Sewing Out Loud
Sewing Out Loud
Jan 22, 2021
Sewing Adjustment Periods: How to Get Used to Rotary Cutters and Tracing Patterns
Play • 51 min

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Using a rotary cutter and tracing sewing patterns are things Zede and Mallory do almost every time they are in the studio. These are non-negotiable processes for us- but they take some getting used to!

As we mentioned in our "Adjustment Periods: Knee Lift and Serger" episode, sew however you like and do what makes you happy, but after decades and decades of sewing and teaching others, we're confident that these two things can make your sewing life better! So, let's get started!

How to Get Used to Using a Rotary Cutter

Rotary cutters are fast and accurate. If you're afraid of cutting incorrectly or cutting yourself- let us put your mind at ease!

What you need to use a rotary cutter

In order to successfully use a rotary cutter, you must have a cutting mat and a place large enough to accommodate it! If you've got the space, we think this is one of the biggest time savers you will implement while cutting out garments- and we find it to be more accurate!

We don't pin our pattern pieces to our fabric, we use pattern weights- and this is preferable when rotary cutting, because you don't want to roll over a pin!

Advantages to using a rotary cutting instead of scissors

The biggest advantage of using a rotary cutter instead of scissors is accuracy and lack of distortion. When you use scissors to cut garment pieces, you distort the yardage as the lower blade goes underneath the fabric. You just do! so, we find it so much more accurate and simple to keep our fabric in contact with the table as we cut with our rotary cutters.

Rotary blades are cheap and easy to replace. It's easier to keep your cutting equipment super sharp when you use a rotary cutter, because you don't have to go to a special place to get them sharpened, and you can replace the blade yourself if you do make some kind of mistake (going over a pin or bead) or you gut through a bunch of carpeting (Zede).

In order to be successful, secure your fabric and pattern pieces with weights or tape- that's right, tape! If you have a particularly slippy fabric, you can tape it to your cutting table. And don't underestimate weighting the yardage outside of your pattern pieces, it can help keep things stable as you progress through the cutting process.

How to practice with a rotary cutter

In general, there are two ways to use a rotary cutter- with a ruler and without. If you are cutting a long strip of fabric or a pattern piece with a straight edge- get out a ruler!

Hold the ruler in place with your non-dominant hand, and attempt to keep this hand behind the rotary cutter as you cut. Keep the rotary cutter close to the ruler. The ruler should be place on top of the pattern piece and the fabric that is uncovered should be the fabric you are cutting away from the pattern piece- so, just in case you do mess up and veer away from the ruler, you aren't cutting into your pattern piece.

Get out some pattern pieces with gentle curves and cut them out of one layer of stable fabric. See how it goes. Theoretically, it should be easier to cut curves with the curved blade of your rotary cutter than with the straight blade of your scissors. Practice keeping your non-dominant hand behind the cutter and out of its path.

Find the right rotary cutter for you

We love the Olfa ergonomic handle, and own several. You may try out a few different kinds before you find the right one for you.

You can also buy different sizes. We use the 45mm rotary cutter most often, but the size 60mm is popular with quilters cutting big strips and the size 28mm or 28mm is popular with people cutting small, curvy pieces for lingerie or doll clothes.

How to use a rotary cutter safely

Rotary cutters are sharp! That's why we like them and that's why they can be intimidating. A lot of people feel that rulers keep them safe, and only rotary cut with a ruler- ruling out curved garment pattern pieces. However, I have seen overzealous cutter jump the ruler!

There are protective gloves you can buy and use while rotary cutting, and some people swear by them! In fact, I learned on the set of Fons and Porter's Love of Quilting that they always use a glove, because when they didn't wear one, they got lots of emails from nervous viewers!

I have to be honest and say that I injure myself more in the kitchen that the sewing room, and I don't feel the need to wear the glove, personally.

Always keep your hand behind the rotary cutter, whether you're using a ruler or not (see paragraph above). You will use your non-dominant hand to stabilize your body and your fabric, and if it's behind the path of the cutter- it should be safe!

Keeping a new, sharp blade in your rotary cutter will keep you from having to struggle to cut and securing your fabric in place properly will help prevent any slipping mishaps.

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How to Get Used to Tracing Sewing Patterns

Ok, this is our most controversial position (other than the 3-thread narrow). We REALLY believe you should trace your multi-size sewing patterns. We admit, this is an entire extra step in the sewing process that you could theoretically skip- and who doesn't want to save time??? However, if you cut the wrong size or wish to return to the pattern when you change sizes or make it for a different-sized wearer, you'll be glad you took the time to trace!

What you need to trace patterns

You need tracing paper! The best tracing paper is the tracing paper you like. We use medical-exam paper- the stuff you sit on at the doctor's office- but you can use swedish tracing paper, interfacing, or even vinyl shower curtains! You just need to be able to see through it and to mark on it.

We also recommend tracing in a bold pencil. We love these chunky mechanical pencils for tracing patterns. You might also like to use color coded sharpies for some things, once you know your pattern is accurate and finalized.

Why should you trace sewing patterns?

I wrote a very passionate blog post about why you should trace your patterns. The main tenet is: you don't want to lose information. When you cut out one size from a multi-size pattern, you lose the other sizes (sometimes even the smaller sizes, depending on how the pattern is nested). Plus, many sewists regularly blend between sizes to accommodate their bodies.

As I say in the blog post above- it's sheer hubris to cut and be sure that's exactly the information you'll need for the entire extent of your sewing life. You wouldn't cut out a paragraph from a book you like- right? Leave the pattern intact!

Trace some patterns!

Get used to it! Think of it as Sewing Out Loud boot camp! When you trace your patterns make sure to include

  • Pattern Name/Number/Company
  • Date
  • Name of wearer
  • Size (and note if you blended between sizes at any point)
  • Darts, notches, gathering/pleating notation
  • Seam allowances/hem allowances

I'm the queen of wishing to cut corners. If there's a good shortcut- I'll take it- but this is the one place that I don't take short cuts. In fact, the one time I cut out a pattern (I was so sure it was the right size), I made it through cutting to learn that some of the cutting lines were mis-labeled. So, even though I had done everything properly- the company had lead me astray.

I have a feeling that you may get converted to #teamtrace after you have some kind of mishap, like I did- but hey, you never know!

Trace. Just do it.

Have you taken the time to get used to rotary cutting and tracing? Let us know how it went!

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