Above: Colorful cutting with OLFA!
Hands down, almost every quilter will tell you the most essential quilting tools for any project are the fabric cutting tools. The OLFA Corporation debuted the first rotary cutter in 1979 to replace scissors for garment sewing. It wasn’t long before quilters began using rotary cutters, rulers and mats to replace cutting quilt patches by tracing around cardboard, milk carton and template plastic shapes to cut each individually with scissors. Nearly all projects begin with a cutting mat, rotary cutter and ruler for today’s quilter.
Throughout 2018 The Quilting Company partnered with OLFA to create a series of Schoolhouse Steps for each of the 6 issues of McCall’s Quilting and Quiltmaker magazines. We created 19 individual instruction pages to describe using special techniques and quilting tools to complete many of the quilt projects you’ll find in the publications. The topics in the Schoolhouse Steps are listed below. You can find the entire collection of techniques here. We think these techniques and quilting tools are helpful for any experienced, as well as beginner, quilter.
- Bias Strips for Appliqué
- Cutting Curved Templates with a Rotary Cutter
- 60° Triangles
- Piecing and Cutting Bands for Lone Star Blocks
- Cutting Patches Efficiently
- Cutting Setting Triangles
- Trimming Strips Even with Patches
- Cutting Templates
- Fast Flying Geese
- Foundation Piecing and Trimming
- Joining Bias Strips on Bias
- Quarter-Square Triangles
- Quick Pieced Units
- Squaring Up Appliqué
- Stitch & Flip
- Making Bands
- Triangle-Squares: 2 at a time
- Triangle-Squares: 8 at a time
- Trimming Appliqué
Thinking about this post had me asking what other information related to using these techniques would be helpful to you. Choosing the right fabric cutting tools is as important as how you use them.
Quilting tools, particularly those that cut fabric, are most often selected because they add value to the quilt-making process. We love the tools that are simple to use, provide accurate measurements and cuts and make it easy for the most tedious of tasks, like spending hours of precious time cutting all those strips and patches that go into a quilt. To make it even easier I gathered information from OLFA to guide you with selecting the right cutting mat, ruler and rotary cutter for the job.
Fabric Cutting Tool Selection Guide
There are a variety of cutting mat sizes and shapes, from travel size to full table size. The mat I like the best is one that has the easiest to read grid lines, lines spaced one-inch apart and also marked with 1/8″, 1/4″, 1/2″ and 1″ increments. I also prefer a mat that is self-healing because it reseals rotary blade cuts. For OLFA a self-healing mat also helps to extend the life of the cutting mat and rotary cutter blade. That’s a cost savings for me.
Rectangular Cutting Mat: The most commonly used mat is rectangular, double-sided for general cutting on one side and the other for more precision cutting. A rectangular mat often includes lines to help you cut angles easier, along with markings that help line up fabric edges so you can accurately cut the correct size of strips, patches and blocks. I use different sized rectangular mats, depending on what I want to cut and where:
- 6” x 8” to take along for mobile applique cuts or marking fabric for Triangle-Square units (I use it most when I’m quilting on the sofa by the hubs or traveling in the car.),
- 18” x 24” used when I take my cutting projects to the kitchen to finish making dinner, and want to finish cutting the patches,
- 24” x 36” which I have on a desk in our family room to use for cutting quilt projects and at the same time spend time with my gang, and a
- 35” x 70” which is permanently placed on the cutting table in my studio. I find this mat is the most convenient when I’m cutting long border strips.
Rotating Cutting Mat: The one-piece rotating mat is relatively new to the quilting community. It has a non-slip, stationary bottom layer with an interlocking top cutting mat that rotates 360 degrees. It’s perfect for cutting squares, triangles, diamonds, circles or any shape that requires turning to cut multiple sides.
Folding Cutting Mat: This mat is all about convenience, with the features of a regular rectangular mat. It’s full size but if you have just a small space or small-size cuts, it folds to a perfect size for that too. A folding mat is convenient for travel or storage, and ideal for classes or retreats.
