The Rotary Cutter Didn’t Always Exist

It seems so obvious now, but the rotary cutter was a revolutionary breakthrough in quilt making. [heh heh heh!] Before its existence, quilters cut patches, usually one at a time, with scissors. The slow, relatively inaccurate method of cutting makes the works of art from the past even more amazing.


I made my first quilt (to the right) in 2003, cutting the patches with scissors. I’d never heard of a rotary cutter and self-healing mat. As I’ve written before, “… the quilt was finished on time and presented to my daughter at her baby shower, prior to the baby’s birth. And I told her then that I didn’t care how many babies she had, I would never make another quilt.” Truly, having a rotary cutter makes my current quilting life possible!

The first fabric rotary cutter was introduced in 1979 by Olfa, a Japanese company. It originally was intended for garment makers but now is ubiquitous in quilting and crafting, as well. Combined with a self-healing mat and rulers, there’s little we can’t cut.

The most popular blade size is 45 mm, but they do come in different sizes. This short video from Olfa runs through some information on what size to use for what project.

The blades are intended to be sharp. That means not only will they cut your fabric, they’ll cut your unprotected table surface, your skin, your fingernail, your kitten, or anything else that gets in the way. In 2010 I had a trip to the emergency room because of a bad cut. (It was a very expensive one-finger manicure.)

Here are a few safety tips.

Change your blade regularly to improve both cutting and safety. A sharper blade is safer than a duller one. You have to press harder to cut with a dull blade, increasing the potential for slipping and cutting something unintended. 

20150904_081447Dispose of old blades carefully, where no one will accidentally get cut. I put my old blades, needles, and pins in an old plastic yogurt cup with a lid. Whenever there are small people in my house, that cup gets put up above their reach. When the cup is full, I’ll encase it in duct tape before putting it in the trash.

Keep new blades in a safe place. Same theory as above. 

Close the safety guard or retract the blade when you’re not cutting. Some people think they’ll never drop the cutter or brush past it with bare skin. They might be lucky. I’d rather not depend on that. (On that note, it’s also a good idea to always wear enclosed shoes while cutting.)

Cut away from yourself, rather than drawing the blade towards yourself. There will be times when that won’t work well, but most of the time it does. It’s a good habit to have. 

Keep your fingers away from the ruler’s edge. This is what got me. I was gripping the ruler with a finger over the edge, fingertip down toward the mat. I cut off the nail the long way. 

Cut while standing. The angle will be better for safety and accuracy. 

Don’t use the blade as some other kind of tool. It isn’t a seam ripper. It isn’t a hammer. It isn’t a screwdriver. 

Don’t work while you’re overtired, distracted, or have vision problems, including insufficient light. Cutting requires your full attention. It’s not worth risking your safety to hurry along a project. 

Replace your rulers when they get nicked or worn. You don’t want to catch your cutter on any edges by accident.

Did you start quilting before rotary cutters, or without one as I did? Or do you prefer scissors to a rotary blade, as my friend Florence does? Have you moved on to a Go cutter or another type? 



Back to School Blog Hop Schedule

The blog hop begins today! Please take a look at this great line-up, and show the contributors some love. I will update this through the month if there are any changes.

NOTE: My day is September 6!

Sept 2: Cheryl Sleboda of – The Quilter’s Knot

Sept 3: Teresa Coates of Crinkle Dreams – The Importance of Pressing

Sept 4: Cath Hall of Wombat Quilts – Color Coding for Paper-piecing

Sept 5: Sam Hunter of Hunter’s Design Studio – How to Calculate and Cut Bias Binding

Sept 6: Melanie McNeil of Catbird Quilt StudioCredit where Credit is Due

Sept 7: Mandy Leins of Mandalei Quilts – How to Keep a Perfect 1/4” Seam Between Different Machines

Sept 8: Rose Hughes of Rose Hughes – Fast Pieced Applique

Sept 9: Megan Dougherty of The Bitchy Stitcher – The Care and Feeding of the Domestic Sewing Machine

Sept 10: Lynn Krawczyk of Smudged Design Studio – Make a Mobile Art Kit

Sept 11: Susan Beal of West Coast Crafty – Log Cabin 101

Sept 12: Sarah Lawson of Sew Sweetness – Zipper Tips

Sept 13: Jane Victoria of Jolly and Delilah – Matching Seams

Sept 14: Jemelia Hilfiger of Je’s Bend – Garment Making Tips and Tricks

Sept 15: Ebony Love of LoveBug Studios – Curved Piecing Without Pins

Sept 16: Misty Cole of Daily Design Wall – Types of Basting

Sept 17: Kim Lapacek of Persimon Dreams – Setting your Seams

Sept 18: Christina Cameli of A Few Scraps – Joining Quilted Pieces by Machine

Sept 19: Bill Volckening of WonkyWorld – The Importance of Labels

Sept 20: Jessica Darling of Jessica Darling – How to Make a Quilt Back

Sept 21: Debbie Kleve Birkebile of Mountain Trail Quilt Treasures – Perfectly Sized No-Wave Quilt Borders

Sept 22: Heather Kinion of Heather K is a Quilter – Baby Quilts for Baby Steps

Sept 23: Michelle Freedman of Design Camp PDX – TNT: Thread, Needle, Tension

Sept 24: Kathy Mathews of Chicago Now Quilting Sewing Creation – Button Holes

Sept 25: Jane Shallala Davidson of Quilt Jane – Corner Triangle Methods

Sept 27: Cristy Fincher of Purple Daisies Quilting – The Power of Glue Basting

Sept 28: Catherine Redford of Catherine Redford – Change the Needle!

Sept 29: Amalia Teresa Parra Morusiewicz of Fun From A to Z – French Knots, – ooh la la!

