Quilting for Beginners: Using a Rotary Cutter

Aug 11, 2015 12:43:08 PM / by AccuQuilt

Whether you’re in the “quilting for beginners” category or a more advanced one, it is important to know how to use a rotary fabric cutter. Even if you have an AccuQuilt fabric cutter, you will occasionally use a rotary cutter to pre-cut larger pieces of fabric to fit onto your dies. To see how much fabric you'll need to pre-cut for each die shape, check out our handy downloadable GO! Fabric Reference Chart.

At first glance, a rotary cutter may remind you of a pizza cutter. They come in a variety of convenient sizes—28, 45, or 60 millimeter—allowing you to cut small or large curves and simple straight lines with a rotary cutter. For a beginner quilter, the 45 millimeter rotary cutter is probably the best option, as you can then create small to medium-sized projects. Generally speaking, the larger the blade the easier it is to cut through fabric, sometimes layers of fabric.

Additionally, there are different safety latches depending on the manufacturer. Some rotary cutters have blades where you have to push a button or lever to open and close it, while others you’ll need to squeeze the handle for the blade to appear and then it automatically retracts when you let go.

The tips below are to assist you in learning how to safely and successfully use the rotary cutter.

Things You’ll Need

Let’s begin with the GO! Rotary Cutting Mat. Generally, cutting mats have one side printed with a grid and the other side is plain. You’ll use the side with the grid even though you won’t use the grid to line up your fabric for cutting. (That’s where the acrylic ruler comes into play.) Make sure the mat is free of grooves, which can be caused by cutting numerous times along the same grid.

Successful quilting is all about accuracy, and you can only achieve that accuracy with accurate measurements and accurate cutting. Therefore, your acrylic ruler (preferably a 12 ½” square up ruler) should have clear markings because over time the ruler becomes faded and difficult to read. We can’t stress the importance of accuracy in quilting enough, so your rulers should leave no guesswork. Ensure the edges of the ruler are smooth and free of nicks generally caused by misuse of the rotary cutter.



tools needed for rotary
GO! Rotary Cutter, GO! Rotary Cutting Mat, and the Omnigrid Rotary Ruler (acrylic)


Using the Rotary Cutter

First off, keep in mind that the rotary cutter is extremely sharp (like a razor) and quite dangerous if not used properly. When not in use, it’s imperative that you keep the cutter in closed position. In fact, you should get in the habit of putting your rotary cutter in the closed position every time you lay it down after making a cut. Oftentimes, quilters injure themselves on rotary cutters just from having them in the open position and reaching across their cutting mat for something.


GO! Rotary Cutter


When using the rotary cutter, be sure you’re working on a flat, hard, and stable surface so you don’t ruin your rotary cutting mat and get inaccurate cuts. You’ll also want to make sure the work area where your cutting mat is placed is at countertop height. Before you start cutting, bend at the hip rather than at the waist so there’s less stress on your back and arms. Additionally, keep your wrist straight, as it will help prevent a repetitive motion injury. But also know there are ergonomic versions of rotary cutters that can help prevent wrist wear and increase ease of use.

More importantly, always cut away from yourself and apply constant and even pressure when using a rotary cutter. Make sure to place your blade against the edge of your ruler before you start cutting because if the blade is too far away, you’ll have wonky and inaccurate cuts. Additionally, if you start with your blade on the ruler, you could seriously injure the hand holding the ruler. Speaking of which, many quilters prefer to use a non-slip ruler grip handle or InvisiGrip (clear plastic material applied to underside of your ruler) as opposed to their actual hand to hold onto the ruler. You may find this to be a suitable option for you as well. Other quilters swear by RuleSteady, a tool that completely stops your ruler from slipping and keeps your fingers safely away from the rotary cutter blade.


proper rotary hand placement
Here's the proper way to hold a rotary cutter as well as the correct hand placement on the ruler.


You will eventually have to change the blade on your rotary cutter, and obviously you’ll want to proceed with caution when removing the blade. Removing and inserting a blade in most rotary cutters work similarly. Therefore, you’ll likely need to unscrew a nut, remove any plastic guarding that is present, and then carefully remove the blade and replace it with a new one. Also, when it comes to discarding the old blade safely, you can enclose the blade in thick tape, cardboard, several layers of paper, or some combination of all these options.

Since accurate cutting is so essential to quilting, beginner quilters may want to consider practicing on inexpensive fabrics or old cotton clothes before using their good quality fabric. There is nothing more frustrating then inaccurately cutting expensive fabric.

Square Up Your Fabric

One step new quilters should practice is squaring up the fabric edge, which is a must before you start rotary cutting fabric into strips. It’s critical that one edge of the fabric be straightened or “squared up” to ensure that you’re working with the fabric’s true size.

To start the process for squaring up the fabric edge lay the previously ironed fabric right side down on the mat with one selvage edge away from you. Fold the fabric in half with the wrong side inside and selvages together, and then fold the fabric in half again, aligning the folded edge with the selvage edges. Keep in mind, that you will not be using the grid on your cutting mat to measure where to cut, so it doesn’t matter where you place the fabric in relation to that grid.


Closeup of selvage end
Note the selvage edges


Position the folded fabric on the cutting mat with the bulk of the fabric to your right. With your ruler on top of the fabric, align a horizontal grid line on the ruler with the lower folded fabric edge, and then measure in about a 1/2" to an 1". Place your hand on the long ruler to anchor it, and hold the ruler firmly in place by spreading your fingers apart slightly and keeping them away from the edge of the ruler. (Or, as discussed earlier, use a ruler grip if it’s easier for you.)


Big shot of fabric with selvage
Fabric aligned with a grid line on the ruler


Pam showing fabric edge
See the ruler measurement and where you'll need to cut your fabric.


Now, it’s time to pick up your rotary cutter and cut along the right side of your long ruler. Your fabric is now squared up with the fold, which means it’s been cut at a perfect 90-degree angle. Another important tip is to not pick up your fabric once the edges are squared if you will be continuing to cut more strips.


Pam using rotary cutter
Carefully begin cutting the fabric edge.


Pam cuts edge off fabric
Fabric squared up with the fold


With these tips on using the rotary cutter and squaring up your fabric, you should now feel confident when pre-cutting those larger pieces of fabric for use with your GO! dies. And remember, squaring up your fabric will ensure that you have accurate cuts from the start.

Happy quilting!

See the following websites for more tips on cutting fabric with rotary cutters and squaring up your fabric.





Topics: Omnigrid Rotary Ruler, cutting mat, GO! Rotary Cutter, GO! Technique Tutorials


Written by AccuQuilt

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