Quilters are always looking for quick, easy, and accurate methods for various processes in their quilt making.
After all, making a quilt takes hours, days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years, so why not use whatever methods are available to shorten the overall time it takes to make the quilt, and thereby lengthen the time you have to enjoy the quilt?
That’s why quilters were very excited when the rotary cutter came on the scene. I can tell you that I was pretty excited.
Prior to owning a rotary cutter, I marked each piece of fabric with my cutting line, cut with a heavy pair of Gingher scissors, and it took hours and days to cut the fabric pieces for a small quilt, let alone a king-size quilt.
The care and feeding of your rotary cutter are covered in a different article. Another important component of cutting with a rotary cutter is squaring up your fabric. And then there’s the other stuff that goes along with your cutter – mat and ruler. All of those topics are covered in other articles.
This article is just for How to Cut
Folding your Fabric for Cutting Strips
I generally cut up to 4 layers of fabric at one time with my rotary cutter. Once your fabric is squared up, fold it in half – selvedge edges matching – with the wrong sides together. (It probably works just as well to fold it with the right sides together, but it isn’t usually as colorful or fun!)
With your fabric smooth, selvedges lined up and no creases on the folded side, fold the fabric in half once again – matching the fold to the selvedge edges. Smooth out the fabric once again. There is a tendency for the fabric to make some puckers or extra folds near the previous folds. Sometimes I need to re-fold two or three times to get it smooth. Once your fabric is smooth, line it up between two of the yellow grid lines (or whatever color they are on your rotary cutting mat).
Now get your ruler and line it up along the edge of the fabric you are going to cut. The first cut will be to get a perfectly straight cut on the edge of your fabric. If you have just washed and dried your fabric, both raw edges of the fabric will have threads hanging and it will be uneven. Place your ruler near the edge of the raw end of the fabric. I usually cut off at least ¼,” but sometimes the fabric is so uneven that it requires a ½” to 1” cut. The idea is to make sure that all of the loose threads are cut off, and that you have a straight edge.
This first cut is one of the reasons it is a good idea to get a tiny bit of extra yardage when you shop. Also, I never buy anything less than ¼ yard; and generally not less than ½ yard. The reason is that when you wash the fabric, it tends to change shape a little bit – how much depends on the particular fabric. If you have ? or ¼ yard, after washing, it may be impossible to get even one strip that is straight.
As you line up your ruler on the fabric to cut off the end, it’s a good idea to pick a spot on the mat that has grid lines where you are going to cut. That way, you can line up the edge of the ruler with a grid line to have just one more check to be sure your cut will be straight.
Now, the cut!
Open your rotary cutter so the blade is exposed and ready to cut. Secure the ruler and fabric with the hand you will not be used for the cutter. I usually stretch my fingers so some of them are on the ruler and others are on the fabric holding the ruler in place.
Place your rotary cutter on the mat so the blade is pressing against the ruler. Be sure not to press against the ruler so hard that it causes the ruler to get out of alignment. Then roll the cutter along the ruler through the fabric. This is the tricky part, because, you need to push down on the fabric and against the ruler. The goal is to cut through all of the layers of fabric while cutting along the straight line that your ruler is making.
Now you have a straight edge and you’re ready to cut your first strip.
The First Strip of Fabric
All of your strips will follow the same process. Line up your fabric between two gridlines on the mat.
Then measure your fabric and cut a strip. Well, there are a few more details I can provide!
Whether I use my 3” wide ruler or my 6” wide ruler depends on how wide my strips will be. That is because I use my ruler to measure the strip – not the grid lines on the mat.
Line up the ruler with the edge of the fabric, making sure that the cross lines on the ruler are lined up with the edges of the fabric. In the picture, the cross lines I’m talking about are the lines that run in the same direction as the fabric (where my thumb is). Once the ruler is lined up with the edge of the fabric, place the rotary cutter on the mat, just below the edge of the fabric, and pressing slightly against the ruler.
And then slide the rotary cutter along the ruler to cut the strip of fabric. Once your cutter is past the fabric, place the cover over the blade – to prevent cuts (which can be major – just ask my son!) – and put your rotary cutter down. Leave your hand on the ruler to secure it in place.
Then take the hand you used for the cutter, and gently tug at the fabric you just cut – to make sure that you have completely cut the fabric away from the strip. Sometimes there are just a couple of threads that are hanging on to the fabric for dear life. They don’t know that their life will become much more interesting and appreciated in the quilt you are about to make.
In any case, if there are a couple of threads still hanging on, use the rotary cutter to cut them. Be careful not to cut more than just those couple of threads, and not ruin your nice, clean strip cut. It could be that there is a whole layer that is still uncut. Again, use your rotary cutter to cut through that layer, and be careful to keep the cut straight and clean.
Is your Strip Straight – or does it have Weird Bends?
The only thing left is to be sure that the strip is really straight. Once it is completely cut, unfold it and hold it by one selvedge edge, letting the other selvedge edge drop toward the floor. Now inspect it – is it straight? Or are there some weird bends in it?
If there are weird bends, it’s time to refold, straighten the fabric up, and cut a skinny slice off the end, getting a straight cut. And then cut another strip. Sometimes it’s a good idea to cut a 1” strip (after you have cut off the raw edge) to check to see whether your strips will be straight.
The drawback to weird bends is that when you cut your squares or triangles or any other shape you cut from the strip, your patches will end up misshapen, and your quilt will suffer.
Trust me, time spent getting your patches cut straight will pay off big time as you sew your quilt top together. Also, a small amount of fabric thrown into the “save it for later” pile to make sure you get straight cuts, will also pay off.
Just another reason to get extra fabric!
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