Rotary Cutter
September 29, 2010 5:17 AM   Subscribe

Quilter filter. I have a brand new Olfa Rotary Cutter. I have tested out by cutting double fabric using cardboard as a cutting board with mixed results. Help!

Do I need to purchase a cutting surface? How many layers can I cut at the same time? Do I push or pull the cutter? Any other tips you want to share?
posted by francesca too to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I push the cutter. I definitely recommend buying a cutting mat, I'd bet the cardboard will ruin your blade faster and if you apply the pressure I apply to the tool you'd go right through the mat. I have a small mat, just under letter-paper sized and if I had the money I would go bigger. I can reliably cut through multiple layers but I try not to go past two or three cause the fabrics might shift. I do a lot of patchwork quilting so I also made myself up a small portable ironing board (wrap a piece of wood with a towel then cover it with a cloth cover) which really helps with the flow of things.
posted by Meagan at 5:25 AM on September 29, 2010

Best answer: I have used the plastic panels used oblong rectangular light fixtures as rotary cutter cutting surfaces with great success. They are usually patterned somehow on one side but smooth on the other. I find them at either of the big home improvement stores. They are a bit brittle, but you get a large piece for around $10, no more than $15 and that beats those "self-healing cutting mats by a mile.
posted by lemniskate at 5:29 AM on September 29, 2010

Best answer: Definitely push the cutter. Definitely a self-healing mat (for me). You should probably also get a heavy/substantial ruler to use as a straight edge. I pieced my first quilt without using any templates - just a rotary. The cool thing is all of the shapes you can make using this and a quilting ruler. Check out some how-to videos on youtube to see. I actually took a one-day rotary cutting class at a quilting store (being the geek that I am) to learn about it.
posted by ashtabula to opelika at 5:40 AM on September 29, 2010

Best answer: Push the cutter, and get one of these. Cardboard is just going to jack up the blade.
posted by valkyryn at 5:50 AM on September 29, 2010

Best answer: Nthing a cutting mat. The cardboard will dull the blade very quickly (same as using fabric scissors on paper). A good self-healing mat (the green ones you see at fabric/quilting stores) will last you for ages, keep your blade sharp, and help prevent any slipping of the surface or the blade.
posted by dayintoday at 5:52 AM on September 29, 2010

Best answer: I would say to buy the biggest cutting mat you can afford. Wait until JoAnn's has a 50% off sale or sign up for their coupon mailers. I bought the rotary cutter and a small mat when I was making a quilt and really regretted not buying the biggest one. I bought a bigger one and now I can fit my whole skirt pattern on the mat at one time. Makes it SO much easier and faster. My friend is a much more serious sewer than me and I had to use her mat to cut out the backing and borders for my quilt since it was hard on my little one. I just hang the mat and big clear ruler (get one of those too!) on a nail on the wall.
posted by artychoke at 6:25 AM on September 29, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everybody. I was trying to cut 12 feet long strips and the blade kept sinking in the cardboard, pulling the fabric in, making the edges uneven. Off to get a better mat!
posted by francesca too at 6:35 AM on September 29, 2010

Best answer: If you have an art/drafting/architect supply store around, check there before JoAnn's. They'll be the same self-healing mats for a better price.
posted by fontophilic at 8:10 AM on September 29, 2010

You definitely need a cutting mat! And the bigger the better. The best arrangement, I feel, is to have your entire sewing table covered with one large mat cut to fit it, and then to have at least one small mat (perhaps from the scrap left after trimming down your large mat) that you can spin around when cutting out small complex shapes; it's often easier to move the mat+fabric than to try to reposition your hand as you negotiate around the shape you need to cut. You can also use the little mat on your ironing board and away from your sewing area.

If you can't manage covering your entire table, and if you ever plan to make garments, I'd say the smallest useful size would be at least 30 or 32 inches wide (to accommodate up to 60-inch fabric) and a few inches longer than a pant-leg pattern piece would be for anyone you're likely to sew for; 60 inches would no doubt be plenty long.

But I'd be careful of the "self-healing" mats, especially the softer, thicker ones.

My experience testing all the brands available at the time (for a Threads Magazine review years ago) was that you could actually shove thin fabrics into the soft surface of any so-called "self-healing" mat with a brand new rotary cutter blade, obviously leading to skipped areas in your cutting, which of course defeat all the efficiency of rotary cutting in the first place. I've since advised against anything but thin, hard mats. Soft, thick mats that let the rotary cuts sink deeply into the mat surface (which is all that "self-healing" means) are more trouble than they're worth if you ever cut thin or fine fabrics. A recent cutter and mat review in Threads confirms my results.

My recommendation then, and now, after more than 25 years of using them, is the quite reasonably priced Big Mat manufactured and sold in a wide range of sizes, from 4x8 feet down, by the Sewing Emporium, a mail-order supplier in Southern CA. These mats won't dull your blades and can last for many years of heavy use. They are NOT a self-healing surface, so there will be visible scoring marks on the surface as you use them. But so long as I've used mine I've found these no problem. I guess if I cut the same line in exactly the same spot all day long, I'd soon have a deepening rut, but that's never yet happened. You can cut so hard you go right through the mat, but that's true of any mat; self-healing just means that the cuts aren't visible, not that they actually fuse back together.

The Sewing Emp. sells a little hard plastic square for scraping/burnishing the surface of the mats, after a cutting session; this smoothes away any tiny ridges that cutting raises; you can use the edge of a heavy transparent ruler in the same way; works well.
posted by dpcoffin at 9:46 AM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

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