Rotary cutters, a guaranteed argument

I have no doubts a lot of people won’t like this entry which is the reason I haven’t written it before. It’s a guaranteed argument every time I bring it up. Try as I may, I can’t find a pretty-pretty way to make this palatable so no one’s feelings get hurt. The issue is how you use rotary cutters. If you’ve traced the patterns, remove them and then use a rotary cutter to cut the goods, that’s fine. Carry on. I have no doubt you’re practiced enough to do a good job.

However, if you lay the pattern down and use the rotary cutter to cut around the edges of the pattern, stop it. Stop it now. I know you’re not careless, I know you’re not sloppy, I know you are diligent but the fact remains, you will accidentally cut pieces off of the pattern each time you use it. Over time, no matter how careful you are, your pattern will degrade. You’re basically remaking the pattern every time you cut it out. And what if you have people helping you? Basically, you’ve given anyone cutting out one of your patterns, Carte Blanche to make adjustments to your pattern on the fly, without permission, oversight or foresight. Heck, if you don’t give that much power to the person who made the pattern, why would you give that power to someone who uses it? Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

It’s a rare occasion for me to visit a DE so I forget you do these things. The last time I saw somebody doing this was several years ago when I went to consult with a new client, then a two person operation. Wife did all the sewing, husband did the cutting -with a rotary cutter. When I mentioned they’d have to start tracing their patterns before using the rotary cutter, I got ten reasons why their way was better. My response was to bend over, put my index finger on the floor and hold it up for their inspection. Attached to my finger were too many to count tiny pattern slivers. The second thing I did was to fold the most recently cut fabric piece in half, matching the right side to the left and of course, it didn’t match up. He started to say something but she cut him saying “hey… I always have trouble sewing the binding to that side”. I told them like I tell everyone, if you plan to make it in this business, sooner or later you’ll end up doing it my way so you may as well start now. I went to visit again two years later and I wasn’t surprised to see they’d gone to tracing and then cutting. They’re set to do seven figures this year. I doubt they’d be doing as well if they were doing things akin to recutting their patterns with every single cut.

Now, if you’re an enthusiast, have at it. Do whatever you like. It’s required for quilting. I use a rotary cutter to cut fringe but I’m doing it along a ruler’s edge, not a pattern. Since enthusiasts are making one-offs, you only have to worry about making this one cut work. You’re not reproducing a second generation style from the first pattern (with further unintended iterations) based on unintended iterations from the original. You know, it’s like cloning a clone. The genome just gets messy. “Everybody” says RTW manufacturers take short cuts but I ‘m beginning to wonder if that is actually true once I started to notice how enthusiasts take short cuts. And on critical things. Things we could never get away with. For example, manufacturers spend a lot more time on the pattern process, the laying of goods (letting it rest overnight), marking and fusing. All of these time consuming functions are critical to the final result. For enthusiasts, anything that comes before the good part (sewing) is a necessary evil you get through as quickly as possible. And believe me, I’m with you on that. I don’t like cutting and want to get through it as quickly as possible. But, manufacturers don’t have the luxury of taking those short cuts, not if they expect to be here next year. It has to be done right. Cutting along the pattern edges with a rotary cutter isn’t.


Enthusiasts can use rotary cutters all they like.
DEs can’t.

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  1. janlorraine says:

    Well, I am an “enthusiast” and I never use a rotary cutter. I did buy one years ago to see what all the fuss was about, but I feel that I have more control with shears. Cutting is precision work requiring focus and concentration; mistakes can’t be undone. I always stop and think about what I am doing. I find it is good to walk away from the task even for a few minutes and then finish.

  2. Vesta says:

    Here’s a related question I’ve had lately. If you’re using your patterns to trace each cut, how often do you end up re-cutting your patterns as they wear around the edges. Just from handling. Wear and tear will affect the accuracy of your pattern pieces, too.

  3. Nancy says:

    OMG I wish I had this to shove into the sewing instructors face when I was sitting in on a class at the local high school.

    She was also telling the newbies it was OK to pin the pattern on the fabric, and cut around it. I was like NO NO NO NO NO NO. Trace then cut, with whichever implement you choose. She basically told me to shut up, it was her class.

    Well OK then……sigh.

    Its one of those things that definitely raise my blood pressure. Someday the top of my cranium MAY just pop off….

