Rotary Cutting Basics: Cutting, Upkeep, and Troubleshooting
Rotary cutters allow you to make accurate cuts through multiple layers of fabric with speed and precision and speed. As with many techniques, the more you practice, the easier and more natural the process will become. Practice rotary cutting on fabric scraps until you develop confidence in your cutting accuracy.
To rotary-cut fabrics you need three basic pieces of equipment—a rotary cutter, acrylic ruler, and cutting mat.
A rotary cutter should always be used with a cutting mat designed specifically for rotary cutting. The mat protects the cutting surface and keeps the fabric from shifting while it’s being cut. Cutting mats usually have one side printed with a grid and one side that’s plain. To avoid confusion when lining up fabric with the lines printed on the ruler, some quilters prefer to use the plain side of the mat. Others prefer to use the mat’s grid.
The round blade of a rotary cutter is razor-sharp. Because of this, be sure to use a cutter with a safety guard and keep the guard over the blade or in the locked position whenever you’re not cutting. Rotary cutters are commonly available in multiple sizes; a good all-purpose blade is a 45 millimeter.
How to Hold Your Rotary Cutter
- Hold your cutter with the handle at a comfortable angle to the cutting surface and the exposed silver side of the blade snug against the edge of the ruler.
- Keep even, firm pressure on the rotary cutter while pushing it away from your body. Never cut with the blade moving toward you.
- Bending at the hip rather than at the waist when rotary-cutting is easier and puts less stress on your back and arms.To facilitate this, place your cutting mat on an appropriate-height table or countertop.
Caring For Your Rotary Cutter
- Always store your rotary cutter with the blade closed or locked. Keep it out of the reach of children. Be certain to cut on a clean cutting mat; pins and other hard objects will nick the blade.
- Periodically remove the blade from the cutter and carefully wipe away any lint and residue. Take the cutter apart, one piece at a time, laying out the parts in order. Add one drop of sewing machine oil around the center of the blade before reassembling the cutter.
- Replace blades as needed. Take the cutter apart one piece at a time, laying out the parts in order. Reassemble with a new blade. Dispose of the old blade using the new blade’s packaging.
- High humidity can cause the rotary cutter blade to rust. To prevent this, store your rotary cutter in a cool, dry place.
Tips for Rotary-Cutting Layers of Fabric
- For best results, layer only up to four pieces. More than four layers may mean less precision.
- Before rotary-cutting, use spray sizing or spray starch to stabilize the large fabric pieces.
- Press with an iron to temporarily hold the fabric layers together.
Is your cutter not cutting through all the layers? Check the following:
- Is the blade dull? If so, replace it and carefully dispose of the used one.
- Is there a nick in the blade? You’ll know if you discover evenly spaced uncut threads, the result of a blade section not touching the fabric during each rotation. Replace the blade.
- Did you use enough pressure? If you don’t have a dull blade but still find large areas where fabric layers weren’t cut through cleanly, or where only the uppermost layers were cut, you may not be putting enough muscle behind the cutter. Try cutting fewer fabric layers at a time.
- Is your mat worn out? With extended use, grooves can be worn into your cutting mat, leaving the blade with not enough resistance to make clean cuts through the fabric.