Friday, July 31, 2020

How I Cut


I wrote this post on Tuesday, July 28th, before "The Ruler Rant" was published. Never, in my wildest expectations did I expect that post to generate over 700 hits in less than 24 hours. This post, "How I Cut" was supposed to be published the next day, on July 29th, but the comments The Ruler Rant generated simply had to  be addressed, so I postponed the publication of THIS post by a day, to respond to those comments. What I did NOT do, however, was change anything in the post you are about to read. It is below, exactly as I wrote it on the 28th.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Once I was given permission to arrange my work in the way it best suited me, I didn't hesitate to rearrange things I thought were dumb.

Bending over a flat work table to cut strips is uncomfortable. If the table is too low, like a dining room table, it hurts to keep bending over. If the table is too high, I have to stand on my tiptoes. To use a rotary cutter when you aren't stable can lead to wobbly cuts and wasted fabric. It didn't take me long to figure out that it would be better to use my big drafting table at an angle. I bought a giant cutting mat and cut it to the size of the big table, and held it in place with big clamps I bought at the hardware store. I worked at a hardware store while I was in college so I was familiar with the wonderful goodies found there.

(By the way, I NEVER use the lines on the cutting mat as cutting guides. Frankly, I find the lines on the mat distracting.)

I'm a big believer in working efficiently, in working SMARTER, not HARDER. If you know how I make legs for my birds, you get my point. So if I have a lot of strips to cut I want to be able to get them all cut with the least amount of effort. I experimented and then worked out a way that made perfect sense to me.

Of course, you have to start with the ground rules. The fabric has to be FLAT, which means it should have been WASHED and IRONED. It should be folded so the selvages are together. The folded edge should be crisp, so you can line up a ruler against it and know that when you are cutting a folded piece of fabric you end up with a STRAIGHT piece instead of a V-shaped piece. There shouldn't be pins or clumps of thread or other debris lying under your fabric. Your rotary cutter should be SHARP. You work harder with a dull blade. If your blade has a nick in it, replace it. Really.

Did you notice in that top picture the fabric is ALL BY ITSELF on that big table? I'm right handed, and I am going to start on the right edge and work my way to the left. AT NO TIME will I have to move the piece of fabric. EVERY TIME YOU SHIFT THE FABRIC, you risk getting it out of alignment.

I start by trimming the RIGHT edge of my fabric straight. I am right handed. I will run my blade alongside the RIGHT edge of any ruler or template I use.


Next, I place a wide ruler on the right side of that cut, and I gently slide it over until the edge of the ruler butts up against the edge of the fabric.

(Now I know I am silly, but I prefer to cut through no more than two layers of fabric at a time. So my fabric here is folded and the selvages are at the top, and the fold is at the bottom. Two layers. I like accuracy. You won't hurt my feelings if you cut multiple layers, but don't come to me whining if they aren't all exact.)

Next I take the template I want, (this is the 2.75" x 24" orange strip), place it on top of my fabric, butting it up against the clear ruler on the right. Because the clear ruler is up against the fabric, my orange template can butt up against it, and I know it is lined up properly.

Next I take ANOTHER big wide ruler and gently butt it up against the LEFT edge of my template. I make sure everything is lined up snug and straight.

Next, I lean my left arm down on the big wide ruler, putting weight on it. My pinkie finger catches the left edge of the ruler, pressing down. I am putting weight on this big wide ruler, my hand and pinkie finger prevent the ruler from sliding to the left. This also prevents the fabric underneath from shifting.

With my right hand, I slide the two rulers to the right, pick up my rotary cutter, and starting at the bottom, align my blade up against the clear ruler, and cut from bottom to top away from my body in one long, smooth stroke. If your blade is SHARP, you don't even have to press HARD. (DO NOT rock your blade back and forth as you cut.)

I slide the newly cut strip aside, and get ready for the next cut. (I always realign the ruler with the bottom edge, and straighten if need be.)

