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You know what doesn’t get enough credit? The non-tippable wine glass. Seriously, what an amazing invention. Definitely a must-have for your crafting surface of choice.
You know what else doesn’t get enough credit? Cutting mats! Cutting mats are even more essential to your crafting surfaces than non-tippable wine glasses (I can’t believe I said it, but I did.) If you use a rotary cutter, you probably use a cutting mat All. The. Time. And you probably don’t even thank it. But it does a lot of good work for you.
That’s why you have to make sure you pick a high-quality cutting mat, and treat it right. Get ready for Cutting Mats 101, a very important quilting course with me, Professor Suzy (but you can just call me Suzy. And, if at any point you feel the urge to stand on your cutting mat while nobly saying, "Oh Captain, My Captain," I'll accept that as well. But, yeah, Suzy is fine.).
What are the Best Cutting Mats for Quilting?
Plastic vs. Self-Healing
It depends. When you are looking to buy a cutting mat, there are a number of things to think about: material, size, usage… You have some options. Let’s talk about ‘em.
Cutting mats come in many shapes and sizes… and prices. You can definitely find cutting mats for as low as $10, and if this is where your budget is at, know that these mats will protect your table or desktop, but if it’s made with hard plastic, it will come with a price.
When you use a rotary blade on a hard plastic cutting mat, you leave a small groove in. It might not seem like a big deal at first, but over time, all these grooves add up, and can affect your cutting accuracy, or worse, snag your fabric! Nooo!
This is why, if at all possible, you should invest in a self-healing cutting mat. You’ll dish out a few more dollars, but in return, you’ll be getting your own little piece of magic. Self-healing cutting mats are actually made with a surface that closes up after being cut with a blade. It really does self-heal! These mats are also a tiny bit squishy, so they hold your fabric in place a little better, making rotary cutting a breeze.
Large vs. Small
Now let’s talk sizes. When it comes to cutting mats, bigger isn’t always better. Sometimes, but not always. The main thing you want to think about is portability. Are you a big vacationer? Do you do a lot of quilting in sewing groups, at other people’s houses, or in a class setting?
If you answered “yes, I need a vacation right now, and my quilting project is coming,” then you may prefer a smaller cutting mat, like an 18” x 24” mat. It’s a great size for travel, and won’t need its own seat on the plane.
If you’re going for both size and portability, the largest portable table quilting cutting mat you’ll find is probably the 24” x 36”. It’s big. It’s bad. It’ll guide your rotary cutter to infinity and beyond. Portable cutting mats are handy if you’re not always quilting on the same surface all the time, or if you like to rotate your cutting mat, and slide it out of the way when you’re not using it.
Here are some official Professor Suzy Recommendations:
5 Best Cutting Mats
Small, Portable Cutting Mats
- I have had this cutting mat for years. I like to keep it in my lap while sewing so I can quickly snip dog ears, trim blocks and iron without having to keep getting up and sitting down.
- Be sure not to accidentally iron on the cutting mat side. I did that a couple times and now my Cut ‘n Press has a bit of warp to it.
- Note: This is not a self-healing mat, so I wouldn't recommend this being your main cutting surface.
- I recently reviewed one of these foldable cutting mats so you can see the smaller 12” x 17” version here.
- The curving seam allows this mat to completely fold in half and then pop back into place without an obnoxious seam induced “dead zone.” You can cut anywhere on the mat and your rotary cutter won’t get snagged by the fold.
Standard, Larger Cutting Mats
- This is my standard go-to cutting mat for quilting. It’s large enough so that I can cut yardage easily and I also is portable so I can throw it on the floor to trim a quilt.
- My exact setup includes this kitchen island from IKEA with a 25” x 40” piece of plywood on top (a guy at Home Depot cut it for me) and this cutting mat perfectly placed on top of that. It may not be the best cutting table, but it’s the perfect height (so I don’t have to bend down and make my already bad posture worse), the perfect size for my small studio and has shelves for storage.
- 3mm thick, 3-ply high-tech polymer material - translation: indestructible. This professional-grade cutting mat is large enough for you to cut a standard yard of quilt-weight cotton (36” x 42”), fully laid out. Since you will be able to see all of the fabric at once, it's perfect for fussy cutting as well as large scale projects!
Some Not-So-Secret Quilting Cutting Mat Tips to Remember:
Be nice to your cutting mat! I mean, yes, it’s made to have blades run across it all the time so it’s going to take some abuse, but there are some ways you can make your cutting mat’s life a little easier.
- Don’t use a dull rotary cutter. This is a good rule of thumb anyway, since it’s pretty annoying for both you and your fabric when you get to the “sawing” stage of a dull rotary blade, but that same back-and-forth motion can cause grooves in your mat. There are some wounds even magic mats can’t bounce back from.
- Rotate your mat. You may notice that you have a few “common cuts,” or lines your rotary blade follows much more often than others. Rotating your mat can prevent you from putting too much wear on a certain area of your mat. Bonus if you have a double-sided mat, so you can flip that baby over!
- Feed your mat. It’s true: cutting mats get hungry… er… thirsty? Self-healing cutting mats need moisture to work their self-healing magic. Soak your cutting mat in warm water to rehydrate it so it can get out there and do its thang.
- Give your mat a happy home. You can prevent your cutting mat from warping by storing it flat, or hanging it on a wall. Never store cutting mats on their edge! It will totally ruin their posture, and end up looking like me. Also: remember that your cutting mat is not an ironing board. 😉
And that’s the end of class today, everybody. Great work. Cutting Mats 101 wouldn’t have been the same without you. This is Professor Suzy, signing off to go take a bubble bath… with my self-healing cutting mat. And a non-tippable glass of wine.
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