Ah, cutting mats — the bulky yet necessary accessory for quilters everywhere. If you use a rotary blade to cut your fabric, you likely have a cutting mat that gets a lot of use. But like any other tool in your craft room, quilting cutting mats vary in use and quality, and they actually need regular maintenance to provide you with a flat, stable cutting surface.
A good quality mat that's well cared for can be one of your best friends when you're aiming for perfect accuracy, so it's important to have one that can hold up to all the slices you throw its way.
Here are some key tips for choosing, using and caring for your quilting cutting mat!
Photos via Right Sides Together
1. Not all mats are created equal
If you search for a quilting cutting mat, you'll find a wide range of prices (usually from $10 all the way up to $50 or more). On the low end are mats that are simply hard plastic. They will protect your tabletop surfaces from the rotary blade, but every slice leaves a small groove. Over time, these grooves can affect your cutting accuracy and even snag your fabric.
2. Invest in a self-healing cutting mat
I recommend investing in a self-healing cutting mat . For slightly more money, these mats have a special surface that literally closes up after being cut with a sharp blade. Many quilters can tell the difference when cutting on a self-healing mat. The surface has a bit of "squish" and tends to hold the fabric in place a bit better. It makes for a much better (and more long-lasting) cutting experience.
Self-healing cutting mat
3. Get the right size
Beyond the mat material, also consider the size you'll need. The largest of the portable quilting cutting mats is 24" x 36". It's a nice size, but it's also quite large if you plan on carrying it to sewing groups or taking it on vacation. Many quilters prefer a smaller size of 18" x 24". If you need a large space for cutting at home, one option is to purchase a large cutting mat surface that will adhere to the top of a cutting or drafting table. There are also some smaller specialty mats that have rotating surfaces that are great for paper piecing or squaring up smaller quilt blocks.
4. Use your mat correctly
Cutting mats are designed to take some abuse, but they work best when they're used with care. Putting off changing the blade in your rotary cutter, for example? You might actually be doing more harm than you think. When my blade is dull, I find myself "sawing" back and forth against the ruler trying to cut my fabric. The problem? This is also "sawing" into the cutting mat! Be sure to change your blades at the first sign of dullness to prevent making grooves in your mat.
5. Rotate your mat
Being conscientious of your "common cuts" can help as well. It's a good idea to move or rotate your mat with some frequency, particularly if you find yourself cutting in the same spot. Many self-healing mats (though not all) have double sides to provide you with twice the cutting surface.
6. Care and feed your cutting mat
If you own a self-healing cutting mat, there are definitely some steps you can take to extend its lifespan. The mat needs moisture in order to work properly and close up after being cut. Regularly soaking it in warm water is the best way to make sure that it is hydrated enough to function properly. Cleaning out the "fuzz" that forms in the grooves is also important. While soaking it in the tub, add a bit of dish detergent and a soft cloth or soft bristle brush and scrub it gently. The fibers should come off quite easily. If any appear to be "stuck" in the mat, use an eraser to coax them out.
7. Store your mat correctly
In addition to cleaning and soaking your mat, make sure to prevent it from warping by storing it on a flat surface (never on its edge) or hanging it on a wall. Do not expose it to heat as it's not an ironing board!
Buying a good quality mat and using these tips and tricks can definitely make cutting a great experience!