enough to hold the full size of the cutting mat.  And ideally, you want it at counter height to make it more comfortable for you.
  • Crisp fabrics are always easier to cut so you may want to start by lightly starching your fabric, especially if you have pre-washed it.
  • Always start by squaring the edges of your fabric.  There are multiple ways to do this and each quilter has their favorite.  Find what works best for you to ensure you have a straight edge that you will be working from when you start cutting your pieces.
  • If you are stacking your fabrics to cut multiple layers at once, be sure you are stacking like fabrics.  It is best to stack fabrics from the same fabric line, because we all know that cottons from different lines are not all alike.  Some are thicker, some thinner.  Some are slick, some are coarse.
  • Also don’t stack more layers than what your blade will cut.  Only the 60mm rotary blade will cut 8 layers at once.  The 45mm blade will cut 4-6 layers and the 28mm blade only cuts 2 layers at the most.
  • Clean any dust or lint from your rotary cutter regularly.  This is keep it moving easily and freely.
  • Change your blade as soon as you notice any dullness to it.  Replace a nicked blade immediately.  A sharp blade makes life so much easier, or at least it makes cutting easier!  FYI, you will keep your blade sharp longer if you only use it on fabric; paper and other material tends to dull a blade faster.
  • Make sure your replacement blade is properly installed.  Test it by rolling the blade up your mat.  It should move smoothly, not wobble.  If you have to push it too hard, you may have to back off the screw just a bit so it will move freer.  And most importantly, make sure that you only have one blade installed.  With a multi-blade pack, the blades are packed with oil that may make it hard to separate and even detect whether you have more than one blade loaded.  Take the time to check a second time to ensure that only one blade is installed in your rotary cutter to save you a headache later!  Also, a quick word about disposing of old blades – for safety, wrap them in thick tape or sandwich it with cardboard.  Then you don’t have to worry about anyone slicing their hands while looking for something else in the trash.
  • As with any sharp tool, always cut away from your body.  Also cut while standing – not only may your cuts be a little off, your perspective is different from a sitting position.
  • While cutting, apply an even pressure.  If you have to bear down to make the cut then it may be time to replace the blade.
  • Always, always, always, hold the blade perpendicular to the ruler.  If you tilt it, you will get an inaccurate cut, and you may even move the ruler as you cut.
  • Try to use the same brand of ruler when switching templates.  Don’t chance an inaccurate cut to minor differences between ruler brands.  Also use grippers on your rulers if they don’t already have them to reduce any slippage as you cut.
  • Don’t hesitate to use the various sight lines on your ruler.  Check the placement in two or more places to verify that you will make your cut exactly where you want it.  The sight lines help significantly with this.
  • Hold your ruler with your fingertips to reduce ruler slip.  Using the flat of your hand on the ruler can cause a slight shift.  Some quilters like to place their pinky finger off the ruler to help stabilize the ruler.  If you have the stretch in your fingers, try it.  You may find it helpful.
  • Don’t cut any further than the position across from the tips of your fingers that are holding the ruler.  If you need to move your hand up your ruler, keep your cutter in position and “walk” your fingers up to the next position then continue cutting.
  • Lift your ruler and move it to the next position.  Sliding it along the fabric can shift the fabric slightly so that you could end up with a piece that is a little off.
  • When you need to, turn your mat rather than your fabric.  The less you must reposition your fabric, the more consistent the cuts will be. 
  • Also, don’t forget to clean up your edges ever so often to ensure you are working from a straight line and not gradually going off on an angle.
  • Last, though we all will likely do this without thinking, cut from your dominant side.  Though it may be tempting to use the other hand, just the discomfort of using the non-dominant hand could cause inaccuracies that could become very troublesome later.

One final tip as wrap-up.  Remember that the blade of your rotary cutter is as sharp as a razor blade.  So avoid any accidents by always closing your cutter after use.  It is best if you close it after every cut, and the best way to do this is with a rotary cutter that automatically closes when you release the handle.  And if your rotary cutter has a lock, engage the lock before storing it.  I won’t talk about the injuries you will avoid, but I will remind you that you will protect the fabrics you are working with from accidental cuts. 

That’s a wrap for today’s tips.  Happy cutting!

Barb Bergquist along with husband, Ron, own A Block Away Quilt Shop.  A dedicated quilter with more than 25 years of experience, she is now actively sharing her love of quilting through the work in her shop.

Contact Us:

Phone: (956) 638-1961
Location: A Block Away Quilt Shop
                 2706 N. 10th Street
                 McAllen, TX 78501
Hours: Mon-Sat: 9AM-9PM, Sun: 10AM-6PM

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