Patchworkers are known for cutting up fabric only to sew it back together again. So that's where I'll start.

Rotary Cutters, Mats, Rulers and how to get the best from them.
Following some postings on group sites that I belong to and some discussions with family it was decided that a ‘Technical’ Blog containing information learned and used in many years of teaching Needlecrafts would be of help to many people. The way people learn these crafts today has changed dramatically, the internet is now to first place people go to as groups are either not available in an area, already full, or at a time when it is not convenient to younger people.

I have taught several types of Needlecrafts for over 40 years in all places and to all ages, so I am sure there will be something here for everyone. Even if it is just something that you already knew but had forgotten about.

To begin this first Blog Posting I shall be concentrating on Equipment for Patchwork & Quilting, as many people will have been given bits of equipment as presents at Christmas. Not everything will be included as you will fall asleep on me but enough to get you started or improve what you know.

Rotary Cutters

There are a wide variety of different makes and sizes for different uses and this is the one piece of equipment that I have found people have the most trouble with.

So let’s get rid of the myths first. Every cutter is different but there is one thing that is common to all. You actually DO need to read the instructions about usage! The blade only touches and cuts through the fabric at a tiny place at the bottom of the blade. To be able to cut effectively you need to put pressure on the other side of the cutter at a particular place, this is usually where there are indications or small raised lines somewhere on the housing.

Blades need to be at 90 degrees, i.e. upright, to the fabric along the side of the ruler, not at an angle.

There are 3 basic sizes of Blades available:
45mm (the most used size)

Handles can be either straight from the blade housing or on either side, depending on Right or Left Handed, preference and these can be easier to use for those with less strength in their arms or hands.
There are also a variety of speciality cutters available for specific techniques and other blade attachments but more of those another time.

Self Healing Mats

These are used in conjunction with Rotary Cutters so that you can cut safely without damaging the surface you are cutting on.

Again, there are several different manufacturers and sizes but the most useful as a starter or all round mat is the A2 (24” x 18”) this is large enough to be able to cut from a double width piece of fabric.

The majority of mats have inches marked on one side and centimetres on the other. They can warp for many reasons, not being stored flat, heat, over use, being used too often on a non-level surface and for these reasons it is unwise to rely on their measurements for complete accuracy.

Prespex Rulers

Once again there are so many manufacturers and sizes that a whole book could be written on these alone. So for all of those reading this who are beginners this is the size that I have always recommended for my new students and a reason why.

6” x 24”

Now the why and why the 6” and not the 6½”. When you are starting out, or even if you are not, it is unlikely that you will have complete uninterrupted time in which to persue your hobby. So things will be picked up and put down with all durations of interruptions in between. On so many occasions I have know people pick up the ruler without actually looking to see if they are using the whole inch side or the half inch side and mis cut whatever it is they are cutting.

As with the mat size, the 24” part of the ruler will allow the user to cut from the width of the folded fabric, but it will also allow you to cut to a depth of 24” across the fabric.

Every one that I know of also has 30°, 45° and 60° angles marked on them.

Whichever size ruler you use one thing remains the same. It is necessary to hold the ruler where the fabric is to stop the fabric from moving. An easy example of this is a narrow strip of fabric, for example 1” wide, that needs to be cut into smaller pieces. When the ruler is placed on top in the desired position it is necessary to put pressure on where the fabric is not either side of it, or it is likely to move!

To end this posting I will share with you some tips for improving your Rotary Cutting that I have developed and learned over the years.

To be able to cut accurately you need to think of your body as just another piece of equipment. Sounds crazy doesn’t it??? But how many people stand with the line the need to cut in the centre or close to the centre of their body??? To get the cutter to accurately line up with the side of the ruler is very difficult from that position.

Move your body so that your hip, shoulder, arm, wrist are all in alignment with the side of the ruler and the cutter. That way you are putting the pressure on both the cutter and the ruler in the desired place to cut smoothly and evenly.

Also, only cut where you have pressure on the ruler. When you have reached the point where you no longer hold the ruler, carefully walk you hand up to the next section, without taking your hand off the ruler. Don’t forget the last little bit!!! This is where people most often take the pressure off the ruler, but not the cutter, and as a consequence the ruler will move.

Stay hold of the ruler, put the cutter down and then move the other fabric away. If there are any uncut sections, DO NOT run the cutter back and forth, just press the blade straight down to cut through the threads. Sometime you may need to do this more than once.

For safety reasons only ever cut away from you and always re cover the blade after making a cut.

This information is taken from “Solid Foundations” a beginners course in Patchwork & Quilting by Rosemary E. Hillman, latest edition © 2012