A Cut Above: Everything You Need to Know About a Rotary Cutter, Why You Should Get One, and Quilting and Sewing Projects for Them.
We are all imbued with a sense of creativity, and few pastimes unleash that spirit more than crafting.
On the one hand, it represents the ability to take a few tools and raw materials and transform them into colourful manifestations of imagination and meaning that warm the heart and fire the soul.
On the other hand, there’s something soothing on the surface level about the tactile feel of smooth or soft fabric between your fingers.
Few crafts “thread the needle” between those lofty ideas and tactile reality quite like quilting. Quilts allow us to sew together different patches of life into a greater whole.
They can keep us warm in winter and warm the heart as we pass them down through families for generations to come.
In an age where so much can seem digital, immediate, and ephemeral, the simple tactile pleasure of a well-worn well-sewed multi generational quilt is starker than ever.
Of course, before you can get quilting, you have to get the right tools for the job, and that’s where rotary cutters come in.
After all, the process of cutting and sewing fabric requires precision.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what rotary cutters are, what supplies you’ll want and need to get started sewing and quilting with them, how to use them, and some of the best projects you can explore while sewing together your patchwork of creative ideas.
Rotary Cutter 101
Before we get any further, let’s take a closer look at what rotary cutters are.
As the name would suggest, these are fabric cutters that boast a circular rotating blade.
Rolling them back and forth over the fabric in question allows you to cut it smooth and easy, as if you were using a pizza cutter.
Rotary cutters are also extremely agile and can be used for everything from straight lines to smooth curves.
It can also cut several layers at once, which is what makes it so ideal for quilting. What’s more, it can do this without tearing the sensitive fibres, ensuring a smooth cut every time.
Imagine trying to cut several quilted squares at once with a pair of scissors. You might be able to do it, but you’ll need to balance them in one hand while cutting with the other, which can produce jagged, uneven cuts.
By contrast, when you work with a rotary cutter, you simply slide the blade along the fabric, and voila.
The blades themselves can come in a variety of different sizes, with 18 mm, 45 mm, and 60 mm being among the most common.
Fabric for Projects
Next, you’ll want to make sure that you have the right fabric for your project. Which is right for you will naturally depend on the type of project you choose to an extent. Still, there are some quilting fabrics that stand apart, including:
This is by far one of the most versatile and popular choices for quilting projects of all kinds.
It is soft and relatively easy to cut, though it can be prone to shrinkage if you aren’t careful when washing it.
On the plus side, it is less likely to bleed colours than other fabrics.
It is a bit heavier than other fabrics, and can be used to make everything from quilts to pillows to placemats and beyond.
Another great choice for quilting, linen is much more absorbent than cotton and is a lot cooler.
If you’re looking to cut and sew squares for a quilt that breathes well, this can be a good choice.
It offers a more textured look, which can prove problematic for those who prefer a smooth surface on which to cut, but it does add a nice aesthetic flair when used properly.
This fabric comes in a wide range of different prints, making it a great choice for those looking to introduce different patterns and textures into their quilts.
It is also easy to sew with other fabrics, making it a great choice for multi-fabric quilts.
Flannel is extremely soft, making it a great choice for bedtime and baby quilting projects.
For those looking for a silky soft fabric that’s lightweight, fashionable, and perfect for quilting and clothes-making alike, look no further.
It can go well with cotton to give it some extra weight, and can be used as a quilt top or backing.
Cutting Righty Versus Lefty
Just as you might stand on different sides of the wicket while batting in cricket, and grip the bat in different ways, you do the same when it comes to rotary cutting.
It is essential that you get this right, or you won’t have a comfortable or accurate cutting experience.
Try swinging a bat in a right-handed fashion as a lefty – or cutting fabric in a left-handed fashion as a righty.
Properly aligning your finger and thumb is essential for making sure that you cut the fabric evenly.
Your index finger should be extended along the top of the handle, with your thumb pressed on the side well away from the blade, and your other three fingers folded along the grip.
Besides gathering the supplies for the quilt itself, there are a few extra supplies that you’ll need to have on hand before you can start cutting, starting with rulers.
Since one of the biggest selling points of rotary cutters is that they can cut a lot of fabric in a straight line, you want to make sure that that’s the case, and to do that, you’ll want to have a ruler.
Although these are typically used for making sure that you cut straight, there are also curved rulers available that can make it easier to make smooth curved cuts.
Then there are pattern weights. These are just what they sound like, weighted materials used to keep the fabric you are cutting weighted down flat on the cutting mat.
