Hi! This week I want to cover tips for these essential quilting tools: rulers, cutting mats and rotary cutters. These tools are used daily in all our sewing rooms so I thought I’d share some facts about these tools, tips on caring for them, and tips on using them. Maybe you know some of these things or maybe you’ll learn something new. Either way, I hope you enjoy this week’s blog post!
Your ruler is not only used to measure and cut fabric for your project, but also used throughout the entire process of making a quilt. You use them to measure and trim units and to square up quilt blocks, to name two.
Basic Use, Cleaning, and Storage: The acrylic quilting rulers that are everywhere today became a quilting staple in the late 70s around the time the modern rotary cutter was introduced. Here’s a photo showing my standard rulers I rely on daily:
I use the two rulers on the left, the 6 1/2 x 24 1/2″ and the 6 1/2 x 12 1/2″, the most when I am squaring, measuring, and cutting yardage. When squaring, measuring and cutting pre-cuts like fat quarters and fat eighths, I rely on the 6 1/2 x 12 1/2″ ruler and the 6 1/2″ square. The 4 1/2″ square ruler is usually kept by my machine to measure the accuracy of units as I go. I also have several square rulers that range from 9 1/2″ to 16 1/2″ for squaring blocks.
Bonus Tip: It’s a good idea that all your rulers are they same brand. This assures that measurements will match from ruler to ruler.
Acrylic rulers are not unbreakable or resistant to damage, so caring for these rulers should be part of your quilting routine. Here are some tips on storage and care:
- 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 and not 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. In a previous post, I showed the pegboard on my sewing room wall where I hang my rulers. If you don’t have wall space, you can also store them with a ruler rack like this:
Reading and More Usage Tips: My favorite brand of ruler are Creative Grid. I like the clear acrylic with no color tint and the clear markings. They also have gripper dots on the back to limit slipping (photo on right).
Here’s a closer look of my ruler that shows another reason I like Creative Grids. The markings go in both directions so no matter which way you have the ruler turned you can measure accurately. Notice the white numbers and the black numbers:
I also like how the 1/8″, 1/4″ and 1/2″ lines are different lengths, the 1/2″ being the longest, for quick reference. As a beginning quilter, I did not pay too much attention to something like this but I now see how it helps with quick ruler placement.
If you are cutting a lot of strips the same width, consider using a piece of painter’s tape placed at that measurement line on the ruler to guarantee all strips are cut the same. This also helps you to quickly locate the measurement line when you have to re-position the ruler.
Finally, secure your ruler properly while you are cutting, even if you have a Creative Grids ruler or other brand that has the anti-slippage dots on the back. Here’s how to place your hand as you are cutting:
Tent your hand, as shown above, instead of placing your hand flat on the ruler. If you place your hand flat on the ruler, you may inadvertently push the ruler forward. Tenting your hand makes the pressure you are exerting go down instead of forward so there’s less chance of your ruler moving. If you need to you can use some of the tools out there that help you to hold and press down the ruler, like this Little Gypsy Gripper:
Cutting Mats and Rotary Cutters
Cutting Mats: First, cutting mats need to be cared for to keep them useful. You should clean your mat periodically by putting 1/4 cup of white vinegar per gallon of cool water in a tub and soaking 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. In between a cleaning like this, you can clean bits of lint and threads off your mat by running a artist’s eraser, a piece of packing tape or a lint roller across the board:
These mats are self healing but try to avoid cutting in the same place every time you cut fabric to allow the mat to heal properly. Mats do wear out eventually, that’s why it’s a good idea to buy a double sided mat and flip it periodically so you are not always using the same side. If you have a deep cut that does not heal, then you know it’s probably time to replace the mat.
Do not store your mat where it will get distorted, like in direct sunlight or extreme heat. If your mat does warp, it has been suggested a way to fix it is to carefully heat it up and place a heavy item on it to flatten it out again. I have never tried this so I can not vouch for this approach. However if you want to try it, Google the instructions. There are a lot of quilters who have tried it and claim it works.
As a rule, I don’t rely on the lines on my cutting mat for cutting fabric strips or pieces for a project. But they can be used to measure out the yardage amount you need for a project and to assist you when squaring your fabric. For example, if the fold of your fabric lays flat along a horizontal line on your mat, you know you’ve prepared your piece of fabric correctly for the squaring up process (photo below).
Rotary Cutters: Rotary cutters have been around since the late 70s and began being widely used for quilting in the mid to late 80s. The four sizes most often used in quilting range from cutters with a smaller 18mm blade up to one with a larger 60mm blade. The one I use the most, as do most quilters, is the 45mm size cutter:
It’s the perfect size for cutting strips of fabric and then the pieces needed for your quilt. This cutter will cut through up to four layers of fabric. Quilters will use (and should use) the 60mm cutter if they need to cut through more than four layers of fabric.
I keep an 18mm cutter by my machine with my small ruler and mat to measure and trim up units as I stitch. This small cutter is the perfect size for that and also for curved cuts. There is also a cutter with a 20mm blade that can be used for this task.
I’ve talked about rotary cutters in previous posts so I’ll just briefly go over some safety tips here:
Tip #1: Make sure the blade is always sharp. If your cutter skips or frays fabric as you cut, it’s time to change the blade. If you feel like you have to push down hard to make a cut in one pass, it’s time to change the blade. A dull blade can lead to accidents. If you have a blade sharpener, you can try that first, then if that fails, change it.
Tip #2: Always cut away from your body when using a rotary cutter. This is another tip to help avoid accidents.
Tip#3 : Always close and lock your rotary cutter whenever you put it down. Even if it’s just to move your ruler to measure for the next cut.
Tip #4: Make sure your rotary cutter is straight and hugging the edge of your ruler all the way through the cut you are making. You want your rotary cutter straight like in the photo on the left, not slanted like the photo on the right.
Slanting the cutter may cause you to move your ruler from the pressure being applied.
So that’s all I have for this week. I hope you learned something new or learned something you may have forgotten! Let me know what you think in the comments.