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Tips & Tricks for a Smooth Rotary Cutting Experience

How did people quilt before the rotary cutter and mat?  These much-loved products are the unsung heroes of the quilting room and yet, like so much else, sometimes we only take notice when they act up.  Dull blades leaving threads intact (grr), slipped rulers that ruin your perfect measurements (watch out!) and fuzzy, cut up old mats that look like lost a war with an ill-tempered sheep are common problems that come up when we neglect our tools for too long.  Below are some maintenance tips and tricks to keep your rotary cutting experience smooth.

Keep your Blades Sharp

The most common cause of accidents with rotary blades is a dull blade.  Dull blades will cause you to press harder into the mat, damaging your mat and making it more likely that your hand could slip and cause injury.  Besides, rotary blades are expensive, why throw them away when you could sharpen them and make them almost new again? 

Buy a Sharpener

You can buy hand held sharpeners at your local store or online, this is what I use at home.  There are also electric sharpeners available if you want to spare your wrists a bit.  Here is a video on how to use a hand held sharpener.    

Sharpening tools

DIY Sharpening

Even if you don’t get a sharpener, go ahead and sharpen your blade by folding up some sheets of aluminum foil and cutting it with the blade you wish to sharpen.  Do this between projects to maintain a nice sharp blade!  Great technique for wavy rotary blades.  Cutting aluminum foil with scissors is said to sharpen them as well.

Disclaimer:  Sharpening only works on undamaged blades.  If you have chipped your blade by cutting over a pin or ruler they will continue to leave threads intact where they’ve been chipped. 

Non-Slip Rulers Reign Supreme

Recently we in the sewing room upgraded our rulers to non-slip versions and we’ve never looked back- seriously cutting is such a pleasure with these

Buy a Non-Slip Ruler

If you’re in the market for a new ruler, spend the extra and get a non-slip version.  It’s worth it!

Upgrade your Current Rulers

Already have a drawer full of expensive slippery rulers?  Don’t worry, all it takes is a couple special clear non-slip stickers and you have your own arsenal of non-stick measuring tools!  You can buy a special product from your local store or online like TrueGrips Non-Slip Adhesive Rings or Omnigrid InvisiGrip.  Or if you have a transparent first aid tape at home already, like Nexcare Flexible Clear Tape, go ahead and tape strips to the back of your rulers to make your own DIY non-slip rulers!

Non slip options

Show Your Mat Some Love

There’s nothing sadder than a cut-up, fuzzy mat.  Although they’re “self-healing” sometimes they need a little help from us.  In addition to protecting your mat by keeping your blade sharp you'll also want to clean & moisturize.  

Clean Regularly

Clean your mat with a soft bristle brush and a solution of room temperature water with a couple drops of a mild dish soap, rinse with cool water (never hot, it will warp) and wipe dry.  Make sure to clean your mat regularly, preferably after each project.  In the picture below you can see my before and after pictures for the mat I use everyday (A) and two other mats I dug out of storage (B & C) after cleaning each for a max of 15 minutes.  My everyday mat looks like new, YAY!  Mat B needs a little more scrubbing, but it's almost there.  Mat C is a cautionary tale... when it come to mat cleaning maintenance is best! 

Quick fixes to upkeep between thorough cleanings are:

  • Using an eraser to remove fuzz
  • Spray bottle with water and toothbrush
  • Baby Wipes
  • Lint Roller/ Sticky tape
A case study of 3 mats after approximately 15 minutes scrub time each

Moisturize Your Mat

Just like our dewy skin, mats also love moisture!  Who knew?  Skip the creams though, and give your mat a bath in the tub.  Soak your mat in a solution of approximately ¼ cup vinegar for each gallon of cool, room temperature water to rejuvenate it.  Let the math soak for 15-20 minutes and then clean again with a soft brush and a couple squirts of mild dish-washing soap to remove any stubborn fibers or marks on the mat.  Rinse the mat clean in cool water, and pat dry or air dry FLAT so it doesn’t warp.  It turns out a moisturized mat is a softer mat, which results in less dulling of your rotary blades.

I hope this round-up of tips helps you out in the sewing room!  Please feel free to share your own tips in the comments section!

~Christine :)