Sewing Basics: Tools for Cutting Fabric

Did you know that next month is National Sewing Month? If you don’t sew, it’s time to learn the basics. And it doesn’t get more basic than learning how to choose and cut your fabric!

There are a few brands of fabric cutters that are popular for sewists and quilters, like Olfa, Fiskars, Dritz and Clover. I’ve used both Olfa and Fiskars, and I’d have to say that I find them to be about the same in quality. Tip: The Olfa and Fiskars blades are interchangeable, so you can buy one or the other for your cutter, whichever is on sale!

Rotary Cutters
My absolute favorite tool for cutting fabric is not scissors, but my rotary cutter. Rotary cutters look a lot like pizza cutters, and they come in several sizes. The smallest is 18mm or 28mm, the most common is 45mm, and the largest is typically 60mm. On the packaging, the 60mm rotary cutters say they are for thicker fabrics or cutting up to six layers of cotton fabric at a time. The smaller blades are useful for cutting around curves.

If you can only buy one size of rotary cutter, I’d say a 60mm is the way to go, but many people use the 45mm size. So did I, for a long time, and they work perfectly fine! You’ll also notice that the styles of handle are often different, which is another preference. Whichever you choose, you’ll want to buy some replacement blades as well, which usually come in a pack of five. It’s best to change out the blade when you notice that your blade is becoming dull and isn’t making very sharp cuts. Generations Quilt Patterns has some great tips for when to replace a rotary cutter.

To use a rotary cutter, you’ll also need a self-healing cutting mat and a clear plastic ruler or cutting template.

When you choose your mat and ruler, I recommend the largest size you can afford. This will save you lots of time when cutting a yard of fabric or more, because you won’t have to adjust the fabric as much on the mat. Again, this is a matter of preference on my part.

The mat will also have markings you can use to line up your fabric. Smaller mats and rulers are helpful for traveling with you to sewing meetings, but I don’t find it necessary to have a smaller size. The mat I use regularly is 24 inches long, which is a great size for cutting a yard of fabric into charm squares, which I’ll show you next!

The clear ruler should have sightlines, or markings to help you line up your fabric. I use an OmniGrip ruler with a Lip Edge, which is great because it hooks onto the edge of the cutting mat to keep the ruler from slipping while you cut.

Types of Scissors
Although I love my rotary cutter, sometimes I do actually use scissors to cut fabric. When you buy scissors, make sure they are heavy-duty and are meant for cutting fabric. Nothing will ruin your fabric faster than a dull, awful pair of scissors from the dollar store. Investing in a pair of quality scissors will make your sewing much more enjoyable!

A smaller pair of scissors, called point scissors or micro scissors, is also helpful for detailed cutting. Another tool you may find handy is pinking shears! Pinking shears have a saw-tooth or zig-zag edge for cutting fabric. You may wish to cut fabric charms with a pinked edge, for instance, to prevent fraying. Pinking the edge of fleece fabric along joined seams will make the seam less bulky. Or, you might use this edge on fabric scraps for a ticker-tape quilt.

To “pink” the edges of the charms we cut earlier, look for a pinking rotary cutter blade and use it with your rotary cutter to pink the edges the first time around.

Caring for Scissors

Online Quilting Class

To care for your scissors, make sure you only use them to cut fabric. Cutting paper with them will dull the blades. Also, try not to open and close the scissors unless you have fabric in them, because this will also wear down your blades. When your scissors aren’t cutting very well any more, you can often take them to a craft store for sharpening. Ask if your local craft store if they have a special knife or scissors sharpening day.

I originally shared this tutorial as part of Sewing Back-to-School series at Sew Sweetness. Check out the rest of the series here!

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  5 comments for “Sewing Basics: Tools for Cutting Fabric

  1. August 19, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    I didn’t know Olfa and Fiskar blades were interchangeable! Thanks for letting me know!

    Also, I have a tutorial on how to change a rotary blade here ( my site if anyone is interested.

  2. August 19, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    Thanks for the info about Olfa and Fiskers being interchangable! Now I’ll watch for sales for both!

  3. August 19, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    National Sewing Month…..what an interesting tidbit! I’ll have to celebrate somehow. Let’s see, perhaps spend more time in the studio and actually FINISH a project! Now that would be a party in my book!

  4. August 20, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Mats: Be careful on hot days because they WILL distort if they sit in a non-flat position in your car! I know from personal experience, unfortunately.
    Thanks for the tips about rotary blades- I have to swap mine out!

  5. March 10, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Such a useful post. I have been using scissors to cut my bunting flags for far too long… i think its time for a rotary cutter.

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