Nifty Notions: Cutting Mats
Caring for your Rotary Cutting Mats: Part Two of a series by Judy Hall. To read Part One on Caring for your Rotary Cutter, click here I suspect after reading Part One on Caring for your Rotary Cutter that you have all now either replaced or sharpened the blade in your rotary cutter! Have you ever applied maintenance to your rotary cutting mat? It does need TLC (tender, loving care) on a regular basis too. Never? Most people don’t realize that mats need maintenance at all, but with a few simple tasks your cutting mat will last you for many years longer.
Maintenance is simple really:
- On a regular basis, wipe off any fabric threads and debris from the mat with a special Lint Magnet, Mat Smoother, lint roller or other sponge. A soft brush may also gently scour the mat to remove fibres caught in cutting grooves.
- Soak a soft cloth in a mild, dish washing detergent and warm water, wring out and wipe down the mat.
- Wipe dry before storing.
- Never ever leave your cutting mat in the car after class because the heat may cause it to warp.
- Always store your cutting mat flat, never standing up on its edge. Store under the bed, couch or on your cutting table.
- Keep out of direct sunlight.
- Never iron on it.
- Do not place hot food or hot drinks on it.
- Avoid cutting in the same place consistently.
Keep Clean! Keep Moist! Keep Flat! Definitely NO Heat! Just like your hands may become dry and need moisture regularly, so do your cutting mats. With constant use, fabric may draw moisture from them, thus shortening their life expectancy. I know you’ll be surprised, but Olfa (the guru of rotary cutters and mats) claims that self-healing mats love moisture and that you should soak your cutting mat from time to time. They say ‘to soak your mat in a bathtub or large container, as it must lay flat, for about 15-20 minutes, in a solution of 1/4 cup (60ml) white vinegar to just under 4 litres of cool water, emphasis on cool’. May be a little difficult with large table-top mats!
Not only is a TriSharp Mat Smoother handy for removing fibres from the surface and in grooves of your cutting mat, but also to renew the surface of your cutting mat. Don’t wait until your cutting mat has seen better days from neglect; use a Mat Smoother to revive your mat to prestige condition regularly. Why? Good quality cutting mats suitable for rotary cutters are called “self-healing” as opposed to “hard surface” craft mats. I shudder each time I see someone clutching a new craft mat they have purchased and just hope they do not intend using it for patchwork fabrics. Rotary cutter blades become blunt very quickly if used on a craft mat whereas blades do not dull as fast if used on a self-healing mat. A hard surface craft mat has cutting marks left upon it whereas a self-healing mat is far more durable allowing cuts to become undetectable within minutes. Simply move the Mat Smoother across the cutting mat or in a circular motion, allowing its abrasive surface to smooth out any little grooves or nicks in the mat restoring the damaged surface. If your rotary cutting mat develops an odour, or smells when it is new, wipe the mat with a soft cloth soaked in equal parts of white vinegar and water. Allow the mat to sit for a few minutes then rinse the mat and dry with a towel. So, you have done the unmentionable and now your mat has warped! What can you do? Strictly speaking, nothing; purchase a new one. However, there are a few things you may try first; none brilliantly successful, but it is worth a try and the result will be dependent upon the brand of your mat and how warped it is. I have heard of these remedies to try and then place it underneath a heavy flat surfaced object until it cools.
- Lay it in the hot sun until is it quite warm
- Soak it in very hot water, keeping it flat
- If it is a small mat, place in a low heat oven for a short time
Or, store it in between the mattress and the base of your bed for some time to flatten it again. Now I am not saying that any of the above may work, but it’s worth the experiment before you throw it out. I’ve heard an expert claim that the following works 85% of the time. Lay a piece of heavy plywood on concrete in a very sunny area. Place the warped mat on the plywood with a heavy plate glass (not window glass) over the mat to completely cover same. Leave for an entire day, in the sun and overnight, allowing it to cool. Hopefully, the next morning your mat may be restored. The moral of this dilemma is, of course, treat your cutting mat wisely and look after it so you do not have to try any remedy! What size cutting mat? Depends upon your projects, whether you only cut templates or strips. Most people will appreciate at least two different sizes. A small mat is ideal for cutting template shapes, short strips or taking to class. A medium mat is more versatile and the most popular. If you love miniatures, then there is a tiny 6″ square mat, also ideal for other crafts and fits nicely in a smaller craft bag. As your quilting needs expand you will appreciate the worth of the biggest mat you can purchase to fit your cutting table. Many are available in either Metric or Imperial, the latter being by far the most popular. Olfa’s Cancer Foundation Support PINK cutting mats proved very popular and their Purple Mats tempt many a quilter, simply by their colour! You may also like to consider the value and ease of a rotating cutting mat – the most ergonomic way to cut around templates, remembering that you should always cut away from yourself. I much prefer the square versions rather than the round ones as they are more versatile for squaring up blocks and for cutting strips. Click on the images to see the full picture.
Some cutting mats have a textured surface on one side to prevent slipping on the table as it is being used. If yours doesn’t and you experience this problem, there are non-slip mats to place under your cutting mat.
Most good quality cutting mats can be used on either side, though most only have measurements on one side. Some are two-sided, complete with measurements on both sides, also with two colours; one light-coloured side for cutting darker fabrics and one dark-coloured side making it easier to see lighter fabrics. So much easier!
June Tailor Inc. has a range of different sized cutting mats that have a cushioned, padded ironing surface on the reverse side. Cut ‘n Press come in different sizes including a 6″ square. They also have specialty type cutting mats with template shapes imbedded on the surface such as their Quilting Mate.
Whatever your choice may be, think of quality brands and take good care of your equipment. Excellent tools of trade are a wise investment and will outlast those of lesser value. Products are available from good haberdashery retail outlets or from Punch with Judy, a regular exhibitor at the Craft & Quilt Fairs. Or visit www.punchwithjudy.com.au