Rotary cutters have almost replaced the need for sewing shears for quilters. Many quilters are using rotary cutters to cut all the strips and pieces required for a quilt. Rotary cutters have even crossed over into card making and scrap booking.
Rotary cutters come in at least four sizes. The 18mm, 28mm are very good for small cuts and cutting in the new circle cutting acrylic tools now available. The 45mm is the standard size used by most and the 60mm is recommended by many strip quilters. I use the 45mm cuter for most strip cuts and the 28mm for sub-cutting smaller pieces. The 18mm is excellent for trimming triangle points for ease of piecing. The 60mm cutter will cut faster and more layers but if you have a small cutting area you might find it too large to maneuver. You will need to try out several sizes and decide which ones work for you. A person with a small hand may also find the 60mm cutter handle too large.
There are several different brands of rotary cutters. Some have straight handles and some have curved or ergonomic handles. Go to your local quilt shop and try out the brand of cutters they stock and decide which brand works best for you. Remember if you purchase one with a curved handle it comes with the blade set up to use for a right handed person. If you are left handed, you will need to take the blade assembly apart and reverse everything for a left handed person.
Again as with any other tool, be sure to buy a good quality rotary cutter. A good rotary cutter will last a long time. If you find the safety shield or the screw area is wearing, you might want to replace your rotary cutter. I have recently noticed that a new cutter on sale is not much more expensive than a new replacement blade.
Be sure to always close your rotary cutter so the blade is protected before setting it down on your cutting table. If an open cutter fell off the table it could injure your foot. Be sure to keep your rotary cutter out of children's reach.
Replacement blades are readily available but some quilters consider rotary blades rather pricey. I try to purchase a quantity of blades when I see them on sale and try to get a maximum cutting time from each blade.
Tips To Keep Your Blade Sharp
First always use your rotary cutter on a special mat designed for this purpose. Don't try to substitute another product. A good mat is just as important as the cutter itself in keeping the blade sharp. Be careful when cutting to not accidentally scrape your blade against the ruler or cut through pins. You could damage the ruler and dull or nick the blade. Once the blade is nicked it is difficult to cut as each time the blade comes around to the nick it leaves a small place the width of a few threads uncut. This can be very frustrating to have to go back and cut those little places again.
To Clean Your Rotary Cutter
Your new rotary cutter will come packaged with a small amount of oil on the blade. Do not wipe it off. Leave it on, it will not harm your fabric and your cutter will cut smoother.
When cutting very linty fabrics, be sure to clean your cutter often. To clean the cutter, remove the screw on the back of the area where the blade is attached. Remove the nut; remove the curved washer, and the screw. Lay everything on the table in the order that you removed it -- pay attention to the direction of the washer and nut. Also remove the blade protector. Clean the blade and the black plastic shield with a clean cloth moistened with a few drops of sewing machine oil. Place a small drop of oil on both sides of the blade and replace everything in the order you removed it. Most rotary cutter packages have a diagram of how to reassemble the cutter. Next time you purchase a new cutter, save a package to refer to when assembling your cutter after cleaning.
Many quilters tighten the screw so tight that the blade doesn't roll easily. To test this, open the cutter and place the blade on your mat without fabric. Roll the blade across your mat. You will want the blade to turn easily on the mat. If the blade seems tight loosen it, and if it is loose and sloppy, tighten it. When the blade is rolling freely it is much easier to make a cut through your fabric.
If you find you need a new rotary cutter blade and one is not available, take your rotary cutter apart, clean and oil as instructed. When reassembling the cutter, replace the blade in reverse of the way it was before. My brand of blades has little numbers on one side that usually show when the cutter is assembled. If you turn it over so the numbers are toward the safety cover, you might get a few more hours of cutting from the reversed blade.
Scissors And Shears
Shears are usually bent handled. They come in several sizes usually a 7" or 8" blade. Shears are traditionally used to cut fabric for sewing and quilting. If you have a smaller hand, you might want to purchase the smaller shear. Try on several pair at the store before making your decision. The finger openings need to fit your hand. Be sure to purchase the best quality your budget will allow. They will last a long time. Some brands of shears have a lifetime guarantee. Test the shears by cutting fabric. Shears need to cut well right up to the point. If they do not, try another pair or another brand.
Hide your good quilting shears from the rest of the family. You do not want to use them for anything but fabric. Be emphatic about this policy or they will use them to cut window screen, wire, and pizza. If you happen to cut freezer paper or fusible web paper backing with your good shears, don't worry these papers will not damage your shears.
A new pair of shears comes with a small amount of oil at the screw hinge. Occasionally add another drop of oil by holding the shears in an open position and placing a drop of oil between the blades right at the pivot screw. Wipe off excess oil at the pivot and then wipe the blades with the same cloth, cleaning the blades with the remainder of oil.
Shears are available in right and left handed models. The left handed quilter will need to look a little harder to find a left handed shear as only a few of the better brands make them. Be sure the handles fit the left hand and the blades are exactly opposite of the right handed shears. If you hold the shears in your left hand and open the blades the lower blade is closest to you. These shears are referred in the industry as "true left handed" shears. Some brands have left handed handles in right handed blades. These backwards shears can cause problems for a left handed quilter as when the shears are held in the left hand, the right handed blades are between her eyes and her cutting line.
Scissors are usually smaller than shears and have straight handles. Most scissors have a blade length of three to six inches. I have seen some as small as a one inch blade -- made especially for traveling on airlines. Scissors are usually used for cutting paper and templates. It is recommended to keep a special pair for paper, template plastic, and cardboard. Scissors also need an occasional oiling as explained for shears.
There is a belief that paper dulls scissors but if you wipe the scissors with a cloth with a few drops of oil, they will stay sharper longer as it is the acid in the paper that causes scissors to dull. If you wipe them off occasionally, the acids will be removed and your scissors will stay sharper longer.
The longer the blade the easier it is to cut paper or template plastic with a smooth cut. If the blades are shorter, you will open and close the scissors more and the cuts will be shorter resulting in an uneven edge.
Scissors for clipping threads at the sewing machine might be shorter blades or embroidery scissors. Some quilters use thread clippers that have a spring to keep them open and ready to use. You will need to try out several types and decide from your experience which style works best for you.
Scissors are very difficult to find in left handed models. While rotary cutters can be changed to left hand and at least three brands of left hand shears are available, scissors are almost impossible to find for left handed quilters. I have found left handed scissors at beauty supply stores. They are "barber" style scissors with the little curlicue on one of the handles. I have a pair of six inch and a pair of five inch "barber" scissors. Obviously the hair cutting industry has recognized that there is a need for left handed scissors before the sewing industry.
Remember for any of your cutting tools keep your blades sharp and oiled. Your rotary cutter blades, shears, and scissors will last a long time.