Tailor’s Shears and Rotary Cutters

Tailor’s Shears and Rotary Cutters


Tailoring Shears from Niwaki with total length 9".

When you have spent hours perfecting and refining a pattern to perfection, the last thing you want to do is try to cut it out on your final fabric using the wrong equipment.

With the wrong equipment and incorrect preparation, you can end up undoing all the hard work that you put into your pattern after countless toiles and alterations, as using the wrong cutting techniques can mean that the final fabric may end up getting pulled and distorted while you are trying to cut it. 

Cutting equipment can be quite a personal thing and no single method is perfect for everyone, or for every fabric. However there are some basic approaches that you can try to see what works best for you. 

The most traditional method is simply with a really good pair of sharp scissors or tailor’s shears, as the larger cutting scissors are often called. If you are serious about your scissors, you will buy a good quality pair, never drop them, sharpen them regularly, oil the joint with a drop of machine oil and keep them wrapped in a case to protect them. Investing in a good pair of scissors is worthwhile if you will take good care of them as you will have them for a long, long time. 


Tailoring Shears from William Whiteley.

Some more points about Tailor’s Shears: 

  • Over time scissors grow to have idiosyncrasies like their owners. Old scissors will sometimes appear blunt to anyone else who picks them up because it is only in a certain sweet spot on the blade that they actually cut, and then they work perfectly. 
  • It is important to note that you should get the right weight of scissors for you. In general you will work faster with longer blades that are able to cut more in each cut, but they will only be suitable for you if they are not too heavy for your hands and wrist and you are able to use them for hours at a time. This is why ideally you should buy scissors from a shop where you can test the weight yourself as a shorter length may be more suitable for you.
  • Another point to remember when cutting with scissors is to never open and close them back and forth with out actually cutting through fabric, as this is bad for the blades. Dropping scissors on their point is also especially bad as it can blunt that useful pointy tip and often throw the whole scissors out of alignment. 
  • And you should never use your fabric scissors to cut pattern paper or vice versa. Cutting cardboard with your tailoring shears is a quick way to blunt the blade.

Tailoring shears are especially useful for cutting solid, rigid fabrics such as suiting wool, coat fabrics, cotton drills and denims. A quick and simple method is to chalk the outline of your patterns onto the fabric and then cut with tailors shears. This works best for fabrics that won’t shift and move as you try to cut them.

When you are cutting right into corners or cutting notches you will never make mistakes if you avoid having the point of the scissors past the point that you want to cut. For example trying to cut a small notch using the centre of the scissor blades instead of the tip could mean that if you accidentally press harder than you intend then you will cut too far into the fabric. You are always better to cut into notches, corners and buttonholes by smaller amounts first as you can always cut again to go further, but you cannot easily mend cut fabric.


Rotary Cutters and Self Healing Mat from Olfa.

Another method of cutting out is using what are known as rotary cutters or roller cutters. These metal blades come in different sizes and are easily replaceable within their plastic handle, so although they get blunt faster than tailoring shears they are also quick and easy to replace. Roller cutters are a great method for fabric that wants to slide around easily such as silks and jerseys since the blade simply rolls across the top, whereas scissors would need to work from both the top and bottom, lifting the fabric from the table. The most common size blade is the 45mm, though some people prefer having a smaller blade on hand for notching seam allowances and tricky corners.

Roller cutters work best when paired with a self healing mat. This gives you a base underneath your cut work that will protect the surface beneath from any damage. The gridlines marked will also help to keep your grainlines square. Be aware of pins when you are using your roller cutter! Once you have rolled over a pin, or edge of a mat you will likely have nicked your blade and will now miss out on cutting a few threads on every rotation of the blade, meanign that the blade will need to be replaced.

Roller cutters are especially useful for cutting strips of bias binding in fabrics such as silk georgette as you can layer your georgette over a sheet of paper, pinning it so it is square. Next layer a second layer of paper over the top with diagonal lines drawn on at a 45 degree angle at the width that you require for your bias strips. Pin through all 3 layers to secure the georgette, then you can simply roller cut along the lines with your roller blade and metal ruler. This will result in perfectly cut bias strips.

Some people find rotary cutters quite addictive but they can be slow going once they get blunt or if they are not suitable for the fabric. Once the blade is too blunt and you don’t have a replacement blade then you will be far better to switch back to a good pair of sharp scissors, than to try persevering with the rotary cutter.

Images of Tailoring Shears from Niwaki» and William Whiteley & Sons»

Images of Rotary Cutters and Self Healing Mats from Olfa»

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