When it comes to quilting and sewing, a rotary cutter is one thing you just cannot ignore. Think of these cutters as the reason you will ever be able to cut fabric straight without much training. Of course, scissors are a hell of a tool to use for straight lines for a newbie. That’s why a rotary cutter is a go-to tool for experienced and amateur quilters.
Even with the ease of use, you still need to know how to use the tool in the best way. Only then will you appreciate the true convenience that a rotary cutter brings. In this article, I shall explain how you should use a rotary cutter for both standard and large pieces of fabric. If you don’t have a rotary cutter, you will also learn two ways of cutting the fabric without the tool.
How to cut fabric straight for quilting
As you may already know, a rotary cutter goes hand in hand with quilting. Below are the steps to cut fabric straight for your quilting project:
You need to get the fabric ready for cutting if you really want straight cuts. Whereas this does not include prewashing the fabric, one mandatory thing is pressing the fabric. This is the most essential thing for achieving accurate cuts.
Before pressing the fabric, fold it so that the hem ends come together. If the fabric had been stored without proper folding, you might need to shake it and then fold it. In most cases, the selvage edges won’t look straight but don’t worry about that so long as the selvage ends are together and relatively straightened.
Press the fabric while ensuring the folded edge remains intact (and nice).
The cutting area needs to be ready for the job, just like the fabric. To prepare the area, clear all the items on that area and spread the cutting mat. It’s as simple as that!
On a well-laid cutting mat, place the fabric with the raw edge on your right-hand side. The selvage edge should be aligned with the bottom because it is mostly squared by the manufacturer.
Begin by squaring the raw edge on the right side. For this, you’ll need to line up your ruler with the bottom folded edge so that the ruler is straight over the raw edge.
When you have placed the ruler on the fabric, secure it with your hand against the fabric so that as you cut, there will be no relative motion between the ruler and the material. Only by so doing will you be able to a straight edge. If you have a lot of material to cut, I advise you to use a broader ruler, such as the 6” by 24” size, so that you can leverage your elbow to keep it stationary. Avoid moving your hand, as in letting the ruler free. Doing so can make the ruler move, resulting in crooked edges.
With the rotary cutter in your right hand, cut along the ruler at a steady speed and pressure. If this is your first time cutting fabric with a rotary cutter, you will probably need to apply more pressure than anticipated.
After straightening the raw edge, turn the fabric through 180-degrees and without lifting it off the mat. The side that you cut in the above step should now be on the left side.
Depending on the width or length you want to cut, line up the ruler so that the portion you need is to the left of the ruler. Ensure the ruler and the material align properly, all the way down.
Cut the fabric in the same manner as you did when squaring up the raw edge, and repeat the procedure if you need more portions of the fabric.
Tips to cutting a fabric straight with a rotary cutter
Before you get to the actual process of cutting, choose a suitable cutter. There are two types of rotary cutters; one with a popping blade and another whose guard you have to push in when cutting. The latter will often inconvenience you whenever the fabric gets caught on the guard. Always go for a cutter whose blade pops out.
Check the state of the blade before you even prepare the fabric. The blade should be sharp and clean to avoid tainting the fabric.
Do not use a rotary cutter if you do not have a cutting (rotary) mat.
For better gripping between the ruler and the fabric, you can invest in gripping tabs. If you go this route, opt for the clear versions that let you see the ruler line through.
Always remember to cut fast and hold the ruler down firmly to avoid shifting the material.
How to cut large pieces of fabric straight
Again, cutting a piece of fabric straight will call for a precision tool. As discussed earlier, the ideal combination for a straight cut is a rotary cutter and a quilting ruler.
The challenge with a large piece of fabric is that you may not need the entire piece but smaller pieces of different measurements. For this, you need to square out at least two adjacent sides and ensure they meet at 90 degrees.
If your fabric has a selvage edge, there is a greater chance that that edge is straight. If not, you will need to straighten and square it out yourself.
Begin by placing the fabric on the rotary mat and secure it with paper clips.
Even out two adjacent edges and start cutting out whatever fabric size that you need.
Remember to measure from the square edges (usually from the left), and use the material wisely.
For example, if you need a piece measuring 50” by 60”, and your fabric roll is 60-inches wide, cut the width of the roll as the length of the required piece. If you measure cut out the length of the piece along the roll’s length, the width of the piece will leave 10 inches (60-50) along the roll’s length. This 10 strip may not fit anywhere in your project.
Even with larger fabric pieces, keep the tips I shared earlier in mind. The principle is the same for most of the procedures.
If the fabric is larger than the rotary mat, you’ll need to fold the fabric, each time reducing its surface area by half. This way, it will be accommodated on the mat. Even so, you should always have a cutting mat that’s larger than the fabric for the best experience.
Video: Rotary Cutting Tip for Beginners
How to cut fabric straight without a rotary cutter
Sometimes the rotary cutter blade becomes too blunt to cut, or you may not have one altogether. There are other tools you can use to cut the fabric straight. These are scissors and a cutting machine.
Scissors are not suited for cutting straight, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be used to make straight cuts. You only need to have an extra tool, a T-square.
You will first make an outline of the piece you want to cut using the square ruler. Mark the outline with a fabric pen. When marking out the section, use the pen against the ruler for the length that you want the fabric piece to be.
Once outlined, it’s easy to follow through the markings with a pair of scissors.
You need to make peace with that the edge will not look as straight as it would have been if it were cut with a rotary cutter.
A cutting machine
Occasionally, you might need to cut intricate designs of the fabric before quilting. Still, you may not use scissors or even a rotary cutter whenever cutting tough fabrics like faux leather and felt, in which case a cutting machine is ideal.
Although a cutting machine is rare to find amongst most quilters, if you have it, you can use it to cut pretty much any fabric.
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Video: How to cut fabric straight with a rotary cutter perfectly
At this point, I expect that at least most of your questions regarding cutting fabric straight with a rotary cutter are now answered. The tips I shared will also help you avoid mistakes that most beginners make, resulting in crooked edges, even with the best rotary cutters.
As you enjoy cutting your fabrics more accurately, remember to take care of your hands. Whenever possible, wear protective gloves when working with a rotary cutter, and always cut in the direction away from you!