Sept 30: Victoria Findlay Wolfe of Victoria Findlay Wolfe Quilts – How to Align Your Fabrics for Dog Ears

October 1: Tracy Mooney of 3 Little Birds – Teaching Kiddos to Sew on a Sewing Machine

October 2: Trish Frankland, guest posting on Persimon Dreams – The Straight Stitch Throat Plate

October 3: Flaun Cline of I Plead Quilty – Lining Strips Up



[Since it is Throwback Thursday, I thought I would post something I originally published more than a year ago. btw, I have used the Shiva paintstix.]

Traffic merged to one lane before me, polite Iowa drivers taking their turns to cross the overpass, single file. As we crossed, I noted the license plate of the car in front of me.

I solve puzzles, sometimes hard ones, but this one was easy. “Use your gift.”

It got me thinking about gifts generally, and how we use them. Everyone knows anecdotes about a mother, aunt, or grandma who would receive presents — table linens, bath towels, cologne — and put them away. The gift was “too nice” to use. Maybe you’ve done it yourself. Did you get china as a wedding present? Do you use it?

Why do we keep our best gifts hidden away? There could be a lot of different reasons. Fear might be the big one. Fear that we don’t deserve such a gift, fear that someone might think we’re showing off, fear that we don’t know how to use it or display it, or that it doesn’t fit in with our other “stuff,” fear that we might ruin it…
To read more, click here.

Back to School Blog Hop Is Coming!

My friend Sam Hunter is hosting a Back to School Blog Hop! Every day in September and spilling into October, there will be a post on “tips and tricks on the basics of sewing and quilting.”

Lucky me, she invited me to participate, too. I’ve seen the list of bloggers and let me just say, I’m pleased and flattered to be included. (My date is September 6.)

So watch here, starting September 1. Once she’s posted the whole line-up, I’ll share it with you, too.

Visiting Quilts

I mentioned we went to visit our son. Coincidentally, we visited three quilts I’ve made for him.

The first one is actually a comforter. I made it for him when I was a new quilter and he was in high school. I made nine 9-patches of 8″ patches and set the 9-patch blocks in a 3×3 layout. Five of the big 24″ blocks are in solid navy and a dark blue print. The other four blocks are in solid dark green and a dark green print. Solid navy bordered the whole to make a cover that is 88″ square. I used fat, fluffy polyester batting and a navy flannel sheet for the back. It was so big and the batting was so poofy, I knew I’d never get it quilted. Instead I yarn-tied it.

As humble as it is, it is his favorite of the three quilts. I know why. Jim and I slept under it for almost two weeks. It is soft and cuddly, and very lightweight due to minimal piecing and the (now nearly non-existent) batting.

The second one I made as his college graduation gift. I designed it myself using EQ7, and I must have tried dozens of iterations before deciding on the final version. I wrote more about it here, including the design inspirations and the construction process.

[Son’s] Flight. 81″ x 81″. Finished in 2012. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The final quilt is one I made last fall. Coincidentally, it also is in blues and greens!

For Son. 68″ x 68″. November 2014. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

I wrote more about this quilt here.

It’s always fun to see the quilts I’ve made, especially knowing that they are used and loved. All three of these quilts fit that bill.

Do you ever get to visit quilts you’ve made?

Home Again Home Again Jiggety Jig

I didn’t say; you didn’t know. Jim and I went to see our son. We were gone for a couple of weeks and arrived home yesterday afternoon.

It’s good to be home, with our own stuff around. Later today I’ll head downstairs to my studio. My motivation and inspiration are darn low, but that’s okay. My hourglass project is waiting for assembly. There is no deadline, so I can take my time, working on it when I want to and leaving it when I don’t. I don’t love pressing and pinning, so I can imagine I won’t want to spend long stretches of time at it.

Besides that, I volunteered to make simple curtains for Son’s apartment. I have a bolt of muslin and will fashion plain panels to hang with spring rods. He has no furniture, so I know they won’t clash…

Do you remember the rhyme my title came from?

To market, to market to buy a fat pig,
Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.
To market, to market to buy a fat hog,
Home again, home again, jiggety-jog.
To market, to market to buy a plum bun,
Home again, home again, market is done.


thanks to for the image

Playing with Color and Value Placement

Recently I showed you a block that uses the economy block as the center. It’s called “Union Square,” or “Contrary Wife Variation.”

Union Square block

I showed you two different versions of it. Here is the straight set with sashing.

Union Square straight set

Union Square or Contrary Wife variation, straight set with sashing.

What a difference it makes to remove the sashing. If you’re like me, your eye starts to focus on the dark shapes rather than on the blocks. In fact, you might start to see T blocks.

Union Square unsashed

Union Square unsashed

And one more change, putting some subtle color in the blocks’ corner patches. For me, this really blurs the block outlines.

Union Square unsashed 2

Union Square unsashed, with color/value variation

Now let’s try placing the values differently. Different colors, here, too.

Union Square unsashed 3

Union Square unsashed variation

Honest to Pete, it’s the same blocks. Putting the darkest value in the corners and their adjacent wedges takes the eye directly to them. In other words, the visual weight is where the dark values are. That is accentuated by using the pale yellow to create squares on point between the dark segments.

The lesson in this, if there is one, is that the way you see a pattern or design first is not the only way it can be done. Most of us are used to using our own preferred colors. But values can be placed differently, too. Experiment with designs to see how color and value placement changes the look.


If you’d like to see my other posts on economy blocks, the first post showed you how to make the economy block ANY SIZE with my tutorial and cheat sheet. The second showed you 17 different arrangements of the block with alternate blocks. They range from simple to fairly complex. The third is linked at the top of this post. It is on blocks that use the economy block as their center.