  4. AMK says:

    ok, ok, I’ve been busted for my bad habits that crept back in.
    but here’s my question (and the excuse for said bad habit, about which I knew better then I started some time ago.)
    where can we find good tracing paper? or what do people use now? I wore all mine out and NEVER see anything like it ANYwhere. ergo bad habit, or very funky in efficient make do solutions that I do not like and would make your hair curl dear Kathleen

    help me out here. Having been away for this arena for some time, I have meandered back in, currently living in enthusiast category and ready to to return to some more professional version of this life, but this lack of tool (tracing paper) is causing me no end of grief.

    I’ll take my lumps publicly, and also do a deep bow of appreciation for helping me mend my bad ways.

  5. Nancy says:

    I don’t use tracing paper much, as I have this little chalk pencil with changeable chalk (colours). The last batch I found was…sadly…in JoAnns in the US. I still have it here with me in NZ, untouched.

    You can use regular chalk, like they use in school, but I suggest you get to a teacher supply and get one of the plastic holders for it. You will get a really W>>>I>>>D>>>E line with this but it comes out of most every fabric I’ve ever used.

    I’m not going to lump you…..or even slap you upside the head! ;-). Live and learn. Good Luck

  6. Kerryn says:

    Tailor’s chalk’s are pretty inexpensive. You can get boxes of them in traditional chalk or in press-off wax and in so so many colours! They are triangle shaped and have a sharp edge which you can get sharpeners for. I would be concerned to cut using wide school teachers chalk as your essentially adding to the pattern as you trace the outside edge.

  7. J C Sprowls says:

    If you want to make your patterns to withstand the rigors of re-use, then you need to transfer them to oaktag. Several of us commented on a previous article, entitled: Paper Patters: Soft or Hard? Poster board may work on a household level; but, you need to be aware that it will deteriorate faster than oaktag/manila will.

    As for marking and cutting. Kathleen already posted an article named, oddly enough: Marking and Cutting. Tailor’s crayon, marking chalk or phano pencils are easily obtained from industrial suppliers. In a pinch, a sliver of soap makes a great marking tool. It’s the same consistency as marking chalk (wax, of course).

    Don’t worry about color so much, especially on perimeter marks, you’ll cut those lines away, anyway. Kathleen says that in the Marking and Cutting article. Another way I’ve heard it said is: a good cutter leaves more chalk on the table than he sends to the sewing room.

  8. Penny says:

    I use mine for cutting strips of bias and burnt pizza. Other than that, they really are not appropriate for cutting out garments.

    I use markers that disappear after time for marking and cutting samples. They work fine on washable fabrics, but don’t recommend for drycleanable fabrics. The chalk wheel works pretty good on everything.

  9. Anita says:

    Guilty as charged :-) I tried doing it the “bad” way when I was making a dress I designed last summer. After I shaved off the first two corners, I gave up on that idea and traced onto the fabric. I cut some of it with the rotary cutter and some with shears. It was actually easier that way, since I wasn’t working around the edged of the oak tag.

    I also used to be in the pin-and-cut school for using commercial patterns, but stopped doing that for everything except polar fleece. I haven’t found anything that lets me trace on that stuff, but it’s so forgiving that I can get away with it (I only make personal projects with that, at the moment).

    Any opinions on electric scissors? I’ve got two sets of them, one for cutting out the oak tag and another for fabric. I have arthritis and can barely get through one pattern before my hands start to hate all the cutting. I find these work great on heavier fabrics, like wool and cotton. Silk isn’t easy no matter what method I use.

  10. Kathleen says:

    AMK: Excuse my denseness but why do you need tracing paper? When I say tracing, I mean you trace the oaktag pattern onto either fabric or marking paper.

    Vesta: Yes, using patterns degrades them. I don’t know what paper you’re using but even 150lb oaktag edges wear down (poster board degrades much faster). What people have done on patterns they use a lot is to spray a product called Pattern Edge Seal (sprayway #200) on all pattern edges. I don’t find it in the SouthStar Supply catalog (where I bought mine) but I linked to Ahearn who lists it. I don’t know if Sprayway is still making the product. Also, I don’t know what’s in it (how toxic it may be?). I’m thinking it’s not made anymore because most of the patterns that are reused that much are usually plotted. Another option may be to cut frequently used patterns out in plastic, vinyl or acetate. You can buy some of that table top vinyl by the yard at the fabric store.

