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Rotary Cutting 101 - Beginner's Quilting Series

This post is part of the Beginner's Quilting Tutorial Series. We are going through an in depth series which will teach you everything you need to know to establish a solid quilting foundation. Click here to see all of the posts and learn more about the series. Some of you following along may already be in the process of your first quilt, or you may be following along to learn new methods. If you are planning on making your first quilt along with this series you are welcome to make the Easy Pezzy Quilt, but any charm pack quilt will do. In fact I'd love to see you branch out and practice choosing your own fabrics and coordinating colors. If you decide to make your own you can use either yardage or pre-cut charms.

Rotary Cutting 101

Rotary Cutting 101

For those of you using a pre-cut charm pack you won't be doing much rotary cutting at this time. But, when we make the binding for our quilt you will need to use your rotary. So follow along.

Cutting 5" Charms from Yardage

These instructions are for someone who is right-handed. If you are left handed you will do the opposite.
  • Fabric Yardage
  • Self-Healing Rotary Cutting Mat
  • 45mm or 60mm Rotary Cutter
  • Quilting Ruler approx. 6" x 24" with 1", 1/2", 1/4" grid
  • Optional - Quilting Ruler approx. 7" x 7" with 1", 1/2", 1/4" grid
  • Iron and Starch

    1. Whether you have pre-washed you fabrics or not you will need to press your fabric prior to cutting. The wrinkles in the fabric can cause inaccurate cuts which will be a headache later on! Being a starch advocate I always suggest starching and pressing your fabric well. Any starch should work, I have become a big fan of Best Press.

    1. Often times your fabric will come off the bolt extremely wonky. If that is the case I will press the fabric unfolded first. Then I will re-fold the fabric with selvage edges together and press the folded edge crisp.
    2. Place your rotary mat preferably on a table which you can access from all sides or two sides. Keep the mat close to the edge of the table and your body so you don't have to reach.
    3. Stand while cutting. The angle between you and your blade while standing will give you better accuracy. I have tried sitting while cutting and learned quickly that the ruler slips more often and your cuts will be very uneven.

    1. Place you fabric on your mat with the excess hanging off the left side of your table. Line up the folded top edge with a straight line on your mats grid. *Note - I have heard stories about cutting mat grids being inaccurate. So be sure to double check the measurements on your mat before you use it the first time.

    1. Now take your longer ruler and square up the top folded edge with the lines on the ruler.

    1. You will now cut the raw uneven edge off of your fabric. With your left hand press firmly on your ruler keeping your pinky and ring finger along the edge to prevent slipping. Take your rotary cutter with metal blade against the edge of your ruler. With pressure cut away from your body in one sweeping motion.
    2. Once you have a clean edge flip your fabric so that the excess is now hanging off the right edge of the table.

    1. Line up the clean edge of your fabric with the 5" line on your ruler, making sure the folded edge is squared up with the top of your ruler and cut.

    1. Set aside 5" cut and continue cutting your strips until you reach the end of the yardage.

    1. Now take one of your folded 5" strips and lay it on your mat with the excess hanging off the left side of the table. Using your smaller ruler (if you have one) line up the top and bottom edge of your strip with the lines on your ruler.

    1. Cut off the selvage edge.
    2. Flip your fabric so the excess is now hanging off the right edge of your table.

  1. Line up the new cut edge with 5" mark on your ruler on all sides. Cut your 5" square. Repeat this until you reach the end of your strip.

Doing the Math…

When cutting in order to get the correct size pieces there can be a lot of math involved. If you have an iPhone there is a wonderful app to help with the quilting math. It is the Robert Kaufman Quilting Calc and it is free! It will help you figure out things like how batting and binding you will need, how many 5" squares you can get out of a yard or a fat quarter, etc. So how many 5" squares should you be able to get out of your fabric. These are based on standard 42" wide fabric.
  • 1 Yard Yields - 56 Charms from 7 - 5" strips
  • 3/4 Yard Yields - 40 Charms from 5 - 5" strips
  • 1/2 Yard Yields - 24 Charms from 3 - 5" strips
  • 1/4 Yard Yields - 8 Charms from 1 - 5" strip
  • 1 Fat Quarter Yields - 12 Charms

Rotary Troubleshooting

Starting off you may find yourself running into a few problems, here are some troubleshooting tips.
  • Make sure you are standing when cutting.
  • Make sure to cut away from your body applying even pressure.
  • Make sure your blade is installed correctly, according to the manufacturers instructions.
  • Use the correct size blades for the project. A 45mm blade is good for all purpose, a 60mm is good for lots of layers or thick fabric, a 28mm or 18mm is good for cutting curves and circles.
  • If your mat has too many scratches or cuts replace it or flip it over.
  • Use clean, sharp blades.
  • You can purchase Ruler Grip that will help keep your rulers in place. Such as Omni Grip.
  • Clean up your edges often. You always want to be cutting at a 90 degree angle.
  • Cut on your dominant side. If you are right-handed hold your rotary cutter in your right hand. Left handed in your left.

Other Resources

Next week we will begin piecing. So make sure to have your charms cut and ready.

    Post Comments

  • Stephanie says...

    Thank you for this! I am about to start my second quilt, but using a rotary cutter for the first time. This is very helpful!

    On January 31, 2015

  • Kay says...

    This is really useful. Now I know to cut away from me! I am just rereading the whole series as I am doing my first quilt, I have other things in the past but not a quilt. I also need a bigger blade, I just bought the firs tone a friend uses and the blade is tiny which I am not happy with. Thanks for all your work putting this together.

    On August 20, 2014

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Alyssa Lichner from Pile O' Fabric

Welcome to the Pile O’ Fabric blog, my name is Alyssa Lichner, I live in sunny Gilbert, AZ. I am a freelance web and graphic designer turned avid sewist. I write modern quilting tutorials and share techniques and inspiration here at Pile O’ Fabric… Read More

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