There are two schools of thought about rotary cutters and their use. They’re either loved or hated. The anti’s have never discovered what bliss it is to do without those fiddly templates. They’ve probably had the sort of cutter which is not hand-shaped, which makes your palm hurt and your back ache. Those who love them probably don’t need to read this article, though I've seen some highly dangerous methods at group meetings, so perhaps they do!
Refer to Essential Equipment for more details about the rotary cutting ‘trio’ that is needed, You need the biggest self—healing cutting mat that you can afford, one that will tale a full metre of fabric folded in four. Yes, that’s one enormous advantage of the cutter - you can do several thicknesses at once. If you’re into strip piecing, the bigger the better. The best mats are double-sided, with inches one side and centimetres on the other, allowing you to follow projects in either measurement.
The smaller cutters are not so practical for cutting through several thicknesses of fabric. For many, the most comfortable and effective to use are the hand-shaped ones manufactured by Fiskars and Olfa. Depending on how much cutting you do, the blade sharpness will dull in time. There is a gadget on the market to sharpen them at home. Take great care when changing blades - they’re as sharp as surgical instruments. Alternatively use one of the blade exchange / sharpening companies.
Personally, I enjoy using a long metal draughtsman’s ruler - rather expensive, but worth it in the long run. They have a rubber strip on the back which grips the cloth very well. The transparent rulers are less expensive and a great aid to accuracy. Set up the width you want by placing the line of measurement on the plastic ruler immediately over the edge of the cloth. Then place your metal ruler against the edge of the plastic one. Hold it very firmly, with thumb and fingers spread, and remove the plastic one. You can then cut against the metal edge with no chance of taking a slice out of it. I became the less-than-proud owner of a wavey-edged plastic ruler before I learned that trick!
Before you start, make sure your fabric is ironed and folded absolutely straight, or you will finish with a very kinky strip.
Cutting the fabric
Safe use of the cutter
To cut squares, first cut the fabric into strips adding 1/2in seam allowance in total (1/4 + 1/4in)
to the finished measurement and then cut crossways along the strip into squares.
Right angle triangles are a piece of cake. These are made by cutting a strip to the width required.(One difference is that you must always add 7/8in seam allowance to the finished size.)
From your strip, cut as many squares as you need. Place each square in turn with diagonal corners against a line on the mat, place the ruler along the line and cut. Simple as that. Other varieties of triangle can be cut using the marked angle lines on the mat. It’s better in this case, in the interests of accuracy to cut only one square at a time.
First published in Patchwork Basics 2002
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