The last few weeks we talked about squaring up fabric and cutting strips to make strip sets. This week, I want to cover fabric cutting in general, specifically cutting mat, rotary cutter and ruler tips. Some of these tips you may already know but some may be new to you. Keeping your cutting supplies in good working order is important to making your cutting experience a good one. Let get started on this week’s tips.
Lines on the Cutting Mat: I have heard this advice and I am sure you have too. “Never use the lines on your cutting mat to cut fabric”. I don’t like absolute statements like that. There are times when it’s perfectly fine to use the lines on the mat, especially if you know they are accurate according to the ruler you use.
As you can see, my Creative Grids ruler lines line up with the 1/2″ and 1″ lines on my cutting mat. So, I can use my cutting mat with confidence as a measurement guide if something I am cutting exceeds the length of my 6 1/2 x 24 1/2″ ruler. I generally use my mat if I have a long strip to measure or when measuring a length of fabric. I also use the line on the bottom to line up my fabric when I am squaring it up (this is before I place the rulers for squaring).
As you can see in the photo above, I can tell that I matched up my selvages well in the first step of squaring fabric because the fold of my fabric lays smoothly and evenly along this bottom line.
Mat Maintenance: The caution for above falls under maintenance of your mat. The reason most say not to use the lines for cutting, especially over and over in the same place, is it can create a worn area even on your self-healing mat. Yes, even they can wear out! Rotate your mat often and avoid cutting in the same place. Some mats are even double sided so if yours is, flip it occasionally and use the other side. If you take care of your self-healing mat, it will last years. Here are more tips for cleaning and maintaining your mat:
- You can remove bits of fabric fiber that get caught in cuts in your mat by rubbing a gum eraser (artist’s eraser) over sections you have just used to cut. You can also use a soft toothbrush. Make sure it’s soft so you don’t damage your mat.
- You can also remove bits of fiber or lint from the surface by wrapping your hand in packing tape and lightly running it over the mat
You can see in the photo on the right all the lint I picked up!
- Always store your mat flat. Now, you have no problem with that if you have a dedicated sewing space, but if you do not, be sure not to store your mat leaning against a wall or anywhere on end. This will cause your mat to bend out of shape and warp, possibly beyond repair. If you don’t have an area where you can lie it flat when not in use, consider hanging it in a closet using a skirt hanger:
I put a little piece of scrap batting over the top edge of the mat to protect it from the clips on the hanger.
- Keep the mat away from extreme temperature changes, especially out of direct sunlight. Never iron on your mat.
- Finally, you can moisturize your mat to keep it supple and healthy. Put 1/4 cut of white vinegar per gallon of cool water in a tub and soak the mat for about 15 minutes. Use a very soft toothbrush to remove the fiber bits. You can also add in a few drops of mild dish soap. Rinse with cool water, gently towel dry or lay it flat on a towel for drying.
Safety first! The rotary cutter has a very sharp blade, as we know (I know from personal experience and a trip to the ER!). The first safety tip is to make sure you have a fresh blade. The blade might look good to the naked eye, but if you feel like you have to press down hard to cut through all the layers of fabric, it’s time to change the blade. Also, if you notice “skips” in the cutting, that’s another sign that your blade is dulling. Once you change the blade, store the used one in an empty rotary blade container marked “used blades”. Once it’s full, you can safely toss it away.
Also, a dull blade can also damage your cutting mat!
To make my cutting experience even safer, I never leave the blade open. Use the lock button as well so no one can accidentally open the cutter.
I also use a klutz glove and ruler safety shields on my rulers for added safety:
The safety shields come only in a 24″ long size for the long ruler, but I bought extra and had them cut to size to fit my smaller rulers.
Finally, anchoring the ruler correctly while cutting will keep your rotary cutter mistakes to a minimum. Tent your hand instead of laying it flat on the ruler. If you hand is flat on the ruler, there’s more of a chance of you pushing the ruler out of place. The tenting of your hand focuses your pressure down to keep the ruler in place.
There are tools like this Little Gripper that helps you get a better grip on your ruler if you are unable to tent your hand with enough pressure.
