Part 5: Quilting Rules or Guidelines How to use the Rotary Cutter

Special Note:  With the exception of one photo, the hands in this post’s pictures belong to my husband (Jerry).  I knew which angles I wanted the pictures taken, but was having troubles explaining them to him. In the end it was easier to teach him how to hold the rotary cutter and cut fabric.  So I took the pictures and Jerry was my model.

How to use the Rotary Cutter

Body posture– Always stand while you are using the rotary cutter (unless you have a physical disability) you will have less neck and shoulder fatigue.

Always cut away from your body. You will have more control of the cutter when cutting away from your body because you can see where you are going. This also allows you to cut more accurately and stay in alignment with your ruler.

Cutting the fabric

The following directions are for right-handed cutting. (I will do my best to describe left-handed cutting in the parentheses)

  • Place fabric on the mat; lay it with the fold toward you as you are facing your cutting table. This goes for right and left-handed cutters. The edge of the fabric you are going to cut will be on the left side of the ruler. [Refer to the photo] The bulk of your fabric will be on the right of your ruler. (Left handed-cutters: The edge of the fabric you are going to cut will be to the right side of the ruler. The bulk of your fabric will be on the left of your ruler.)


  • Firmly place your non cutting hand on the ruler, in the middle of the ruler so your fingers are away from the cutting edge of the ruler. Place your thumb near the bottom of the ruler [refer to photo below] and your finger tips a comfortable distance up the ruler, don’t stretch your fingers out too far. [Refer to photo below, this is my hand ]


  • With the rotary cutter in your right-hand hold it so the handle is at a 45 degree angle to the table top. (Left Handed-cutters: Follow the directions above with your right hand on the ruler and directions for holding the rotary cutter in you left hand)


  • Place the rotary cutter against the ruler’s edge, a little before the fabric [see photo above], then cut away from your body, stopping when the blade is about even with the figure tips on your non cutting hand. Do not lift the cutter away from the fabric; just hold it in place while you reposition the non cutting hand on the ruler. (Left handed cutters, follow the same directions.)


  • To reposition your non-cutting hand, walk the hand up the ruler. Put the thumb in the new position followed by your figure tips, remember to place your fingertips a comfortable distance up the ruler. The cutting hand stays still until the non-cutting hand is in the new position.
  • Now you are ready to cut again. Continue to cut away from your body, stopping when the blade is about even with the figure tips on your left hand. Follow Step 3 and 4 to reposition your non-cutting hand and continue cutting until you come to the end the fabric.


This process may seem unnatural, but with practice the movements will become comfortable and smooth.

How to Square the Fabric

Before you can begin cutting strips for your project, you will need to square up the fabric to get a good clean edge so all the strips will be straight and uniform. *Note: I recommend you practice cutting on inexpensive muslin before you try cutting on your more expensive fabric.

  • Make sure the salvage edges are together. You may need to iron the fabric to remove puckers and wrinkles. I f you need to iron the fabric, you will need to allow it to rest and cool off before cutting. If you cut it immediately after ironing it, the fabric will shrink up a bit and the strips will not be the correct size. Remember the Laws of Physics: When heat is applied to something, it expanse and when it cools it shrinks.
  • Now that you have smooth wrinkle free fabric and the selvage edges are together, you are ready to square up the fabric. Besides your fabric, you will need your rotary cutter, a 6” x 24” long ruler, a 5 or 6” square ruler and a mat that measures at least 17” x 23” (These are the measurements of my Olfa Cutting Mat).
  • You will be cutting strips that are cross grain cuts. (Refer to photo)


  1. Lay the fabric on the mat; lay it with the fold toward you as you are facing your cutting table. This goes for right and left-cutters. For right-handed cutters the bulk of your fabric will lay to your left. (Left handed cutters, the bulk of your fabric will lay to your right.)
  2. Place the 5 or 6” square ruler on the fabric with the bottom edge aligned with the fold of the fabric (refer to the photo). Next place the 6” x 24” long ruler right up against the square ruler (refer to photo)
  3. Cut the uneven edges of fabric with you rotary cutter and discard the scrap. Now you have a nice even, straight edge and are ready to cut strips for your project.

IMG_1246-editedAvoiding the “V” When Cutting Strips

Your fabric strips will only stay straight as far as your ruler is wide, which usually is 6 inches. After that, sometimes the fabric strips beyond the 6 inches will develop a “V” when you open the folded fabric.  To avoid this “V” you will need to square up your fabric after every few strips. Yes, you will lose a bit of fabric, but it is better to lose a half of an inch or so then to have to recut strips because they have developed the dreaded “V”, which is a bigger loose.   There is a saying, “Penny wise but pound foolish” be “pound wise” and square up after every few strips.

Happy Cutting, Kathy

Next time: How to Read a Quilt Pattern



I grew up in Yakima, which is located in Central Eastern Washington. I am married and have four adult children, nine grandchildren.
I graduated from Central Washington University with a degree in Education. I currently live in the Tahuya Forest on the Kitsap Peninsulan in Western Washington.
I learned to quilt in high school. My grandmother taught me to crochet and embroidery. I am passing this knowledge along to my daughters, granddaughters and anyone else who wants to learn these arts.

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