So You Wanna Make A Quilt… Part 4 – How to Cut Fabric


Part 4- Cutting

It’s time to get to cutting….are you nervous?

Well, you are not the first! There are a few things you need to know about how to cut fabric safely and accurately. Once you have got those down….piece o’cake.

I don’t want to scare you, but rotary cutters are super sharp and are the leading cause of quilting accidents(okay, that may or may not be true, but they say 98.7% of all statistics are made up*wink*!). I think this mostly comes from carelessness. So how can you avoid accidentally cutting yourself?

#1- Keep the saftey lock on when not cutting…yes, this means between every cut! Bumping it into the floor could cost you a toe, ouch! Wearing shoes is not a bad idea either.


Safety On…


Safety Off…

#2- Keep your fingers away from the edge of the ruler. Look across the line where you will be cutting before you slice, you might just notice a finger that’s a little too close:) You can also use a safety glove designed for rotary cutting on your non-dominant hand just in case.


#3- Cut away from you. Resist the urge to do all kinds of arm twisting instead of rotating the fabric or ruler:)

#4- Change your blade often to keep it sharp.

#5- Use a good acrylic ruler! HERE is my post on rulers to learn how to use and pick a good one.


Now…How do you actually go about cutting the fabric? I’m going to show you how by cutting 2 1/2″ strips from a fat quarter. To start you will need your ruler, a rotary cutter and a rotary cutting mat.


Rotary cutters come in several sizes. They are referred to by their blade size. A 28mm cutter is for small or tiny projects, but the most common are the 45mm and the 60mm. The 60mm is larger and can cut through bigger stacks of fabric. The size rotary cutting mat you want is up to you. If using a smaller mat, you may have to fold your fabric to be able to cut it. Your mat should be placed on a hard flat surface. TIP: Do Not Iron on your mat!!! This is a rookie mistake and will warp your mat and it will be pretty much ruined.


Press your fabric. All those wrinkles make it hard to get accurate cuts. Using spray starch stiffens the fabric and keeps it nice and crisp. I use Mary Ellen’s Best Press.


You will notice that the edges are not exactly straight. These always have to be “squared up” before you can start cutting your pattern pieces. You also have to trim off the selvedge edges on your fabric.


To square up the edge…slide your ruler across the fabric and find a line to cut on that will make a nice even cut across your entire piece of fabric. Make sure you are lined up with the markings on the mat on both ends of the fabric. Here I had to come in about 1/2″.


With your fingers spread apart(but not over the edge!)… apply firm pressure to the ruler.


Take the safety off of the rotary cutter and run it along the edge of the acrylic ruler, keeping pressure against the ruler as you go. Pushing too hard against the ruler can make it slip. When cutting you should be standing and to the left a little(if you are right-handed) so that your cutting hand can naturally extend straight forward and not at an awkward angle. There you go! A nice clean edge.


To cut the width of our strip we will be using the markings on the ruler rather than the ones on the mat as our guide. Rotate your fabric so that your clean edge is on the left(if you are right-handed). You can still line it up with the markings on the mat, but you don’t have to worry about the numbers. Just do it in the center so that you have more room. We are cutting at 2 1/2″, so line the square edge we just cut with the 2 1/2″ line on the ruler. Now, cut the other side of your strip.


Beautiful! You can trim the top and bottom edges to get your desired length according to your pattern.


What happens if you are cutting along and your rotary cutter slips to the right???


No worries! Re-square up your edge just like you did initially. Slide the ruler over to cover the oops and get a new clean edge. If your ruler slips and you cut into the strip area…well, you will have to toss that strip and start over.


What if you are not cutting a fat quarter, but are cutting fabric off the bolt that has a fold in it?


The procedure is the same, just line your fold up with a line on the mat before squaring up the edge on the right.


When you cut your strip width, use one of the horizontal lines on your ruler to keep the folded edge straight. If you have to fold your fabric because your mat is small…try not to fold more that once and keep the fold neat. If the folded edge of the fabric is not kept straight and even, you will get strips that are slightly “V” shaped and a little wonky. As a beginner, you should open up your strips and check to see if you are cutting accurately. Measure the width of your strip at a few different points to check.



Click HERE to find parts 1, 2 and 3 of the Beginner Quilting Series, So You Wanna Quilt…

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  1. farmquilter says:

    Thank you for telling them to cut off the selvedge edges of the material. I have a quilt on my longarm frame that I am quilting right now for a customer and she used the selvedge edges in her material, both on the top and backing! It does not “give” like the rest of the fabric, so it makes the fabric pull weird, it is thicker and deflects the needle making uneven stitches and it will not shrink like the rest of her unwashed fabric. I don’t even want to see what this quilt looks like after that first wash!

  2. I especially agree with the advice to cut your fabric without having your finger over the edge of your ruler…speaking from experience (a very, very painful experience) the rotary cutter WILL slice quickly and evenly through your finger too. Oucheeee!!!

  3. Another great tutorial that I’m going to share over at my FB place. As for the rotary blade safety…one of my quilty friends from way long ago was carrying her stuff and forgot to put the safety back on. the blade slipped and cut through the tendon in her hand. the last time I had talked to her, she still wasn’t sewing because of the surgery and poor healing. If the rotary cutter isn’t in your hand, the safety should be on!

  4. Nice! I was sewing with a friend this weekend and she had a cutter like yours. Know what is weird? I could not use it to save my soul! I have an Olfa with the retracting blade. The one like yours seemed to require me to hold my hand a bit higher which was very unnatural after years of holding it more like shaking hands. I wonder, if I had started out with the straight one, would my problem be exactly opposite?

  5. All great tips. It is so fantastic that so many quilters are so happy to share their skills and post tutorials. So thanks!

  6. For the longest time I didn’t have a rotary cutter. I finally got one. It wasn’t until after I took a workshop to learn how to make a miniature log cabin wall hanging when I bought one of the boards for squaring up!
    For 6 or so years I had a rotary cutter that was built onto a 6 by 22 inch or so ruler that hubby bought for me. I’m happy now to have both.

  7. Great tutorial! I especially like the safety tip you gave right from the start. I know a quilter who dropped an open rotary cutter on her foot and it cut through her shoe causing serious injuries. There was also damage to tendons in her foot. This is also very important to keep little ones safe and pets if they go in your sewing room.

  8. great tutorial, Paula! those rotary cutters can do some damage fast for sure! I always like to have my cutting mat at the end of my dining room table, and I pull out all of the chairs. Since I can move easily around three full sides of the cutting mat, I rarely have to move my fabric, I just walk around!

    Thanks so much for linking up with Needle and Thread Thursday!

    :) Kelly @ My Quilt Infatuation

  9. Hi Paula! Love this tutorial-very clear pictures and instructions!!!

    Would love for you to link this up to Fabric Frenzy Friday!!

    Fabric Frenzy Friday

  10. Your series for beginner quilters is going well. I think you cover a lot of points that even experienced quilters could be reminded of! Thanks for sharing, Paula.

  11. Awesome write up! I am teaching a few friends to sew, and will definitely make this required reading for each of them. Thank you!

  12. Thank you for linking up at Richard and Tanya Quilts.

    Richard and Tanya Healey
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