Crafts Articles

Quilting - Recommended Labor-Saving Cutting Tools

by Rita Bode

Quilting is considered an American craft. Early Pioneer women made quilts from scraps of material left over from the clothing they made for their families. To make a design, a template was made and used to draw the design on the material. Then the individual pieces were cut with scissors. This was tedious and time-consuming work.

Today's quilters have many specialized laborsaving quilting tools to make the process of measuring, cutting, marking and stitching easier. Patchwork is about accuracy, careful marking and measuring, so it's worth investing in proper tools. When the end result is done properly, quilting is beautiful and fun.

Basic very beginning tools are a large size rotary cutter, 6" x 24" ruler, 18" x 24" cutting mat. These items can be found in local fabric stores, specialized quilt shops or on the internet.

As you start quilting, there are even more specialized equipment you can purchase.

*Rotary Cutter* - Is a round blade mounted on a handle. It should be with a retractable blade guard for safety because the blade is very sharp. The rotary cutter should be used only on a cutting mat and with rotary cutting ruler.

The rotary cutters come in several sizes. The best size for cutting 4 or more layers at once is with the 1-3/4" (45mm) blade. Some rotary cutters come ergonomically contoured to fit your hand. This will reduce fatigue when doing a lot of cutting.

Replace when blades become dull (don't cut w/out pressure) or nicked (skip spots). I keep extra blades on hand. This is for when you are cutting late at night and the store is closed; just change the blade and keep cutting.

*Rotary cutting self-healing mat* - comes in many sizes and brands. The 18"x24" is the minimum size necessary. The 24" x 36" mat is better as it is large enough to cut material easier.

Always use a cutting mat to protect blades and the surface below. Mats with 1" grid lines are helpful in cutting straight, accurate strips.

Do not leave mats in direct sunlight after you purchase them because they can warp and become unusable. Always store flat. And never, never set an iron on the mat. I did once, it warped, and now the expensive mat is worthless.

*Rotary Cutting Rulers* - are thick clear acrylic rulers specifically for use with rotary cutters. These precision-made rulers are needed for successful quilt making. Rulers must be accurate, have lines running horizontally and vertically.

The basic 6" x 24" ruler should have guidelines for 45 degree and 60 degree angles also. They should have legible and frequently spaced 1/8' markings. Rulers shouldn't have thick lines as this could distort your measurements.

There are many sizes available to make cutting faster and easier. I switch rulers as I work using the right-sized ruler for the task. The basic 6"x 24" rectangle is used to cut strips. A 6" square is used for a second cut on strips or for trimming triangle squares. The 12 1/2" square or 16" are used to square up fabrics or blocks.

The squares can also be used cutting larger strips & squares. The 3" x 18" rectangle is used for cutting narrow strips. I also have different angled triangles for more advanced projects.

These three basic tools can get you started making accurate cuts of your quilting material.

Rita Bode creates custom-designed quilts and wall hangings. Her articles on topics related to quilting are published at Quilt Concepts and The Quilt Box, a leading resource on-line for information about quilts.