  11. Jean S says:

    I even question whether rotary cutters should be used in quilting. At least for me, they seem to introduce way too much inaccuracy. Using them for pizza seems about right!

  12. christy says:

    Kathleen, re: tracing paper. I use tracing paper all the time when I’m re-working or testing patterns. I transfer to oak tag when I have the pattern just right. I don’t like wasting oak tag if my pattern isn’t going to work.

    AMK, there is a nice cloth-like paper I us from Clotilde called Swedish Tracing Paper, and for super cheap stuff I use the Do Sew paper. It’s like an endless roll for very low cost.

  13. Gidget says:

    Just wanted to add to the plastic stencil option. For smaller pieces, I’ve been using blue stencil film (9″x12″), obtainable from office / craft / Walmart stores. It cuts with an x-acto knife or woodburner with an x-acto knife blade attachment. (used mainly because I can see through it to line things up better)

    For larger pattern pieces, hobby shops (the ones where they make models) sell plastic in various colors and thicknesses in sizes 18×24 and larger. I’ve bought some of these for use but haven’t cut them yet (honestly – I lost them in moving things around) lol. They should cut easily enough tho with an x-acto. I bought 1 and 3 mil. thicknesses and the price was only a few dollars.

  14. nadine says:

    All good points. BTW, thanks for that info on the spray product. I work in leather and fabric on oaktag pattern paper, trace and print. My patterns last for years because I use a micro sharpie or similar to trace not tailors chalk which does wear the patterns down. I also like the chalk wheel which better than tailors chalk. The oak tag patterns used in my high school class get destroyed all ways to sunday from creative but still learning hands. I reinforce the edges with regular masking tape which works great.

    The only time I use a rotary cutter is to cut leather or fabric strips against a steel ruler. It’s fantastic for that but never “freestyle” or against a pattern.

    Just my 2 cents.

  15. Marianne Christy says:

    I am amazed at the wealth of information I am getting from the book – but I never thought about the rotary cutter as a being a problem. As I read your post my mind was playing a video of me cutting with the rotary cutter and you are so right. It is these tiny tiny detail tips that make me better at my craft. My main question for all of you seasoned DE’s which scissor do you reccomend? straight, bent, 7″, 9″?
    I looked on Southstar and found some scissors but I have no education on how to buy scissors for the task, any help would be much appreciated.
    Kathleen have you ever done a post on scissors?

  16. Babette says:

    I’d change the summary just the littlest bit –
    Enthusiasts can use rotary cutters any way they like.
    DEs must trace first.

  17. Anwen says:

    I actually really like the cutting out part, in spite of not having enough space to do it properly (which is not good, I know). I traced a sleeve from the commercial pattern* I am using last night and cut it out (from the paper, I mean) using my brand new craft knife, which was rather fun, I am officially some sort of geek, I think…

    I have rather wobbly hands and find that using scissors is very difficult for me to do accurately as I don’t feel I have as much control as with a single blade. So, I’m off to re-read the marking and cutting article, but basically what you are saying is that one should trace around the outside of the pattern piece (which should, if a commercial printed pattern, have had the thick black line cut off, yes?) with some form of marking thing e.g. chalk and then cut the piece out on the inside of the traced line, have I got this right?

    I am really glad I found this blog, it’s so full of interesting and useful stuff :D I am a fairly new sewer, so I don’t have any emotional investment in doing things the way I have done them for twenty years.

    Oh, also, re: Eric’s comment – if you have the google toolbar you can also add a button which allows you to search the site with google without typing the thing mentioned above.

    *I have experimentally and probably rather haphazardly attempted to make the cap more like the shape you recomment by cutting the cap a size smaller than the sleeve and armhole (i.e. armhole and sleeve width are s22, cap is s20) and then cutting a further size smaller at the front of the cap, if that makes any sense. The cap was already slightly asymmetrical, which I was happy about! It’s probably not the ideal way of doing it, and I am going to have to review the article again to work out if I should be doing something to the armhole… Anyway, if it means I have less icky ease to faff around with then I am happy!

