Rotary cutting Part 3

Most rotary cut shapes are cut from a strip so being able to cut straight accurate strips is a vital skill. Last week we got as far as finding and cutting a straight edge on our fabric and this week we will cut a strip (or two) from it.

Before you cut check that the edge is straight – something happens to fabric left out overnight and all those beautiful straight edges turn wavy and frayed, we blame the fabric imps.

Now turn the mat with the fabric on it so that the bulk of the fabric is now to the hand you cut with. You can turn the fabric but be very careful that you keep those straight edges together if you have yardage and, somehow, even with fat quarters, the mere act of picking it up seems to stretch it all out of shape.

Fold the fabric up again making sure those straight edges are aligned exactly (or as near as you can possible make it).

fold fabricDecide, work out, or look up the size of strip you need to cut. If it is two and a half inches (a very common measurement) then find that on your ruler. Place the ruler on the fabric so that the required measurement is against the straight cut edges. The fold of the fabric should be towards you.

cut stripHold the ruler firmly, fingers out of the way!

photo6 hand positionPlace the cutter on the mat and remove the guard. With the blade snug against the ruler roll the cutter with a firm and even pressure along the ruler to cut the strip. You will be going through two or four layers but with a sharp blade this shouldn’t be a problem.

strips cutRemember you will cut more evenly, more surely and more accurately if you are standing in front of the ruler edge where you are cutting. Never be tempted to cut across yourself and never, never cut towards you – not only is it not very accurate (the ruler and fabric move and you can’t gain enough pressure) but the consequences of the blade slipping and cutting into you are potentially catastrophic.

You can download a handy list of Chris and Barbara’s Dos and Don’ts for rotary cutting here.

The instructions above are for using the ruler to measure and cut strips. This is the way Chris does it. Barbara uses the mat for measuring and the ruler as a straight edge guide for the cutter. Both methods are equally valid – whichever method you use however, be consistent as rulers and mats are slightly out of sync with each other (even different makes of ruler never quite line up exactly). There may be only microns of difference but over several seams those add up and decrease the accuracy of your piecing.

Next time – cutting some shapes from the strips.

Rotary cutting Part 2

Most instructions tell you to cut strips on the straight grain, or to cut bias strips – but how do you find these? Its relatively easy if your fabric still has its selvage – the straight grain is at right angles (lengthwise grain) or parallel to the selvage (cross grain). The cross grain has slightly more ‘give’ than the lengthwise grain. The bias is at 45 degrees to the straight grain and is very stretchy.

We usually cut our strips at right angles to the selvage (on the lengthwise grain). Try to leave the selvage on your fabric for as long as possible – only cut it off once you are cutting shapes from the strips you have cut – as this will make it easier to straighten the fabric next time you need a cut a strip or two from it.

If you have yardage then fold it in half so the selvages come together. Hold it up and away from you then shuffle the selvage edges along until the fabric hangs straight and the fold at the bottom has no ruckles. Hold on tight to those selvages and place the fabic onto the cutting mat with the fold towards you and the bulk of the fabric to the hand you don’t cut with (the left if you are right-handed; the right if left-handed). You may need to turn the mat so that the whole length is on the mat – it makes this first cut much easier.

trim yardageIf you have a fat quarter – this is half a width of fabric and should have one selvage – don’t fold it, just place it on the cutting mat so the selvage is away from you and the bulk of the fabric is to the hand you will hold the ruler with.

find straight grainFrom now on yardage and fat quarters are cut in the same way. So . . . Deep breath. Stand up over the mat (try to have it at a comfortable height – a kitchen worktop is ideal if you are doing a lot of cutting) so you are in direct line with the edge you wish to cut. Place the ruler on the fabric so that one line of the ruler lines up with the selvage (this may be a bit hit and miss and some selvages can be a somewhat wavy – take an average) – if you managed to get the yardage hanging straight then the fold should also be on a straight line of the ruler, but don’t obsess about it.

trim yardage bFat quarters have been cut from a machine wound bolt (and some are pre-cuts) so the bottom edge is rarely parallel with the selvage. Move the ruler until you are cutting just enough fabric off the edge to straighten it. Start with the cutter on the mat, hold it at about 45 degrees (or whatever you find most comfortable), remove the guard, make sure the blade is snug against the ruler, that your fingers are out of the way . . .  another deep breath . . . And . . .  with a firm and even pressure roll the cutter along the edge of the ruler to trim that excess fabric away. You may have to ‘walk’ your hand up the ruler to keep it by the cutter and to keep the ruler firm and straight. Once you have finished the cut and reached the end of the fabric put the guard back over the blade and lift the cutter from the mat. And breathe.

trim straight grainNext time we will be cutting strips from our nice straight fabric. Find some old sheets or fabric you don’t like and can’t think why you bought it (except it was possibly a bargain) for practice.

