Rotary cutter -- good or not?

lotus99January 9, 2006

Hi All,

I should probably introduce myself a little. I haven't sewn much for about 20 years, but recently got a new sewing machine (Singer... should have checked here first... too late now). I have basic skills, made some clothes when I was a teenager, but haven't used a machine much since.

Anyway, I am mostly planning on doing home decoration stuff (drapes, comforter covers, cushions, etc.). I have never used a rotary cutter before, and I am wondering if it would be useful for this type of project. All I have ever used are shears and pinking shears. If I get one, any recommendations on a brand. I guess I will also need a cutting mat -- never used one of those either.

Any other essential things you can think of for home decor projects? I bought a couple of books for instructions (and measurements), and will be trying out some projects soon.

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I have a fiskar and don't know how I lived without one for so long. Be sure and have a good cutting mat. For decor you will want a large one. Also get at least a 24 inch ruler for cutting. If it tends to slide around just put some sandpaper dots on the back side to keep it steady.


    Bookmark   January 9, 2006 at 1:08AM
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You don't say whether you are right handed or a lefty, but if the latter is the case, don't waste your money. The blades are beveled in such a way that the don't work for lefties. I hear you can take them off and turn them around, but I have never been able to figure out how to do that, and I wasted a lot of money on blades and cutting mats that don't work for me. Good luck in any case.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2006 at 1:50AM
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I have an Ergo 2000 Rotary Cutter made by Martelli Enterprises. It has a 'pistol' grip. I also have Olga, Dritz, Fiskar which I can no longer use for an extended length of time without my hand hurting. The ergo 2000 comes either right or left handed.

ellen - what brand do you have? I never realized there was a difference between the sides. A guest on Simply Quilts recommended turning the blade around for longer life.

Here is a link that might be useful: ergo 2000

    Bookmark   January 9, 2006 at 6:51AM
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Oops - meant Olfa. Yes I like them for straight cuts. Please be aware that you MUST, MUST, MUST close the blade everytime you put it down. Think safety! Not a tool for young helpers.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2006 at 6:59AM
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I recently started to sew again too after buying a new machine. I found that a large carpenters square came in real handy for measuring things like curtains, cushion covers-anything with long straight lines. It also helps in making sure the material is square to start and the " markings are great for marking pleats. been thinking about getting a rotary cutter but haven't yet

    Bookmark   January 9, 2006 at 11:10AM
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I second what glass said about shutting the blade. I accidently hit my finger with the thing open and got a nasty slice. It hurt like the devil too.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2006 at 6:01PM
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Thanks for the replies, everyone! It looks like a rotary cutter will work for me (I'm right handed). I also saw the recommendation in the book I got for a carpenter's ruler, and I think I have one in the garage (DH has all kinds of carpentry stuff).

I saw my mom make drapes before, but I really needed the book to help me with measuring, how to get them to hang straight, how to do the lining right, and some instructions for cushions/comforter covers, etc. I have the "Sewing for the Home" book, as well as the "More Sewing for the Home" and they seem to cover most projects.

I'm sure I'll have some more questions later, and I really do appreciate your thoughts and recommendations. :-)

    Bookmark   January 9, 2006 at 9:29PM
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I love my Fiskers rotary cutter! I'm left-handed, but for some strange reason always use my right hand for sewing, cutting, etc. I never heard that tip about sandpaper dots on the ruler...what a good idea, Beverly! Mine tends to slide. I'm told by the quilters that a 12 1/2 x 12 1/2 ruler is really handy, too.

You especially don't want to leave an open rotary cutter on the floor to walk into. Really hurts the toe! I've gotten into the habit of ALWAYS closing it when I set it down.


    Bookmark   January 9, 2006 at 10:11PM
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I never thought about rotary cutter being for right or left handers...and never had a problem using them altho' I'm a leftie. I have several, love 'em and use them a lot.

Several years ago I ran into a 90% off sale at Michael's and bought several packages of blades for a song.

I think they're wonderful!


