ROTARY CUTTERS ENTERED THE SEWING SCENE ABOUT 30 YEARS AGO as quilting tools to quickly cut trips, triangles and squares. Rotary cutters, rulers and mats have also proven themselves very useful for garment and home-dec sewing. Be sure to add this handy tool to your sewing kit.
A rotary cutter is similar to a pizza wheel. It has a very sharp circular blade that rotates and is capable of slicing through eight fabric layers with an accurate, clean cut. Rotary cutters have a built-in blade guard system to protect you from the blade when not in use. Some guards are clicked into place and others automatically move out of the way when you apply cutting pressure.
Rotary cutters and blades are available in different sizes: 18 mm, 28 mm, 45 mm, 60 mm and 65 mm. The larger blades are good for cutting through multiple fabric layers and making long, straight cuts. Smaller blades are better for cutting around curves. Small blades become dull more quickly than large blades because of the smaller circumference. To start, purchase a 28 mm and a 45 mm or 60 mm rotary cutter. If you can only purchase one, buy the larger size.
There are also decorative blades, such as pinking, squiggle, scallop, etc. When using them don't try to keep the blade flush against the ruler. It's very easy to nick the ruler with the protruding blade, causing damage to both.
Replacement blades are available. It's a good idea to have extra blades on hand—buy the same brand as your cutter. Follow the manufacturer's directions to replace the blades for your cutter. If you accidentally roll the blade over a pin, corner of a ruler or other hard object, the blade will be damaged and leave portions of the fabric uncut. Blades also become dull with use—if a blade hasn't been changed in awhile, it's probably time to do so. Dispose of old blades in the packaging from the new blade to protect unsuspecting trash collectors.
Treat your rotary cutter as you'd treat your scissors—use it only for fabric. If you want to cut paper, buy a separate cutter for that purpose.
A rotary cutter is used in conjunction with a rotary-cutting mat that's placed on a flat surface. Using a rotary cutter without a mat will damage the blade and destroy your work surface. Many mats are self-healing. This means that after a cut is made the small slit in the mat comes back together. The surface stays smooth and can be used over and over. The mat also provides a good work surface when using a craft knife.
Extend the ruler beyond the fabric edges to begin cutting at the edge. If you align the ruler with the fabric edge, you might nick the blade on the ruler corner.
Mats come in a variety of sizes from 6"x8" to 40"x 72". Most have printed grids that are helpful for measuring and squaring fabric. Some mats fold for storage or come in sections that interlock together to form a larger surface. A mat that's at least 24" in one dimension is good for cutting yardage—one-half the fabric width fits in the 24" dimension. If you plan on cutting out garments you'll want at least a 24"x 36" mat so you can cut most garment sections without having to reposition them over the mat. Buy the largest mat you can afford; it will last a long time.
Another rotary cutting tool is a ruler, which is used to square fabric, measure each cut and guide the cutter. There are many ruler shapes and sizes. Most are made of 1⁄8"-thick acrylic printed with inch marks and grids. Most rulers also have lines for cutting 30°, 45° and 60° angles. Always check the marked lines on a new ruler to be sure they're accurate. The imprinted lines aren't always fine lines. To be consistent, align the same side of the ruler line with the fabric edge each time you cut for accurate, same-width strips.
Start your ruler collection with a few basic sizes, such as a 6"x 24", a 2"x 18" or 3"x 18", and a 12"-square ruler. Add to your collection as your experience and needs grow.
Matts and rulers come in a variety of sizes.
Directions are given for right-handed cutting. For left-handed cutting, place the fabric on the opposite side of the ruler as described.
1. Prewash the fabric in the same manner as you plan to care for the finished project. Press the fabric to remove any wrinkles.
2. Cut a single fabric layer when you only want one piece. Cut double, triple or quadruple layers for multiples of one piece.
3. For doubled layers, fold the fabric in half matching the selvages so it's smooth. If your mat is less than 22" wide and you’re cutting multiples, fold the fabric in half again by bringing the fold to the selvages to make four layers. Place the fabric on the cutting mat with the fold at the top of the mat and the bulk of the fabric to your right.
4. Square the fabric raw edge by aligning one edge of the 12"-square ruler (or an 81⁄2"x 11” sheet of paper) with the fold and placing the adjacent edge about 1" from the fabric raw edge. Abut the 6"x 24" ruler next to the square ruler, overlapping the fabric (A). Place your left hand firmly on the large ruler to keep it from moving and to compress the fabric layers together; remove the square ruler.
5. Hold the cutter in your dominant hand. Keep your arm at a 45° angle from the table and place the rotary blade up against the ruler and perpendicular to the cutting surface. Press firmly as you roll the cutter away from you in one continuous motion (B). The blade must be perpendicular for an accurate cut through all fabric layers.
6. Measure from the squared fabric end and the folded edge for future cuts. Align the desired measure with the fabric edge.
7. Try to position the fabric so you don’t have to reposition it after each cut. Sometimes it's easier to place the ruler in a different direction rather than rearranging the fabric. You can make horizontal cuts—just hold the ruler secure and keep the blade perpendicular to the surface. Avoid making cuts toward you. It can be done, but you can’t hold the cutter accurately for the whole cut and the ruler can slip from the awkwardness of the move. In this case, move the fabric for the next cut. If your cutting mat is small enough and is supporting the fabric, move the whole mat to avoid having to square the fabric again.<
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