This can make it a lot easier to cut fabric in a neat and accurate way. These can often be purchased from sewing stores.
On the other hand, anything from books to bags of rice or anything that will not move and keep the fabric in place as well will do the trick. Next, you’ll want some safety gloves.
Remember, that blade is pretty sharp, so every piece of extra protection you can get is valuable.
That said, you also need to make sure that your fingers are free enough to operate the cutter, so the gloves need to strike a balance between thickness and dexterity.
Finally, it’s always a good idea to have some spare blades on hand.
In addition to ensuring that you grip the rotary cutter the right way, you’ll also need to make sure you are using it in a safe fashion.
First, you’ll want to make sure that the cutter in question has a safety latch that can lock the cutter in place.
This can reduce the potential for accidents. In addition, you’ll want to make sure that you have a mat.
The best rotary cutter blades 45mm in size (or, indeed, of any other size) are extremely sharp, and can be re-sharpened if they ever start to dull.
As a result, you don’t want to simply press them against the quilt and a table top unless you want to wind up with deep gashes in the latter, with all the safety issues that can arise as well.
A rotary cutter and mat combo is thus essential for making sure that the latter keeps the former from cutting through table top surfaces.
Finally, it’s worth noting that many blades are retractable.
This is good, since it allows you to pull and lock the blade in when you aren’t using it, lowering the risk of an accident even further.
Prewashing and Preparation
Before you can cut the fabric for your new project, you’ll want to make sure it’s properly washed and prepared.
You hardly want to sew together filthy squares of fabric.
On the other hand, anyone who has ever worked with fabric knows that different fabrics can be extremely finicky when it comes to soap, water, and the right way to clean them.
You’ll thus want to take great care when prewashing your fabric in such a way as to make sure they’re nice and clean without ruining them.
Some things to keep in mind when prewashing your fabric before using your rotary cutter include:
When machine washing, don’t mix different colours, such as red and blue
Starch and press your fabric before cutting it
Cut away any loose threats after washing it
Use medium settings when drying the fabrics, as higher settings can cause wrinkles
Take them out of the dryer as soon as they are done
A Quick Guide to Rotary Cutting
Now that your fabric has been properly washed and prepared, it is time to get down to the cutting process itself.
To start with, you’ll want to make sure that the fabric is laid out on the mat perpendicular to the ruler.
Fold the pieces of fabric into the shapes in which you wish to cut them. Some mats will have lines running horizontally, which you can line up with a vertical ruler, or vice versa.
This method of precise measurement will make it that much easier to make precise cuts.
You may also want to take this opportunity to pin the fabric in place. This can be useful for keeping folds in place while cutting.
Now that you have everything lined up perfectly, it’s time to start cutting with your rotary cutter.
Take it and press it firmly against the fabric at a space where it meets the ruler without cutting into the latter.
You want to make sure that you cut with a smooth, even stroke – too abrupt and you may tear the fabric, especially more delicate ones.
The entire time you are cutting, you’ll want to make sure you are doing so with the fabric parallel to the ruler and at a 90-degree angle to any secondary rulers or other measures you are using to measure the fabric lengthwise or otherwise.
If you are cutting with a curved ruler, make sure to take it extra slow in following its contours.
What to Look for in Cutters
One of the first decisions you need to consider when choosing different types of rotary blades is the blade diameter.
As mentioned above, these come in several different sizes, each of which may be better suited to different projects.
As a general rule, the wider the size of the blade, the easier it is to cut more fabric with a single cut.
On the other hand, just as larger cars can be less manoeuvrable than their smaller, swifter counterparts, the same holds true with rotary blades.
This, in turn, can make it harder to use these cutters, especially when it comes to cutting special shapes.
In fact, if intricate cutting is your goal, you’ll want to look for a smaller cutter. The golden mean tends to be 45 mm.
The best rotary cutter blades in that 45 mm size are big enough to cut several fabric squares at once while still being manoeuvrable enough to create special shapes.
By contrast, 18 mm can be good for the most intricate details while 60 mm can be useful for cutting through especially thick fabrics or huge stacks of fabric.
Then, there’s the question of the material from which the blade is fashioned. The best blades may be a bit pricier than inexpensive ones, but as with so much in life, you get what you pay for.
Not only do higher end blades cut better, but they don’t wear out nearly as fast, meaning you’ll save money in the long run from not having to purchase replacement blades as often.
Carbon steel and tungsten are two of the most popular materials for rotary blades.
They are used for both Fiskars and Olfa rotary cutter options.
