Cutting Out – Which Method Do You Prefer?

Cutting Out

I was cutting out some fabric recently, becoming frustrated that my sharp new rotary cutter blade was struggling with the crepe. Then I thought, Why don’t I just use my shears? I’ve become so unthinking about using my (admittedly awesome) rotary blade for big pieces of cutting out that I sometimes forget my collection of scissors.

The pros and cons of a rotary blade?

You’ll need a cutting mat (the larger, the better) which is extra expense and will need storing when not in use. I bought mine a long time ago off eBay and keep it behind a side cupboard. You’ll also need replacement blades for your cutter – and to remember to buy them.

When cutting out, your fabric remains on the flat. You’re not lifting fabric to accommodate a blade on the underneath, which makes for much more accuracy. The blade can be like a knife through butter when it comes to long, straight cutting out. Can be. Depends on the fabric.

The pros and cons of a pair of shears?

More control over awkward details, a better slice through challenging fabrics and a satisfying ‘snipping’ sound! Can be used when laying fabric out on the floor and an easier initial investment for beginners. They’re best for notches and marking darts. And they look lovely.

Well, that’s just my opinion. Which side of the debate do you sit on? Rotary or scissors? And have I forgotten any pros or cons?

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65 Responses to Cutting Out – Which Method Do You Prefer?

  1. Jenny Lester says:

    There’s a place for both Karen- use shears for dressmaking as I find that I can negotiate curves and notches easier, and also cut fiddly bits, but give me my rotary cutter for straightening edges and especially for cutting patchwork pieces! So both!

  2. Hester says:

    I don’t quite dare try a rotary cutter; I’m fairly convinced that it would take all of a few minutes for me to find myself with fewer fingers than when I started out. (I am also terrified of my kitchen mandolin.) Besides, few things can beat that delicious *crunch* of sharp shears through crisp fabric.

    • Oh, the dreaded mandolin! I have literally sliced through my own fingers as someone said to me, ‘Be careful…’

      • Jen (NY) says:

        Oh, I am afraid of those things! I did know someone who ended up in surgery because of one. The most dangerous bladed kitchen item I’ve heard of is the immersion blender. Apparently a lot of people have…well, it’s gory.

      • Sewer from across the Pond says:

        See, I would say, “Shut Up. I am wielding a rolling razor blade.” 🙂 I won’t let myself distracted when I’m cutting with them. They’re useful, but so scary in the damage they can inflict.

        I wonder what it’s like to use an electrical cutter, the kind used for cutting coat fabric in a factory.

    • I’m borderline dyspraxic and very clumsy (I trip UP the stairs weekly and often fall over my feet) but I’m really careful with my rotary cutter and, so far, have kept all my digits.

    • Sewer from across the Pond says:

      I like them for curves, but not one of the professional sewing, couture, or tailoring teachers I’ve had has ever used a rotary cutter. Somehow with 15 inch blades they can still cut a smooth curve. Experience.

  3. I’ve been wondering about getting some rotary blades, the problem for me is that I don’t know anyone with some that I can ask to try before shelling out for them. And I wonder how they are at cutting curves, I have a tracing wheel that doesn’t cope with curves very well, it much prefers straight lines.

    • Sewer from across the Pond says:

      The smaller (28mm and 18mm) cutters are great on curves. I like the Olfa brand. Very reliable.

  4. Jenny says:

    I use both but I love my rotary blade much more than my scissors. I have become pretty good at quickly cutting with the rotary blade – I just take my time along curves and tricky parts. I usually pick up blades when I’m buying new needles and sometimes they come 3 in a pack – so that’s lasts me a good while.

  5. michl007 says:

    I’m pretty new to garment making but did some quilt top making previously so I’m fairly comfortable with my rotary cutter. That said I’m using both at the moment; large rotary for straight bits, small rotary for gentle curves and scissors for angles where I’m scared I’ll chop a bit off.

