How to use a rotary cutter for sewing and where to buy one. These are my “must-have” item for my craft room!
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How to Use a Rotary Cutter
Rotary cutters are a game changer for cutting out fabric faster and easier. The hardest thing about using them is making sure you’re safe. I’ll get more into safety tips in a bit, but first lets talk about how to use them.
First you put down a self healing cutting mat. Without the mat, you would cut your table up. It would be akin to taking a sharp kitchen knife and running it over your surface.
Second, lay down your fabric.
You’ll either put a sewing pattern on top of the fabric, weighted down with pattern weights (these keep the paper from shifting while you cut), or you’ll use a quilting ruler to cut a straight line.
I recommend a quilting ruler that has the ability to grip the surface a bit… mine tends to move around a bit. Some people stick stuff to the bottom of their ruler to help create more friction and prevent movement.
If you were cutting out fabric for a pattern, you’d just follow around the exterior of the paper fabric, staying close to the pattern but not cutting the paper.
In this picture, I’m cutting out strips of fabric in a straight line so I lined up my quilting ruler. I have approximately 2″ strips that I’m cutting and I can measure that out using my ruler.
I use the ruler as a guide to run my rotary cutter along. It’s very easy to slide your hand in the path of the rotary cutter so make sure your hand stays completely on the ruler and off the path.
Video Demo of a Rotary Cutter
What You Need
You’ll need three items if you want to use a rotary cutter.
You can’t cut with a rotary cutter without a mat underneath- unless you want to leave cut marks all over your table and dull your blades. Personally, I’d suggest getting the biggest mat you can fit/afford. It’s convenient to be able to cut large items like clothing on them. Even if you don’t now, you may eventually want to sew your own clothes.
The quilting ruler is a nice item to have, but you can get away without one. These are used to help cut straight lines. You can line your rotary cutter up next to the ruler and zip right up the line. It’s very convenient (a thin piece of wood can do the same, but might snag your fabric).
Rotary Cutters & the Sizes of Blades
The 45mm blade is good for most projects, but smaller blades will help you get around smaller corners.
Olfa blade sizes come in 18mm, 28mm, 45mm, 60mm.
Replacing Rotary Cutter Blades
These blades, like all blades need to be sharpened or replaced occasionally. When you need to cut over a line more than once, it’s time.
Replacing the Blades
Follow the instructions for your rotary cutter to replace the blades. Usually there is a screw that you can unscrew, pop the blade out (carefully), and replace it with the new blade. Make sure the screw is put back on tight!
Sharpening the Blades
Supposedly you can cut aluminum foil with your rotary cutter to help sharpen the blades.
They also sell rotary cutter blade sharpeners that you can buy.
Personally, I haven’t tried either method, but I need to soon! My blades have seen better days.
Saving Old Blades
Save your old rotary cutter blades to use for paper! They’ll still work well for cutting out patterns and other paper items. I keep my “bad” rotary cutter for paper items and have it labeled “paper use only.”
Store bad blades and dispose of them like you SHOULD for any sharp object. Inside a sealed (preferably baby proof) container.
Did you know you could buy specialized rotary blades, such as pinking shear blades!?! Isn’t that fun! I haven’t tried them, but they make it to the Christmas list this year.
Rotary Cutter Safety
It’s a bit harder to take off a piece of a finger with your quality sharp Gingher scissors, but it’s pretty darn easy to remove a piece with a rotary cutter.
When I first started using one, I was happily cutting away and PINCH. Off came the side of my finger. Not. My. Favorite. Day.
To avoid doing what I did, here are a few safety rules:
- Always keep your free hand away from the path of your rotary blade.
- Always make sure your blade is on tight.
- Always make sure you are paying attention while cutting with your rotary cutter.
- Always cut AWAY from you- not towards you
- ALWAYS close (and ideally lock) your rotary cutter after every use. Even in between cuts.
- Dispose and store them properly. You may want to consider a baby proof container for storage.
Always always close and lock your blades. You don’t want a kid (or adult) accidentally grabbing that blade, stepping on it, or dropping it on their foot. It’s very easy to knock one of these off the table- if it hits the floor it’ll dull the blade. If it hits your foot, it’ll dull the blade and you’ll have a fun trip to the ER. The blades are sharp which is awesome for cutting fabric, not so awesome if you hurt yourself with it.
Some rotary cutters have a safety lock type thing… some don’t. Buy the ones that have the safety features. Just my two cents.
This is the rotary cutter in the “safe” position… there’s a little piece of plastic covering the blade…
And here it is unlocked… you can only see the shiny blade. The plastic is tucked away.
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Danielle Pientka is the sewing and DIY blogger behind DIYDanielle.com. She taught herself to sew in 2011 when she wanted to make cloth diapers for her first son. She’s been sewing everything from ecofriendly items to kids products to clothing since, as it has become a passion. She loves learning how to do new things and teaching others in the process. She hopes to inspire other moms to take time for themselves to find their own creative passion.
Danielle lives in Maryland with her three young sons and her husband, Brandon. In her spare time, she gardens, reads, horseback rides, and has a small homestead with goats and ducks. Visit her shop to buy patterns or her sewing eBooks. Subscribe to her newsletter to get blog updates, free patterns and other printables by clicking here.