THE BIGGEST ADVANTAGE OF THIS METHOD is that if my rotary cutter goes astray, I have only cut into the width of the fabric strip I am cutting (here it's 2.75"). But there are other advantages. Because I am resting my weight on a large ruler, I exert a lot of pressure, and the ruler, and the fabric beneath it is less likely to slip. Because I am not trying to put a lot of pressure on a narrow strip, the chance of an inaccurate cut is virtually nil.

It takes longer to explain than it does to do.

Let's look at THE OTHER WAY...

This what I see everybody do at quilt shops. They line up the left edge of fabric along one of the vertical lines on the cutting mat, and the fold along a horizontal line. Usually they layer about four different fabrics one on top of each other. Then they line up a ruler so the right edge is 18" or whatever distance away they want to cut, and they cut along the right side of the ruler. What happens if they slip?

OOPS! This is a little slip. But it could easily have gone very wrong and cut deeply into the fabric on the right.

Now I can live with this method if you are cutting wide pieces. But I didn't see anybody straighten that edge over there on the LEFT! If you cut your fabric this way, what do you do? Do you straighten the edge on the right, then flip the fabric around, lay it down flat, hope everything is straight, and then measure from the left edge and cut on the right side of your ruler/template?  To me, that's living dangerously. Besides, it's one more step. After you flip the fabric over, you STILL have to make sure the edge is straight. So now you've done the same thing TWICE! (Not efficient.)

OK, so what do you do when you want a narrow cut, like 2"?

This is clearly fraught with possibilities of bad things happening. Sure, I could cut this 2" strip, but I had to move my hand on the cutting ruler three times so I had adequate pressure on the template the length of the fabric. And I had to basically make three cuts. And I had to make sure I didn't cut myself.

I can hear you all already, "Well, see, Lynne, THAT's why we don't use those skinny templates. THAT's why we use the nice big rulers with all the lines.."

So are you guys going to tell me THIS IS BETTER? Because to me, it surely isn't. To me there isn't enough pressure applied the the ruler and the fabric beneath to make a good accurate cut. And those of you who apply a weight to the ruler, you think that is better? I disagree. I think it is too many "moving parts," and ALL OF WHICH can wiggle way too easily while cutting with the rotary cutter, which can result in inaccurate cuts. And of course, you had better be sure you used the right line on the ruler.

I've tried it both ways. Neither one is "right" or "wrong." I'm a firm believer that you should do whatever works for you.

I've given it a lot of thought. What I am after is good, consistently accurate cuts that can be done quickly and efficiently with a minimum of fuss and fabric handling. I'm not interested in using twelve steps when six or eight will do. From the time I set a piece of fabric on my cutting table, I can cut four perfect strips using my technique in less than 60 seconds. And yes, that includes straightening the right edge.


Dorothy said...

Thank you :-) :-)

El-Fee said...

That seems to be very clever! I need those rulers!

GrannyMuta from Germany

Quiltdivajulie said...

Excellent explanation of how and WHY you cut the way you do.

diane said...

Cool, Lynne,just plain cool. I get it and it makes sense to me after all your explaining.

diane said...

Oh and I forgot to say thank you for taking the time to show us your way of cutting.
Much appreciated!

JustGail said...

I like your method. And the clear explanation of the how & why you do.

Another question though - you said "Once I was given permission to arrange my work in the way it best suited me"... who did you feel needed to give you permission? Yourself? Someone else? Millie?

Rebecca said...

Make sense to me! Are you working on an angled surface on your drafting table or do you work on the level?

Mari said...

I also find all those lines distracting. Put a lined ruler on top of a lined mat and I might go cross-eyed. Thankfully, on the mats I have, turning the mat over solves the problem! I've also seen people cut fabric using the lines on the mat and it makes me crazy. I use a ruler with the thinnest lines I could find. Works for me! Have a good day, Lynne.

Evie said...

Great explanation of your cutting method. I think that is one of the things that drives me crazy is that slight slippage of the ruler as I'm cutting. I'm OCD about having my material cut accurately. I could never figure out how people managed to do that with more than one folded fabric. I have also started using Quilter's Select rulers and they absolutely do not move or shift on my fabric and have made the whole process such much more accurate and enjoyable.