Using the Ruler: When it comes to cutting, most of us know about the straight lines and a basic reading of a ruler. But there are other markings on the ruler that can come in handy. I’m using my favorite rulers, Creative Grid, for these examples. Here’s a few of these markings:
- You can use the ruler to find the center of a piece of fabric or block by using the markings on the ruler. Those intersecting white lines and the circle where they meet is the exact center of this ruler shown below. This comes in handy when squaring up blocks or when you are fussy cutting a piece of fabric.
- The 45 degree line comes in handy when you are trimming a half-square or quarter-square triangle squares. Place the 45 degree ruler line on the diagonal seam of your square to guarantee that you are trimming the square evenly on all sides. The 45 degree line also comes in handy when cutting bias strips to make bias binding or for making stems for appliqué motifs.
- Use the extra lines between the 1″ lines to quickly identify where to place your ruler. On the Creative Grids ruler, notice the lines between the inches are different lengths. The 1/8″ lines are slightly shorter than the 1/4″ lines and the 1/2″ line is longer than both of those (see photo below). This helps you find measurements like 2 3/8″ and 3 3/4″ quickly on the ruler.
Caring for Your Rulers:
- Clean your rulers periodically by dusting with a soft cloth. Do not use anything abrasive like paper towels that can scratch the ruler surface and make the markings harder to read. Also don’t use any cleaning solution with bleach or ammonia. If you need to use a cleaning solution, use those that are meant for plexiglass.
- Store your rulers, like your cutting mat, away from direct sunlight or in areas of your home with extreme temperature changes.
- Finally, make sure to store your rulers securely. If you drop them or they fall from a storage area, they will chip or break. I hang my rulers on a peg board that you can find at any hardware store. Mine was meant for a garage, but it works in my sewing room.
If you don’t have a dedicated sewing space where you can mount something to the wall, you can store your rulers hanging from a hanger:
So that’s it for this week. With all this information on cutting mats, rotary cutters and rulers, you should be ready to get cutting! Leave me a comment or ask any questions below and be entered into a drawing for a 6 1/2″ square Creative Grids ruler!
Also share some of your cutting mat, rotary cutter and ruler tips. You never know where you can pick up a great tip!
The drawing will be on Monday, August 30th. Good luck! **We have a winner! Congrats, Karen!**
Donna S says
Love your tips. I need to clean my mats & have seen some suggestions, but was unsure which to use. But have always felt your tips were great to follow.
My favorite cutting tip is to cut to a point parallel with your tenting hand, then move your tenting hand farther along a long ruler to keep the ruler from shifting.
Now I’m going to clean my mats…
Good idea to reposition your hand, especially when making long cuts.
Tammy Earl says
I keep a lint roller near my cutting mat to clean up those linty bits left over from cutting. And I’ve always been afraid of getting my mat wet or cleaning it in any other way. Good tips! Because I know it needs a cleaning!
Great idea! Those lint rollers really come in handy.
Lisa Gresham says
Love all the tips. I want to get one of those used blade cutter holder. It seems like a great way to recycle a blade that only has one burr in it.
I stand and store all of my smaller rulers in a magazine holder…. You can purchase these at any office supply store
Catherine Dorsey says
My rulers hang on my wall. They are grouped according to size. I store my mat on top of my freezer as that is my cutting table which is hinged to a wall and lifts if I need access to the freezer.
Love the pictures and ideas.
I need to try the cleaning tricks on my cutting mats.
The cleaning tips were much needed and appreciated. Thank you for sharing.
These are great tips. As a beginner I learn something new with quilting every day. Loving every bit of information to help me be a better quilter. Taking care of our equipment is necessary and learning how to care for them is definitely a necessity.
This article has so many great tips. If you have limited funds for purchasing rulers, what sizes would you choose?
I think the two I would choose are the 6 1/2 x 24 1/2″ long ruler and a 12 1/2″ square. The long ruler for cutting strips and the square for measuring blocks for accurate size. Eventually, I would get square rulers 4 1/2″, 6 1/2″ and 9 1/2″. Also a 6 1/2 x 12 1/2″ ruler.
Great tips for keeping the mat in good shape. I keep small rulers and templates, with their instructions, in page protectors in a 3 ring notebook. A small piece of sticky back velcro keeps them closed.
Deborah Love says
All these are awesome bits of information. Thanks for the lesson too. How do you manage cutting when material is longer than your board?
That’s a good question that maybe another reader has an answer for. I never have something longer than my board since I am a scrap quilter. I usually work with nothing over 1 yard.