There are professional tailors who can cut and sew anything in this world but have never used a rotary cutter in any of their cutting. Are they missing out on something? Maybe, from what I have heard and experienced of this handy tool.
What is a rotary cutter ?
A rotary cutter is a cutting tool used for cutting fabric kept flat on a cutting surface. All rotary cutters are essentially the same and serve the same purpose – the size of the blades can be different; You may have a 45 cm blade or a 65 cm blade. Another difference is in the shape of the handle – it may have an ergonomically curved handle or a straight one. It does not necessarily replace scissors in sewing, but can greatly complement it.
It looks like a pizza cutter and functions the same way – here, instead of the pizza, you have fabrics – even layers and layers of fabric cut in a very clean cut way – not the way you slice the pizza awkwardly with blunt blades, but more like a professional chef cutting thin slices of pasta in whatever shape he wants.
The blade which rests in a circular groove comes out (for safety’s sake) when you press the lever at the handle. A mat or some protective covering is used under the fabric, as you cut with this cutting tool so that the surface is not damaged. For cutting many layers of fabric with the help of a paper pattern or to cut different shapes of fabric pieces with a mat, this tool is very helpful.
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How to cut fabric with a rotary cutter? And why would you? The main reasons why you should get a rotary cutter.
The fabric is flexible – it stretches, it falls, it slips, it distorts. All very inconvenient as you cut with scissors. Errors are frequent , distortion common when cutting with scissors, especially difficult fabrics. And soon you may have a wasted pattern piece because it is not the same as what you wanted.
The death grip you have of the scissor handles can in the long run (with continuous cutting all day) result in painful fingers and wrists – people with arthritis especially have a lot of trouble with the grip on scissors. Most of the rotary cutters are ergonomically designed so that you don’t feel any discomfort even after hours of cutting at a stretch.
When cutting many layers of fabric, cutting from the top is convenient – you can cut many pieces in one go. This saves a lot of time.
When cutting many layers of fabric instead of lifting up the fabric as you do with scissors, you cut in one go with rotary cutters. This prevents distortion of pattern pieces. This is especially important with small pieces.
How do you use the rotary cutter?
To cut with a rotary cutter, keep the fabric layers and pattern if you are using that on the mat together with pattern weights. You do not want the fabric layers to shift.
The things you need to use the rotary cutter efficiently are mats (the self healing mat or a hard surface mat) and pattern weights. You may also want to use a long ruler if cutting straight edges.
Try to use the rotary cutters only with a mat – this prevents damage to your cutting surface and ultimately prevents the dulling of the blades of the rotary cutter. A self-healing mat is the best as the rotary cutter blades would not damage the mat. You can also use hard mats – these do not self-heal but most do not cut easily so the effect may be the same.
A rotary cutter can cut fabric pieces with sharp edges and straight edges very easily when used in conjunction with the mat. The lines in the cutting mat are used as a guide for your cutting. If you do not have the mat use a clear ruler as your guide. The measuring lines on the mat are very helpful in guiding you to cut accurately.
Prepare your fabric for cutting – i.e find the grain line of your fabric. You can follow the post on grain line here. If the grain line is not right however clean cut you have made the garment will have that ‘not-right’ feel.
If you want to cut straight edges, Match the fabric edge (selvage or any straight cut edge) with the lines on the cutting mat. You can keep your ruler on top to get the other edge straight and correct. If you have a big rectangular clear ruler or an L shaped one, align the ruler with the lines on the mat on all edges or two edges to get a straight cut with squared corners. Begin to cut along the edge of the ruler.
Cut, away from your body preferably.
Maintain a firm even pressure on the ruler, as you cut – if you do not, you will find that the fabric has not cut in all places.
You will be cutting along the edge of the ruler – ensure that you are not cutting through it.
Precautions to use when cutting with rotary cutters
Rotary cutters operate with a button on its handle- only when you press it with your hands does the blade come out. This is the safety feature of the blade – remember to keep the switch off whenever you are not using the blade.
But even with this safety switch, Keep the blade of the rotary cutter well away from kids- even the smallest kid will find a workaround that switch. The cutter is sharper and as deadly as a kitchen knife.
When you are cutting many layers of fabric, ensure that the under layers are not bunched up. As you cannot see the under layers, there is always a chance of distortion when there are many layers involved. If you cannot ensure that it is all flat, reduce the layers.
Change the blade of the rotary cutter as soon as it dulls. You will get spare blades when you buy rotary cutter (or you can buy extra).
Cutting fabric always involves the risk of cutting too much of it. Cutting too much is much worse than cutting too little. Measure twice, cut once – carefully.
As you cut, keep fingers away from the cutter’s way – the blade is sharp and can move fast – faster than you maybe able to move your hand away as it touches your flesh. Ouch!