Becky said...

I think it was Jan Krenz who taught a 'two ruler" method of cutting in a class I took eons ago at an AQS show. It works well, as you so ably demonstrate. Thanks for the great demo in pictures don how to do it.

Kigwit said...

Your method just makes so much sense. I really grit my teeth when my cutter goes "off roading" like you showed. Also, I love your colored strip rulers (love the orange and yellow) and would love to find some. It makes so much sense!

I have an accuquilt that I use a lot but I have a small sewing room so I have to set it up each time to use it. And sometimes I just want a quick strip off something.

BTW, I thought your previous post of ranting was great and enjoyed it very much. I wish more people could understand YMMV (your mileage may vary). If it works for you, do it!

Shepherdess55 said...

Like you and Mari above, I too find the lines on mats distracting and therefore use the unmarked side of my mat. Would flipping your mat over mute the lines enough so that you wouldn't see them so distinctly?

Katie said...

Not what I expected, but better! I cut as you showed the "quilt shop" way, but I often cut a 6" strip, then move it 2" and cut a 4 and move it and cut a 2...all after straightening the left edge. I'm careful, but know exactly how a little wiggle can cause trouble. My mom, when learning to quilt in the mid-80s learned the invaluable lesson to be able to cut with both hands and passed that on to me. It takes practice and I'm slower with my non-dominant hand, but boy does it come in handy. Particularly when you break your dominant hand! But I just might try your way, using marked rulers as a start, for skinnier strips in the near future! Thanks for sharing!

Judy P. said...

Several years ago I started using my left hand (I'm right-handed) to do the first cut on the left. It feels very weird at first, but it does away with having to flip the fabric. My cutting table is a kitchen island I got at IKEA 20 years ago. I find counter height is just right, but then I am 5'8". I love your strip templates. I am curious about your mat. I have always used a self-healing one.

Cherie in St Louis said...

I'm cracking up....I sent you that brown fabric ages ago, who knew it would be in a Ruler Rant reminds me of gold fireworks....up cracking up ;-)

Nancy said...

LOL, I actually read that you would show us how you cut the next day so I laughed out load at all the people who must have skipped over that line.
You got me when you talked about the issue of turning the fabric over to trim the left side. That is an issue for me.
Are you going to put those rulers on your Etsy site?

Ruth said...

Nancy, you missed Lynne's emphatic statement that she would NOT be selling those skinny rulers in her Etsy shop! She won't even tell who made them for her.
I don't sew much, but I, too, have problems with cutting more than two layers of fabric at a time, and I don't like cutting from the left since I'm right-handed. Never moving the fabric once it's in place on the cutting mat is a great idea!
I don't change the rotary cutter blade when it gets a nick in it because the new one gets a nick in it as soon as I use it. So my blade always has a nick in it and I have to use teeny sharp scissors to cut those threads. But maybe there is a different rotary cutter now with blades that don't get nicks in them...or maybe it's the ruler? I have no idea how to keep from nicking the blades.
It was interesting to see the fabric changes under the blade as you showed us how you cut strips. Thank you for your instructions!!

Bev said...

Love your explanation and technique. I too get confused by the many markings on some of the popular rulers. I use your method of butting up two rulers as opposed to reorienting the fabric after I have squared the edge. Thank you for sharing.

QuiltGranma said...

I LOVE the drafting table idea, with clamps! thanks!

Audrey Derby said...

Guess I’m different....I was taught to cut on the left...I will do it that way. This se Too confusing. And more work...more rulers. I straighten on right, turn mat, cut on left. If I do slip, I’m not hurting the piece I need...Thank
You for taking the time to explain!

Judy Y said...

Lynne, every quilter is entitled to pursue their craft as they see best. Just a minor suggestion borrowed from Donna Jordan of Jordan Fabric videos. When making a long cut, such as across full WOF, Donna uses a 5 lb. exercise weight to anchor the ruler on the far end. This really works,