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Rotary cutting mats

therapy | Posted in Equipment and Supplies on

This is the first message I have posted in this forum and I am hoping that there is enough participation that someone is an expert about cutting mats. My problem is what to buy to replace the 40″ by  72″ mat I have had since 1990.  There is no brand name on it, but I bought it at the time I purchased the cutting table, which is by Ideal Creations Div., Create A Space.  The problem is that there are lots of nicks and cuts which catch and snag fabric.  This has been this way for over a year, so I had about 11 years of satisfactory use.  There are advertisements in Threads for hard surface, self healing surface and pinable surface.  Which is the best?  I use a rotary cutter for almost everything and make most of my clothing and many home decor items.  I would say the mat gets heavy use.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Sew Necessary


  1. Josefly | | #1

    I was just using the advanced search function on this forum, for some info on cutting mats, when I saw the thread you started. I was surprised to see you apparently didn't get any answers. I hope you were able to get the information from another source. If you did, maybe you can help me. :>)

    I'm looking for another mat to replace a slightly heat-damaged Olfa mat, and I found a site online that sells a brand called Alvin's. They have a translucent mat, which is quite a bit less expensive than the Olfa mats. Their promotional text says that their mats are thicker than the Olfa mats, and can handle not just rotary cutters but also straight blade cutters like art knives. I've noticed that my Olfa doesn't "self-heal" after an Exacto-knife cut, so this other mat appeals to me. They also say that the surface is just right - not too slippery, not too "toothy," and no glare. I'm looking for a 36" x 48" mat. I've just wondered if anyone else has used the translucent mats, particularly Alvin's, and what their experience with it has been. They also have the green mats, gridded, with black on the opposite side, but the translucent mats are on sale now, at a great price.

    Any ideas, anyone?

    Edited to add the web-address of the site mentioned above:


    Edited 11/3/2009 1:41 pm ET by Josefly

    1. KharminJ | | #2

      Hey, Josefly! (and Therapy, if you're still out there ~) I vote "Yes" for the Alvin mats! I've used them for years - got them in several sizes when I was doing freelance graphic arts for ad agencies. They really are self-healing, moreso than the typical 'sewing' mats, and were originally designed for use with razor cutters (Exacto blades).Thanks for adding the URL - made it much easier to check on them! Bright Blessings ~ Kharmin

      1. Josefly | | #3

        Thank you, Kharmin, for your reaction to the Alvin mats. I think I'll order one, unless I hear something negative, specifically about the translucent mats. I can't think of what the disadvantages might be, compared to the opaque, green mats, which are like the Olfa one I have now. It seems to me that the black lines on the light background would be better than the yellow lines on dark green, especially when using them for tracing and altering pattern pieces, lining up grain lines on a muslin, etc.

        I recently watched a video on the Sawyer Brooks site, with Jennifer Stern demonstrating the cutting and sewing of her famous tee shirt pattern. She was using a large, table-size mat, cutting with a rotary blade, but also holding her knit fabric in place on the mat by sticking pins through fabric into the mat! Have you seen such a mat?

        The site for that video, in case anyone hasn't seen it already, is:


        Edited 11/4/2009 12:32 am ET by Josefly

    2. jjgg | | #4

      I have a cutting mat - it's not the Alvin mat, but similar, it's translucent, supposed to be better than olfas, and it's OK, but seems to dull my rotary blades a lot quicker. I generally didn't like it too mcuh for wahtever reasons, and just use the Olfa mats now

      1. Josefly | | #5

        Thanks. I hadn't even thought about the effect on the blades. Which brings up another question: are those rotary-blade sharpeners any good?