  18. Martina says:

    Fascinating and instructive as always. I’m one of those enthusiasts with a rotary cutter and I never trace my patterns on the fabric. But I do it all on the floor and I do something that no professional would ever stoop to: I move around the pattern so that I always cut away from myself so I see what I do. And while I wouldn’t claim that I never cut into my pattern, I rarely do it. On the other hand, wielding cutting shears on the floor somehow doesn’t work. I don’t think it is ergonomic. If I intended to go pro, I’d get a proper cutting table asap and I’d practice wielding scissors. Although I could never do it like Thomas Mahon of English cut (the cutting scene is about 17 minutes into the clip). It’s beautiful, but it is tailoring. What do you do with slithering, slinky dressmaking fabrics?

    At least I have stopped pinning the pattern to the fabric. I was instantaneously convinced and unearthed some very flat stones I still had.

    I love your blog!

  19. Claire-Marie Costanza says:

    I am an enthusiast who both sews garments and quilts. I started using rotary cutters to cut out garments in the 1980s. For me, I found them more accurate because I could omit pins, use wieghts, and avoid sore hands. I certainly have experienced the shaved pattern phenomena, but I was probably at least as accurate as I was with pinned patterns and scissors.

    However, my goal as an enthusiast (sew a few garments that fit me in fabrics that I like) is very different than a manufacturer (produce multiple garments that are exactly alike in size and fit to meet the requirements of my customers).

    Regarding quilting: It took a while to become skillful enough to consistently cut accurate quilt patches. Accuracy can come down to “Where do I line up the edge of the fabric on the ruler markings: left side of the line, right side of the line? The correct answer is exactly on the CENTER of the line.
    Image of popular Omnigrid rotary ruler, illustrating the markings.
    Some quilt authors and instructors suggest angling the rotary blade so it’s snugged up exactly on the bottom edge of the ruler because the width of the blade as it rests against the ruler edge at 90 degrees adds a tiny amount to the cut.

    And we haven’t even touched on accurate and consistent 1/4 inch seams. It sounds picky and fussy until you consider a quilt block like this one with multiple seams across the width of the block which compounds any measuring and seam width errors.
    Traditional quilt block, based an 8×8 patch layout

    You might need only 30 blocks like that, all exactly the same size, for a bed quilt. Over 1500 individual patches and Gawd knows how many seams. Accuracy counts. Have fun.


  20. Karen C says:

    Re: tracing paper. I do use this when working with another patternmaker during the prototype stage. We use big pieces to trace the new pattern (after it’s been hacked up quite a bit)onto either muslin or fashion fabric with grain lines and large seam allowances to check for fit, etc. You can get rolls of tracing paper at Greenberg & Hammer, Inc. out of New York ( Or I found some from a kids art supply place on line.

  21. Lisa Bloodgood in Portland says:

    Kathleen said she uses china markers–those waxy pencils with the paper you peel off to “sharpen” them–to trace around the edge of the pattern. Then she removes the pattern and cuts off the line she traced. I’ve been doing that, too, and since you cut off the line, you don’t have to worry if the stuff will wash off the fabric. I have used the chakoner chalk wheel, too, but pencil types seem more accurate. I guess a fine sharpie would work if you’re really careful and it doesn’t bleed.

    I mostly only use the rotary cutter to cut out straight pieces and only against a ruler.

    The scissors I use are the lightweight Gingher ones that are all plastic except the actual blades. It saves wear on the hands and wrists but I don’t know if they’re the perfect cutting scissors anyway.

    The only time I use the tracing paper is to mark darts or pocket placement on one-offs.

  22. sfriedberg says:

    I use knife-edge 12″ bent trimmers for practically everything except long straight lines (where I use a rotary trimmer against an actual straightedge). I use a pretty nice Mundial model (either 490 aka 422W, or 498, probably the former) for fabric and some uglier models for pattern tagboard. I mostly cut one ply and find the length and weight to be a plus in controlling where they go, rather than a problem.

    “Pretty nice” is not perfect, unfortunately. I have yet to find a 12″ bent trimmer with bows (handles) that are comfortable with the blades held in line with my forearm. The holes are too small and not nearly angled enough. (I have medium-sized male hands.) This makes a big difference when you are cutting at arm’s length. JC Sprowls has a post on the forums showing a set of traditional tailor’s shears with huge, acutely angled bows that almost look like basket hilts on a sword. I am envious, never having had the pleasure of using shears like that.

    For very fine detail, I drop the 12″ bent trimmer for Gingher knife-edge 4″ tailor scissors. Other than 3 or 4 sets of thread snips in various drawers, those two sizes of shears (and the rotary cutter for straight lines) are about all I use. Oh, and a set of “tin snip” shears that I will break out when working with heavy tagboard or plastic.

