Using a Rotary Cutter is a time saver for all sewing projects. Period. The cuts you make are quick, clean and accurate. You can cut multiple layers at the same time, and your hand won’t get as tired as with scissors.
If you have never used a rotary cutter, it can be a bit intimidating. But, I’m so happy that I left the intimidation behind me six months ago. Why has no one ever told me to use this? All those years with jagged edges. These instructions will give newbies a head start, but experienced users will also find value in these tips and tricks.
These are my rotary cutters.
The larger the blade size, the more fabric you can cut and the faster you can cut it. If you know you'll be cutting yards and yards of fabric, you'll probably want to reach for a 60 mm rotary cutter. A 28 mm rotary cutter is used mainly for making small cuts or for cutting curves. If you want to have one rotary cutter that will be sufficient for nearly all projects, your best bet is the 45 mm. This is large enough to do a lot of cutting, but still manageable when you're trying to do more intricate work.
A symmetrical design provides comfortable use and control for right- or left-handed users, and a sliding button extends a blade guard/safety shield for safety when not in use. Additionally, it has an easy grip handle with ridges on the edges to grip your index finger while cutting.
If you‘re going to use a rotary cutter, you need a cutting mat. To help you choose from all the options, I have 2 tips for you: 1. If you have the budget, get a self healing one. 2. If you will use it for garment sewing, get a big one. My big one is 34” by 22”.
If you have a mat and a cutter, you can start, but there are some optional aids that will make your cutting life easier and safer.
1. Rulers also come in different sizes, brands, straight, and curved. A 24” x 6” ruler is a good allround size. You can also get a non-slip one.
You can also get a handle for your ruler. With this little thing, you can grab your ruler quickly, move it around easily, and put it in the exact position needed for marking and cutting.
2. Pattern Weights can be used to hold fabric in place and further increase the accuracy of your cutting. You can buy them in your sewing store or you can look for heavy items that you have on hand. Here’s an easy tutorial to make pattern weights yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PO6Ji0tMTeY
These pattern weights are home-made – they are basically little bags which are filled with rice..
3. Safety gloves. Really? Yes… a rotary cutter is basically a razor blade wheel. So you need to be extremely careful when handling it. If you only put one glove on, put it on the hand you are not cutting with.
4. Spare blades Just like with machine needles, you need to have a little stock of blades. If a blade turns out to be too dull for your project, you want to have a new one at hand.
Do’s and Don’ts
If you use your cutter the right way, think about your hand position, and use the right tools, there is nothing to be afraid about.
Most rotary cutters have safety mechanisms. Mine has a plastic safety shield that you can pull back when you want to cut. If you stop, you just push back the protective blade guard. Others have a safety lock button to prevent the lever from pushing out the blade.
Get in the good habit of closing the safety shield after each and every cut so that the blade is protected by the plastic cover. As you pull the cutter up from the fabric, close it right then and there so it can’t fall to cut your fabric, bare feet, or even worse– a pet or child. In general, keep the rotary cutter away from and out of the reach of children at all times, and store it safely.
Use a sharp blade. Anything sharp can dull with use and it becomes a much more dangerous tool. You will need to apply more pressure and lose control. Also, a clean cut heals better :-)
Change the blade as soon as it shows signs of becoming dull. You can tell when it's time to replace the blade because it'll start leaving little bits where the fabric is still connected.
This is how you hold a cutter:
My hand and wrist make a nice straight line, my index finger is pressing against the nonstop section on the top. It’s important to keep your wrist straight to prevent a repetitive motion injury.
Always "cut away from your body”, so your cutter should only move away from you, never ever pull it towards you.. sometimes this may not come naturally but always keep this in mind.
Stand up while cutting. This way you can put your body weight into the cut and you can see where the blade is going.
I am a rightie. If you are left handed, be sure to set up your cutter for left-handed cutting. Unlike scissors, you don’t need to purchase a special right-handed or left-handed version, since all cutters convert to either easily. As mine has a symmetrical design, I don’t even need to convert it.
Always make sure the blade is facing towards you. Keep your head directly over your cutter as you roll it forward in order to clearly see your cutting line
Cutting With a Ruler
Blade position: make sure to place the blade against the edge of the ruler before you start cutting. If the blade is too far away, the cut will be uncontrolled and wobbly. If the blade is on the ruler, you could seriously cut your ruler hand.
Never ever let one of your fingers hang off the edge of the ruler as you are cutting, and don’t put your hand too close to the blade.
Always apply a constant, even pressure both on your ruler and on your cutter when cutting. Don’t push super hard on your cutter or you will lose control, but you do have to apply some pressure to ensure a clean slice.
If you don’t have a non-slip ruler, you can put your pinky on the mat, behind the ruler, to stabilize.
As I’m not a quilter, I’m using my ruler and cutter for straight patterns, strips for straps, and strips for home-made bias tape.
You can cut through more than one layer, but I never cut through more than 3 or 4 layers at a time. Some people do it, but I don’t recommend it, especially in the beginning.
Align your ruler so that the left edge of the fabric lines up with the ruler’s marks along the entire length of the fabric. If you want to cut a 2” strip. Place the 2” line ON TOP of the fabric and cut. If this line is just OFF the fabric you will miss a thread or two.
For long strips, move your hand up the ruler as you cut.
I use a 45 mm rotary cutter for my straight lines. It cuts easily through multiple layers of fabric.
Cutting Without a Ruler
If you’re using your rotary cutter for garment sewing, you won’t always need a ruler.
A rotary cutter can handle different types of fabric without causing shifting or distortion in pattern lines, which can occur with scissors. Cutting with a rotary cutter significantly reduces fraying while cutting. Plus, the rotary cutter rolls right through slippery or stretchy fabrics like silk, satin and knits more smoothly than sewing shears, which can hack at the material and leave behind jagged edges. I find that I have much greater control and go faster than with scissors.
The rotary cutter cuts without shifting things around, so it's easy to get a perfect edge. I hate pinning and cutting with scissors (I even got a blister once from cutting, and my hand ached). Cutting is my least favorite step in sewing, so anything that makes it easier is a plus. A rotary cutter allows me to simply lay out my pattern, put down some pattern weights, then cut cut cut!
Use medium sized or small rotary cutters like the 18 or 28mm for curved cuts, tight corners, and trimming seams.
For pattern cutting, you have 2 options: You copy the pattern pieces with your fabric marker and go over the lines with your rotary cutter, or you put the pattern pieces on your fabric with fabric weights, and you have to know you’re taking a risk when you cut directly along the edges of your pattern. You can accidentally cut the pattern, and if you want to use your pattern several times, it might degrade.
I take this risk because: 1. I don’t often use patterns twice 2. I never cut the original patterns up. You never know if you want to use them in another size. I always hope I will need a smaller size next season :-) I usually copy the size I want on pattern paper. And 3. Most of the patterns I use don’t have seam allowance which gives me a safety border :-)
Changing the Blades
Change your blades regularly!
Blade sizes: The most common sizes of blades are 18mm, 28mm, 45mm, and 60mm. Remember that each rotary cutter is created for a specific blade size. So when you are looking for extra blades, be sure to get those that correspond to the size of your cutter.
To replace the blade: turn the rotary cutter over in the palm of your hand and remove the nut from the back. Then remove the washer and put it on your mat in a cowboy hat position. Pull the metal bolt from the center of the rotary cutter and remove the plastic ring.
Replace it with a new, sharper blade. Put the ring and the bolt back in the handle. Replace the washer, making sure that it is seated properly. Replace the nut, and screw it in fingertight. Now you’re ready to begin your next project.