Fabric Cutter or Rotary Cutter? Overcoming the Learning Gap

Fabric Cutter or Rotary Cutter?

Do you remember learning how to use scissors?

Or, perhaps a child or grandchild trying to figure out just the right way to hold the scissors AND cut out shapes–at the same time? I remember it being a little tricky to learn how to accurately cut soft and supple fabric, and shapes drawn from plastic templates.

Then came learning how to manage the rotary cutter, with the addition of coordinating measurements on a mat and using a ruler to guide cutting fabric. That one took some time for the logic to wrap around my head. There are an amazing number of rotary cutter tools on the market today to cut fabric, something to help with every quilting need. Just check out Cutting Tools and Easier Quilting Techniques to find out the range available.

Cutting technology to “die” for

You mastered scissors, and you’re probably a wizard with the rotary cutter too if you’ve been quilting for any length of time. Bring on the latest cutting edge technology, (yes, that is a pun intended): die cutting machines and computerized fabric cutting machines. I admit it. I’ve been shying away from incorporating the use of these tools into my quilting strategy–even though many quilters at the office applaud their advantages. But, I’ve finally decided I need to at least give them a try.

morris-star-bom-part-1-flat

The Morris Star Block of the Month

What type of fabric cutter should I use?

I started the Morris Star Block-of-the-Month a while ago. It’s a sister design of Jean Nolte’s, Morris Garden, which appeared in Love of Quilting. Morris Star is made with The Original Morris & Co. Merton and Kelmscott fabric collections from Free Spirit Fabrics. (Check out the backstory of these two collections. They are wonderful!)

Morris Garden, designed by Jean Nolte, Love of Quilting, September/October 2018

Morris Garden designed by Jean Nolte, Love of Quilting September/October 2018

Sorry, I digressed. Back to fabric cutters.

I plan to increase the size of the 104” x 104” Morris Star design by adding a 9” border to make a comfortable king-sized bedspread. To stay with the floral theme of the fabrics I decided it would be lovely to add appliqué flowers and leaves to the border, similar to those designs found in the fabrics.

Fabric from The Original William & Morris Merton collection for Free Spirit Fabrics

Fabric from The Original William & Morris Merton collection for Free Spirit Fabrics

From my calculations, I need 48 oak leaves and 12 each of tulip and posy centers and backs. That’s 96 total appliqué shapes to cut. My thought: ”The perfect opportunity to bring in a cutting machine.” And, this project is the one to test drive a die cutter and a computerized fabric cutter. I located the Rustling Leaves die (#55390), which has the right size oak leaf. I decided to use it for my training session with the AccuQuilt Go! die cutter. Drawing custom tulip and posy shapes gave me the perfect opportunity to try uploading designs to the Cricut Design Space from my laptop and printing them through the Cricut Maker.

AccuQuilt Rustling Leaves die #55390

AccuQuilt Rustling Leaves die #55390

Overcoming the learning curve: Using a Fabric cutter for the first time

As this experience ended up being a test for learning how to use and using them for a real project I thought it made sense to review the tried-and-true template and scissor method I’d typically use. How would my thinking process need to change when using a cutting machine?

Starting with plastic templates

So, just for kicks, I cut out one appliqué patch using each of my hand-drawn plastic templates. Before I cut the appliqué, I traced the floral template shapes onto Therm-o-web HeatnBond Lite and backed the fabric with the fusible interfacing.

Tried-and-True Template & Scissorsfabric cutter method

Tried-and-True Template & Scissorsfabric cutter method

On to the die fabric cutter for the oak leaf appliqué…

I’d heard from many sources that I could cut as many as eight appliqué shapes at one time with the AccuQuilt Go! fabric cutter. Not being an immediate believer of about anything I tested this legend. I also felt the very best way to approach learning to use the cutter was to practice before going all the way with cutting quantities of fabric at once.

Ready to cut!

Ready to cut!

Again, starting with backing the fabric with HeatnBond, I cut out strips an ample bit larger than the die cutter shape. I rolled the test cut with one piece of interfacing-backed fabric, next time I tried cutting four and then I cut six appliqué patches at a time until I’d cut all 48 leaves.

Appliqué Oak Leaves

Appliqué Oak Leaves

Through my practice, I learned to cut the fabric rectangles closer to the size of the actual leaf shape to save fabric. I knew I had crossed the learning curve chasm when I started thinking about building efficiencies into the process. I used my rotary cutter to cut fabric and interfacing strips the width of the cutter first, then pressing the interfacing to the back of the fabric. Next, I went back to the rotary cutter to cut smaller rectangles the size of the die leaf, before I took the stacks to the fabric cutter.

Ready to start cutting the flowers!

Preparing appliqué flower patches with a computerized fabric cutter…

I’ve used computer hardware and software applications every workday of my life for a good number of years. Just from that information, you’d think I’d be ready to embrace an electronic fabric cutter. I’ve determined that my hesitation comes from the learning curve sometimes required to figure out how to interface with the hardware and software.

Preparing to Cut Multiple Patches

Preparing to Cut Multiple Patches

Going into this experience I feel it paid off to bring in a good foundation for the functional flow of cutting shapes because I was able to take the process of hand-cutting the templates. Along with a basic knowledge of software and print technology I could more easily apply the general basics of what I learned to use the die cutter and Cricut technologies.

Preparing Fabric for Cricut Maker

Preparing Fabric for Cricut Maker

I followed the instructions carefully to set up the Cricut Maker and an account to access Cricut’s Design Space. I uploaded .pdf files of each of the templates to the Design Space. And then, I prepared my fabric with fusible interfacing, just like I did with the other processes.

Feeding Fabric into the Fabric Cutter

Feeding Fabric into the Fabric Cutter

The electronic fabric cutter has a set up similar to that of the die cutter.

Fabric is fed through the cutting device. The big difference is the cutting process is managed through the computer and the Design Space software. And, if you’ve used software, you know that you need to learn which features and functions are needed to cut (something like learning to use the software and hardware to send a document to print from a printer). You can tell from the pictures below the steps were very straightforward and the learning curve minimal once everything was set up.

Cutting Appliqué Patches

Cutting Appliqué Patches

As you can see below the additional border for the Morris Star quilt is going to be quite nice. I was able to cut all the appliqué patches faster and more accurately, leaving more time to enjoy stitching them to the background fabric. Maybe quilting technology isn’t so bad after all!

Borders for my quilt cut using a fabric cutter

Happy Quilting!

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