The other day there was a discussion about basic cutting skills on one of the professional pages to which I belong. It seemed like a good refresher subject so here it is……
Just about everything we do with rotary cutting begins with the most basic unit, a strip. We then crosscut strips into other shapes such as squares, rectangles, and various types of triangles and diamonds— but it all begins with a strip.
Most people think cutting a strip is pretty easy but there are a few tips to make those strips perfect. The important first step is to create a clean-cut edge from which to cut those all-important strips.
Before we can cut, we must first align and press the fabric. Fold the fabric selvage to selvage. It might be difficult to line up the sides and selvages at the same time without bulges and bubbles. When this happens, your fabric will look like this:
To remedy this situation, work at your ironing board and readjust the selvage alignments until the fabric lays smooth. The raw side edges won’t match now but we’ll take care of that later. Press and steam these two layers with the fold near to you and the selvages on the opposite side of the board.
Now bring the fold up and align it with the selvages so your fabric is neatly folded into four layers. Press and steam again making sure all the layers at the fold are neat and tidy. Four layers instead of two provides more power and control when cutting. Being short, I can’t maintain the best power and control over the rotary ruler and cutter when I get 20” or more away from my body. By folding twice, I can work closer in and maintain full control when cutting. Even tall quilters find the shorter cutting distance more precise and comfortable.
Now take the folded and pressed fabric to your cutting mat.
We’re going to use rulers instead of mat lines for precision cutting. If using mat lines is a habit you find difficult to break, check the back of your mat to see if it is line-free. If it is, turn it over and use the unlined side of your mat.
With the two ruler method shown here, you’ll leave the fabric undisturbed as you cut avoiding any chance of the layers shifting out of alignment. There’ll be no need to rotate your mat, cut in awkward directions, or move yourself to the other side of the mat to cut. It’s a very convenient and precise way to create a clean cutting edge. Remember, any time you move your fabric you lose your clean-cut edge so that is something to avoid as much as possible.
Begin by placing the first ruler precisely on the fold of the fabric close to the edge from which you wish to cut strips. Make sure it’s inside the boundaries of all the uneven sides so you can trim away the raw edges.
Now place the cutting ruler up against the first ruler on the fold. You’ll work from the left side of the fabric if you’re right-handed and from the right side if you’re left-handed.
Place your hand firmly on the cutting ruler with fingers splayed wide but not extending into the cutting range of the rotary cutter! Some people like to put half their hand on the ruler and half on the mat to its side. I like to lean into the ruler using my upper body weight to secure it beyond what simple hand pressure can do. Hold the cutting ruler steady while moving the first ruler out of the way.
Pick up your cutter, disengage the safety, and start cutting from below the fold at the bottom toward and across the selvage edges at the top. Keep your blade in a vertical position running along the side of the ruler without canting it in at an angle. Repeated microscopic angled cuts will slowly destroy your mat. Remove the trimmed edges to reveal a nice clean cut edge that is at right angles to the fold, thus eliminating any bends in your strips. Re-engage your cutter’s safety mechanism as soon as you’re done the cut.
Now you’re ready to start cutting strips without moving your fabric. Using your ruler, measure in the prescribed distance on the ruler from the left of the fabric if you are right handed or from the right side of the fabric if you’re left handed. In addition to measuring in from the clean edge of the fabric, it’s also important to place a ruler line on the fold closest to you to ensure each cut is at a right angle to the fold. This prevents bends in your strips. If at any time you can’t line up the strip width measurement and a horizontal ruler line on the fold, it’s time to make a new clean-cut edge.
Once last tip: If I have a long piece of yardage from which I’lll be cutting a lot of pieces, I’ll press the full length of it as described above and then fan-fold it into layers that can be unfolded and cut as needed. Periodically I’ll have to a new clean-cut edge due to shifting.
Basic skills aren’t terribly ‘sexy’ but they are oh-so-important. Try the two-ruler method and see what you think.