That said, whether it’s an Olfa or Fiskars rotary cutter, or other models such as those listed on this site, they will wear out faster if you run over pins.
For that reason, you’ll want to be careful to try and avoid rolling the blade over the pins while cutting.
You’ll want to make sure the handle is ergonomic and comfortable, since you’ll be using it to apply a fair amount of pressure and may use it for hours at a stretch.
Some models allow you to add attachments to the handle or otherwise personalise your grip.
For an electric rotary cutter, you’ll want to look for models with long battery life.
Some handles are specially designed to fit comfortably into the hands of those who suffer from arthritis or similar issues.
Few things are more important than the sharpness of the blade itself.
You can use tin foil to sharpen blades in a pinch by simply running them over pieces that have been folded several times over.
That said, for a more long-term solution you should really look for a proper blade sharpener.
A few things for beginners to keep in mind:
- Make sure you don’t overtighten the blade. This is a common mistake for beginners, and it’s understandable why – after all, the last thing you want is for a sharp rolling blade to fly off loose. However, rotary blades need to, well, rotate, and overtightening the screw that holds them in place can get in the way of that.
- At the same time, you don’t want to leave the blades too loose, either. Check your blade before using it, lightly applying pressure as you cut test fabric. If the blade is wobbly, it’s probably too loose.
- That being said, you want to make sure that you don’t apply too much pressure. If it is too hard to cut into a stack of fabric, chances are there’s simply too much to be cut at once with that blade. Trying to force the rotary blade can cause tearing or, worse, can cause the blade to slip. You should not have to exert more force than a smooth, rolling motion.
- Make sure the line along which you are cutting is in sight at all times. Ideally, you should position yourself directly above your rotary cutter and ruler so you can look directly down at your work.
- Pattern weights, as mentioned above, can be extremely useful for making sure that the fabric doesn’t flop around while cutting it.
- Always check to make sure that the safety lock is in place when you set your rotary blade down or store it for later use.
13 Great Rotary Cutter Quilting Projects
Once you have all the materials and know how to use a rotary cutter the right way, you’ll be able to move on to the fun stuff!
With your rotary fabric cutter in hand, you can complete projects such as these listed below.
1. Use Them in Sewing
When the first rotary blades from Olfa hit the scene back in 1979, they were immediately put to work in tandem with other sewing materials.
There are plenty of great rotary cutter sewing projects to attempt, including many of the quilts and clothing items listed below.
What is key in combining the two is making sure your cuts match the places where you plan on sewing the components together.
The more “seamless” this appears, literally and figuratively, the better.
2. Christmas Plaid Ornaments
Crafting, quilting, and Christmas – what could be better?
This is a perfect example of how you can take different quilted materials and bring them together for a burst of holiday cheer.
For example, you might wish to make some plaid Christmas balls. The fabric for these can be curled around Styrofoam balls to create some crafty ornaments.
Grab your rotary cutter and mat along with the plaid fabric in question and start cutting strips about half an inch long.
Take some glue and stick the end of one strip to the Styrofoam ball, and then wrap the rest of the strip around it as well, gluing the second end in place.
Continue this process until the ball is completely covered. To give this a craftier and more playful look, don’t just wrap all the strips in a single direction.
Instead, wrap them in different directions, creating an interplay between the different plaid patterns, gluing each strip in place in turn.
Next, use your rotary cutter to cut out an eight-inch strand of ribbon, which you can then tie into a knot and place on the ball, giving you a neat area from which to hang it on the tree.
3. Creating Costumes
One thing to keep in mind when crafting costumes with your rotary cutter is that you’ll likely need to cut and sew several different pieces of fabric together. Tempting as it may be to cut them all in a single slice, you might want to be a bit more cautious and instead do them one type of fabric at a time. As mentioned above, different fabrics have different textures and thicknesses, and a thicker piece will require more pressure to cut through then a thin one. The same is true of smoother, sleeker materials such as voile as opposed to thicker fabrics such as linen.
4. Scrappy Baby Quilt
If you have a bouncing bundle of joy in your home, you can help keep them warm with a lovely baby quilt. Since these are practically rotary cutters’ raison d’etre, they’re an excellent choice for getting scrappy baby quilts done in style. You’ll want to make use of various uses of fabric. Each quilt will be different, but in total you should use your rotary cutter to cut many strips of at least a couple different lengths in different colours and patterns. These different lengths, colours, and patterns overlapping with one another is what gives this quilt a “scrappy” look. Vary the lengths, colours, and strips as you stitch them together. As you sew the quilt together, make sure that they do not become distorted over those different lengths.
