Quilt Cutting Tools

Quilting cutting tools are essential to successful quiltmaking. The quality and upkeep of your cutting implements are one of the most important factors that will affect the quality of your piecing or appliqué. Sharp and precise cutting helps accuracy and becoming comfortable using your cutting tools is the one skill that every quilter has to master.
There are two types of quilting cutting tools that are a must in the sewing kit: scissors and rotary cutter. The rotary cutter being relatively new to the quilting tool group has revolutionized the way quilters cut and sew pieces. Scissors are the traditional cutting implement, and still very important and indispensable for certain tasks that a rotary cutter can’t tackle.


Several types of scissors should be in every quilters’ sewing kit. Investing in the best quality tools one can afford makes sense, since with regular upkeep, good quality scissors will last a long time. Scissors should be kept sharp by cuttingsharpening with a stone or taking them to a sewing machine shop and letting a professional sharpen them. They should be oiled at the pivot screw and if need be, tightened and after any cutting job if lint accumulates on the blades, they should be wiped clean. Scissors should always be kept in a dry place to prevent rust, and if available, it’s a good idea to purchase a sheath to keep them sharp if they happen to fall. And remember, never use or allow anyone to use your fabric scissors to cut anything except fabric. Paper and other items dull the blades. Handles can be covered with plastic or rubber for easier grip, or have a gold finish or have the same chrome type finish than the rest of the scissors.

A basic set of scissors for a quilter should include:

  • A pair of eight inch bent handles shears for dressmaking. These can be expensive, but buying best quality will pay in the long run. Best brands offer a right handed or left handed option. They will allow cutting several layers of fabric at once. The bent handle makes it easy to cut with the blades on a flat surface, like when following a pattern line for appliqué pieces. Although long, the tips are sharp and generally, very precise cuts can be made all the way to the tip.
  •  A pair of four inch scissors. Smaller than the dressmaking shears, these are all-purpose scissors. They are handy when clipping curves in curved piecing or appliqué and for general fabric cutting.
  • A pair of embroidery scissors. Mainly for trimming threads, cleaning seams and for any precision cut that cuttingrequires a very fine tip. They shouldn’t be used on more than two layers of fabric, but their short length and very fine tip allows very precise short cuts when needed.
  • Any sort of cheap scissors for cutting paper and plastic templates. It is very tempting to reach for the good scissors when one just needs to cut a little freezer paper or one template, but it is best to keep several cheap utility scissors near to avoid dulling the blades of the good scissors.
  •  Nice but not an indispensable cutting tool is a pair of pinking shears. Pinking shears are very expensive and seldom used in quilting.

Rotary Cutters

Fairly new to the quilting sewing basket, the rotary cutter is a cutting implement similar to a pizza cutter, equipped with a round blade that is very sharp and can cut fabric cleanly and accurately when used with a ruler and a self healing mat. Cutters have to be always used with a self-healing mat to keep them sharp.
The razor sharp blade is attached to a plastic body and guard with a nut and screw mechanism. Cutting happens when the blade slides on fabric against the edge of a thick ruler.
Blades need to be replaced often: as soon as the blade starts to skip or one finds that more pressure is needed to cuttingproduce a clean, totally detached cut. Blades are made with stainless steel or titanium. No blade lasts forever, and although they can be sharpened with a special implement, the cost is not so high that is not feasible to simply replace the blade when it starts to dull. Sharpening implements don’t get very high reviews and it is nearly impossible to achieve the level of sharpening from a fresh blade.
The most important thing to remember about rotary cutters is safety while using it and storing it. Every time you put the rotary cutter down, close the guard. The blade is extremely sharp and cuts very easily through skin.

Rotary cutters are available in standard sizes from eighteen millimeters for precision cutting pieces for appliqué or trim seams to the biggest measuring 60 millimeters that allows to cut up to six layers of fabric at once (remember that the most layers, the better the chance of losing accuracy, though). Two rotary cutters are handy to have in the cuttingbasic quilting kit, but if one has to settle for just one, the 45-millimeter is the most versatile.
Rotary cutters are available with several extra features. All can be used by either right or left handed people, but there are ergonomic versions that are easier on the wrist if a lot of cutting has to be accomplished. Some brands allow for an auto retract unless pressure is applied to the cutter, some allow for the blade to be mounted on either side of the plastic handle for enhanced visibility when cutting.

It is probably best to ask the salespeople at your local quilt shop or try a couple different cutters to get a feel for what’s most comfortable and most accurate. A quilter’s sewing box should include two cutters, a 45 mm. for cutting strips through several layers and a small one for cutting individual or small pieces one layer at the time.


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