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How To Use A Rotary Cutter

Updated: May 16

Everyone loves a good pair of sewing scissors, but sometimes scissors alone don't cut it! Adding a rotary cutter to your toolkit can round out your fabric-cutting repertoire with smooth, easy cutting for thick fabric layers, long cuts, and other tasks that can be difficult with scissors or shears. Find out more about rotary cutters and our tips for using them in this post, and shop rotary cutters at WAWAK to find your new favorite cutting tool. 

Using a rotary cutter can help you make long, straight fabric cuts in one clean motion.


What Is A Rotary Cutter?

Before we get into the specifics of using a rotary cutter, we'll take a quick look at what it is and how it's used for those who aren't familiar. Rotary cutters are handheld cutting tools with a sharp round blade that rolls across the fabric to cut it, a lot like a pizza cutter. The blade moves smoothly along the fabric as you cut, slicing through the fabric in one clean motion without the stopping and starting that scissors require. Because of this, rotary cutters really lend themselves to making long, clean cuts; quilters and dressmakers use Rotary Cutters to cut long swaths of fabric with a perfectly straight edge. A rotary cutter can also help you work quickly and precisely on tasks involving many straight cuts, like cutting out quilt squares. Some garment sewers even prefer to cut out pattern pieces using a rotary cutter instead of scissors, but it's largely a matter of individual preference—once you get a feel for the rotary cutter, you'll be able to decide which tool is more comfortable to you for certain tasks. 

Hands cutting tan sewing material with an Olfa rotary cutter.
Use a wide quilting ruler and a self-healing cutting mat to protect your fingers and your work surface.

Tools You'll Need For Rotary Cutting

To use your rotary cutter successfully, there are a couple of other items you'll need. Let's take a look at the essential items you'll need in your rotation:

1. Rotary Cutter

This one is a given, of course, but keep in mind you'll have options when it's time to choose your new handy fabric cutter. Rotary Cutters come in different sizes—those with a large blade (60 mm or larger in diameter) are used for cutting thick fabrics, multiple layers of material, and longer cuts. Smaller blades (such as 28mm or 18mm) are better for cutting out small, intricate shapes, curves, and tight corners. The ones in the middle, 45mm rotary cutters, are the most commonly used blades due to their versatility and a great place to start if you're not sure which size rotary cutter to get. Different styles of rotary cutters are also available, including ergonomic rotary cutters with a large, comfortable handle to reduce hand fatigue. 

2. Flat Cutting Surface

Unlike scissors, rotary cutters require a surface to cut on. Choose a flat, stable surface (like a desk or table) around waist height where you can lay the fabric flat and comfortably reach to cut the material. Don't cut directly on your table though; doing so can damage both the rotary blade and your work surface!

3. Self-Healing Cutting Mat

A cutting mat is indispensable for rotary cutting. Place a self-healing cutting mat under your material every time you cut to protect your work surface and tools from dulling or scratching. The mat's resilient material springs back for a smooth work surface that resists deep scratches and helps extend the life of your blades. Plus, most cutting mats feature grid lines to help you keep your fabric square and your cuts straight. 

4. Ruler

Rotary cutters are great for cutting straight lines, but you don't have to freehand them—use a ruler edge to guide your rotary cutter for perfectly straight cuts. The ruler also protects your fingers by providing a safer place to brace your non-cutting hand away from the blade. You'll want to choose a wide, rigid ruler with lots of space for your hand to comfortably support the ruler, like this Omnigrip Marking Ruler or another wide quilting ruler.

5. Optional: Replacement Blades, Fabric Clips And More

Unfortunately, even if you're following all the best practices of rotary cutting, rotary cutter blades will dull with use, so it's always a good idea to keep extra replacement blades on hand if you're planning on cutting a lot of fabric. You can even get different styles of replacement blades to create distinct cuts, like a pinking blade for a zigzag edge, a perforating blade to cut a row of holes, or a wavy or scalloped blade to create a decorative edge. Be sure to choose a replacement blade that fits your specific brand and size of rotary cutter. Alternatively, you can try using a rotary blade sharpener to extend the life of blades you already have on hand.

Fabric clips are another helpful (but optional!) tool that might help with your rotary cutting—they can help prevent fabric from shifting around while you work. Similarly, pattern weights can weigh down your fabrics and paper patterns to keep everything in place.

How To Safely Cut With A Rotary Cutter

Now that you have all your tools, let's get into the actual technique of using a rotary cutter. Safety is the number one priority to keep in mind when using a rotary cutter—those blades are very sharp! So here are the steps you can take to safely and effectively make the most of your rotary cutter:

1. Prep Your Area:

As discussed, use a cutting mat and a wide ruler to make your cuts. Make sure your work surface is free of pins, marking tools, or anything else that might get in the way while you work. 

2. Use A Sharp Blade:

Always use a sharp blade for the safest and cleanest cuts. You can tell a blade is damaged or dull if it's not cutting through fabric cleanly or if you find yourself forcing the cutter to get through the fabric. Rotary cutter blades are easy to change, but don't forget to handle the sharp blades carefully while doing so!

3. Stand Over Your Work: 

Cut while standing so you can look down onto your project. Looking down at the ruler gives you a better view of your work and allows you to cut much more accurately. 

4. Adjust Your Grip: 

Hold the rotary cutter in one hand, with your index finger resting on the grip on top of the cutter. Place your other hand on the ruler, away from the cutting edge. Place the blade just before the edge of the fabric and against the side of the ruler to prepare to cut.


5. Make The Cut: 

Always cut away from your body; do not pull the blade towards yourself. Apply light, even pressure for the duration of the entire cut and roll the blade across the material, using the ruler as a guide. 

6. Close The Blade:

Rotary cutters have a built-in safety feature that allows you to retract or cover the blade when it's not in use. Always engage the blade guard when you set the cutter down to prevent accidents. 

With these tips and techniques in mind, you're ready to use a rotary cutter for the first time! Getting comfortable using a rotary cutter can take a bit of practice, so feel free to test it out on some scrap fabric before cutting into the real thing. If you still need a rotary cutter or other items mentioned here before you can get started, check out WAWAK for all your cutting, measuring, and stitching needs. Happy sewing!

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