  6. I found a rotary cutter to be super frustrating, but I also don’t have a large cutting mat. I’ve always cut out using pinking shears, and like that very much. Saves a lot of finishing later.

  7. I actually really love my rotary cutter for most cutting out. Its great on long “edges” and much quicker than scissors. It frightens me, a lot, so I probably treat it with the respect it deserves. My husband bought me 2 cutting mats for Christmas and they can sit side by side on the dining table for cutting out trousers or maxi skirts. When not in use I store them under the sofa (the backs are marked with STORE FLAT)

  8. onejolie says:

    I definitely use both!

  9. I use only sciccors for dressmaking. Rotary cutter – hmmm…. I have somewhere…

  10. Chris says:

    I use both too – in fact I have two sizes of rotary cutter, the standard one like the one in your picture and one with a tiny wheel is is great for small detail. I even switch between rotary cutters and shears in one project when my cutting mat is not big enough for the whole fabric to fit on it.

  11. Jen (NY) says:

    I mostly use shears because I am not happy with my rotary cutter. Although I usually love Clover products, the rotary cutter I have seems to have difficulty with almost any fabric. (Like not cutting all the way through, even after replacing the blade, and I am afraid of cutting my fingers). Any advice…what should I expect from a rotary cutter? Or am I just doing something wrong?

    • Sewer from across the Pond says:

      I only use the Olfa brand. I bought the 45 mm that was supposed to be ergonomic and had a safety lock button. But the button kept unlocking.

    • Sewer from across the Pond says:

      Figuring out what pressure to use is tricky. I often start out too light out of timidity. Sometimes I’ll try cutting a sample first. I never remove the pattern without checking that the cut went through both layers and I also pin and sometimes weigh down the fabric. I use a quilting ruler as a guide on straight lines. I’m most nervous when cutting curves because I do them without a guide. I give it my strict attention and watch my fingers. I never cut when I’m tired. And every time the blade hits the table it is closed — I don’t care if I have to do it 200 times. I also make sure that blade and any other sharp implements are visible, not covered by fabric or other tools.

  12. BeaJay says:

    Has to be the rotary cutter. Can’t cut straight with scissors.

    • Sewer from across the Pond says:

      I used to get “chicken tracks” until I learned that you use shears that have a bottom bent edge that slides along the table, and you must not lift the blade from the table while cutting.

      • LinB says:

        Yes! Use shears for cutting out, not scissors. Shears have an offset handle, to allow the fabric to remain largely undisturbed. Scissors are flat, and best used as nippers, or for paper-cutting, or by barbers.

  13. Paola says:

    Horses for courses for me. I toggle between my rotary cutter and scissors – depends on the piece I’m cutting out, the fabric, the weather, what I had for lunch etc. etc,

  14. Pat says:

    I have arthritis in my hands, so I go for the rotary cutter. But for tight corners, curves and notches I use my shears.

  15. molly says:

    It was love at first cut for me and my OLFA rotary blade. I really only ever use shears for tight corners. I really love cutting necklines free-hand (no pattern or pre-drawn lines) and the rotary cutter lets me cut beautiful, clean curves easily.

  16. Michelle says:

    I always use scissors for fabric cutting out. I have a fold-out cardboard board thingy that goes onto my dining room table. Holds about 2 metres of fabric and it’s brilliant. I bought ergonomic fiskars shears many years ago when I used to cut out on the carpeted floor – I found the blunt end meant I wasn’t cutting out carpet as well. Now I’m a grown up and I get to stand up to cut, well, those shears are still bloody brilliant, and they have never once needed sharpening.

    I keep my rotary cutter and board for quilting. To me scissors are far more accurate, especially with cutting out notches and doing pattern grading on the fabric and on-the-go. And I figure my Oma, my nana and my mum all used scissors for dressmaking, and if it was good enough for them …

  17. Zoey says:

    My rotary cutters can’t even cut straight through normal cotton!! I’m very annoyed as they and the cutting mat cost a lot!

