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Rotary Cutting 101

Last time we talked about the Top Ten "must have" quilty tools. Now that you have the tools, let's talk about the next step--cutting your fabric.

Now you have all these fun new tools and (hopefully) some exciting fabrics to make your first quilt. Have you picked out your pattern yet? If not, I am more than happy to recommend some easy, quick beginner patterns to get you started. Or maybe one of our readers has a suggestion (maybe one they wrote?) they'd like to share.

But before we start that--if you are just beginning this quilting journey--let's practice using a rotary cutter and cutting the fabric accurately. We can use some scrap fabric you may have, or an inexpensive fat quarter you've picked up and know you'll never use in a quilt. Just make sure it's 100% cotton, though. Other fabrics may stretch and that will just lead to frustration while you're learning.

First, let's put a new blade in your rotary cutter. Here's a short video of how I do it.

I happen to have a Quilters Select 45mm cutter (which I love!) but it's the same process for all cutters. Used blades can be dangerous to dispose so I take an old blade package and mark it with an "X" so I know those are the bad ones. When I replace a blade, the used one goes in there and when it's full it will be safe in the garbage. Be careful with the new! (ask me how I know). Don't touch the edges. They will have a film of oil on them from the manufacturing process and that's okay. You don't need to wipe it off. It will lubricate your cutter and will wash out if it gets on any fabric.

  • Iron - I iron everything before I start cutting. Sometimes I even starch before I iron, especially if I'm going to be making lots of bias cuts. It's a personal choice, but I have never pre-washed my fabric before using it. There are stabilizer products in the fabric for the manufacturing process and those will help keep your fabric much easier to work with. And since I wash all quilts when I'm finished, it will wash out before it goes to its new owner. But you will definitely have lovers and haters on pre-washing. When ironing a small piece like this, just unfold it and iron like doing a shirt. You can spray some Best Press or water on it to get the wrinkles out if the fabric is pretty creased. If ironing something 1/2-yard or larger, I will iron it as it comes off the bolt but not on the crease. Once the length of fabric is ironed, I will open it up and get that darn crease out before refolding.

  • Fold in half - Then you will fold the fabric selvedge to selvedge (which will be your straight edges). When doing this, make sure the fabric is flat and doesn't have a wave in it. The left photo is a good fold and the right photo has a wave in it and should not be cut. Just know that sometimes the left and right edges will not line up because the bolt isn't always wound precisely.

  • Fold in half again - Now this is just a fat quarter and it won't really matter but if you have a full width-of-fabric piece, you'll want to fold it again so your ruler will cover the entire width.