        1. jjgg | | #6

          Personally, I would say no. my biggest issue with rotary blades is when I roll over a pin, and the sharpener won't take the nick out. I've never really tried to use it on just a slightly dull blade though

          1. Josefly | | #8

            I've never hit a pin with my blades, so maybe the sharpener would work for me. I use my rotary blades most often on straight lines, where I use a straight-edge to keep me on the line, so pins are not a problem. I don't use the rotary so much for curved lines, though I think I'm getting more adept; I have trouble seeing where the blade is cutting. Does a smaller wheel help with that? It has just occurred to me that I've not seen any articles or tips on using rotary wheels most effectively. Maybe we could compile some tips here...?

          2. jjgg | | #10

            I cut most patterns out free hand with my rotary blade (I guess you would call it free hand). the only tip I can offer for that is to use a small blade (I don't have the really tiny rotary blade though). It's much easier to turn corners with a smaller blade vs the largest one. I have a pinking blade in my large handle for when I want to pink a seam.After sewing the seam, I press the seam as sewn - closed- then pink the edge by just skimming the blade along the edge of the seam allowance, then press open.

          3. Josefly | | #12

            I also have a pinking blade, but have only used it on boiled wool, on a vest that had exposed seam allowances. It's so much easier to use than pinking sheers, isn't it? I'll remember to try it on regular seam allowances. I wonder if it's a good solution for fabrics like rayon, which fray easily.I have a small-ish wheel which I'll try for curved pattern pieces. I've been a little afraid, since I don't feel as much control with the wheel, free-hand, as with scissors, especially if I have to use a lot of pressure to get through multiple layers of fabric. Watching the J. Stern videos makes me think that I probably bear down too hard, probably dulling my blades even more. She makes it look so easy. And I'm still hoping to find a mat like the one she used, which allows pins to be used to hold slippery fabrics in place.

          4. jjgg | | #13

            practice- When I started using it to cut patterns, I ALWAYS put my ruler (clear plastic quilting ruler) on the pattern. It kept me from accidentally making mistakes.As I've gotten used to doing it I don't always use the ruler, but, you do have to hold the fabric pattern down right near where you are cutting. The rotary blade will 'push' the fabric ahead of you, so either periodically lift the blade to relax the fabric, or walk your fingers along the fabric/pattern right next to where you are cutting.Start with some scrap fabric, and just practice free hand cutting, then draw lines on the fabric and cut on them, then put a pattern piece next to it etc. You won't need to pin slippery fabric down, use weights, or a quilters ruler to hold it in place, I get much more precise accurate cutting with the rotary on slippery fabrics because you don't have to lift the fabric off the table surface to slip the scissors under it. I may at times put a few pins in the fabric/pattern.Judy

          5. Josefly | | #14

            Those are good cutting tips. It finally dawned on me that I needed to practice when sewing on fabrics I wasn't used to; why didn't it occur to me to also practice cutting with a cutting tool?I often have trouble just laying out slippery or drapey fabrics, getting them flat and straight along the selvedge. Some light-weight knits are especially difficult, especially if you line up one selvedge and then try to get a straight fold. So I'd like to have pins to temporarily anchor the selvedge while I get the whole piece of spread and folded. Now I just use my large cardboard cutting board, then try to slide my Olfa cutting mat, which is only 25" x 30", under the fabric to use the rotary wheel, hopefully without shifting the fabric again.I remember your gorgeous "liquid silver" gown; did you use the rotary wheel to cut that out?Joan

          6. jjgg | | #15

            For real shifty fabrics, I try to cut a square or rectangular piece of fabric just a little bigger than the pattern piece - yes this wastes some fabric, but you can always lay out a smaller piece of fabric and get it on grain much easier than several yards.I don't think I did the liquid silver dress this way - it was all underlined with organza, so the organza was laid out, marked and then layered on the lame, the 2 layers were probably hand basted together before I cut anything.

          7. Josefly | | #16

            Ahh. Another thing I hadn't thought of - cutting the fabric into smaller pieces for easier handling. The longer this discussion goes on, the more I learn. Thank you.Did you cut the silk organza on the bias to underline your silver dress? The lame, which I assume was a knit, draped so fluidly that I wouldn't have thought it had an underlining.

