How to Choose Rotary Cutting Mats, Rulers, and Cutters for Quilting

  • 01 of 03

    Introduction to Rotary Cutting Tools

    Quilt making tools on a table
    Lisa Stokes/Getty Images

    Rotary cutting is one of the most time-saving skills a quilter can master because it eliminates the need to mark and cut individual patches of fabric. Not only does rotary cutting speed up quilt assembly, if done correctly it will most definitely enhance your accuracy.

    Rotary cutters resemble pizza cutters, with an important difference—their blades are razor sharp, so they can slice through the fabric. I'll never forget how frightened I was many years ago when my seven-year-old daughter came to me crying, her hands covered in blood. She had found a new rotary cutter, which I thought was tucked away safely, opened the package and proceeded to cut construction paper. Thankfully, her cuts weren't deep.

    Many styles of rotary cutters are available, all with different shapes of handles and a variety of protective sheaths. In general, larger rotary blades allow you to cut more layers of fabric at once but cutting too many layers at a time can destroy your accuracy, so get plenty of practice before you stack loads of fabrics.

    Replace the rotary blade when it no longer makes a swift, clean cut through the cloth.

    To make your use of rotary cutters more pleasant, be sure to learn about rotary cutting safety and how to rotary cut long strips of fabric.

    Continue to 2 of 3 below.
  • 02 of 03

    How to Choose a Rotary Cutting Mat for Quilting

    Rotary cutting mats
    Janet Wickell

    Quilting fabric is cut on a special rotary mat. The mats are slightly rough to help grip the fabric, and they're made of a material that protects the rotary blade and keeps it from becoming dull too quickly.

    Most rotary mats are self-healing, meaning that any nicks the blade leaves as is passes over the mat are not permanent. Some mats are reversible, with a dark and a light side that lets you choose a color that contrasts with the fabric you are cutting.

    Most rotary mats are marked with a grid, which provides a good general guide to fabric placement but is not accurate enough to measure strips for cutting—you'll need a rotary ruler for that task.

    Purchase the largest mat you can afford that fits your work area because large mats make it much easier to cut fabric into strips.

    Because they warp easily, don't forget to clean and care for a rotary cutting mat. Keep your rotary mats out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources.

    Continue to 3 of 3 below.
  • 03 of 03

    Rotary Rulers for Quilt Making

    Rotary cutting rulers
    Janet Wickell

    You'll use acrylic, see-through rulers to align the fabric and hold it firmly against the cutting mat. Choose rotary rulers that are marked with very thin lines. It's much easier to align the edge of your fabric accurately under a narrow line than it is to guess where it's at under a broader marking.

    There are hundreds of kinds of rotary rulers. Start with the basics and add to your collection as you discover which rotary rulers work best for your needs.

    Basic Rotary Rulers for Your Collection

    • A 6" x 24" rotary ruler is a must and enables you to make nearly any type of cut. It should be marked with 30-, 45-, and 60-degree lines, with dimensions in 1/8" increments.
    • A 6.5" x 6.5" square ruler is perfect for aligning and cutting squares and triangle-squares. Dimensions are duplicated along two adjoining sides, with a diagonal guideline running through them. Rules should be in 1/8" increments.
    • A 12.5" x 12.5" square ruler helps you make sure blocks are square, but you'll find lots of other uses for it, too.

    Rotary equipment makes it easy to cut patchwork shapes for quilts and to square up the ends of strip sets when you use strip piecing techniques to make quilts.