    Bookmark   January 10, 2006 at 7:44AM
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Hi Lotus. Like you, I sewed a little, very little when I was a teenager. But my husband bought me my first sewing machine (a Bernina 1008 workhorse) for Christmas, and I've been sewing home decorating projects six hours a day since then. In the past month I've made eleven throw pillows, two 78" round table cloths, one chair cushion, and one ottoman slipcover -- all with welting. I'm now working on Roman blinds for every window in my house.

If you're new to sewing like me, you'll probably spend a small fortune on all the little aids that make sewing easier and your projects look more professional.

Rotary cutters are absolutely essential for home dec -- I could never have made all those yards of welting strips without them. I bought an Olfa 45mm rotary cutter with an ergonomic handle pistol type tandle and a handy push button lock for $15 at Hancock Fabrics. I have trained myself to always lock the blade whenever I put the cutter down for even ten seconds ("Saftey First"). I also bought a set of replacement blades, rotary blades can get dull fairly quickly. I had bought a rotary blade sharpener, but it was useless, and I returned it to the store.

If you're doing home dec, you need a large rotary cutting mat wtih a grid, but these can be surprisingly expensive. I bought one that's 23" by 23" for only $15 at Walmart. I'd love to get a vert one, and I've seen some that are 54" by 36" (the size of a yard of decorator fabric, and some that fold in half) for $50 to $100 at my local sewing store. I'm sure I'll end up with one of these giants fairly soon.

Also essential are the thick transparent grid rulers. The thin bendable rulers are absolutely worthless -- they need to be to be very thick to serve as a guide for your rotary blade. Carpenter's squares are very useful in home dec, but not when you're using your rotary cutter. Your ruler must be transparent so you can see your fabric, the grid on your ruler and the grid on your cutting mat.

I bought an Olipa 18" three inch wide transparent ruler with a grid and a little curved lip (that's why they call them "Olipa") that hooks onto the cutting board so you automatically end up at a 90 degree angle. I found it at Walmart for $6). Grammyp is right -- a 24 inch ruler would probably be the ideal size. Oh well, back to Walmart.

I also highly recommend the Olfa weights that you can lay across your fabric or the ruler as you cut. I bought a set of four bright yellow-orange weights at my local sewing store last week and they are worth every penny of the $12 I spent on them. I know I will think of other ways to use them too.

One last thing, be sure to visit your local public library. The day we picked up my machine I searched through the library's sewing book aisle and found over a dozen recent home dec sewing books including "Sewing for the Home" and "More Sewing for the Home." I've learned so much from all the books I've borrowed. Each writer has a slightly different viewpoint, and by reading them all I've picked up many tips. Later I may order my favorite books from Amazon.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2006 at 8:12AM
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Lotus, After I posted my message I reread your original posting and saw you were also looking for other home dec tips too. This is what I've learned in the past month. It's hard to believe, but five weeks ago I didn't even know how to thread my machine.

Use a good European thread like Mettler Metrosene polyester or Gutterman. Cheap thread or even moderately priced Coats and Clark thread generates a lot of lint inside your machine. I sometimes use inexpensive fabric, but I always splurge on $5 thread.

Buy a good little seam gauge. These inexpensive devices $3 or $4 allow you to measure tiny seam allowances quickly and accurately. I couldn't sew without mine.

Shortcuts and skippping steps are the recipe for disaster. Pin and iron everything before you sew it. Also, never walk away from your iron when it's still plugged in.

Buy a good pair of thread snips. These spring loaded devices allow you to trim thread quickly and efficiently.

Change your needles regularly, oil your machine and clean it with a blast of canned air.

If you make a chair cushion out of foam, wrap the foam in a thin layer of batting. I did this yesterday, and 50 cents worth of batting gave my $10 foam chair cushion a very rich look.

Don't be afraid to use the seam ripper. If something doesn't turn out right, I do it over. My ottoman slipcover looked loose and floppy the first time I made it. But after I took it apart and tightened the edges, it fit like a glove. Now I inspect my project as I'm making it. If something doesn't look right to me, out comes my seam ripper. My new motto is "The seam ripper is my friend."

The first time I try to make something, I do it in an inexpensive fabric. I've used a lightweight (6.5 oz.) dark blue denim that I bought at Hancocks for $7 a yard for all my early projects. I won't take out the expensive fabric until I know my sewing skills are up to the task.

