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Rotary cutters

March 14, 2010

What’s a rotary cutter? In sewing, a rotary cutter looks a lot like a little pizza slicer. It’s generally a hand-held device consisting of a handle, and a circular blade for cutting through fabric with a smooth, continuous motion of the arm, rather than repetitious gripping and releasing of the hand. One reason I use a rotary cutter is that I find it more precise for cutting out my patterns because a scissor blade doesn’t lift the fabric up off the cutting surface to cut. The fabric remains flat, on the cutting mat (a mat placed under the fabric, designed to protect the surface beneath the mat from the sharp rotary blade)as the sewist cuts the fabric for a project.  It’s also good for me because it’s less strain on my carpal tunnel and tendonitis. It’s also more precise in cutting through multiple layers of fabric. So if I’m doing 3 of a single pattern,I may be able to cut through 6 layers of fabric at once.

My favorite rotary cutter is the Fiskars retractable rotary cutter. It doesn’t matter which one. I’ve tried Fiskars, Olfa, and various others. I also use the 45mm size because I’ve found that the larger blade rotary cutters tend to retract while in use.  I like fiskars because the have excellent safety features. I tend to press very firmly because i do like to cut through multiple layers of fabric, and the Olfa doesn’t have a hand guard. If my hand slips, I’m cut. Whereas the fiskars has safety guards on their rotary cutters. I also teach kids in my studio, and keep all our cutting devices in a drawer. With Fiskars retractable blades, they lock, not only in the protracted position, but also in the retracted position. This keeps us all safe in the studio.

So, how do you use a rotary cutter? First….. FIRST, you make sure you have a protective mat. I use self healing, rotary cutter mats.  There are a lot of places you can get them, including Hancock, Joann, and even Walmart and Tuesday morning. Once your work surface is covered with a matt, place your fabric to be cut onto the mat. You should already have marked it, or if you aren’t a ‘tracer’, you should have pinned your pattern to your fabric.  Then, make sure your work surface is low enough that you can get ‘over’ your work. You want to use your body weight to lean into the rotary cutter as you use it. In my studio, the most common error with rotary cutters is not pressing firmly enough. It’s probably because my sewing tables are very high, and we tend to cut on them, as well. The weaving room is sometimes set up with lower tables, to accomodate use of the rotary cutters, but folks seem more comfortable with scissors, and low tables with scissors are a recipe for back pain!

So, my recommendation is the decide whether you want to use one or the other, and build your tables accordingly.

Other things to be sure to consider, when getting/using cutting mats, is whether any of them are heat resistant. My mats have been destroyed by being in the car on a hot summer day. So it’s definitely not something I want my sewing tables covered with, because we iron on my sewing tables.  Again, just decide what your priorities are, when you begin customizing your studio, so you can meet your needs. My solution was to cover the tables with batting, and tiole, but to build them so we have a shelf under the table to hold the machines. We frequently move the machine to the shelf, completely set up for sewing, and use the tabletop for pinning, ironing, or ‘whatever’, then, move the machine back to the tabletop in seconds and continue with using the machine. My studio is perfect for me. Yours should be perfect for you. Think it through and customize it slowly. testing each addition, before fine tuning it too much. One good idea, tends to lead to another, but fine tuning something too much can make it perfect for one thing, and only one thing:0)

More later on studio set-up.

For now, I’ll simply say,”When you are finished with your toys, put them away”. It’s a shame to have a great studio that you never use because you have to take a half day, or  even an hour to put the mail away that has piled up on the sewing/cutting table, and to find your scissors, and then where’s that pattern. Have a place for things, and put them away in that ‘very specific’ place each time, so you can work on a moments notice, and for just 5 minutes at at time, if you get the 5 minutes. You won’t regret it.

bye for now.

See you in the studio,


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