Rotary cutting. Part 1

This is one of the most popular technique classes we teach so we thought we’d bring you a few hints, tips, photos and general ‘thoughts’. First things first – you will need a rotary cutter, a ruler and a mat.

DSCF2783The mat is vital to protect your furniture (or carpet) and your cutter. Don’t be tempted to buy a small mat – its almost impossible to cut a full width-of-fabric strip on a small mat; buy one that is at least 24 inches x 18 inches. This size is still small enough to take to class but large enough to be useful.

The most useful ruler size you can buy is probably 6 x 24 inches (although Barbara prefers a slightly smaller one). 6 x 12 is also useful, as is a 12 inch square. With these three you can cut pretty much anything and everything you are going to need to. There are plenty of other rulers for all sorts of ‘time-saving,’ or super-accuracy, or ‘trimming to fit'; rulers for triangles, for diamonds, for wavy lines; buy these only once you can see a need for them.

Cutters too come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. We suggest you buy one with a 45mm blade, no smaller except for cutting curves. The larger size (60mm) is great if you do a lot of cutting through multiple layers. Try out the various sorts of cutter to see which one suits you – especially if you have wrist problems. Quilt shows are the ideal place to do this as there will be plenty to choose from. You can sometimes find very cheap cutters in discount shops – two of the cutters in the photo were only £1 – these work very well if you put a good quality blade in them but the blade will probably cost five times what the cutter did!

Look after these tools – keep the mat flat and away from heat (including the sun) or it will warp. Change the blade on your cutter regularly; once you find yourself having to press hard to cut through two layers then the blade needs changing. You can send blades away to be sharpened or you can buy a sharpener to do it yourself at home (there are several sorts). Our experience is that the blades are never quite as sharp as they were from the factory – but they will do for a while, just don’t expect to cut through eight layers of fabric. You can find a photo step-by-step tutorial on changing the blade on a cutter here. Remember these cutter blades are very sharp – even when too blunt to cut fabric – so treat them with respect, handle with care, and always keep the guard over the cutter blade except when you are actually making the cut.

Next week we’ll look at finding the straight grain of the fabric and cutting strips.

Monday Miscellany

Things have been relatively quiet at C&B Towers and also the Rural Office – we’re still tidying, pruning, re-organising, making lists and all activities associated with Good Intentions and Planning.  It has been great fun working through 15 years worth of pictures and worksheets from our Saturday classes – here’s our first Monday Miscellany selected at random, hope you enjoy!

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Half square triangles

We are busy with all sorts of essential behind the scenes activities – clearing and archiving picture files, tidying up and reducing email files, and generally making sure that our computers are models of tidiness and organisation (ha! – Barbara).  Accounts and bills to file, fabric to sort and put away – we think you get the picture.  Seems we do Summer Cleaning rather than Spring Cleaning!

Barbara was working her way through the picture file we keep for this blog and came across the block pics below.  The quilt itself (really too large to get a decent shot)  was made several years ago but we’ve always meant to get around to “doing something” with it.  Maybe next year will be the time! (Or earlier, if we find ourselves in the mood to write instructions) Just variations on a theme of Half Square Triangles – let us know if you think they would be interesting….

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Doodling with Electric Quilt

Having narrowly averted disaster with our Electric Quilt doodle page for June (posted with only a couple of days left in the month!) we thought we should highlight the fact that the EQ doodles for July are now available for your viewing delight.

As you know, we both use the Electric Quilt design programme a lot and that’s really how our doodle page came about – we had so many virtual quilts that we thought it would be good to share them.  We’ve rather lost track of just how many doodles we’ve published over the years but it’s quite a few!  (We probably should start an Electric Quilt Gallery – Chris)  

Here’s an example of how useful EQ is for reviewing possibilities – we used this in our Mystery Class last year.

Version One –

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Version Two –

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Version Three –

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and Version Four –

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