Rotary cutters were a great invention that made scissors seem tedious and downright painful. With its wheeled blade and large handle, a rotary cutter was easy for quilters who thought their hands couldn’t take quilting any longer. It allowed many quilters to take back their craft, but those razor-sharp blades also bring their fair share of dangers.
Common Rotary Cutter Injuries:
- Finger or hand lacerations
- Hand or wrist strain or fatigue
- Neck and back pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
No matter how experienced, every quilter has had a minor run in with a rotary cutter. Check out the tips below to avoid cuts and lacerations.
Stay a Cut Above the Rest: Prevent Cuts from a Rotary Blade
You have to stay sharp and alert when using one to avoid getting cut. It’s easy to forget just how sharp rotary blades are, especially after you've gotten into a groove with cutting, but don't overlook common safety habits:
Always store a rotary cutter with the safety latch closed and leave the blades in their original packaging until you’re ready to use them. Otherwise next time you reach for your tool, you might just catch the blade first.
Use the same brand and correct size of rotary blade in order for your rotary cutter to work properly.
Change your blade often. Just like kitchen knives, sharp blades are safe blades because dull blades can break, require more force from your body and can require multiple runs over fabric to completely cut fabric. Both can result in aches or worse, cuts on your fingers or hand. Follow the manufacturer's instructions, but a good rule of thumb is to change the blade after you complete one quilt, but this depends on the type of fabric you cut, the size of the project and if you have multiple projects going at once.
Use a large, clear acrylic ruler to keep your fingers back away from the edges. These rulers are large enough to keep your fingers safe and still allow you to keep fabric in check.
Keep moving forward. Always cut away from your body in a forward motion, never towards yourself. Your rotary cutter might work too well and slice back faster than you think, leaving your body to catch the blade.
Say no to crossover cuts. Don’t hold a ruler and then cross over it to cut on the opposite side of the ruler. It’s too easy to slice your arm or fingers with the razor-sharp blade of the rotary cutter.
Back and Hand Injuries Prevented Through Ergonomics
Cuts are those minor, quickly occurring injuries that everyone knows of and works to avoid. However, working with rotary cutters long term can reap even bigger injuries down the road. You also have to be smart about ergonomics so your joints, back, neck and body won’t suffer.
Ergonomics are all about designing your workspace to accommodate you and your body best. Everything from how a table suits your height to the way you hold your arms when using a tool can positively or negatively impact how you do work. If set up correctly, you and your workspace can be more efficient at cutting, sewing, quilting, etc!
Don't sit. Stand. For safety’s sake, you should never sit while using a rotary cutter. When seated you cannot properly hold the ruler or rotary cutter, which can lead to accidents. Additionally, sitting doesn’t give you much leverage, which means you won’t cut through as many layers of fabric and will leave ragged edges you’ll have to trim later.
Stand up straight. Don’t stand in an unbalanced way. Standing even slightly off-kilter or leaning over for an extended period will lead to pain in your back and neck. You might feel the pain immediately when you stand up straight again. If not, this kind of repetitive injury can lead to back and neck strain down the line.
Check your table height. The average cutting table height is 36 inches. Is that right for your body? Here’s a quick way to judge if your table is at a good ergonomic height for you: stand with your elbows bent at right angles (forearms parallel to the floor), then drop your hands slightly. This is the height the cutting table, work surface, and ironing board should be at for you.
Smart Stretches Make for Agile Quilters
Wouldn't signing up for quilter's yoga class be fun? Not only would you "ohm" with people who love the art as much as you, turns out it could help your quilting game too! You can and should do some gentle stretches before every quilting adventure begins and after you call it a day. Below are a few simple stretches that you can do anywhere. Be sure to move very slowly and not push too much. You actually get a much better stretch if you take it slow.
Keeping your shoulders facing forward, bring your chin back slightly and then slowly and gently look over your right shoulder (stop and release if you feel any twinge of pain). Then repeat on the left side.
Bring your head back to center and then slowly tuck your chin to as close to your chest as feels comfortable. Hold for a breath or two and then, as you inhale, slowly bring your head back up.
Hands and Arms Stretches
Interlace your fingers so your palms face you, then turn your interlaced hands away from you and slowly, gently begin to straighten your elbows. If it’s comfortable, keep your hands clasped and elbows straight while you bring your hands up as high as you comfortably can. Hold for a few breaths.
Clasp your hands behind you with your fingers interlaced so the palms face each other. Keep your hands clasped as you slowly straighten your arms. You’ll feel this in your shoulders.
GO! For a Fabric Cutter and Avoid the Pain
AccuQuilt fabric cutters are one of the best ways to keep quilting injury-free and eliminate the strain and potential pain. First scissors, then rotary cutters, now AccuQuilt. The GO!, GO! Me, GO! Baby and Studio 2 cutters have large, easy to maneuver handles that make cutting fabric easier than ever. You can avoid all strain on the body completely with the GO! Big, an electric fabric cutter that takes all the manual labor out of fabric cutting completely. All our cutters cut through multiple fabric layers in one pass, so all together you're cutting more in less time.
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