How to Decide Between Scissors and Rotary Cutter

Should you use a scissors or rotary cutter in your sewing projects? Learn about the pros, cons and features of sewing scissors, shears, and rotary cutters. This article focuses on the beginning sewer purchasing sewing tools for the first time, and more experienced sewers deciding whether to add rotary cutter to their tools.


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    Decide your method of cutting.
    • "Scissors" refers to the cutting tool in which both handles are the same size. "Shears" have two sizes of handle holes -- one hole is bigger to accommodate multiple fingers. (In this article, we use the two terms interchangeably, as do most people.) Scissors are versatile: you can use scissors to cut out garment sewing patterns, to trim excess fabric from seam allowances, and to snip loose threads. They make easy work of cutting curves, and since the human body has curves, most clothing patterns include them. Use scissors to "quick mark" darts and notches in sewing patterns. Scissors cut through threads as well as fabric, so they're handy to keep by your sewing machine. It does take some skill to use a scissors well, but it’s not that hard to master. Scissors can be used anywhere, including while holding a piece on your lap. 8" shears is the most common choice for most sewing tasks, because they create long stable cuts and fit adult hands. Left-handed scissors are available, and worth the investment for lefties.
    • Rotary cutters can be quick and easy. Long straight lines are suited for rotary cutters, such as quilting strips, pillows, curtains, long straight hems and side seams in garments. It can be easier to cut many layers of fabric with a rotary cutter. Some sewers who have issues with arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome experience less discomfort when using. Beginners may find a rotary cutter fast to use (although experienced sewers cut equally fast with a scissors). You must plan ahead to use a rotary cutter, and you can't cut just anywhere. You must have 1. Rotary cutter, 2. Cutting mat, 3. Replacement blades and 4. Ruler. The cutting mat is placed under the fabric to avoid damaging your flooring or table. The original blades will eventually become dull and can't be sharpened, so budget for replacement blades. Most people also use a ruler when using a rotary cutter, so as you can see, some investment is required for a rotary cutter "system." Finally, it's easy to go past your mark with rotary cutters; although this can also happen with scissors, it's less likely.
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    Purchase only a good pair of 8" fabric shears if you are either just starting out or on a budget. You don't need the most expensive pair, but do stay away from the cheapest model. Fiskars, Mundial and Gingher are good brands that range from $17 to $40. Fabric scissors or shears are an investment; you will come to love them, and they will give you many years of use. You might wait to determine what kinds of sewing you prefer before purchasing a rotary cutter, cutting mat, replacement blades and ruler.


  • Ask at local sewing stores about scissor sharpening services. Scissors will eventually become dull, but sharpening will restore them over and over, at as little as $6 per sharpening (again, check on prices in your local area).
  • Use fabric scissors only on sewing pattern tissues and fabric -- they are not meant to be used on paper. Store scissors where they will not be used as general scissors by the other members of your household. Use a permanent marker or tape a label with "Mom's sewing" or "Fabric only" on the scissors handle.


  • If you use a rotary cutter, also purchase a cutting board to avoid cutting into your table, floor or carpet. Take care in handling the replacement blades that rotary cutters occasionally require.
  • Scissors and rotary cutters can cause injury. Cover when not in use and store away from children and pets.

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Categories: Sewing