    BTW, I echo Kathleen’s unhappiness with the current Wiss bent trimmers. I got a 10″ model 20W (extra heavy) a year or two ago and my first impression was “crude construction”. I had to grind sharp edges off the outside of the blades to make it comfortable to use.

    I trace my patterns with tailor’s wax crayon or chalk, depending on what the fabric is. I use blue crayon a lot, and the edges of my patterns are probably worse looking than Kathleen’s Sharpie-traced example.

    When I am tracing patterns to make other patterns (fixing fit, or messing around with style features), I use extra fine point Sharpie, or Sanford Uniball micro ball-point pen. Both of those can make an unholy mess on fabric, but neither one leaves the same kind of “ring” around the pattern as a regular size Sharpie, and they leave very fine lines on paper.

    I don’t claim that any of the above is “best practice”.

  23. Oxanna says:

    So *that’s* how you use a rotary cutter. I gave up on using mine because I could not figure out how to cut the fabric without either a) slicing into the pattern, or b) cutting too far outside the pattern edge. Thank you!

  24. DeDe says:

    I never use my rotary cutters for cutting out anything freehand. No matter how careful I am, it is not an accurate way. I love my shears just fine for cutting out garments.

    But, I do have to say that rotary cutting in quilting can be perfectly accurate as long as you take the time. I never got good cutting results with scissors and straight lines in quilting. I haven’t used mine for pizza, but I do use one with a pinking blade to cut out pie crust lattice for my cherry pies. Clean it up afterward, and it’s ready to go back in the sewing room.

    For tracing patterns, I use Pigma Micron pens and I trace my patterns onto heavy-weight interfacing. This is stable, doesn’t seem to wear down like paper, and I can pin-fit it if I need to. Plus, these pieces can be folded away for storage. Afte a light pressing with a barely warm iron, they are ready to be used again and again.

    For marking, I use the chalk cartridge with changeable colors that someone else mentioned. It comes with a sharpener, so I get great lines. The only drawback is that sometimes the chalk doesn’t come out, especially if you iron over it … as we must when pressing seams, darts, and hems.

  25. Susan says:

    Hi Nancy – I use chalkboard chalk for marking too. Go to an office supply store and get a decent small hand-twist pencil sharpener. Friskers makes one I like – get one that seals up the shavings. You can sharpen the chalk. Actually get a pencilpoint on the end. And if you are really cheap, recycle the shavings into one of those rolling chalk markers.

  26. Cindy says:

    Wow! This is great info. I love this stuff. Being a math type person, I love the precision.

    I’m totally a craft sewer, mostly handbags and have only been sewing for about a year. I’ve struggled with cutting out pattern pieces, I never get them even and consistent. Let me see if I’ve got the process correct:
    1. Cut the shape of your pattern. Cut just inside the dark edge (basically shouldn’t be any dark outside lines remaining.
    2. Place this pattern on your fabric. Don’t pin it down, but weight it down with some kind of weights.
    3. Using a chalk pencil, or wax pencil, or medium of choice…trace the shape directly onto your fabric. When tracing, try to run your pencil along the edge of the pattern and the fabric at the same time.
    4. Using scissors, cut on the tracing line.

    1. I’m assuming this means you wouldn’t cut out two pieces at once….(one on top of the other…)
    2. Cutting ‘on the fold’ has always given me
    fits, I try to iron my folds down hard, but still I can never get the pattern pinned exactly on the fold consistently. I’m thinking it’s better to make a full pattern and ditch the fold?
    3. What does DE mean?

    Thanks, this is fun!

  27. alt says:

    Thanks for reminding me persistently why I stay a happy sloppy enthusiast and dilettante.
    No rotary cutter for me, I even trace every pattern on brown sturdy paper first (lighting tables from Ikea are great), but as I sew for me only, getting finished is more important than precision. I think I will happily let it stay that way. And take the occasional hint, if it makes the main goal more obtainable.

