Must haves

If you want to make a quilt, and you’re sorted with the basic tools we talked about last time, it’s time to invest in three specific tools that work together to help you cut and trim fabric accurately. Let me introduce you to your patchwork and quilting must-haves:

  1. Rotary cutter
  2. Self-healing cutting mat
  3. Acrylic ruler(s)
 
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Rotary cutter

You can’t beat a rotary cutter for cutting fabric. It’s a simple tool – basically a round razor blade on a stick – but it allows you to make long, continuous cuts that are accurate and straight.

They’re super sharp so you must be careful: always cut away from yourself, watch your fingers and take care changing the blade. When you’re not using it, put the safety catch on – especially if you have children in the house.

A good rotary cutter costs around £10-12 pounds. I use ones by Olfa and Fiskars which I like. If you’re left-handed make sure you get one that suits you – on most models you can swap the blade side around easily enough. You also need to replace the blade every so often.

Self-healing cutting mat

A cutting mat protects your surfaces from the sharp rotary blade. They’re made from various composite materials that are compressed so that the surface presses back on itself when cut – giving the impression that the cut has “healed”. They're usually printed on both sides: one marked with imperial measurements and the other metric.

 
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Buy as large a mat as you can or A2 size as a minimum to roughly match the dimensions of a fat quarter of fabric. I have a stack of A2 mats by Ansio that I bought for students to use at my workshops. They cost about £12 from Amazon and are great. My old Olfa mat was brilliant and lasted about 7 or 8 years before it finally wore out but it’s still going strong as a craft mat for my children. I replaced it with a Sew-Easy mat which was reassuringly heavy and expensive but I’ve been a bit disappointed at it doesn’t heal so well.

Acrylic rulers

The last element of your trio of must-have is acrylic rulers. They come in endless shapes and sizes but, to begin with, you only need two:

  • a 24”x 6 or 7” ruler so you can easily cut across fat quarters of fabric with one continuous cut. Expect to pay £10 or £15 for one.
  • a 6”x6” or 7”x5” ruler for cutting and trimming smaller pieces. Expect to pay £5 to £10.

Acrylic rulers are transparent and marked with measurements – usually imperial - on all four sides, some also have angled markings too. The idea is to use them in combination with the markings on your cutting mat to make the exact cuts you need for your project.

 
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With this set-up you’ll be ready to cut out everything you need to make a quilt of ANY size. All for about £50 and you shouldn’t have to replace them for at least 5 years. 

Next month, quiltionary will be all about fabric and every quilter's favourite: fat quarters!