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What Is a Quilting Rotary Cutter?

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Cutting fabric with a rotary cutter

This article is all about rotary cutters for quilting. We discuss:

Why Do You Need A Rotary Cutter for Quilting?

A rotary cutter is an essential accessory for all quilters. If you have done quilting before, you will know why this is the case. However, if you are a beginner, you may not yet appreciate how much cutting you will need to do, or perhaps you just didn’t realise this handy tool was available. 

Quilting projects often comprise of many, many different patterned fabrics. Sometimes each piece can be quite small, and if you’re making a queen or king sized quilt, a lot of your time will be spent in cutting your fabric.

Therefore, using rotary cutters to do the work for you will speed up the process enormously as well as giving you an accurate straight line on your quilt squares.

Rotary Cutter on Cutting Mat with a Pile of Fabric

Rotary Cutter vs Scissors

Scissors are an essential item for many sewing projects but when it comes to cutting squares, rectangles and strips etc for your quilting projects you need precision and exact straight lines. Scissors could do the job but it will take you a long time and it will definitely not give you the accuracy of a rotary cutter.

Another point to bear in mind is that scissors can become extremely uncomfortable when working on long, time-consuming projects. If you have problems with carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis, you will find a rotary cutter a complete relief compared to scissors.

How to Use a Rotary Cutter?

A rotary cutter is a bit like a pizza cutter. It has a handle with a circular blade attached which is incredibly sharp, like a razor blade.

To use your rotary cutter, you will also need:

  • A cutting mat
  • A clear plastic quilting ruler.
  • Special cut-resistant gloves (optional but safer) - wear it on the hand that isn’t doing the cutting

Fabric Cutter on Cutting Mat

The cutting mat gives you a durable, hardwearing surface which won’t be compromised by the blade. It also has guidelines to help you line up the fabric and ruler squarely. You should never simply cut your fabric squares on a table - always use one of these specially designed mats. This will save your furniture and your blades.

The ruler is needed to place on the line where you plan to cut the fabric. 

Remember that your fabric should be ironed so that it is completely flat before you begin the cutting process.

Once you have the ruler lined up on the material, expose the blade on the cutter, steady the ruler with one hand and run the cutter up the side of the ruler which gives you a precise straight line. For safety reasons, always cut up and away from you rather than towards you.

Make sure you are holding the rotary cutter as specified in the instructions. Many people don’t hold it correctly and this can be dangerous given the extreme sharpness of the blade.

Fabric cutters with diamond cut fabric

How to Choose the Right Cutter

There are several points to bear in mind when deciding which rotary cutter is the right one for you:

Size

Blade size is an important consideration when choosing a rotary cutter. The most commonly used sizes are 18mm, 28mm, 45mm and 60mm.

The larger the blade, the faster you will fly through your projects. However, if you need to cut curves rather than straight lines, you will need a small blade.

To make sure you have one that works on all your quilting projects, and perhaps other tasks too, purchase a 45mm blade.

If you are creating more complicated quilting patterns with flower shapes, circles etc, you need a cutter that will be able to cut wavy lines. The 18mm blade is the best choice in this instance. However, you will also need a 45mm blade as the smaller blade will be tedious for straight lines.

Durability

Because you will be often be cutting through layers of fabric plus batting, you need to ensure the tool you buy is up to the job. The blade and handle as well as the mechanism should all be strong and capable of heavy duty tasks.

The best blades are those made with made with tungsten steel. They offer superior sharpness and are very difficult to blunt.

One tip is to never use your fabric cutters on paper as this can dull your blades much faster.

Quilting project with cutting accessories

Safety

Due to the sharpness of this product, it is important that you consider safety when deciding which one to buy. It needs to be as safe as possible to use and the blade should always be retractable. If you have small children in the house, it is best to store the cutter in a case that is difficult to open and kept out of harm’s way. 

When you change the blade, never pick them up at the sides but on the smooth flat part of the disc and dispose of the old blades safely.

Comfort

The rotary cutter that you choose should be comfortable to use. Some come with a straight handle while others come with an ergonomic curved handle.

If you are left-handed, check out the description of the product and ensure that it is suitable for you. If it doesn’t mention that it works for those of you who use their left hand then you would be better opting for an alternative model. 

Quilting project with Fabric Cutters

Summary

A rotary cutter can make a much faster job of cutting your quilting pieces. Giving a cleaner, faster cut than scissors they can cut straight or curved lines neatly and precisely. When buying a rotary cutter:

  • Make sure that it has safety features in place
  • The handle is going to be a confortable fit for you
  • Buy sizes 45mm for straight lines and 18mm for curved lines
  • Always use a special cutting mat
  • Check that it is made from strong metal such as tungsten steel

We recommend the following rotary cutters for your quilting projects.

Suitable for right or left handed quilters, the Fiskars 45mm Contour Rotary Cutters are ideal for cutting straight lines through several layers of fabric. With a lifetime warranty, these fabric cutters have a stainless steel blade that will last a lot longer than many other similar tools.

Fiskars 45mm Rotary Cutters

Designed for more detailed projects, the Olfa 18mm Small Rotary Cutter will cut precisely around curves and intricate designs. Its stainless steel blade is made to last and it comes with a blade cover to keep it safe.

Small Olfa 18mm Rotary Cutters