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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Each One - Teach One Tuesday - Rotary cutting basics

Hi everyone,

hope you are having a great Tuesday!
I am excited to start my Each One - Teach One series of posts on Tuesdays! :)
I thought about this and decided to go with basics first. I teach Beginner's Quilting class for over 10 years now and really, really LOVE it. I think most of my students like it too - at least that is what they tell me and that makes my world, every time... :)
My class almost always has a good combination of all kinds of beginners: some that never, ever made a quilt (or even sewed), some that tried once, long time ago and quit in frustration, some that did it long time ago with old fashioned tools (like: needle, thread and scissors only!), some that took a different class and felt they need more or some that are doing it but just want to learn more or go back to basics.
I truly believe that all of them do learn something and I KNOW that most of them keep on quilting, become fabricoholics or continue to take more and more classes and expand their creativity. I know that because I see them in local shops, quilt shows, guild meetings or shop-hops - we become friends, and that is the most wonderful thing of all! :) Lucky me!!
So come with me to re-fresh your basic rotary cutting skills today or maybe even learn something new!

ROTARY CUTTING BASICS

First let me say that I cut my fabric while it is double-folded. 
Why? It is easier on my hands and back and it does give me more control over the ruler (since I am able to use shorter ruler).
Does it have a hidden danger - yes. If you don't fold your fabric properly and don't square-up at the beginning, you can have crooked strips of fabric!
So let's start with preparing fabric:
- regardless if you pre-wash or not (a whole another area of discussion!) this is what I do with my fabric prior to cutting:
1. Hold fabric in the air with selvages up and bring two selvage edges together as precisely as you can, but make sure your fabric is hanging straight down, without any twists in it. Your CUT edge might not be straight at this point, but that is OK! This is how it should look:
(yes, this fabric is not well pressed yet, but I do my pressing AFTER this point)

This is what you don't want your fabric to look like: (sorry for a bit blurry photo, my camera was driving me nuts at the time and decided to not waste more time on this one... but you get the point, right? :)  )
 I find with my students that this (above) usually happens if they try to match the cut edge of the fabric too - so just don't even look at it, OK? :)
Once you have your two selvages together, at this point I would press my fabric if it needs pressing (either if you pre-washed it or even if you don't by it has stubborn creases in it), keeping those two selvages nicely together.
2. Time to double-fold the fabric:
             - lay your fabric on the cutting board with those two selvage edges up and the rest of the yardage going in the direction of your cutting hand. In other words - if you are right-handed yardage should go to the right, if you are left-handed (like me!), yardage should go to the left. Here is what I mean:

For right-handed, fabric going to the right

For left-handed, fabric going to the left (relative to where you stand and where your hand is (or my hand in this photo)













But lets get back to double-folding! As you lay your fabric with selvages on the top, bring the original fold of the fabric to the selvages:
 and line the fold with the selvage edges precisely, along the whole length of the fabric - your fabric is now double-folded and ready to be squared-up on the cut edge! On the bottom of the photo above is then the second fold of the fabric (important for later!).
 Here is a quick re-cap of these steps:

Now you are ready to square-up that cut edge of the fabric, so that strips you will cut are straight! You now have 4 layers of fabric to cut through, but with decently sharp blade, that is not a problem at all.
What does it mean "square-up"? - it means to have the cut edge of the fabric exactly 90 degrees relative to the second fold of the fabric, and all of those four layers of fabric even.
3. To square up fabric: (photos are for right-handed first!)
              - position the ruler (I like to use the 6"x12" rectangular ruler, but 12" (or larger) square ruler is good too) so that it is completely ON the fabric and line up one horizontal line of the ruler with the second (bottom) fold of the fabric:

Pencil is pointing to the horizontal line on the ruler that is lined up with the bottom fabric fold, and here it is more close-up, all lined-up:
  Slide the ruler towards the cut edge of the fabric, as  close as you can while still catching all four layers. Be careful, sometimes those fabric edges can be quite mismatched, like here:
But they will all be nice and even once you square-up your fabric, so let's get to it! :)
Here is how it looks once you are ready to square-up:
OK, I know - you are all looking at this photo above and saying - but it looks like ruler is on the WRONG side and how do I cut now with my RIGHT hand? 
Well - here is the catch, you actually don't - I will encourage you to cut, just this one cut, with your LEFT hand! Whaaat...? Yeah, bear with me and just give it a try, most of you will actually be able to do it, specially after some practice, and this way you do not have to re-position your fabric for further cutting (or turn the mat, or go around the table...) - it is all perfectly squared-up and ready to go! Hey, almost ALL of my beginner students can do it fine after few practice cuts, so you can do it too! :)
Of course, if you can't for any reason, I will show you an alternative method - keep on reading!
Let's square-up that fabric now:
            - with your right hand, hold the ruler in place:
 I find that I have more control of the ruler if my hand is "raised" (so palm of my hand is NOT touching the ruler!), and if I put my pinky finger on the outside edge of the ruler (helps a bit with that ruler tendency to slide to the right!) - see below:
 This is what I DON'T do - palm of the hand flat on the ruler:
So take that rotary cuter in your left hand (just relax, it works! :)  ) and get ready to cut! 