Sewing books are great for instructions but they're not a great source for style. Study the better decorating books, magazines and store catalogs. And use your eyes to see how well made items look. I want my $10 throw pillows and $20 round tablecloths to look like they came from Saks not Walmart. My sewing isn't perfect, but my projects are beginning to look well made and professional.

If you're making throw pillows and want to avoid the bargain basement rabbit ear look, taper the outer edges of each side. This assures your pillows will have a neat and expensive rectangular look. There's an easy way to do this by folding your pillow into quarters and then tapering the outer half of each edge by half an inch. I've done this and it creates extra work but it's worth it.

Learn how to make your own welting and put it on almost everything. The fabric stores have this wonderful cord that costs 20 or 30 cents a yard. You can cover it with two or three inch strips of matching or contrasting fabric cut on the bias to give all your home dec projects a very rich look. Even if your style is paired down modern, a self welting adds to the look of quality. It's extra work (it takes at least three times as long to make a pillow with welting as one without) but again, it's worth it.

Incidentally, fabric scraps from large projects are a good source of material for welting. When I made my 78" round tablecloths I mostly used leftover fabric to make strips for the welted edge. And whenever I make a mistake cutting something large, the fabric ends up as welting. Making welting is a great way to recycle any fabric.

And most important of all. Never cut fabric when you're tired. It's much too easy to make a stupid and expensive mistake.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2006 at 9:45AM
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Also never cross a seam unless it's pressed. Press all seams as soon as they're sewn.


    Bookmark   January 11, 2006 at 8:57PM
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Thanks for the tips! My projects are going to be going pretty slowly. I work pretty long days, and also have other hobbies, so I probably won't spend a whole lot of time on the projects.

I see what nancy means about the decor ideas in the books. They're not generally my taste, but they do give me the instructions for the basic stuff like making lined drapes, putting piping on throw cushions, etc.

My mom (who taught me to sew) was always insistent on not skipping steps, and I did eventually concede that she was right.

I'll be doing plenty of practice. My long-term project is for the bedroom, but it's some time off. We need to get a larger bed before I will do the redecorating in there, and I have a lot of other home/yard projects that take priority financially. The plan is for a Japanese-style bedroom. I have been looking for inspiration and fabrics just to give me ideas. One thought is to use some vintage obi (the things they tie kimonos with) fabric and incorporate it into the decor in a nontraditional way. It's all still really a concept.

Until then, I have some simple drape projects for the spare room and living room that should give me good practice.

Thanks for all the support so far!

    Bookmark   January 11, 2006 at 10:34PM
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You've gotten great advice... LOVE mine. When I cut out patterns if it's a square or rectangle piece I don't even cut out the pattern piece, just use my rotary cutter.

My tip:

Buy liquid stitches at your pharmacy so when the inevitable happens you can glue yourself back together.


It's a great tool... but when you have a new blade in there watch out!



    Bookmark   January 13, 2006 at 2:57AM
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I agree with all above. I started back sewing eight years ago when I got a quote for window treatments and nearly fell off my chair. Could not even remember how to sew, let alone thread a bobbin.

Fast forward 8 years later - I sew for my kid's school, window treatments for home and pillows for customers and all using my Fiskars 60 mm rotary cutter. I have the big cutting table that JoA*n sells along with the matching cutting board - what a life saver. I also have an Olfa 45 mm rotary cutter, but it was expensive and a bit to small for me. I like a bigger rotary cutter to cut through deco fabric.

You will not believe how much time it will save you in cutting, it is a dream.

Good luck with sewing your drapes. Oh, one good book to look for is the Waverly Window Treatment book - they also have one for pillows.

I have a ton of window/home decor sewing books so if you are looking for other suggestions, email/pm me and I will put a list together for you.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2006 at 1:48PM
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a trip to the hardware store for some large nuts or washers is probably less expensive than the 'sewing weights'...get the ones that are cad-plated (won't rust)

    Bookmark   January 15, 2006 at 2:52PM
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For weights, I made little bags and filled them with BB shot. They don't slid if I need to use them on a slick slope.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2006 at 4:31PM
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