What is a Rotary Cutter and How to Use One

Welcome to the sixth lesson in the Beginner’s Guide to Sewing Knit Apparel! Download the ebook for free!

This lesson is part of the Tools To Make Sewing Knits Easier section in the guide, and we’re gonna be talking all about rotary cutters!

What Is A Rotary Cutter and Why I Love Them

So many people shy away from working with knits because they are stretchy and tend to be more slippery. These qualities make them so comfortable to wear, but kind of annoying while cutting. If you are cutting folded over pattern pieces with fabric scissors, you may find that the two layers of fabric shift around over each other. This is because you have to lift your fabric up in order to cut it with fabric scissors.

This shifting can make your cuts less precise and smooth. Long story short, cutting large pattern pieces with fabric scissors can be pretty obnoxious.

Rotary cutters allow you to keep your fabric completely flat to your cutting board, and glide over the top of it as you cut.

This prevents shifting between the fabric layers. Plus it’s just so much faster!

Cutting Mats

In order to use a rotary cutter, you’re going to need to get yourself a self-healing cutting mat. I use a 24″x36″ cutting mat on top of a foldable table. The large majority of my pattern pieces fit on this size but there are a small handful of patterns that don’t. So if you would rather have a larger cutting mat you can certainly find them.

TIPS FROM THE PROS:

Taking proper care of your cutting mat and frequent rotary blade changes can extend the life of your cutting mat. Avoid cutting in the same spot repeatedly so your mat is able to self-heal.

Self-healing mats can be soaked in a solution of 1/4 cup vinegar to 1-gallon cool water to activate the self-healing process. After soaking scrub lightly to remove any lint and loose pieces of the mat, then rinse and then towel dry the surface and hang to completely dry. This method will also keep your mat moisturized. Keeping your mat properly moisturized will also help your rotary blades last longer. It is best to store your mat on a flat surface or hang it up when not in use.

Always avoid heat as it can warp and damage your mat. Changing your rotary blades often will prevent them from wearing down your cutting mat as the blades will glide through and cut your fabric with ease. Following these techniques can keep your mat in great condition and increase the longevity of your blades and the mat itself.

– Kelly Stifflemire Snider, Love Adore Knit Fabrics

Brands I Recommend

Now there are two different brands of rotary cutters I recommend.

Fiskars

The Fiskars brand is what you’re going to find pretty much anywhere that sells any sort of craft stuff. Walmart, Michaels, Joanns, etc. It’s really accessible. It is a cheaper brand which is perfect for the beginner sewist that wants to start on a smaller budget.

[table]Pros, Cons
Cheap – 45mm size available for only $12,Blades dull faster when compared to the Gingher
Several sizes available (pictured is my 60mm),Not ergonomically designed
Sold in many local stores,Has a plastic housing
[/table]

Gingher

Now the Gingher rotary cutter is definitely the more premium option, but the price shows it. It is made with higher quality materials and the blades last a lot longer. It is more comfortable to cut with and will last you forever.

[table]Pros, Cons
Has a metal housing, Expensive – 45mm size around $45
Blade can be replaced without having to touch the blade itself,Doesn’t come in many sizes
Has an ergonomic handle available in both right and left handed versions,
Blades are sharper and won’t get dull nearly as fast as the Fiskars,
[/table]

Are you a video person? Watch the demo video of these two rotary cutters compared to standard fabric scissors.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBZTLTAARxw]

Either one is a good option depending on what your shopping priorities are. Honestly, I find myself grabbing both of them. If I’m doing a lot of sewing, the ergonomic handle of the Gingher makes it my go-to. But on the one-off sewing projects, they both get the job done.


Editor’s Note: Rotary cutters are amazing! Try it on swimwear like the Annette Swimsuit!


Use and Safety

Use: There is no “right” way to cut your pattern pieces. Some people like to pin their paper patterns to their fabric and cut around it. Others outline their paper pattern with washable marker, remove the paper then cut the fabric. Personally, I place my paper pattern piece on top of the fabric, and weigh it down with pattern weights to keep it from moving then simply cut around it with my rotary cutter.

For bands and other straight edges, use a straight edge quilter’s ruler to cut against.

Tip: I always outline tight curves with a marker, then remove the paper pattern before cutting with my rotary cutter. Sometimes the paper can get in the way of the blade if the curve is too tight.

Safety: All rotary cutters have retractable blade guards on them. When you get your first cutter, get yourself in the habit of engaging the blade guard when it’s not in use. These cutters are super duper sharp. They are essentially wheel shaped razors. I’ve literally seen women cut tips of their fingers off. Not to mention, what your children can do to themselves if they get their hands on one.

Another thing you need to do to avoid any accidents is to make sure you’re moving it correctly. Make sure when you are cutting, that your pressure and leverage is over the top of the cutter. You should be pushing downward, not forward. Of course, you’ll be moving the blade forward to cut, but the direction of the pressure you’re applying should be downward. Am I making any sense here?? This helps you cut all the way through the fabric and maintain more control over the blade. And more control means fewer accidents.

Maintenance

The only maintenance you’ll need to do with your rotary cutter will be replacing your blade. There are no rules as to how often it needs to be changed. Just replace it when it stops cutting. Plain and simple. Blades are easy to replace, and as I mentioned above, the Gingher rotary cutter actually allows you to replace the blade without even touching it! Fancy…

So if you are able, don’t hesitate to get yourself a rotary cutter. You’re going to find your sewing projects go much quicker and smoother with one in your tool kit.

Assignment for this lesson: If a rotary cutter is in your budget, go to your local sewing shop or research some rotary cutter options online and get yourself one to use for your first project. If a rotary cutter is not in your budget, or you are just content with your fabric scissors, move onto the next lesson.

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Learn All About Rotary Cutter and How They Can Make Cutting Knits Easier

2 thoughts on “What is a Rotary Cutter and How to Use One”

  1. Leslie Shortlidge

    Thanks for this information. Exactly what I needed. However, it seems like Gingher rotary cutters have vanished.

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