I tried it: a rotary cutter

I fall into a weird category of millennial sewists who were taught sewing by boomers. I learned to sew in elementary school in the basement of a lovely lady named Mrs. V. This means that I have a lot of old school habits that almost anyone my age still has. For example, up until very recently, I finished all of my darts by sewing off the point and tying together my two threads by hand. (I stopped when I learned this is a relic of old, inaccurate machines and it is totally safe to backstitch at the point of your dart.)

Another such old-school fallback is preferring scissors over a rotary blade. My mom quilted a teensy bit when I was a kid, so I saw these pizza cutters in action, but equated them with long, straight lines and figured they didn’t work for garment sewing. Fast forward to the Instagram age when I saw EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER using rotary cutters for clothes. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a cutting mat and rotary blade for a while, but knew it would be expensive and that I would rather save that cash for fabric.

This year for my birthday, I asked for a large mat and blade because I knew that my quilter Mother-in-Law would find way better deals than I could and I didn’t want to think about it. My in-laws and my parents went in together on a large self-healing mat (24×36 inches) and I shortly after bought myself a 28mm cutter.

Here are my first impressions of using a rotary cutter as a life-long scissors devotee:

-a petite blade is key for small curves. The internet (thanks, Instagram friends!) advised me to get the smaller blade over the larger (ie 45mm) and I am really glad. A bigger blade would definitely be tough on tight curves.

-rotary blades can be more precise than scissors. I figured I would have less control with a blade than with scissors, but I can definitely get significantly closer to the pattern piece in a more fluid motion with the rotary blade.

-you can lose control on long, straight stretches. More than once I’ve sliced off a 1/8-inch strip of pattern piece when going long.

-get the biggest mat you can afford. This was more internet advice I needed. My ultimate plan is to get a second mat to cover my whole sewing table, but for now the 24×36 incher is doing fine. I’ve cut out two midi-length dresses and I find I actually don’t need to move my fabric around that much.

-it is actually much faster. I didn’t believe it until I did it, but rotary blades are really much speedier.

Anyone else a scissors holdout like me? What’s your reasoning for not trying a rotary cutter? Does anyone else have weird old-guard sewing habits that don’t match their age?

3 thoughts on “I tried it: a rotary cutter

  1. I’m a baby boomer and learned from “the greatest generation” so have all kinds of really old rules that I follow – but like you, Instagram teaches me new things every day.

    I use rotary cutters most of the time, but after buying a pair of really good scissors I find there’s something a bit Zen-like about cutting with big long strokes. Depending on the fabric, I still tie off darts (although my mother always backstitched). Probably the one weird thing I do almost all the time is pull end threads through and tie them off, even if I’ve backstitched.

  2. I started using a rotary cutter in the 1980s for quilting, but only recently started using it to cut out clothes. Because of my quilting start, I use my long quilting ruler for cutting straight lines, and my French curve ruler wherever else I can to keep the cutter outside the pattern pieces. I only freehand where I have no other option, bit gradually becoming more confident.

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