Rotary Cutting 101: Tips for Novices and Experts Alike

Have you spent time making quilt blocks only to find they literally don’t measure up? Learning how to cut fabric for quilting is what I consider the first step for successful piecing.

If you’re just starting your quilting adventure, check out the FREE Craftsy class Piece, Patch, Quilt: Basic Quiltmaking Skills, lead by Gail Kessler, who offers fun and easy-to-follow instruction. There’s an entire lesson on how to prepare your fabrics and cut them safely and accurately. Plus, when you sign up, you’ll receive four quilt patterns along with the skills to turn them into quilts that will be treasured for years to come.

Rotary Cutter - Properly Cutting Fabric for Quilting

 

How do you rotary cut?

Many of us never consider the importance of this question. Quilting fabric has a thread count that consists of so many threads per inch. With proper rotary cutting skills (and a quality rotary cutter), quilt blocks will be more precise and measure the desired size more accurately.

Let’s take a look at some DOs and DON’Ts for how to cut fabric for quilting.

Fabric and Ruler, Properly Placed

The proper way:

Let’s say you want to cut a 2 ½” strip. Place the 2 ½” line ON TOP of the fabric, and then cut your strip. Make sure the measurement line is directly ON the fabric, as in the photo above.

Improper Way of Cutting Fabric for Quilting

The improper way:

Remember what I said about thread count? When the desired measurement line on the ruler is placed just OFF the fabric, a thread or two will be lost. This is a no-no.

So what’s the big deal about a couple of threads you might ask?

When sewing blocks with multiple pieces, every thread does count. A consistent loss of a thread or two will result in a smaller block size.

A Quilt Block Made with Many Small Pieces

See the above example of a 6 ½ block with many small pieces. You can see how the loss of a thread or two with each cut can make a big difference in the final block size, demonstrating the importance of proper rotary cutting.

A Quilt Block with Missing Threads

Here is another example of a block not quite measuring up.

A Quilt Block Made a Bit Too Short

Keep in mind though, that even with the proper rotary cutting technique, coming up short can happen. But, can you imagine how much smaller this block would be had I lost a thread or two with every cut?

Will I still use this block in my quilt?  Yes I will. But that’s for another blog post!

Stack of Quilt Blocks Join my quilt-along, The Farmer’s Wife Quilt Revival, right here on Craftsy. I share modern instructions for making each block featured in The Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt*, by Laurie Aaron Hird. If you already own this book or wanted to buy it but quickly became intimidated by all those templates, join my quilt-along, where I’ll share simple rotary cutting and piecing instructions to successfully complete this beautiful quilt. *Book is required.

Read more about the Farmer’s Wife Quilt Revival.

Do you have any tips on how to cut fabric for quilting?

27 Comments

Lisa Rister McGriff

Yes this was helpful, I myself am guilty as charged of not lining it up “ON” the fabric.. Thanks so much!

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Dianne Reed

Thank you so much! I am guilty of this and wondered why my blocks were “off”!

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Lisa Rister McGriff

Yes this was helpful, I myself am guilty as charged of not lining it up “ON” the fabric.. Thanks so much!

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Lisa Rister McGriff

Yes this was helpful, I myself am guilty as charged of not lining it up “ON” the fabric.. Thanks so much!

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Susan Ioanou-Silver

guilty of not lining up on the fabric – now I get what I was doing wrong.

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Diane Byatt

I am a quilting antique from the 70’s. We use our husbands metal squares and cereal boxes to make templates. I am so thankful I just read your post about On the line measuring. You have changed my life. Just in time to start a log cabin for my almost daughter-in-law(and her beloved of course)

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Martha

Wow!! Now I know why my blocks are always off by just a little bit. Thanks for the tip. Love Craftsy!!!

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Mary

Now I understand why my blocks always end up a little smaller than expected. Thanks for the help!

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Elizabeth Davis

Hello! I am a first time quilter and I have a rotary cutter but I couldn’t afford to buy a cutting mat just yet. So I bought a plastic placemat instead thinking that by using my metal ruler I would be fine. Well, the issue that I am having is that my rotary cutter doesn’t want to make a clean cut? One of my cousins bought and sent me a rotary cutter and I also purchased one and when using either one of them the cut looks sloppy and threads are stringing out all over the edges? Can or would you please give me some advice as to what or where I am going wrong here? With 2 brand new rotary cutters I would think that one of them would cut a clean line??