  28. Debby Spence says:

    Gee, I am really appreciating this discussion. I have been doing everything wrong evidently. But, I must qualify. I am a custom dressmaker, so a lot of the garments I make are one-offs, although I do make multiples of a number of things. I have used architects tracing paper for patterns, but it is rather pricey, so lately have been using medical exam paper. I draw on it with erasable colored pencils or papermate-type ‘flair’ pens or a mechanical pencil. I draw on all my seam lines so that it doesn’t really matter what has happened to the edge of the pattern, either from cutting off slivers, or altering it and drawing in new sewing lines. I mostly use a rotary cutter with a cutting guide set to the seam allowance I want. Unfortunately, these guides are not easy to find. Olfa doesn’t even have them listed on their website. The cutting guide is great for me because I can cut with larger seam allowances the first time for a mock-up and then change it for later garments. And I mark a lot of my seam lines and markings on the wrong side of the fabric with marking paper for accuracy in certain areas, like crotch and leg seams that get stretched. And very occasionally, I thread-trace the seam line on the fabric, couture-style.

    I see the value in tracing the pattern on the fabric, but I’ve also wondered about the accuracy of tracing. I guess that it is better if using oaktag than paper. I only do slopers in oaktag.

  29. We work with leather mainly in my workshop and our rotary cutter is used to cut strips of leather for handles, etc. with a ruler. In some designs we use the rotary cuter with fancy edged blades attached, to create interesting edges, always with a ruler though, never free-style.

    The rest we cut with scissors:we trace the pattern on the leather first, with a special leather pen, then cut. Patterns that are used all the time are newly cut in plastic which is more durable.

    The whole process takes a lot of time since it´s very hand crafted but the results are quite nice.

    I hope i have it right!

    (First time commenting but long time reader)


  30. Kathleen says:

    Hi Lucia, actually, you’ve been posting since July 2009 :).

    I also specialize in leather products however, I would strongly discourage anyone (beyond a one man shop) from using plastic instead of oaktag. The reasons are posted here in the forum. It is too lengthy to repost beyond this (edited):

    Biggest problem is writing bleed through from the other side (most plastic is clear or opaque). You want people to be able to lay these out quickly without having to read the pieces. In the case of one-per lay ups, you know you have the oaktag piece wrong side up because there’s a big X on that side (or should be). If there’s bleed through (plastic), it takes time to sort front from back writing. That’s assuming the fabric isn’t so dark you can even read the writing on them. If the plastic is clear, it’s hard to see notches to mark them. When these are hung, you likewise can’t read what each piece is unless you lay them separately. On oak tag (no bleed through) it’s easy. Plastic also breaks and one cannot know the piece is broken because it’s a clean break. If the pattern is paper, you can see the tell tale signs of a tear or bumped corner and go back to the original to repair the piece.

    The operations I’ve seen that use plastic, usually have a great many other problems, this being but one of the symptoms.

    There are very rare exceptions to needing plastic to resolve the problem, I’ve run into it exactly once and it wasn’t on leather but custom loosely woven blankets used to make coats; the weave wasn’t tight.

    When people use plastic to solve a problem, it usually means their process is not whole, it’s a work around instead of solving the root problem. In the end, manufacturers are cheap skates. If it were more cost effective to use plastic, they’d be doing it. Using plastic in small operations is very common but if they survive (having other problems, this being but one symptom), they go on to using oaktag. Lucia, I intend no discourtesy but I hope no one (who plans to grow their operation) follows this advice.

    Answering Cindy’s question from before that I didn’t notice until now, items 1-3 are on target.

    4. Using scissors, cut on the tracing line.

    #4, do not cut on the tracing line. It should be cut away.

    1. I’m assuming this means you wouldn’t cut out two pieces at once….(one on top of the other…)
    2. Cutting ‘on the fold’ has always given me fits, I try to iron my folds down hard, but still I can never get the pattern pinned exactly on the fold consistently. I’m thinking it’s better to make a full pattern and ditch the fold?

    Yes, we cut each piece separately. We don’t cut “on the fold”. Even making a mirrored pattern piece using folded paper is not as precise (as we’re taught in school) so a loose medium like fabric can only be even less precise. The problem for enthusiasts being table width… you do the best you can.

    3. What does DE mean?


  31. Linda Tanner says:

    I’ve enjoyed this discussion as I just found this site. I only use rotary blades for cutting with a straight edge. I run my own business making customized luggage for motorcycles. About half of my business is one-offs that I’ll never repeat and the other half is ‘I want exactly what Jimmy-Bob has except for…’ I make paper patterns of all my stuff. I was cutting around the pinned on patterns but it was too slow and I was nipping bits off. Now, I trace around my pattern pieces, but to insure that I don’t screw up (yeah, right), I trace the seam line onto the fabric. That way it doesn’t matter if I’ve trimmed a bit off my patterns, as long as the seam line is intact. The paper patterns don’t like been traced too many times before they become perforated by the tracing wheel. Then I start adding layers of masking tape to re-inforce them. I draw the seam lines on all my fabric pieces. It helps keep everything from getting lop sided. I tried using the magnetic stops on my sewing machines to maintain an even seam, but it doesn’t work all that well with curves.