Here are few other good practices regarding how you hold the rotary cutter:
- remember to put your pointer finger ABOVE the blade (on each brand of the cutter there is usually a place for it! )
 or your thumb if that is more comfortable for you
 So this is how NOT to hold the cutter: (it is simply less efficient this way):
Keep your blade straight relative to the mat:

 and NOT slanted, like this: (again, less efficient this way)
Keep a good pressure with BOTH hands - one that is holding the ruler and one holding the rotary cutter and cut, with steady pressure ALL the way to the end ! This is how your squared-up fabric will look like:
If you are trying that left hand for the first time - don't be disapointed if it is not cut all the way in the first try - simply do not move your hand that is holding the ruler and try again - give it a chance, you will get better with few more tries! 

However, if you simply can't use your "bad" hand (left or right), here is how you can do this square-up step, using TWO rulers:
           - use another ruler (in this photo it is a small, 6" square one) to line-up the horizontal line of the ruler with the second fold:
 Hold the small square ruler firmly in place and now align the large (cutting) ruler with it as shown below:
 Now hold the larger ruler with your left hand, slide away the small ruler and you are ready to square-up fabric with your "good" hand!

NOTE: in the two photos above, I am not holding the large ruler simply because I had to hold the camera! :)
 
Whichever way you choose to do it, squaring-up fabric is a very important step in order to have good, straight strips! Any negligence in this step does come back to bite you later, trust me! (and don't ask me how I know! ;)  )

For the LEFT-handed folks, it is all on the opposite side:
           - fabric is going to the left, try to square-up with your right hand or use two-ruler method!


Now that your fabric is nicely squared-up, you are ready to cut some strips! 
For that, as you just finished squaring-up and your ruler was ON the fabric completely, simply slide away that ruler to the left, off the fabric, till you get to the line (measurement) you need to cut:

Slide ruler to the left....


...until you reach the measurement line you need - in this photo it is 3" line 


Line up that line (3" one here) with the cut edge of the fabric - ALL the way, but also keep the horizontal line at the bottom of the ruler lined-up with the fabric fold - this is very important to keep your strips straight!

NOTE: if you can't line up BOTH lines (vertical and horizontal) at the same time, that only means your fabric is NOT properly squared-up, so go back to check that and square it up! This will happen eventually, after cutting several strips (hey, we are only human!), so pay attention to that and go back to re-square your fabric as necessary.







After all the lines are checked, you are ready to cut that strip (3" wide one in the photo above).

OK, now that I asked you to do all these steps to assure your strips are straight, lets open one and check if it is! You will see this on the FOLDS of the strip - once you open it, fold should be just as straight as the rest (pencil pointing to the fold)
 Put the ruler on it to check even more:
 So for the sake of demonstration, what happens if you are not careful?
Below is a photo showing a ruler positioned to cut but the line is not quite lined up with fabric ALL the way:
 see it closer here:
 Once you cut the strip, open it and place the ruler over the fold area, see that little "hill"? Not good... :(

That is what you DON'T want! So be patient and line BOTH lines (vertical and horizontal!), keep checking it and you will always have nice, straight strips!
Let's cut some GOOD squares from those strips now!
- once strip is cut, don't open it up! Keep it folded since that way you will be cutting 4 squares at once! 
- turn the strip so that selvages are on the left and fold is on the right, place the ruler on the strip and position it to cut off the selvages and square up the short edge of the strip - yes this is done again with your "bad" hand, but for such a short cut it is really not that difficult - give it a try!
- continue cutting squares (or any other shape)
Here is a photo re-cap of these steps, given example is for the 2 1/2" wide strip:


Again, important step here, to always have squares that are really SQUARE, is to keep BOTH lines aligned with the edges of fabric - your measurement line and bottom, horizontal line - see yellow arrows above! 
Red arrow in the photo above is pointing to the small advantage of using the small, (6") square ruler for cutting squares, instead of the larger, rectangular one - there is that neat "L" shaped corner that will "hug" the corner of your fabric, making alignment a bit easier. But, that is really a personal choice! I have to admit, I do it both ways, depending on what is under my hand...he, he.

Of course, if it a rectangle you need to cut, you will just use a different measurement line (cutting 4 1/2" x 2 1/2" rectangle here):

I use my regular, general purpose ruler to cut other shapes too, if I need - triangles, diamonds... I will finish this tutorial here, (long enough already, huh?) and maybe show you those other shapes later?

This is how I teach my students and this is how I cut my fabric. What about you? Do you have any good tip or trick for accurate cutting? Please share!
Hope this is useful for getting back to some basic, and of course if you have any questions about any of it - leave me a comment, I will be glad to answer and help!

Have a teriffic Tuesday and week ahead,

Marija

2 comments:

  1. This tutorial was awesome in description and pictures. I have one question that has bugged me about squaring fabric - OK - I'm a new quilter, so no laughing.......how do you square fabric in which the pattern calls for say 2 7/8 yards cut into 2 1/2" strips? Do you somehow cut the fabric into smaller pieces and then square each? If so, how do you know how big a piece to cut so you don't have wasted fabric or not enough fabric in the end? I know you have the ah-hah answer for us.
    Thanks Phyllis

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  2. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. Precision is not my forte so I love to review a tutorial like this before I begin cutting. Very thorough.

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