Rotary cutters, rulers and self-healing cutting mats are some of the most useful tools you'll find in quilting. They're also probably the most frustrating. The following guide will help you convince these tricky little suckers to work for you.
Do I really need a rotary cutter, ruler and mat?
This question is best answered with a 'Yes, if...' or a 'No, but...'. They have certainly sped up the cutting process and improved accuracy for me, but I refuse to say that you absolutely must have them. I've seen people do some pretty impressive things with a pair of scissors. I also completely understand that some people simply can't afford to buy all the whiz bang fancy tools the minute they take a liking to a new hobby. For me, these tools are a bit like chocolate. It has no real nutritional value, but life sure would be unpleasant without it. In other words, if you plan on really getting into quilting, then these would be very high on my list of things to buy.
You may find your ruler slips and slides over the fabric, making it almost impossible to cut straight lines. Don't panic. There are plenty of tools out there to help prevent this. I have a clear plastic film, called Clear Grip that sticks to my ruler and stops it sliding against the fabric.
|Clear grip sticks to the ruler to stop slippage|
You can also buy sticky sandpaper strips or even handles that suction to your ruler. If you're having issues, have a chat to your local quilting store or do some research online. There are plenty of different options around and you're bound to find one that suits you.
Using Your Ruler
Using your ruler correctly will lead you a long way in the direction of accurate cutting.
The ruler will be to the left and you will cut along the right hand side.
|Ruler to the left, cut to the right|
The way I remember this is that the piece of fabric I am 'using' is under the ruler, and the 'scrap' piece (i.e. the bit that goes back in my stash or in the bin) is on the right. In the example below, the strip I'm cutting would be 2’’ wide.
|Position of ruler when cutting a 2'' strip.|
Use the edges of the fabric against the ruler markings to determine the size of the piece and to ensure your cutting is straight. I usually try and line it up against both the left-hand side and the bottom edge (see the photo above).
Note: These instructions will be reversed for left handed users. That is, the piece of fabric you are 'using' is under the ruler, to the right, and the 'scrap' piece is on the left. The rotary cutter will be in your left hand.
Squaring the fabric (Straightening the edges)
It’s all well and good for me to say ‘line up the ruler markings against the fabric edges’ but it’s not going to be of any use if your edges aren't straight.
My first step is to square up the fabric. To do this, I simply slice off a narrow strip on the right hand side.
Note: I usually try and make this first cut in line with the grain of the fabric, or with any prints that I want to appear straight.
|Straighten one edge|
Then turn the fabric 90 degrees so that the straight edge you just created is along the bottom. Use this to line up your ruler and slice another small section off the right-hand side.
|Turn the fabric and straighten the second edge.|
Position the fabric so that the two straight edges you created are along the bottom and left hand side. You can now use these as a guide for your ruler.
Cutting your pieces
To cut out individual pieces, I find it easiest to first cut a strip along the width of fabric (WOF). I then sub-cut the strip into the desired size. For example, if I needed three 2'' squares, I would first cut a strip at 2''.
|Cut a 2'' strip|
I would then sub-cut this strip into 2’’ squares.
When you have multiple pieces to cut like this, you can be a little tricky. Rather than cutting a 2’’ square, putting it to the side, cutting another 2’’ square, putting it to the side and so on. I will cut at 6’’, then 4’’ and 2’’ giving me a total of three 2’’ squares. All I have to do is keep sliding my ruler to the left. This will make a lot more sense when you try it yourself.
|Sub-cut at 6''|
|Sub-cut at 4''|
|Sub-cut at 2''|
Remember to use both the side and bottom edges of the fabric to line up your ruler.
Trimming Half-square Triangles (HSTs)
Finally, a little note on trimming HSTs. I find it easiest to position the 45 degree marking of my ruler against the HST seam. Make sure the ruler covers the correct size (i.e. you’re not about to trim off too much fabric) and slice along the right side and top.
In this example, I am trimming my HST to 6''.
|Use the 45 degree marking as a guide|
|Trim along the right and top|
Rotate the fabric and repeat for the opposite corner, using the HST seam and straight edges as a guide.
|Trim the opposite corner|
Other Hints and Tips
- Press your fabric before cutting. This will remove any creases, wrinkles or other lumps and bumps that will make straight lines less straight and liney.
- Starch your fabric. This will help prevent stretching and skewing and is particularly useful if you're dealing with the bias (e.g. triangles).
- Make sure your cutting area is clear and you can lay the fabric flat.
- Measure twice cut once. It is very easy to measure along the wrong marking of your ruler, so always double check.
- Ensure your rotary blade is sharp and your mat is free of fluff and threads.
- Where possible, remain consistent and use one ruler for your project. Some ruler measurements can be slightly different to others. By using the same one, you're ensuring your pieces will accurately fit together, even if they're a hair different to scientifically accurate measurements.