Birdsong Bows: How to cut fabric with a rotary cutter and mat

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How to cut fabric with a rotary cutter and mat

So I realize that the title of this post is "How to cut fabric with a rotary cutter and mat," because that's what it's really about...but the first photo here is my new serger. That's because I'm showing off! But, seriously, the serger inspired me to create this free tutorial. I brought it home, and thought...I want to make some serged napkins! So I whipped out my rotary cutter and mat and quickly produced six, 14" squares out of my yard of fabric. I have a quilting background, so this was second-nature to me. But what about those of you who might not know how to properly use these handy tools? This tutorial is for you.
You'll need a self-healing mat of at least 24", a long acrylic ruler of at least 6" by 24", a rotary cutter (I like the 45mm for cutting cotton), and - optional but highly recommended - a mesh glove (also called a Klutz glove). Just a single glove, like Michael Jackson wore, but not quite as spiffy. And, of course, some fabric yardage!
To get nice cuts, you'll first want to press your fabric and then fold it once, meeting the selvages with no wrinkles in the fabric. This might mean moving the fabric left and right, because the side edges won't match -- the selvage is the only thing that counts:

To fit this on your cutting board, you might need to fold it again. Meet your fold up with the selvages. Be very careful - not matching your selvages perfectly can result in a "wavy" cut later.

Now, line up the bottom folded edge with one of the horizontal lines on your cutting mat:

Grab your rotary cutter and ruler (the ruler is shown here with a little sandpaper circle on the corners so it won't move as much when I cut), and channel your inner MJ by putting the glove on the hand opposite of the one you cut with:

I know what you're thinking: "I'll never need that glove; I'll be so careful that I'll never cut myself." I know this, because I had that thought. I worked for several years without an accident, and then one late night, when I had an order to fill and strep throat, it happened - one slice down the fabric and into my finger! Ouch. Not worth it. Buy the glove, if only because it's cheaper than an ER visit.

Line up your ruler close to the edge of your fabric, along one of the solid, vertical lines on the cutting mat. Make sure you get all of the layers in without cutting off too much waste. Starting from the bottom, cut away from you, just like you would cut a pizza. Away from you, not toward you. Did I say "away?" Then lock your cutter before you place it back on your table while you adjust your fabric for more cutting. If the cutter falls and you're not wearing shoes, it can plunge into your foot....ouch! And be sure to keep it locked and away from children when not in use.
I cut my napkins to 14" by 14". I made the first cut to make sure my side was straight; made another cut 14 inches away, and then turned my large "strip" and made cross cuts 14 inches apart.

Then I took my fabric squares over to my serger:

...and made these beautiful rolled edges:

Here's four of the six napkins, completed:

Now, certainly you can do the same project with your sewing machine, by making a 14 1/2" square and folding over the edges by 1/4" to the back of the fabric, pressing, folding 1/4" again, and sewing the seams. In this case, serging is faster and creates a fantastic edge. We use fabric napkins all the time in my family -- just wash them in hot water with your towels, and re-use. A pretty and eco-friendly way to dress up your everyday table.
Rotary cutting supplies can be pricey, but if you watch fliers for the big-box crafing/sewing stores, you should find a 50% off coupon to use. Rotary cutting will make your sewing projects go quicker, and I recommend it for two of my hair accessory tutorials, the Betty Jo Bow/Joseph Bow Tie and the Annabelle flower. Because cutting is my least favorite part about sewing, I appreciate any quick boost I can get!

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Blogger Claire Jain said...

The bow is super cute, and you're right: fabric napkins are so the way to go. Sometimes I go to the trouble of ironing them while watching TV, but even just folding them up out of the dryer does ok for everyday use. These are so cute, too! I love the fabric. What is it?

December 2, 2011 at 11:14 AM  
Blogger Deanna McCool said...

Thanks! It's Philip Jacobs for Rowan...out of Kaffe Fassett's most recent collection, I believe!

I don't iron mine after taking them out of the dryer; just wash, dry and use. But then again, I'm not the type to iron my sheets, either, lol!

December 5, 2011 at 9:19 AM  
Blogger bunbytes said...

I've been making 14 inch square napkins like this for years. Isn't it great that 1.25 yards of fabric makes 9 napkins? I think the 14" size is just right for everyday use and you certainly get more napkins for less money. Thanks for sharing this.

December 28, 2011 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Deanna McCool said...

Thanks, Bunbytes....(love your name)....I'm happy that the recipients of my napkins liked them this Christmas, too. I also think it's the perfect size for everyday use.

December 30, 2011 at 4:51 PM  

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