    Most of my pattern pieces are fairly small, so I keep each set in a 9×12 plastic bag in a file. How do you store oaktag pattern pieces? I assume they don’t fold well, so you probably have specialized storage for them. All my patterns are in an open rolling filling thingy. If the house catches fire, it’s going with me. There is so much information here that I could use, I’m thankful that I found you.

  32. How do you store oaktag pattern pieces? I assume they don’t fold well, so you probably have specialized storage for them.

    You’re right, we have super duper highly specialized storage units called “clothing rods”.

    Okay so I’m being silly, shoot me. Seriously, we punch holes in our patterns and hang them with pattern hooks. You can find pictures of both here. Since your patterns are small, you could rig up something simple (like a string maybe) and hang them on an oversized nail if you don’t have a rod in your workspace.

    Since your pattern pieces are small and if you don’t use much, you probably don’t need to buy a roll of oaktag unless you knew someone who wanted to split it with you. You can use manila folders instead, it is the same paper only not quite as heavy. For patterns that will get a lot of use, spray glue two layers of folder together. Also, you probably shouldn’t trace and cut from what you have now. Re-draw all straight lines with a ruler to keep the pattern lines true.

    If you haven’t already seen it, this other post on tools and supplies will be helpful.

    This is for anyone else who has a lot of patterns: clothing rods are too weak to hold many patterns. Some people use mobile clothing racks but if you get the kind sold to consumers, these are kind of crappy and comparatively expensive. I use Z-racks. The photo on that page shows a fancy one but the ones on Amazon are probably fine for most people and they cost the same or less than the consumer type units.

  33. Simeon says:

    I’m confused as to why you shouldn’t pin your pattern to the fabric. I’ve been working in the London and Paris fashion industries, from the lowest end to almost the highest for nearly 2 decades. I’ve never seen anyone cut out a sample any other way than to pin the pattern to the fabric, with a tissu underlay if the fabric is lightweight, and cutting it out with shears. Some new students are using rotary cutters, but I always stop them if I can. Otherwise, if you know how to handle fabric, and have the right pins and an underlay, pinning and scissors works just fine.

  34. Kathleen says:

    Perhaps a more careful reading would clarify things. Comments are very helpful too.

    The over riding thing is that the weight of paper we use to make patterns cannot be pinned; it is too hard and dense. I know they use this paper in the UK too, maybe only in better places since it is not cheap.

  35. catherine says:

    Laughed when I saw this– this makes me crazy. I get patterns back from clients with big nicks out of them, knowing they are doing this to THE ONLY copy of the pattern they have. Sigh. Craziness.

  36. Mother Myrophora says:

    About rotary cutters (to go back in time a bit) I hate to be the odd-man-out here, but I switched to a 60mm rotary cutter from shears about 15 yrs ago, and I really like them better–faster, more accurate–for almost everything I cut out. (I’ve timed myself.) I don’t usually use a straight edge, except for small pieces. You don’t use a straight edge with shears, do you? Besides, one little nick against a metal ruler and your $5 blade is toast.

    I really think the main issue with any skill, is skill. Practice, take as much time as it needs, learn to be precise, value precision.

    And please excuse my little rant!

    Love this site, learn more here than anywhere else!

  37. Harper says:

    I agree completely. Scissors all the way, I have a drawerfull as each one behaves accordingly to the fabric being cut.
    The rotary cutter and mat I ONLY use for tulle yardage! It’s a must because it’s the only way to get a clean line, and when we’re doing tulle and crinoline it’s mountains of it for a bride. Takes less time and I have no jags to trim off later.

  38. Kiri says:

    I may (at least currently) be an “enthusiast” but I loathe rotary cutters and have never owned one. In point of fact, the only time I ever used one was in 8th grade Home Ec, when they insisted that I do so, and they were in control of my grades! I use Crayola washable markers for tracing on any fabric that isn’t allergic to water–because they rinse right out and don’t leave a stain.

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