Tools of the Trade – Rotary Cutters

By Crispina ffrench

Tools of the Trade – Rotary Cutter

The usual (and recommended) rotary cutting ‘kit’ includes:

  1. Rotary Cutting Tool
  2. Self-Healing Cutting Mat
  3. Acrylic Ruler

They can be purchased as a pre-packaged kit, although you might want to invest in separate components.
Read On…

When I first was introduced to rotary cutters it didn’t seem possible that they would cut knits with accuracy – and I was working solely with accurately cut knits at the time.  Since then, it has become super clear that experimentation trumps dismissiveness. 

Many years after that initial introduction, the first rotary cutting kit graced the worktable in my studio and it changed my work immediately.  Super quick measuring with the combination of the mat and ruler, easy on the bod, compared to scissor cutting and unparalleled accuracy.

Part of my hesitation to get on board with rotary cutting circled around the construction of the tool itself, made nearly entirely of plastic AND the non-traditional nature of Rotary Cutters.  They came on the scene in 1979 thanks to Olfa, the Japanese cutting tool company.  Initially designed for garment making rotary cutting kits have been widely adopted for all sorts of accurate cutting from book binding to quilting and recycling secondhand clothing.

The best rotary cutting kit on the market is made by Olfa and includes a handle with blade, a cutting mat printed with a measurement grid that comes in various sizes, and a clear plastic ruler with a measurement grid printed on it too.  Be sure to find the ‘Deluxe’ handled Olfa kit, as it is nicely curved to fit in the hand with comfort (steer clear of the straight handled version if you are planning to do a lot of cutting).  Blades are easily changed, and the snap button locking mechanism becomes habitual encouraging workroom safety.  Other brands I have tried either have handles that become very quickly uncomfortable, locking mechanisms that break with heavy use, or blades that become wobbly and are a pain to switch out.  I even found a metal handled version from Gingher that I was sooo excited about….  The excitement was unwarranted when replacement blades were impossible to find and difficult to replace. 

My recommendation for getting started with rotary cutting while recycling clothing is a 45mm cutter, (this is the medium size I’ve seen available) with a 24”x36” mat (60x90cm) and a 6×24” ruler (7.5x60cm).  We have a couple of other sizes in the studio that rarely get used but are nice to have.  For super bulky sweater material, the 60mm cutter is a breeze and if you are into cutting super tight curves with this tool the tiny 20mm cutter is fun to play with.
The 24×36” mat fits most garments, I often fold over sized garments in half to fit the mat and/or reduce cutting distance (and physical demand)
The many years of heavy use my studio rotary cutting kit has endured, has taught me that the mats sold with rotary cutters dull blades quite quickly.  A much less abrasive cutting mat was purchased at my local mom n pop art supply store.  It works just the same way – self-healing and gridded measurements match with the ruler. 
Also note that replacement blades are much less expensive if you google them online, rather than purchasing them from a place like JoAnn’s, Hobby Lobby or Michael’s.

If you are like me, you will find that a rotary cutting kit is a very worthy investment as you further your creative secondhand clothing recycling practice.  They are more expensive than I expected – running around $100 or more if you buy your mat separately. 

Do you have a favorite tool used for your recycling secondhand clothing? What is your favorite tip or most pressing question about rotary cutting?  Share your questions and knowledge in a comment below…

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