Ask CRAFT: Rotary Cutters

Craft & Design


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Susan writes in:

I see these expensive rotary cutters in the stores. What makes them better than a sharp pair of scissors or a knife? Are they worth it?

Rotary cutters are great! Here are some cases I’d use them instead of scissors or a utility knife:

Quilting and precise geometries

Quilters comprise a large portion of rotary cutter owners, and it’s not by accident. Using large clear rulers, quilters can cut out very precisely-shaped pieces for intricate quilt work. Since most quilt pieces have straight lines all around, the rotary cutter makes quick work of highly geometric shapes cut from fabric or paper. You can use a smaller rotary cutter to cut curves.

Cutting odd or delicate materials

Leather, silk, window screen, and other overly delicate, snag prone, or unusual materials are best cut with a rotary cutter. For one, you can get a straight line cut from a movement-prone fabric because once you get it flat on the table, you don’t have to lift it to cut the line, like with scissors. Denser materials benefit from the rotary cutter because the blade isn’t sliding through the length of the cut, but rather rolling down over the material, preventing snags that can happen with a knife.

Decorative edging and scrapbooking

Rotary cutters have interchangable blades, and you can get decorative edging blades to make cuts in paper for scrapbooking. Unlike patterned scissors, the blade is circular like a ravioli cutter, which makes the pattern endlessly and seamlessly repeatable.

Cutting multiple layers

Rotary cutters can easily slice many layers of material at once, which is great for multiples in fabric, paper, etc.

Increased speed

Trimming seam allowances is super fast with a rotary cutter. You can cut with a push motion or a pull motion, unlike a knife which must be pulled. This helps prevent RSI and lets you work however’s comfortable. Because you can cut multiple layers at once, making oodles of the same piece, like for quilting, is a dream.

Please be careful using any rotary cutter, as they’re very sharp. It’s best to get one with a safety feature that pulls the blade back when not in use. Watch your fingers when cutting against rulers, and keep this tool away from small children. Check out this great introductory tutorial on working with rotary cutters on the Purl Bee. Have tips or stories about how and why you use a rotary cutter? Share them in the comments!


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Becky Stern is a Content Creator at Autodesk/Instructables, and part time faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts Products of Design grad program. Making and sharing are her two biggest passions, and she's created hundreds of free online DIY tutorials and videos, mostly about technology and its intersection with crafts. Find her @bekathwia on YouTube/Twitter/Instagram.

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