    I’m either using them wrong or they are faulty, I’m on,y fairly new to sewing so they aren’t even that old. Scissors for me!

  18. Sewer from across the Pond says:

    I use shears for everything except necklines. I get a smoother cut with the rotary cutter. I started out with the 45mm size but I prefer to use the 28mm or 18mm size. Rotary cutters are also good for cutting bias strips while using a straight edge as a guide.

    I almost never cut with a paper pattern pinned to the fabric. It’s very awkward and inaccurate. I chalk the pattern onto the fabric directly. Often the pattern has been transferred to oak tag so there’s a firm edge to direct the tailor’s chalk.

  19. Trice says:

    I mostly use my rotary and i have two sizes. I do enjoy my shears simple because of the lovely sound and they are pretty.

  20. Phyllis Mays says:

    I have been using electric scissors for decades. They work very well even around curves and corners. I keep shears handy for snipping etc. I’ve never tried my rotary. I will the next time. Thanks. Phyllis from Florida

  21. debbieiles says:

    Rotary cutter for me every time. I usually only use scissors, preferably the serrated type, for trimming seams and my little embroidery scissors for cutting threads. Cutting is so quick and accurate with a blade, needing less pins to mark the fabric.

  22. Bellbird says:

    Personally I feel much more comfortable with scissors, I just feel like I have more control. I don’t have any issues with accuracy (at least I don’t think I do!) so I’m happy with my shears.

  23. wendy says:

    Anyone else out there use alternatives to a cutting mat? I like using a rotary cutter, especially for lighter, more slippery fabrics and cutting curves but I can’t afford a large cutting mat. So one day I grabbed a piece of thin MDF (this stuff: that I happened to have in the house and cut on that. It worked great! I’m sure it wears down the blade a bit faster, but it’s cheap and doesn’t bend so I can throw it on top of my ironing board and use it as a cutting table in my tiny sewing space. But I was wondering if anyone else has tried a cheaper alternative to the mats?

  24. Rotary all the way. It makes a more even cut than shears, and I’m quite used to it now.

  25. Meg Kundert says:

    I always used shears until about a year ago when I realized that the rotary blade worked better for jersey. Now it just depends on the fabric.

  26. Geo P says:

    Rottary forever! I have a big one, a small one and a big pinking one. I bought my mat of ebay too, a big no name A1 size for £15 shipping included. I used to store it behind the sofa but it started getting wavy so now I store it under the bed.

  27. I use scheers and nailpolish as patternweights, I only use a rotary cutter on long straight pieces. I don’t get the rotary cutter, maybe I just have a bad one.

  28. Carol Henderson says:

    I’m a rotary girl mostly, 45mm and 28mm. I still have my shears from when I started dressmaking 40 years ago; they always come out when I start a project but hardly get used. I just bring them out cos they’re pretty ;

  29. Laura says:

    Another nice thing about rotary cutters is that lefties like me don’t need special ones (although perhaps I have an ambidextrous one and have put the blade on the other side). You can get dressmaking shears and paper scissors for southpaws, but I have yet to locate pinking shears. I’ve settled on a pair which have blades going the right-handed way round, but which aren’t shaped to fit a specific hand. Acceptable, but I still feel a bit discriminated against.

  30. I’m sure I came accross a pinking rotary blade somewhere, this maybe,, would something like that help?

  31. Trish says:

    I use a Fiskars rotary cutter for patchwork and shears for fabric, just because my cutting mat isn’t big enough. I do use the rotary cutter with the pinking blade for finishing off seams sometimes and find that gives a better finish than pinking shears. I’ve never had any problems with the fiskars blade lock coming off. They make a very solid rotary cutter but not so easily available as the Olfa.

  32. Scissors. I figure I trim and finish the seams anyway, so a slightly crooked cut doesn’t matter so much, and like other commenters I’m nervous about using the rotary cutter without my (straight) cutting guide, so it wouldn’t work for me for curves.