            Edited 11/10/2009 11:12 am ET by Josefly

          8. jjgg | | #17

            the upper back of the dress had several layers of organza, as well as the edges were all taped. It needed to support all the beads (there were over 4000 beads on it) The dress is also lined with charmeuse. More that that I would have to go pull it out of the closet and look at it to see what all I did with it. Yup, it's sitting in the closet. the dress was NOT made for my body.When I am doing something on the bias, I mark all my SEWING lines before the fabric is ever cut When things on the bias stretch, you lose all your landmarks. I will also put extra notches on long seams with bias things o make sure they go together correctly.

            Edited 11/11/2009 1:51 pm ET by jjgg

          9. Josefly | | #18

            Gosh, it's hard to imagine you could forget a single thing you did on that dress. But I'm aware you are prolific, and do lots of different kinds of sewing projects. In fact, if I remember correctly, your next project after the dress was a backpacking tent!I appreciate your tips on how to manage bias patterns.

          10. jjgg | | #19

            OK, so now I'm working on a vintage vogue jacket. I put the bound buttonholes on the wrong front! - do I wonder where my son got his dyslexia from??? I'm glad I have enough fabric to re-cut another front. Now I just have to take out the sleeve that I finally got in perfectly....

          11. Josefly | | #20

            Oh no! Not bound buttonholes. I would've been sooooooo tempted to just button my jacket the wrong way!

          12. jjgg | | #21

            I was tempted, but since I wasn't real happy with the way the buttonholes came out, it was a good excuse to re-do it. (it's still sitting downstairs half done...)

          13. Josefly | | #22

            I know it will be great when you finish that jacket. Are you using wool on it?

          14. jjgg | | #23

            Well, I thought it was wool, it's been in my stash for quite a while, I did a burn test on it and I have no idea what it is, There may be some wool in it, It left a BLUE stain on the aluminum foil that I burned it on!! maybe that is from some dye in it. It did not smell like wool, and the ash was hard - but not hard like poly, so I don't know what it is. I'll post pictures when it's done!

          15. Josefly | | #24

            Great, I'll look forward to seeing the photos.

          16. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #26

            This left right problem is one I suffer from also, tee hee hee. sorry it involved bound buttonholes! I usually muck up zippers...do you really have to recut? There are some marvellous ways to enhance your jacket, ie, embellish this mistake. Even an underlap could use creative touches. Cathy

          17. jjgg | | #27

            It looked very military like - I used a solid black for the bound buttonholes, the fabric is dark, but not black, so they stand out . I don't want the military look.

          18. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #28

            I can understand that! I am not a fan of military type garments myself. You are lucky to have enough fabric left to recut as it is. :) Cathy

        2. marymary | | #7

          The sharpeners are good,... sort of.  They won't put a new edge on the blade, but will allow you to use the blade a little longer. 

          1. Josefly | | #9

            Thanks, MaryMary. I think I'll look for one when they're on sale somewhere. I've never nicked a wheel, so maybe I can keep my blades from getting too dull with some preventive sharpening. I'm going to be cutting some fleece for a robe in a project, soon, and I like to use the wheels for fleece.

            Edited 11/8/2009 3:29 pm ET by Josefly

          2. marymary | | #11

            Rotary cutters make cutting fleece easy.  Fleece is really hard on the blades of both rotary cutters and scissors.  I actually use my dedicated paper scissors when I need to use scissors on fleece, not my Ginghers.  I do cut things out with a rotary blade and expect it to dull somewhat. 

  2. Palady | | #25

    As to using a rotary cutter, if one has yet to master the use, consider -  

    (1)  a clear ruler being a must.  

    (2)  it matters to angle the rotary about 5 to 10 degrees so one can "see" the cutting portion of the blade as it rolls.  Some pressure is necessary. 

    (3)  ... which should be on the blade rather than the handle.


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