Rotary cutting is a true time saver! It makes clean, quick, accurate cuts, but it can be a little intimidating to the uninitiated. With a few instructions and tips, however, you’ll be wielding a rotary cutter with safety and ease, and once you learn how to do it, you'll never look back!
- A Rotary Cutter with a safety lock
- A self-healing cutting mat in the largest size you can fit in your space
- A 6 ½-inch x 24-inch non-slip ruler (It is very important to use a non-slip ruler made for rotary cutting. For your safety, do not attempt to rotary cut with a regular ruler.)
- A 12 ½-inch square non-slip ruler
- Quilt-weight woven cotton fabric that has been washed and dried
Please read through carefully before you begin!
NOTE: These pictures and instructions are for righties. If you're left handed be sure to set up your rotary cutter for left-handed cutting and reverse “left” and “right” in all these directions.
A rotary cutter is basically a razor blade wheel so you need to be extremely careful when handling it. It is highly recommended that you use a rotary cutter with a safety lock. In the above picture, the red safety lock button is pushed to the left, so the lock is engaged. In this position, you can’t squeeze the black lever, which pushes out the blade. To ensure safe handling, always engage the safety lock immediately after cutting.
Here is the cutter and my hand in cutting position. The safety is off and I am squeezing the black lever, which pushes out the blade. My hand and wrist make a nice straight line, and my index finger is pressing against the nonslip section on the top. Some people prefer to keep their index finger on the right side of the cutter or against the black lever, but whichever way you prefer, it's important to keep your wrist straight. This will help prevent a repetitive motion injury.
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, or if the blade is on the ruler, you could seriously cut your ruler hand.
More Safety Tips
Never, ever, ever let one of your fingers hang off of the edge of the ruler as you are cutting.
Keep the rotary cutter away from and out of the reach of children at all times.
Always cut in an away-from-yourself motion! This is very important and something that might not come naturally, so pay close attention. The rotary cutter should only ever move in one direction: away from you!
Neat, Straight Cuts
Always apply constant, even pressure when cutting. You don't have to push super hard but you do have to apply pressure. Don't worry if you need to try a few times before you get it right.
When you’re cutting a long length of fabric, push the ruler down firmly with the whole of your left hand and then inch your hand like an inchworm up the ruler as you cut. This keeps the ruler firmly in place.
Remember to change the blade as soon as it shows signs of becoming dull.
Press the fabric and then fold it selvage to selvage. (Do not press the fold.) Place the folded fabric on the cutting mat with the fold at the bottom and the selvages at the top.
Note: You will not be using the cutting mat grid to measure where to cut, so it doesn't matter where you place the fabric in relation to that grid.
Place the square ruler along the bottom of the fold so that it’s left edge is about 1 ½ inches from the left edge of the fabric and so that a horizontal line near the bottom of the square ruler aligns exactly with the bottom fold.
It doesn't matter what line on the ruler you use, since you're just getting a straight line, not taking a measurement.
Place the long, straight ruler vertically against the left side of the square ruler, being careful not to jostle the square ruler.
Place your hand on the long ruler to anchor it and then remove the square ruler.
Use the rotary cutter to cut along the right side of the long ruler. Discard the resulting strip or save it for another purpose.
The fabric to the right of the ruler is now "squared up" with the fold, meaning that the fold and the cut edge form a 90-degree angle.
The next step in rotary cutting is usually cutting a strip. This strip can either be used in strip piecing, where strips are sewn together along their long sides and then these sewn strips are cut; or the strips can be cut again into rectangles or squares, as I show in the next section.
For this tutorial I cut 3 ½-inch strips, but the same directions apply regardless of the size of your particular strips.
Note about measuring with rotary cutting rulers: The measurements on rotary cutting rulers may seem confusing at first. One side starts with a ½-inch measurement and the grid marks increase by 1 ½-inch increments, while the opposite side starts with a whole inch and progresses in whole inch increments. This means there are a lot of numbers going in different directions. Notice, below, that the fabric is lined up with the 3 ½-inch mark but also an upside down 3-inch mark. It's good to double check that you've lined up to the correct measurement before you cut. It takes a little practice to get the hang of it, but once you do, you'll appreciate all of the markings, I promise!
Place the long ruler on the fabric so that the fabric's left edge lines up with the ruler’s 3 ½-inch marks along the entire length of the fabric, from the fold to the selvages. Use the marks on the bottom horizontal edge of the ruler to make sure the folded side is also perfectly straight. If both the left side and the bottom folded side of the fabric are lined up correctly, you're ready to cut your first strip.
Cut the fabric from fold to selvage and you'll have a 3 ½-inch strip.
Cutting from the Strips
I cut 3 ½-inch squares for this tutorial, but the same instructions can be used to cut any size square or rectangle.
Carefully, without shifting the two layers of fabric, rotate the strip so that it is horizontal with the selvages on the right. Place the long ruler on the fabric so that the ruler’s right edge is just to the left of the selvages. Make sure the ruler is square to the fabric by aligning the fabric’s top and bottom edges with the ruler’s markings.
Cut along the right side of the ruler and discard the selvages.
Carefully, without shifting the two layers of fabric, rotate the strip so that the newly cut edge is on the left.
Lay the long ruler vertically on top of this strip. Line up the left edge
of the fabric with the 3 ½-inch mark on the ruler and make sure that the bottom and top edges also line up straight along the ruler’s markings. Cut along the right side of the ruler.
This cut will result in two perfect 3 ½-inch squares.
Continue to cut pieces of any size all along the strip until you reach the folded edge. Discard (or save for another purpose) the remaining fabric with the fold.
Enjoy your new skill!