Rotary Cutting

cutters and rulersMost of the patterns on this website give instructions for rotary cutting pieces rather than scissors. You need not only a cutter but a self-healing mat and a ruler. The three are often sold together as a package. The most useful ruler we've found is the one measuring 6 x 24 inches as you can use this to cut nearly everything, as well for straightening the edges of your newly purchased fabrics. As you progress you may find you want a shorter and/or narrower ruler, more for ease of use than anyother reason. The only other ruler we use a lot is a square, 12inches we've found to be the most useful size.

These tools are expensive and need looking after. Mats should be stored flat and away from heat - including the sun - or they will warp (and never lie flat again). With age they go brittle and will snap if you are rough with them After several years of use you will find they develop grooves and lint starts to gather. Keep them clean with a brisk rub over with a washing-up sponge and an occasional bit of washing up liquid.

Rulers are also brittle, try not to drop them on a hard floor. Over time they will develop little nicks down the edges where you've caught them with the cutter - which then nick the blade of the cutter. Sanding the nicks off helps up to a point but remember you are also making your ruler smaller!

Cutters will last for years. The blades for hours. There are now many different types of cutter available. If you get the opportunity at a Quilt Show to try the different types out then take advantage of it until you find one that feels comfortable in your hand, especially if you find you are getting arthritis in your wrist. Basic cutters can cost very little from discount shops, they will be lightweight but will still do the same job as an expensive one. They will require a new and expensive blade though as the one they come with will be fine for cutting paper but not a lot else.

The following text on rotary cutting comes from a book Chris and Barbara wrote a few years ago : 'Right from the Start', Chris Franses and Barbara Chainey, 2010. Traplet Publications. You will find more information on the tools and equipment you may need in it's first chapter.

A few thoughts on safety

Rotary cutters are one of our favourite time-saving tools enabling us to cut pieces for a quilt in a fraction of the time taken using templates and scissors. However, as they are sharp enough to cut through up to eight layers of fabric at a time, they are also sharp enough to cut through carpets, kitchen tables and you. They should therefore be handled carefully and properly.

Before you use a rotary cutter become familiar with some essential dos and don’ts so that safety becomes habit.


  • Use the rotary cutter with a self-healing mat
  • Keep the mat on a firm, steady surface; preferably at comfortable work-top height.
  • Keep the safety cover on the blade except at the moment you are making the cut.
  • Cut with the blade rolling away from your body.
  • Change the blade when it becomes blunt, or nicked.
  • Put the cutter away safely when you have finished using it – don’t leave it lying around for small children to find; or husbands to borrow.


  • Never be tempted to use the rotary cutter to cut anything unless it is on the self-healing mat – don’t for instance try to snip threads or slice a length of ribbon whilst holding it.
  • Never rest the mat on your knees, always place it on the table; or the floor if you must.
  • Never, ever, ever put the cutter down without the safety cover in place; you could easily cover it with some fabric, forget its existence, scoop the fabric (and cutter) up in your hands and slice your fingers quite badly. And if you don’t, someone else will.
  • Never cut towards or across yourself, always turn the fabric, or the mat and fabric so that you cut away from your body – the consequences of the blade slipping don’t bear thinking about.
  • Never use the cutter for cutting anything but fabric. Save an old, used blade for cutting paper, card and template plastic.