Sewing Tips - Rotary Cutting Saves You Time and Energy By: Connie Isidora Is the tedium of cutting getting in the way of your sewing? Adding the art of rotary cutting to your repertoire of sewing skills can save you a lot of time and energy and make your sewing experience much more enjoyable. What is Rotary Cutting? Rotary cutting is a sewing technique that uses a simple set of tools in order to cut fabric pieces more quickly and efficiently than can be done with hand scissors. It is commonly used in quilting where it is ideal for the large number of simple geometric shapes that are often involved, but it can be used for any project where the pieces consist of shapes that can be measured out by the specialized rotary rulers and guides, such as tote bags, pockets, wallets or pillowcases. This technique is done by placing layers of fabric on a special cutting mat and then cutting it with a rotary blade, which is a lot like a pizza cutter, using a clear, acrylic guide to direct the blade in order to both ensure accuracy and protect the sewer's fingers while cutting. It is possible to use a rotary cutter to cut fabric with regular paper pattern pieces, but this is not advisable since a paper pattern doesn't have the safeguarding edge that an acrylic ruler or guide possesses to protect against the blade slipping during use. Although they are simple in design, rotary blades are very sharp and potentially dangerous, so a lot of caution is needed in their use and storage. Rotary Cutting Tools The basic tools you need for rotary cutting are a cutting mat, a rotary blade and a clear, acrylic ruler. It is very important to make sure each of these items are specifically labeled as being designed for rotary cutting to ensure your safety while using them. Starter kits are available, but since there are only three components needed, it can be worth your time to research each one individually to get what will meet your long-term needs from the start to not have to buy additional equipment later on or end up with extra blades around the house that you're not going to use. If you have children in your home, you will especially want to compare the different safety features available on blade models as well as give some thought to how you will store them to protect against accidental discovery and handling. Online sewing stores are a good place to start your research because there you can also see customer reviews of other sewers' experiences with each tool in actual application. This will help you get a feel for what the different variations of features really mean so that you can narrow down your options to what is most appropriate for you. After getting a good idea of what you want to look for, it is then recommended to go into a local sewing store to try out how different models feel in your hand to ensure that your final selection will be a good fit and comfortable for you to use. Cutting mats come in a variety of sizes, but for the most part, the larger you can get the better so long as it will fit in your workspace. At minimum, you should get a size of at least 18 x 24 inches. Mats and rulers often come with holes cut in one of their sides so that they can be hung on the wall when not in use to keep them flat and out of the way. They should also be kept away from direct sun and heat so that they will not warp since their flatness is an essential quality to maintain for cutting accuracy. Mats come with a printed grid on them, but this is primarily to aid in laying out and positioning fabric and should not be relied on to guide cutting. Some feature differing colors on the topside and the underside so that you can always have a contrasting color to your fabric. "Self-healing" is considered a desirable feature and essentially means that the cuts you make into it will repair themselves so the mat will last a lot longer. Rotary blades can come in many sizes, but the most standard are 18, 45 and 60 millimeters. 45mm is considered the best all-purpose blade and is a good choice to start out with. 18mm is for finer, more detailed work, and 60mm is for bulk cutting very simple, straight-line shapes from several layers of fabric. The metal blades themselves don't vary much, but where tool models differ is in their handle design, safety features and mechanism for changing blades. Since the blades do have to be replaced periodically when they get dull, availability of replacements is a factor to consider as well. Rotary rulers are made of clear acrylic at least 1/8 inch deep and are designed not only to guide your cutting but also to protect your hands from the blade as well, which is why it is important to not try to use a regular, non-rotary ruler for this task. There are also other types of rotary guides available in order to make shapes with sides other than straight lines, but for starting out it is best to learn with a simple ruler to gain more skill in your cutting technique before going on to more advanced things. A 6 x 24 inch ruler is considered a good all-purpose size, although if you have a very specific use in mind for your cutting, you might find another size more appealing instead. Always remember to consider seam allowances in your measurements, and never calculate based on just the finished size of a piece. The Basics of Cutting The cutting itself is a fairly simple, straightforward process, but must be approached with full focus and care at all times due to the safety risks involved. Rotary blades are very sharp and unforgiving, so any slight lapse in attention could end up in harm to your fabric or yourself. For most shapes, you will want to start by making strips. First lay out your mat on a clean, flat, sturdy workspace, and then take your fabric and fold it once or twice to fit on the mat. Line up the bottom fold even with one of the grid lines on the mat, and press out the fabric with your hands to ensure that it is perfectly flat through all layers with no wrinkles. Next, square up the fabric by using your ruler to mark a straight line near the vertical edge (the left edge if you are right-handed) exactly perpendicular to the bottom fold line. Apply pressure to the ruler to hold the fabric securely in place, making sure to keep your fingers well within the bounds of the ruler and not in any way overhanging the edge, and then carefully follow the edge of the ruler with the rotary blade using enough pressure to get through all layers of the fabric. Discard the excess fabric you just cut away from the side, and then use the straight edge as a guide for placing your ruler where it needs to be to cut the next straight line where it will give you the width of fabric strip you need. Repeat this line-cutting process until you have cut as many strips as you need. Then you can lay out these strips along the horizontal lines of the mat and cut vertically or diagonally with the ruler to make individual shapes such as squares, rectangles or triangles. As with any skill, this technique takes time and practice to gain proficiency, so start out taking things slow and with projects and materials that can afford some imperfection. Eventually, you will become faster and able to do more things, and your sewing experience will be more enriched as a result.
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