Thank You,
Elizabeth in TN

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Rebecca

I would say it’s because your fabric is moving very slightly against the ruler and the plastic mat. I also had this same trouble before I bought a nonslip cutting mat and nonslip quilting ruler. One other thing make sure you have a very sharpe new blade in the rotary cutter. I think having the correct equipment really does make a difference.

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karen walker

Hi Elizabeth,
I agree with Rebecca’s comment. Your plastic mat may be slippery. I would recommend holding your ruler steady so it does not slip. There are some clear adhesive tiny circles that can be placed under your ruler to help with slippage. And you might try to put something under the place mat too, so it will not slip. If trying to cut a long strip, I would take small cuts up the ruler, re-positioning my hand and holding the ruler in place as i cut.
Hope you can get a quilter’s cutting mat. I think you will find it quite nice.
~karen

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Susan Pack

I have been quilting for about 3 yrs now and Do Not get along with rotary cutters. I secure my ruler on my fabric with sand paper between the fabric and the ruler so it doesn’t shift and draw a fine line where I want to cut. I then use my good fabric scissors to cut on that line and it works so much better for me. Yes it takes alot longer but my accuracy had improved

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Phyllis

I also wondered why my squares were always off. It was so frustrating. I can’t wait to do another square.

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marianne

This is such a good reminder of how exact I need to be in my cutting. Now I am even more intimadated to make the first cut. Lol. “the first cut is the deepest” I am hoping that a perfectionist can still make a quilt and not go crazy!

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Connie Johnson

So, the plastic ruler is on top of the fabric measuring 2 1/2″. Do you cut the fabric from the opposite side? It’s unclear

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karen walker

Hi Connie,
I place the ruler on top of my fabric when cutting 6″ or less. (the ruler i use is a 6″ x 24″ size) In my example, i place the 2-1/2″ line directly on the left edge of my fabric and cut along the right side of my ruler’s edge. I’ll work up another example and share it.

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Joan Sloan

Elizabeth, you may be having the same problem I was. Everyone, but me, could cut beautifully with a rotary cutter. I mentioned this one time to the instructor in a class I was taking. She watched me and showed me what I was doing wrong. I was not holding my wrist at the right angle. Such a simple matter, but not for me. Go to a cloth store and ask the sales clerk watch you cut a piece of cloth with your cutter. She can show you what you are doing wrong. Hope this helps. Good luck.

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Elizabeth Davis

I wanted to thank everyone for the amazing tips and advice! My cutting has greatly improved and with a lot of practice with scrap pieces of fabric it has greatly improved! Thank you again for the advice and tips and I hope that I might be able to contribute back to someone else as well!
Happy quilting everyone!

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karen walker

Thank you Joan for your helpful advice to Elizabeth! I appreciate it!
~karen

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Nancy Dobson

I have been cutting about 10 years and now, all of a sudden, I am cutting into the ruler with my rotary cutter. Not every time, but quite often. Don’t know what I am doing after using a rotary cutter all these years. Help!

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karen walker

Hi Nancy,
It’s hard to say without watching you cut. I would recommend taking small cuts up the ruler’s edge instead of trying to cut the entire strip at once.
I think Joan’s comment above it good…go into your local quilt shop and show them, they would be able to see what it is you are doing and perhaps offer some helpful advice.
~karen

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Denise Deane

So happy I came across this class. I could never understand why I couldn’t get perfectly matched squares. I see my mistakes now and can’t wait to go cut ! Thank you for eliminating my frustration.

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karen walker

Your are welcome Denise! Such a simply thing… and when you learn this, it makes all the difference! Happy cutting! :)

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Caz Chapman

Thank you so much! I’m not an experienced quilter and my biggest problem has been with cutting. Now I know what I was doing wrong. So simple :-)

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Kiri Gibson

Thanks so much for that little tip. I can now why my squares always came up short.

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