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Fabric Cutting Tools

So we are ready to start cutting! I really love the beginning of every project. I just like that time of pulling out all my new (or old) fabric, setting up the design, and of course ironing and cutting the material into shape.

Now fabric cutting has come a long way in a very short space of time. Fifty years ago we would still be using scissors and paper templates and accuracy was pretty much wishful thinking. Not that you can’t be accurate with those methods, I’m sure with healthy overdose of practice and patience you could produce good results.

The wonderful thing is that accurate fabric cutting is much easier now than ever before. With the use of rotary cutters, transparent rulers, and self-healing cutting mats our fabric stash won’t stand a chance. Unfortunately picking which tools to go with can be tricky. I detail my purchasing tips below so you know what to look for what you’re ready to go shopping.

Consider Purchasing a Kit – I go back and forth on this point actually. I personally started rotary cutting with a small fabric kit from Walmart. It came with the basic materials to get started, but it was not really for long term use. The ruler and rotary cutter were great, but the mat was an odd shape (6″ x 12″) and very soon I had to replace it. I also replaced the ruler very soon too because I couldn’t find any other ruler sizes in that brand (more on that later). I did keep the rotary cutter and still use it now two years later. It was a cheap off brand so I can use pretty much any brand blade in it. So basically I would purchase a kit if you are really unsure about getting into quilting, but if you are ready to get started with tools you won’t have to replace later then I would suggest purchasing each item separately.

What to look for in a mat – Look for a mat that is larger than the typical blocks you wish to make. If you like to stick with 12″ blocks maybe go for a 18″ x 24″ mat. Try also to buy a mat that is as large as the table you will be cutting on. This way when you cut you aren’t in danger of running off the mat or having to reposition your fabric. Look for a mat in the colors you don’t typically use. I personally use a lot of dark green so those dark green Olfa mats are pretty much useless for me as the mat color is blending in with my fabric color. You want a sharp contrast between your fabric and the mat so that finding the edges of the fabric will be very easy. Also I don’t see that expensive is better with self-healing mats. I like the cheap ones better because the colors are usually uglier (and therefore a better contrast) and they don’t seem to collect lint as bad.

What to look for in rulers – Picking your rulers is a very personal thing. You want to find a set that are easy for you to read, come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, and are easy to find. I don’t know why, but I cannot use the yellow marked rulers. I cannot see the yellow marks and spend half my time staring at the thing hoping for divine intervention. I use Optima rulers because they have a black marked side (and a yellow marked side for you freaks that like it!). They come in a good range of sizes and are fairly easy to find. Now you should actually pick a brand with rulers and stick with just that brand. Each brand marks their rulers differently and you can find discrepancies between them. Going with one brand also makes it easier for you to quickly and accurately make your cuts as you aren’t spending any time double checking that you’re reading the ruler right. You will develop a relationship with your rulers so really look and find a set you like and can get close to.

What to look for in a rotary cutter – This is also a very personal choice. Mostly it depends on how much you want to spend. If you go with a name brand look to see how much the blades are. You will want to change your blade with every project (and sometimes more often than that!) and some brands like to charge more for replacement blades. They get away with it because they fashion their cutters to only fit their brand blades. I’m not all that into all the bells and whistles companies try to put on cutters either. Yes, a self-retracting blade will help with safety, but I think that having to grip a button might throw off my accuracy. I really hate the ergonomic blades too because you can’t really see the actual blade for all the safety junk on the handle. You will pretty much be out of luck if you want to do any free form cutting where you need to see the blade. Personally, I like a cheap, durable, and simple design. Again, you will develop a relationship with this tool so make sure it fits in your hand nice too.

With these tips I’m sure you can brave the quilting section with confidence. Plan to spend anywhere from $20 to $100 on your basic cutting tools. I know this can seem expensive, but these materials should last you for many years and may never have to be replaced. Starting out with the right tools now will also set you off on the right track to becoming an excellent quilter!

Leah Day


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