Getting to know your rotary cutter: Fussy Cutting

Self healing mat, quilter's ruler and rotary cutter

The lovely Oz Material Girls have asked me to make a regular contribution to their blog! I feel rather honoured :) You can read about my sewing adventures on my blog Pretty Bobbins. I live in New Caledonia and spend my time sewing, enjoying the beach and having fun with my three young children. I love sewing but I have found that having a few basic techniques down pat helps with the enjoyment and reduces the frustration!


Before I discovered the rotary cutter I used to draw lines with tailors chalk using a school ruler as a guide and then cut out my strips with my fabric scissors.  Thank goodness someone suggested I try a quilter's ruler, rotary cutter and self-healing mat!!!  If you are considering  purchasing a cutter and mat, go for it.  You can find them here at the Oz Material Girls.  At first it can be a little daunting, so here are some basic tips.

1.  Iron your fabric before you go about cutting it.

2.  Establish one straight edge to begin with.  An easy way to do this is to cut off your selvedge.  More than likely it will not be perfectly straight, so use it as a rough guide.

The selvedge is the part of the fabric that has the designer's details
 and colour codes.  It is at the top of this photo.

3.  Always cut the fabric on the side of your ruler that you are going to dispose of.  Whilst the ruler is straight, you would be surprised how often you might stray from it and end up with a wonky edge.  Easy to fix if it's your off-cut, frustrating if you've cut into the fabric that you are intending to use.

This is the WRONG way to cut your fabric.  Notice how my blade
 is running away from the ruler.  Normally I would place my left hand
 on the ruler to keep it stable and my right hand for cutting.  I needed
 a hand for the photo in this example :)

4.  Always run your rotary cutter away from you.

5.  When starting out it is easiest to line up your fabric with the lines on both your mat and your ruler.  As your confidence grows you will find yourself paying less attention to the grid on your cutting mat.

Notice how the marked inch grids on the quilter's ruler are
 matched up with the inch squares on the cutting mat and the
 straight edges of the fabric are also lined up with the grid.  

6.  It is much easier to move your fabric so that it is ideally placed for cutting.  For example, when cutting my 2.5" squares I cut two edges and then turned my fabric before cutting the final two edges.

Cut 3 of 4.  Notice how I have placed my ruler to allow me to cut
two sides without moving my fabric or ruler.  This allows for greater

A few years ago I attended a quilting course to improve my technique.  We made nine 9" sampler blocks which we could then turn into a quilt or pot holders or stash in a drawer.  I turned mine into this quilt.

I was still a total newbie with a rotary cutter and mat so I chose non-directional prints.  Wise move on my behalf.  Now I love the challenge of lining everything up and making sure that I end up with a specific part of a print in my creation (think stripes or plaids).  I recently made this cushion cover for my daughter and had a lot of fun with the 2" squares.  Whilst many were non-directional prints taken from my scrap pile, a few were special prints that I wanted to feature.

Fussy cutting is a technique that involves cutting your fabric in a way that your final product features a particular part of the fabric.  For example, I fussy cut my squares to feature these birdies and robot.

Fussy cutting is a great way to feature a cute print or a special keepsake.  However, it does tend to eat more fabric as you cannot always cut as close as possible to the outer edge of your fabric when you are searching for a specific print.  The random nature of the pink fabric below allowed me to cut a 2.5" square out of scraps.

The great thing about using your quilters ruler is that you can place it over your fabric to help you select the part of the print that you want to feature.  Remember to factor in your seam allowance (which is normally .25" if you're quilting).  In this example I lost the deer's hooves in the seam allowance, but she still looks lovely in the end result.  If I'd lost her nose in the seam allowance it would have been a problem.

Here I'm cutting a 2.5" square.  Remember that you will lose
 .25" seam allowance on all sides.

You can really have a lot of fun fussy cutting, so don't be afraid to give it a go!  It's also a great way to become more familiar with your rotary cutter.

Here I fussy cut the panel for a little boy's belt-loop bag.  Can
you guess his favourite movie?  Please excuse the crooked
 stitching, he was (im)patiently waiting at my elbow.
Another example of fussy cutting (a camera strap cover).  Notice how I have
 cut the pale blue square so that the robot features?

I find I now use my rotary cutter for everything from patchwork to cutting out clothing patterns.  Once you are comfortable using it you will find that it saves you time and affords greater accuracy. 

A couple of other useful tips when using your rotary cutter are:
  • always use your self-healing mat,
  • always keep one hand on your ruler while cutting,
  • always replace the safety cover on your rotary cutter when not using it,
  • change your blade when it gets blunt, but keep the old ones for cutting paper, 
  • if you can, position your self-healing cutting mat near the corner of a table, this affords you two positions to stand whilst cutting which is particularly helpful if you're cutting a large piece of fabric,
  • there is nothing wrong with having a few different sized rulers and cutting blades.  Start with a beginners set like you can find here and then purchase as your use, confidence and needs grow,
  • buy the largest cutting mat that you can afford.  My mat is only 17" x 23" and I'm coveting a bigger one!