5. Zig-Zag Quilt
In contrast to the clashing different lengths of fabric used in the above quilt, you’ll want to make use of your rotary cutter’s precision cutting ability to create strips of exactly five inches for this quilt. Cut them out and then sew them together in a zig-zag pattern with whatever kind of background and border you prefer. This quilt has a ton of customisable potential.
6. Quilted Towels and Rotary Cutter Holders
If you’re looking to introduce some quilted style into the kitchen you can create some quilted towels that will fit with your décor perfectly. You’ll want to make sure that you are cutting and sewing fabric that will be absorbent enough to soak up water while still being able to be dried out properly. In addition, you might wish to craft a holder for your rotary cutter. This project can be undertaken either by sewing different folds of quiltable material together or with a special partial no-sew method that involves other methods of keeping your cutter snug and safe when you aren’t using it.
7. Patch Quilts
This is basically an amalgamation of all those different quilting ideas mentioned above. Mix and match different fabrics and colours to create eye-catching contrast. Square up the fabric and cut them into even squares. This can be accomplished especially easily by combining the mat and ruler into a surface that offers the ruled lines of the former and the firmness of the latter.
8. Re-purposing Old Clothes
If you have some old clothes lying around and don’t plan on wearing them again, you can recycle them into DIY handbags or totes. That said, jeans are obviously going to be thicker and require a lot more pressure to work on than, say, your average T-shirt or jumper. You’ll thus want to make sure you are careful about how much pressure you apply and not cut different clothes together with your rotary cutter. The same goes for sewing them back together afterward. Cut everything into pieces in separate piles, and then sew them together for whatever kind of craft you’re trying to create.
9. Quilted Key Fob
A fabric key fob can be a great way to bring a bit of colour with you wherever you go. Key fobs can also be useful for helping you distinguish between similar-looking keys. Colour coding the key fobs can be hugely beneficial to this point. How big you choose to make the key fob is up to you. Just make sure that it is still small enough to fit easily into your pocket.
10. Quilted Placemats
This is about as easy as it gets when it comes to a beginner rotary cutter quilting and sewing project. All you need to do is cut out the lengths of fabric and sew them together in whatever rectangular or circular placemat-sized shape suits your fancy. You can cut two large swaths of fabric, sew them together, and then fill in whatever quilting and detailing you want within those borders. Alternatively, you can quilt it as you would a blanket, but on a much smaller scale, attaching individual squares one at a time.
11. Paper Crafting
If you have a rotary paper cutter on hand, you can create a wide range of paper crafts, ranging from scrapbooks to holiday cards to origami and everything in between. As with the fabric quilts, you want to make smooth, even cuts. Instead of sewing things together, you simply use glue.
12. Quick Home DIY Work
The essence of DIY is making something that requires effort look effortless and natural – and that’s precisely what is called for in the smooth, even cuts you make in a rotary cutter. As a result, rotary cutters can be a valuable addition to your DIY toolbox. For example, you can use it to cut some slices of fabric to patch over an old armchair. Alternatively, you can create quilted curtains for your kitchen or else take your current kitchen curtains and slice them up for quilting material. Whether you’re looking to make a pillowcase for your bedroom or to cut out strips for your wallpaper, a rotary cutter can give you the smooth, easy cuts you need.
13. Quilted Hand Warmer
As cold and wet weather comes upon us, we find ourselves wanting a way to keep our hands warm. This can be a quick and easy way to achieve that. Cutting many slices of thick fabric and then sewing them together can give you a well-insulated hand warmer.
Where does all of this leave us? It leaves us with a ton of crafts that can be accomplished with rotary cutting and a better understanding of what they are, how they work, and what they can do for you.
Of course, that latter point will always be up to your particular tastes. With the incredible range of products listed above, it should be clear that rotary blades are incredibly versatile.
All it takes are a few strips of quilt-able material, some sewing yarn, a blade, and your imagination to get started.
Even so, none of that can happen if you don’t take care of your blade.
Make sure it is kept sharp at all times when using it.
Investing in sturdy carbon steel and tungsten blades can be a great way of ensuring that you don’t have to constantly replace your blades.
Above all, you want to make sure you have the right tool for the job.
Check the thickness and diameter of the rotary cutter’s blade and make sure it is on par with whatever project you are trying to achieve.
For straight and curved cuts alike, make sure you have a ruler to guide you.
Lock the blade in place when you aren’t using it, and make sure the handle is a good fit for your hand according to the information for all of these points given above.
With this guide, you can unlock the potential offered by the best rotary cutters in the UK.