Hello! Welcome to Part 2 of The Quilter's Kit!
Today we're talking about rotary cutters and mats.
I use only one brand for mats and cutters, and that is Olfa. I've tried the cheaper brands, and I've tried the comparable brands, and I keep coming back to Olfa.
I have a ton of wrist and hand related issues, probably dating back to being a hard presser in school (you could always tell my assignments - it was the one with all the holes in it from writing too hard!). I tend to use my rotary cutter the same way, with a hard press.
Two ways I've found to temper my hard-pressing (thus saving my poor wrists and fingertips) is to always have a sharp blade on my rotary cutter, and to use a high-quality mat. I started out using squishier mats, but they seem to catch and trap fibers much more quickly. And then I realized, the squishiness of the mats might feel like it's doing a better job, but I'm actually using it as an excuse to press harder, and that a) dulls my blade much faster, and b) cuts my mat to pieces within months.
As soon as I bit the bullet and bought an Olfa mat for my primary cutting surface, I noticed that my blades dulled much less quickly. I was going through one blade a quilt on my cheap mat...and now I'm changing blades every 3-4 months, at most. So the false economy of a cheap mat has been easily disproven - I spent $15 more for my Olfa mat and I've saved at least that on cutter blades, plus, my mat is nowhere near needing replacing (the other ones lasted 8-12 months on average and I often stretched them past good use.)
The Olfa mat is a bit harder. The rotary blade seems to bite into it just enough to ensure a smooth cut but not so much it damages the mat or dulls your blade. I confess, I also use it as a coaster (!!! so naughty), but it wipes clean beautifully.
My three sized mats are 12" x 18", 18' x 24" (my primary), and a 12" square rotating mat.
I hardly ever wash my mats, I tend to just wipe spilled tea off them (heh), but there are lots of good care tutorials out there - here is one that looks pretty good.
I use an ergonomic locking 45mm rotary cutter. It has to be safe as I have grabby kids, so the lock is essential. (I also have an Olfa Splash for taking with me to quilt days, and a mostly forgotten 18mm cutter for template precision.) I quite like the shape of this mat and I think it works really well. The blades are pretty affordable ($4.50 at my LQS) and I like to keep a few on hand. I recently had the chance to try another, cheaper blade, and I definitely noticed a difference. It snagged and dulled much more quickly. As I'm a fairly hard presser and a pretty active cutter (I cut out about one quilt or project a week, sometimes more than one) I like my blades to last long and my hand to show less fatigue.
I'll probably talk about rulers later, but for now, let me say, buying Clear Grip has saved my fingers. It is completely transparent, you can cut it to the size you need, and it really grips fabric.
When you cut, you should tent your fingers and lean over the ruler. I do shoulder over wrist, with my arm bent, and I cut very carefully.
Never ever cut toward yourself, and regularly check your rulers and mats for warping. I've been fortunate to find laser-cut rulers which are the most accurate, and my mats are generally pretty accurate. I tend to cut measuring with my ruler, not my mat, but for a long time I did it the other way around, and noticed no real change in accuracy!
Hopefully this helps - I'd love to hear what everyone else uses and why! :)