  33. LinB says:

    I use my rotary cutter only when I need perfectly straight lines, as for quilt piecing, or apron strings, or purse straps. Rotary cutter, mat, and rulers are stored in an old suitcase, so I have to drag it out and rummage through it when I want to use them. The rest of the time I use shears for cutting out. My shears are always to hand — I keep a pair on the table I use for cutting, a pair beside the sewing machine, a pair by the chair where I sit in the evenings. Embroidery scissors or nippers for clipping threads, opening buttonholes, clipping seams, etc.

  34. Florence says:

    I use both but prefer rotary cutter

  35. Florence says:

    I use both but prefer rotary cutter.

  36. gingermakes says:

    I greatly prefer the rotary cutter since I don’t need to mess around with pins or tracing. I keep the shears handy and pull them out at the end to snip notches and clean up any curves or corners I couldn’t get to with the rotary cutter, and that works well for me.

  37. Kat says:

    I’m definitely a rotary cutter girl but I sliced my finger once, on white fabric of course, but after reading this post by Sewaholic ( I got myself such a glove asap. Certainly feeling safer now!

  38. Horses for courses, I think, though I prefer a rotary cutter for tight curves: slowly and carefully and it turns out quite well. If I use shears or scissors, I can’t get such a neat cut. That might also relate to attempting such manoeuvres in a tight space, but either way I’m happy to swap from one to the other as circumstances require.

  39. PS: I’d also add that I’m somewhat anal about immediately putting away scissors, shears, scalpels, Stanley knives, rotary cutters or anything else that might inflict damage on either person or fabric if inadvisedly left out. Sometimes I drive myself nuts – oh, how much easier it would be just to grab the scissors off the table; ah, but where on the table would they be? – but at least I know where the implements are and that gives me a fair degree of peace of mind!

  40. Jenna says:

    I only just found out that you can get left handed fabric scissors so I use my rotary cutter for almost everything and my scissors for snipping notches. I can cut right handed but it’s not all that accurate!

  41. Lynn Mally says:

    I have sliced fingers on my left hand twice with a rotary cutter–so I don’t use them anymore. I think they also require a lot of fuss–the right mat, the sharpest blade. I’m an old fashioned scissors girl all the way!

  42. black label says:

    I love my shears but I almost always reach for the rotary cutter first. It depends on the fabric really. Also, I have a cutting mat for small things but the big things I cut straight out on my table!! Yip, the table top! I bought a cheapy timber door (no handle etc, just the flat door) which is super light & lies on A-frame legs when needed. When not it slots away nicely between the wall & my sewing table. It looks raggered but I kinda dig raggered things 🙂

  43. Melanie says:

    I love love love my rotary cutter. I just wish I had a mat as large as my table. I don’t have great scissors — they have a dead spot about an inch from the tip — and they cause me all sorts of frustration. I even use the rotary blade for marking notches. I have good shears on my wish list, though.

  44. Katie says:

    I’m like you, I rather flip-flop between the two. Went through a big rotary phase but suddenly finding that the blades I’ve been buying are either blunt out the packet or go blunt very quickly afterwards, which is plain frustrating. I got some new left-handed shears for my birthday which took some getting used to, but now I love them and use them nearly all the time at the moment.

  45. I only make bigger projects that need lots of table space to cut out. So I use my shears. I love when you hit a straight area and can just “zzziiip!” right through the fabric. 🙂 Makes me feel so professional and grown up.

  46. Laurel says:

    I rarely use shears any more – even on tiny curves and notches. I find rotary cutters far more accurate with less fabric shifting. For tight curves and notches I use the very small 18mm rotary cutters. I sew bras, which require very accurate cutting and have small curves.

  47. Evelyn Henderson says:

    I use both. I just finished a soft satiny dress for a granddaughter. really squirmy fabric. I used my shears on the curves and my rotary cutter on the straights.

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