How To Use A Rotary Cutter Without A Mat?


A rotary cutter and a rotary cutting mat – are two of the most important tools you are going to need when you are sewing, quilting, making clothes, or embroidering.

They are especially important when you need to cut your fabrics for your sewing, embroidering, appliqueing, or quilting projects

When you are working on a quilt or applying appliques to your projects or making clothes for yourself, you’ll need the help of both a rotary cutter blade and a cutting mat for the job.

These two very important tools are quite important when your fabric or other materials need to be cut into smaller pieces or into particular shapes and sizes. 

Rotary cutters and rotary cutting mats are complementary tools for each other; you need both of them together to make cutting your fabrics, felt, backing, leather, foam and other similar materials easier for yourself. However, it is also possible to use a rotary cutter without using a cutting mat. 

But first, it is important to know the functions and the specialities of both a rotary cutter blade and a cutting mat. 

What does a Rotary Cutter do? 

A rotary cutter works in the same way that a traditional pizza cutter does, and comes with a circular blade attached to a handle that you can roll on a piece of fabric or material. It is much easier to use a rotary cutter to cut the fabric into pieces instead of using a pair of scissors.

It is also easier to use a rotary cutter when the measurement is extremely important in cutting your materials. With a rotary cutter, cutting fabric in exact measurement is easier than with scissors. 

At the same time, rotary cutters are easier on the wrists. There are no particular movements required in using a rotary cutter than to roll it around a hard surface, while using a pair of scissors means to make innumerable cuts on your fabric. 

What does a Rotary Cutting Mat do? 

A cutting mat, or a rotary cutting mat, on the other hand, is a flat working space used to cut fabric on. They are usually made from long-lasting materials such as vinyl, polypropylene or rubber.

The surfaces are usually elastic; this means that however much pressure is applied on these cutting mats, they can spring back up. 

Cutting mats are usually self-healing, which means they can withstand a lot of pressure and cutting without getting damaged. This is one of the reason these mats last decades of regular use before you need to replace them.

How are Rotary Cutters and Cutting Mats Used? 

Rotary cutting blades and cutting mats are usually used together, as a set. Most brands make both of these tools together, but it is not a necessity to use cutters and mats from the same brand together. 

Cutting mats are usually placed on a flat and hard surface, preferably a table, the top of an even furniture or on the floor. Placing a cutting mat on top of your furniture before cutting your fabric with a rotary cutter will also save your furniture tops from scratches and marks. This is why, to save your furniture, it is very important to use a cutting mat on them. 

After placing the cutting mat on a flat and hard surface, you can then place your fabric or other materials on the cutting mat. These mats are quite large, around 36” x 24” in size, which means you can cut large pieces of materials on them. You can then use a rotary cutter to cut these fabrics or thicker materials into any shapes or sizes you want to. 

With most 45mm rotary cutters, it is possible to cut through cotton and similar fabrics; with a 60mm cutting blade, however, you can cut through up to 6 layers of thin cotton, or even layers of felt, leather, vinyl and paper. You have to decide which blade to use depending on what material you want to cut, and how many layers of it. 

When you’ve placed your fabric or your material on the cutting mat, you can then hold the rotary cutter in your working hand and simply roll it on the fabric.

If you are looking for specific measurements, you can use a ruler with your other hand. However, cutting mats come with engraved measurements and angles on them, which certainly helps to be specific in your work without needing an extra ruler. 

Since cutting mats are self-healing, no matter how much pressure you put on the mat with your rotary cutter, the surface of the mat will spring back up without any damage. Rotary cutters are easier to use than a pair of scissors to cut your fabric, and a cutting mat makes the process much easier.

How to Use a Rotary Cutter Without a Cutting Mat? 

Although a rotary cutter and a cutting mat goes hand in hand, it is still possible to use a cutting blade without a cutting mat.

If you don’t own a cutting mat or if your cutting mat has been damaged beyond use, you can make it up in other ways and use something else instead of a cutting mat. 

There are a few other things that you can actually use instead of a rotary cutting mat, namely: 

  • A thick cardboard
  • Bottom of an old shelf
  • An old table you are not worried about damaging
  • A stack of old newspapers 
  • Plastic trays 
  • Woodcutting boards 
  • PETG sheets, 
  • Glass covered desktops or table tops 
  • 3D Printing mats, and
  • Laminated boards. 

Any of these objects can be used as a backup instead of a cutting mat, although they may not be as satisfactory as using a real cutting mat. What’s important is that you use something hard, flat and solid as a background when cutting your fabrics and other materials with a rotary cutter. 

However, since your rotary cutter will place a lot of pressure on both the material and the hard surface below, it is also important that you don’t use anything you don’t want damage on.

Cutting mats are self-healing which means the surface will bounce back without any permanent damage when you apply pressure with your rotary cutter. When you are using something else other than a rotary cutter, it will not be self-healing and its surface will not bounce back. 

You may have to deal with permanent damage to the surface of whatever you are using instead of a cutting mat – this is definitely something to consider. 

The process of using another object instead of a cutting mat is the same. All you have to do is to place your replacement object on a flat surface and place your fabric or material on it.

Then, just like with a cutting mat, use your rotary cutter to make cuts on your material of choice. Whatever background you are using as your cutting mat can be the backup you need for your work. 

Therefore, although it may not give the user the same satisfaction, it is definitely possible to use cardboard, the bottom of an old shelf, an old tabletop or a stack of old newspapers instead of cutting mats. 

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