I depend on similar criteria as that used for selecting a mat or rotary cutter when I’m choosing rulers. I look for rulers that are safe, those that have non-slip features to add stability while I’m cutting. (I speak from experience, after deeply cutting into a finger when my ruler has moved from the travel of my rotary cutter.) I also look for numbers on measurements that are easy to read to help with accurate cutting and I can see my fabric through the ruler. The frosting in OLFA’s Non-Slip, Frosted Advantage™ Acrylic Rulers allows the imprinting to be read effortlessly over dark, light or patterned fabrics and materials and are non-slip for extra stability while cutting. Like a cutting mat, I am most fond of rulers marked with 1/8″, 1/4″, 1/2″ and 1″ increments. After all, the mat and the ruler are used in tandem to make sure all sides of a strip, patch or block is accurately sized. To this end, many rulers also include a Compass Pivot Point with angles for 15⁰, 30⁰, 45⁰, 60⁰ and 90⁰ cuts.
Rectangular rulers are the most commonly used tools, however, block-size rulers are also very handy to have available, another way to ensure you get the correct finished block size. Here are the common ruler sizes and examples of projects where they are used.
1¼” x 12 ½”, 6” x 12” and 6” x 24” Rulers: I am constantly interchanging these rulers when I’m cutting fabric. I use the 6” x 12” one to cut patches, from a fat eight or quarter or patches from a strip of fabric for example. I generally use the 6” x 24” ruler to cut strips from fabric yardage because it can span across the width with a minimum number of ruler moves. I find the 1¼” x 12½” ruler really convenient to cut apart Triangle Square units and to clean up the ¼” seam allowance while I’m foundation piecing.
Block-Size rulers are extremely useful for trimming the edges of a quilt block. I’m grateful they come in common pre-finished block sizes, 4½”, 6½“, 9½“, 12½“ and 16½“.
4½” Square Ruler: Quilters can use it as a template for 4″ squares, baby quilts and more.
6½” Square Ruler: Use it to square up corners of blocks, for marking and cutting patchwork and miniature quilts.
9½” Square Ruler: Use as a template for squaring up to 9″ blocks, borders and backgrounds and for cutting squares, triangles and strips.
12½” Square Ruler: This ruler is not only great for squaring pieced, applique and foundation blocks and cutting larger pieces, it’s also very useful for making templates for pillow tops and for simple square patchwork designs.
16½” Square Ruler: Use this ruler for squaring larger blocks, borders, pillow templates and for square designs.
From experience I know cutting too many patches and strips in one session leaves my hands sore. The repetitive motion of the task causes it. So, hand health becomes really important, particularly as we get older. We’ve learned that using a rotary cutter reduces a lot of the soreness. Selecting the right one for the task can reduce even more soreness, as it meets our cutting needs. Rotary cutters come in many colors, shapes and styles, and types of blades, to match handling the cutter with cutting fabric. Here is a guide for selecting one of the most commonly used rotary cutters for a quilting project.
18mm Rotary Cutter: Use it to cut curved quilt pieces and templates, or to trim seams. The OLFA 18mm rotary cutter includes a quick blade change handle.
28mm Rotary Cutter: This cutter is perfect for small-scale projects, miniatures and tight corners. The OLFA 28mm rotary cutter includes a quick blade change handle.
45mm Rotary Cutter: The cutter is a rolling razor blade used to cut materials into shapes, strips and pieces for sewing, quilting and craft projects. The OLFA 45mm rotary cutter is available with a quick a blade change handle, straight handle or ergonomic handle and cuts up to 8 layers of cotton fabric.
60mm Rotary Cutter: Ideal for medium to heavy-duty projects, this cutter can accommodate up to eight layers of fabric. The OLFA 60mm rotary cutter is available with a straight handle or ergonomic handle and cuts up to 12 layers of cotton fabric.
You know, it’s amazing the role cutting mats, rulers and rotary cutters play in making a quilt—more than any quilter probably even thinks about. We pick a quilt design, buy the fabric and just start cutting, with these wonderful fabric cutting tools at the ready in the background, ready to pull out to do their thing. How lucky we are to have them help us with the work of quilting!
Brought to you by The Quilting Company & OLFA Corporation