Today’s post is a part of a series called The Quilt Maker’s Toolkit, showing and teaching about the products I use while I make my quilts.
There are no products in this series that I do not use and use often, though sometimes my opinions may change as I grow and move along in my journey of quilt making. To view all posts in this series click here.
I was planning on writing a post about the cutting mats I use since I feel they are so very important to the exactness of cutting fabric.
I was going to tell you that I have two cutting mats: a huge one that measures 36×59″ and sits across our old dining room table that I claimed years ago and moved down to my studio for the sole purpose of a cutting table, plus a very small one that measures 12×18″ that I use at my sewing table by my machine for many different things.
My tiny mat by Olfa (see it here), was purchased when I first started quilting. You can see it in some of my YouTube videos. It’s extremely wore out and after nine years of use the self healing has started to give a bit. I only use it for small work like cutting half square triangles on the sofa instead of the studio. I bought it only for portability. It’s a pain to use it for cutting anything bigger than a fat quarter, and even then I have to fold the fabric.
Still, if you are just starting your journey into quilt making, I say a small mat is just fine getting you started. It won’t be long until you are ready for something bigger though.
● Professional quality, double-sided, self-healing
● Five layers thick to protect rotary blades and
● Multi-angled grid lines offer more creative cutting
● Fabric and mat won’t slide during use
● Outside dimensions: 36″ x 24″
● Gridded area for measuring: 34″ x 22″
● Measurements in inches on both sides
The larger one I purchase about every 6-7 months (found here). It’s NOT self healing and is something that is extremely expensive to replace. Deep grooves get cut down into it very quickly and I’m probably wasting my rotary blades because I let it go so long before replacing the mat. But it’s so expensive, so can you blame me? The only reason I keep replacing it is because I really like the size.
So though I feel I might be a bit spoiled in the size department, I am not spoiled in the quality. And with those two mats being the only mats I’ve ever used, you can see why I might be a bit behind the trends on cutting mats.
I was a bit tickled to be getting a new cutting mat to begin with and the fact that it was pink was just like the stars had aligned or something, but to be honest when I saw the size, 34×22″, which is Havels’ biggest mat I was thinking that a new mat would be nice, but you know…. it’s not as big as my table mat. I probably wouldn’t use it very often.
Now I know better.
Now I know that bigger is not always better (ha!).
Pros: When I cut my very first piece of fabric on the Havel’s mat, I was surprised by how little I had to bear down. I’m used to bearing down, not just because my old mat is probably ready to be replaced, but also because my mat is not as thick or sturdy as the Havel’s mat or as smooth. It has 5 levels of thickness compared to my own mat’s 1 layer. That’s quite a difference when cutting. I measured it and the thickness is 1/8″. This mat doesn’t move or bobble (my old mat sometimes bounced a bit).
Besides being pink and sturdy, the Havel’s mat is also double sided. This means if I eventually wear out one side of the mat, I can flip it over and use the other side as if it was brand new. That’s huge!
Use my coupon code at Havel’s Sewing to receive $7 off any purchase over $25.
Coupon Code: southerncharm7
The mat comes with increments in inches on both sides too, along with 30, 45, and 60 degree angled lines.
Another thing that I found pretty nifty about this mat, and I say this as a complete newbie to Havel’s Sewing products, is that when you use a Havel’s ruler with this Havel’s mat, the ruler and the mat have these tiny dashed and dotted squares. When I have the ruler and the mat’s dashes and dots lined up, I’m getting better accuracy in my cutting.
Let me detail a little about what I’m talking about. Sometimes quilt blocks come out with these tiny errors in them. We all know this. A flying geese is wonky or a square is off an 1/8 of an inch. This is almost always caused by a cutting error, a pressing error, or you’ve got off of your 1/4″ seam. As quilt maker’s we have found ways of getting better at each of these tasks to insure we get more accurate piecing.
But what if you could be even more accurate with your cutting? I like the tiny dashes and dots feature. I can double check that I’m cutting in the exact spot that I need to be cutting. I feel I’m going to have even less cutting errors and hopefully even less likely to come out with a wonky or short quilt block. I just need to get in the habit of making sure to line everything up.
Cons: I knew the size (for me, only because I have an unusually large cutting mat) was going to deter me from this mat. With it being 22″ tall, I can’t fit a half yard of fabric across it and see the numbers on the very top and bottom, so what I’ve been doing to work around that and still get the smoothness benefits from the mat is to cut my half yards with the mat turned vertically from me, then rotate the mat around to cut whatever strip I’ve just cut. This is working out rather well. In fact, I even like it a little better and here’s why: I lay out my half yard vertically and cut a 3.5″ strip. I then, rotate the mat around, without having to move the strip (that’s the important part) and then cut my strip into 3.5″ squares. The benefit to this is I’m not having to move the fabric once again after the first time. See the video below.
The Rotary Cutter
Rotary cutters tend to last forever. I have three rotary cutters before I got the new aqua colored Havel’s cutter.
My very first rotary cutter didn’t have a safety guard, which is why I bought the second one. I lost the second one, which is why I bought the third. Then, I ended up finding the second one which is why I now have three cutters. Ugh, I know. Here is the rotary cutter I’ve been using up until I received the Havel’s cutter.
I really have had no complaints on my old cutters. If I had to nitpick them, they are expensive, plus when my step daughter comes to sew with me, she’ll swap the blade to the opposite side because she’s a lefty. It’s a bit annoying to have to change it back.
Pros: That’s one of the cool things about the Havel’s cutter. It’s ambidextrous, no need to make changes to suit your lefty sewing friends.
Another cool feature about the Havel’s cutter is that I don’t have to hold that lever down to keep my blade out for cutting. With the safety off, when I press my blade onto my fabric for cutting, the blade automatically comes out. This may not seem like the biggest deal at first thought. However, I have spent half a day cutting half square triangles and dresden blades, so not having to constantly be squeezing my hands is going to save me some effort.
I’ve saved my favorite pro for last, it’s aqua blue. Okay, I know, silly for that to be a pro, but come on! It’s aqua blue. It will look a thousand times better in all my pictures. You know you agree!
Cons: I don’t have any cons to say about this rotary cutter. If I have to nitpick, I’d tell you that 8 layers of fabric seem to be it’s limit, but truth be told that should be my limit anyway since anything more tends to lower my cutting accuracy anyway.
So there you have it, a little trip down into the world of mats and rotary cutters.
This post is not meant to tempt you into thinking you “need” a brand new mat or cutter just because, but IF you are working on a very old mat that the self healing has worn out on, you are looking to upgrade from a very small mat, or if you were in the market for a new mat for your own reasons, go have a look at Havel’s Sewing here. I’m very pleased with mine. Don’t forget to use my coupon code ‘southerncharmquilts7’ and receive a $7 discount on any $25 purchase.
Also, I’d like to know what kind of rotary cutter and mat you are using. What size mats are you using? How do you make them work for you? Leave me some comments below. I’m always interested in your thoughts.