Cutting (Sweater Knits) Before Sewing - Part 2

Smooth, clean edges on the curve
In December of 2012, I wrote the post Cutting Before Sewing. I waxed poetic about my B & D cordless power scissors, now virtually unavailable. And it's true that nothing beats their ease of use for cutting a bulky sweater knit. I particularly recommend the sharp blades of fully charged power scissors to anyone who may have sore, tired, or arthritic hands -- just switch them on and gently guide those scissors. The electricity does all the work.

But when I can no longer find the power scissors locally and the online price for these things more than tripled (!!!) and replacement blades for the power scissors are impossible to find, it's time to move on. From the pic above (or if you follow me on Instagram) you know where I've moved -- to rotary cutters.

I'd always feared rotary cutters; I've heard of too many sewists who've gotten cut. But I had no choice. I do not like cutting an entire sweater with manual shears. There's great potential for jagged edges, and my hand gets tired. The fact that quilters love rotary cutters did not sway me as the fabric they use is so different. But rotary cutters came highly recommended by Pam Turbett in Revised Knit, Cut and Sew: Book 1. (As I write this, I'm shocked to see the book currently listed for $2432.64 new, $101.76 used! It was less than $7.00 used, including shipping, when I bought mine in 2012! Something else to fear -- the price of a good book that's out of print.)

Getting back to the rotary cutter, it did require a little practice, but the smooth, clean edge it makes on sweater knit fabrics is as nice as the one made with power scissors. I bought the 45mm Olfa rotary cutter, which I was able to find at my LYFS (local yarn and fabric store). I've been extremely happy with it.  I understand that there are other highly recommended brands. I also bought the small 12" x 18" self healing cutting mat and the larger 24" x 36" version. A self-healing cutting mat is essential. I'm able to cut one side of a sweater with the larger mat. I only lay out one piece at a time so there's no problem cutting either the front or back of a sweater. There may be a problem with the length of the mat, if I ever want to cut out a sweater dress...
Practice straight lines
While power scissors required about a minute's worth of "practice" before I became comfortable, I slowly became at ease with the rotary cutter by first cutting straight lines (bands and binding) using my metal edged ruler as a guide. I used a suction cup ruler handle and made sure fingers and thumbs were out of the way. I'm careful to always roll away from my body. Progressing to the curves of necklines and armholes took a little more practice. I moved slowly and was very pleased with the results. What surprised me was that the blade was so maneuverable! Also I needed a lot less pressure than I had originally imagined.

Interestingly, I took a Sew a Leather Tote class at Brooklyn Craft Co, last Sunday. I learned that our teacher used a rotary cutter to cut leather. I'm now confident enough that I'd probably go ahead and use a rotary cutter for cutting out a garment of woven fabric too. Why have I feared this versatile tool for so long?

The best thing is that I think rotary cutters, replacement blades, and mats will be around for a long time. And there are enough competing brands so that the prices will remain reasonable, I hope.

So what are your favorite tools and tips for cutting?

Related sewing book and supplies (affiliate ad links)
Revised Knit, Cut and Sew: Bk. 1 by Pam Turbett
Self Healing Cutting Mat
OLFA 45mm Deluxe Handle Rotary Cutter
Suction Cup Ruler Handle


  1. Glad you found an easier to maintain replacement for your power scissors!

    I like the idea of rotary cutters, but I've found that I always have to go back and forth several times over each cut when I use them at work (no matter what type of fabric I'm cutting). That's fine when using a straightedge guide, but it means that curves are nearly impossible to cut smoothly. I'm sure part of the problem is dull blades, but I have never had the patience to troubleshot it. I guess I'll always be a scissors girl. *shrug*

    1. Brooke, that does sound like a dull blade on the rotary cutter. Cool that you're a scissors girl. I'm sure manual scissors continue to be the most popular. There are so many styles available, and I know they'll never be discontinued! :)


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