Tag Archives: Rotary cutter

Making, Not Blogging

Sometimes I feel like a helium balloon, tethered on a very long string. I drift and float and bob along, feeling increasingly disconnected from anything solid. I have to hope the mooring holds, as I’m powerless on my own. I have to hope someone will reel me back.

The busyness of making reins me in, as well as my continuing connection with Jim. Occasionally, like this evening, I hold tight to him. “Am I too close?” I joke, knowing he’ll say “no.” I explain my feeling of disconnect, that it’s harder to listen to him, almost harder to hear him. But the ongoing political farce, and heartbreaking news items, drag me farther and farther away.

The busyness of making. I depend on it. And I’ve been making, not blogging. It’s too hard to write, to form words into sentences that aren’t filled with exclamations, with curses, with lamentations for the meanness of those who would claim to be “good” people, even people of faith.

Making. Today I finished three quilts. Each needed binding, applied and finished by machine. Fast. Too fast? What shall I do next?

Next, clean up. Do you clean up between projects? I do to some extent — I like to vacuum and wipe surfaces — but I’m not always as thorough as I should be at the rest of the job. As I began an experiment this evening, I remembered to change my needle, abused after binding the quilts, as well as longer-than-optimal service with piecing. And with that I decided to clean the lint mess from under the needle plate. Good thing, too, as the space was fuzzier than the slices of bread I discarded recently. (Homemade bread gets moldy quickly.)

fuzzy machine
clean machine

And hey, as long as I was at it, I changed my rotary cutter blade. When I discard needles, pins, and blades, I put them in an old yogurt cup. I’ve had this thing for years and it’s only half full. They don’t take up much space, do they?

sharps cup

As to the experiment, I wanted to try something with a half-square triangle. I used HST to make my Delectable Mountains quilt (blog post still to come, photo in here.) I wondered what would happen if one half had two different fabrics in it. Here is an idea of what that does.

hst sliced rearranged

So, huh. Interesting, I think. Worth pursuing with a bigger idea.

And the projects I finished today? Funny enough, they are of three different formats. One is a strip quilt (blog post to come); one is a block quilt (blog post to come); and one is a medallion. Here are two of the three.
projects on floor

There now, I’ve used up all my words.


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? 



I Always Wanted Longer Legs

I’m not very big. Okay, a lot of people would call me “short.” It doesn’t bother me, though there are disadvantages.

It’s hard to reach stuff up high without a stool, ladder, or help.
It’s hard to see over people in a crowd.
Long legs give a longer line, aesthetically considered attractive.
Long legs make long strides easier.
Small weight increases are large, proportionally for me.
It’s hard to buy clothes that fit without altering.

But there are advantages, too.
I’m not real impressed when other people are taller than I am, since most adults are.
I learned good table manners, since my arms are too short to make a “boarding house reach” very effective.

Mm… I can’t think of others.

I’ve gotten over the disappointment that I didn’t grow taller. Still, I always wanted longer legs.

And the other day, Jim made my legs longer.

Okay, they aren’t MY legs. They’re the legs of my cutting table. There are a lot of things we can do to make our work spaces a little more comfortable. I determined that a slightly higher cutting table would reduce the stress on my right shoulder. (Sharp rotary cutter blades make a big difference there, too. Don’t ignore that simple improvement.)

Years ago he bought PVC pipe and cut it into lengths to raise the surface of my table. It’s a plastic, folding banquet table, the kind you can buy at the big discount stores. The PVC pipe pieces are longer than the table legs, so when slipped over each leg, they raise it up. (Some people use bed risers to raise their tables, too.)

To make the table even higher, he bought another 12″ of PVC and cut it into 4 pieces. With a piece added on each leg, the table is 3″ higher than it was before the alteration.

The additional 3″ piece of pipe.

The pipe pieces are longer than the table’s original legs, and they support the crossbars, raising the surface.

I love my long legs!