Preparing fabrics strips for rug hooking

Since both hooking and proddy techniques have to begin by preparing  materials ready for use, I will explore a few ideas to make this task easier.  You can manage entirely with any sharp pair of scissors but do avoid using these for cutting paper or they won’t stay sharp for long.  Some synthetics will also blunt keen cutting edges so I reserve an old pair for such use. (Knife grinders and scissor sharpeners are not always easy to find but some robust scissors will sharpen up fairly well even with the gadgets made  for home use)  I find long blades help and most of the scissors supplied by Rag Art are spring loaded so that there is less strain on the hand when a large amount of cutting has to be done.


Which way should I cut the material?

Strips are strongest if cut on the straight of the grain. If you have new cloth this will be parallel with the selvedge.  At first, this direction may not be so easy to determine when you are using recycled fabric as you may have a jumble of irregular shapes and sizes.  Usually unuseable fabric from seams, welts, pockets and facings is cut out and discarded and the good fabric washed and ironed before cutting.  This is good practice not only because it ensures it is perfectly clean. (One wearing only could attract moth) but it also tightens the fibres slightly which reduces fraying,  This is particularly true for woollen fabrics.  Knits can be lightly felted by washing on a hot wash ( with a heavy towel or plimsole to agitate the load).  If for example you have a sleeve to cut up, fold it in half from shoulder to wrist and the fold line will be on the straight of the grain. This sounds complicated but you will very soon get your eye in. If you were measuring your bust/chest you would place the tape measure around the body and you DONT want to cut knitwear in that direction as it might unravel.   Again you want to cut from neck to hem or waist to hem on skirt or trousers to be  ‘ on the straight of the grain’ or strongest direction.

Using a rotary Cutter

Rotary Cutter

Rotary Cutter

Rag rugcrafters have now speeded up this cutting task by using rotary cutters. With the help of a wide ruler with exactly spaced line markings and a self healing cutting mat the strips are quickly and accurately prepared.  In fact it is very tempting to cut up too much before you have tested  a strip to see if the width gives the effect you want.  If you cut it slightly too wide it will be difficult to work with and make your work lumpy.  Too narrow and it will tend to be less secure.  This could waste  your time and materials.  Even experienced hookers try out new fabrics before cutting too much. You can’t stick it together again!!

The cutter Rag Art provides is made by Kai in Japan.  We had to persevere to get hold of it but after 8 years of stocking this tool are continually pleased with it.  It has a rubber handle thus comfortable to use but it is it’s safety feature that has provided a real success story.  There is a locked position but even when this is released the blade does not advance until pressure is applied by pressing it down onto the cutting mat.  As soon as you reduce this pressure the blade is protected  again.  Thus, even if the tool gets hidden under fabric it is safe.  Some models by other manufacturers require you to remember to switch the blade into the safety position every time you use it.  The Kai blade is protected automatically.

Like everything else there is a knack to using a rotary cutter. It looks so simple that people can be very put off it they don’t find it easy to make a clean cut on their first attempt.  You might be lucky but if you have problems check the points below.  Wool is the easiest to cut and synthetics the most difficult so I suggest you cut your teeth using wool and don’t feel daft about asking an experienced friend so that you too get the knack.  Start with a small piece of fabric and have success  with short cuts before trying a longer length.  The fabric is trapped under the ruler to hold it still, usually with the left hand while the right hand guides the cutter by running it along the ruler.


1.Put your cutting board on a surface that is not too high.  This will depend on your height but you want to be able to swing your weight over it.  Try out some different heights and this will make sense.

2.Make sure the fabric to be cut is not wrinkled. Often it is less slippery and easier to hold down firmly with your ruler if the material is folded in half with the most slippery surface on the inside.

3. Always push the cutter away from you. With a craft knife the opposite direction is more usual.

4. Start with cutter with its flat side against the ruler and a little way from the fabric so that you cut cleanly over the edge.

5. Cut steadily and deliberately swinging your weight over the cutter and listen to the sound it makes. You will very quickly learn to recognise when it has cut cleanly.

6. Once you are ready to make longer cuts the best tip to avoid the ruler slipping is to keep the ruler hand level with the cutter hand. This requires you to move your ruler hand once or twice while the cutting is in progress.  Again this sounds tricky but it will soon make sense.

7. Some rulers have rough patches on the reverse side which helps grip the fabric.  If not you can purchase small adhesive discs of sandpaper that do help.

8. Some people are a little nervous of these sharp cutters at first.  You can purchase handles with suction grips to hold the ruler while you gain confidence. However, you will soon develop the knack and save many hours with the scissors.

9. The popular cutting mats will protect your furniture and magically do self heal.  To care for them long term they are best stored flat and away from direct heat.  Do not be tempted to iron over them, rest your coffee cup on them or leave them in a hot car or in the sun.  If they get a bit scruffy there is a small tool that will rub the surface and bring it up like new again.

10. SIZE of strip. Usually we cut these 30 cms or more and the width will depend on the thickness of material and mesh size of your base fabric.  as a guide if using a general purpose hook start with 1cm (3/8″) then adjust as described above.  Try it out before cutting too much.


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