In days gone by, quilters actually took scissors and templates and cut each piece of fabric that they put into a quilt by hand. Which makes every expertly pieced antique quilt I see blow my mind. It’s not so much the piecing that is amazing to me as it is the cutting. As my mother taught me, if you don’t cut it out correctly, you may as well thrown it out. There were no rotary cutters and mats and specialty rulers and short cuts. Just scissors and templates.
Fast forward through the quilting revolution and things have changed a bit over the years. Tiny squares that used to be cut and pieced one at a time are often cut into strips vertically, pieced together, then cut again horizontally. Once the late Mr. Yoshio Okada of Olfa introduced the rotary cutter to the quilting world, quilters everywhere began to explode with creativity, and the applications are proving to be close to endless. The rotary cutter seems to be to the quilting world what the airplane was to the world at large. It gave us wings.
Throughout my quilting career, I’ve had plenty of failures and successes. And I have learned that what works for one does not always work for another. And that’s okay.
So, here’s just a few tips I have learned over the years about cutting strips. They might work for you, they might not. But I have found it is always worthwhile to see how someone else does something, and that I often learn something totally unexpected.
I don’t normally cut a large number of strips from a fat quarter, but I do from time to time, and this size was easier to photograph for the blog. The pic above shows all the usual accouterments, and I assume that you already have a basic knowledge of the tools at hand. My personal favorite rotary cutter is an Olfa, although I honestly use a wide range of cutters. I also am pretty loyal to Creative Grids rulers because of their versatility, clear markings, wide range of products, and of course, the nonslip aspect of each tool. I also prefer the Clover Cutting Mat. I originally bought it because I liked the color, but then the more I have used it, the more I prefer it. It is as if the blade sinks into the self-healing mat just the right amount, leaving a smooth, but not too hard surface. The markings are also easy to read, although it is best not to use a mat for measuring.
The first thing I do is straighten one of the cut sides of the fabric. There are several ways of doing this, but in this case, I used the selvage edge as a reference, looking carefully at the weave of the threads to get it as close to the straight of grain as I possibly could. I am right handed, so I lined up the first ruler with the selvage threads on the right side. I then butted a second ruler up to the first ruler on the left side, so as to prepare to cut the crooked edge off of the fat quarter. After I move the first ruler away, I can use the cutter to cut a straight edge on the left side of the fabric.
I’ve had a lot of people ask why I cut off the selvage of the fabric. The reason is that the fabric is woven tighter on the edges, or along the selvage, and as strips are cut from the fabric, it kind of recoils on the selvage and becomes misshapen, which results in oddly shaped strips after several cuts. Cutting off the selvage releases the fibers and allows the fabric to lay flat.
When cutting many strips of the same length, I have found that it saves me a bit of time to build a sort of dam on the backside of my ruler. I just take a pair of regular scissors and score the tape several layers deep. I peel that strip of tape off of the roll, then carefully apply it to the backside of my ruler along the measurement that I am going to be cutting repeatedly.
Are there other ways of cutting a multitude of strips quickly? Absolutely. I don’t believe that there is any one perfect way of doing it, but this way works best for me. Maybe it will work for you. Let me know what you think…