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Celebrating 40 years – Olfa’s revolutionary time-saving rotary cutter

by Michael Smith

This year marks the 40th anniversary of when Olfa took a slice through the sewing and quilting industry with the debut of it’s revolutionary, time-saving new product – the 45mm rotary cutter. Hard to believe it’s only been 40 years as it seems to be one of those items which has been around forever.

The original 45mm Olfa Rotary Cutter

I hope you’ll follow along with me this week as I delve into the now-ubiquitous rotary cutter; when to use it; new cutters you may not be familiar with; tips, techniques and products which make cutting easier and more accurate.

In order to truly appreciate just how marvelous an innovation the Olfa rotary cutter was and is, we first need to take a step back in time to see how far we’ve come.

A trip down memory lane…...

When I started sewing in high school in the late ’80s, we learned traditional garment sewing techniques with traditional sewing tools, which were generally more time-consuming and sometimes tedious to use. We cut everything with scissors and ripped our fabric to find the straight of the grain. The term ‘rotary cutter’ wasn’t even mentioned as a time-saving alternative, yet it had already been out in the market for about 10 years.

The quilting industry hadn’t quite exploded yet, either, so few people knew what a rotary cutter was, much less what to do with it. If they did, they may have referred to it as a pizza cutter, as that’s what the original straight-handle Olfa rotary cutter closely resembled. Seems appropriate though, as sewing, quilting and food go hand in hand, don’t they? lol!

In the early ’90s I studied Fashion Design in College but had also discovered the joys of quilt-making thanks to watching Eleanor Burns of Quilt In A Day on PBS. I was also thrilled to discover Sewing with Nancy and her corresponding mail-order catalogue, Nancy’s Notions. This was pre-internet folks, so I had to fill out the order form and mail it in with a cheque or money order as I was too young to have a credit card. I loved seeing all the time-saving notions featured in the catalogue, one of which was the completely new to me Olfa 45mm rotary cutter, aka pizza cutter which Eleanor Burns used on her show. Talk about a light bulb moment!

My first Olfa 45mm Rotary Cutter which I bought from Nancy’s Notions mail order catalogue in 1991.

As you see from the above photo, this is that rotary cutter which I ordered nearly 30 years ago. I don’t remember it’s cost then, but when you buy quality goods you definitely get your money’s worth as that Olfa 45mm rotary cutter is still going strong and has paid for itself in use 100 times over! Yes, I have changed the blade a few times over the years, lol! More on blades later.

Sew many choices! 

Fast forward many years, now Olfa rotary cutters come in many shapes, sizes and grips, so you can get one, or all, for every cutting task.

Olfa 45mm deluxe ergonomic grip handle

Olfa 60mm straight handle rotary cutter

Olfa Quick Change 45mm rotary cutter

Generally, you’d use the 45mm for paper, felt, 4 layers of quilting cotton, a layer or two of thin batting. Use the 60mm for all of the above, as well as 4-8 layers of fabric, thicker lofty batting, etc. Whatever it is you’re cutting, a sharp blade will make all the difference! Ask me how I know! lol!

Join me tomorrow when I’ll discuss the many blade options available for rotary cutters.

Happy Cutting!

This is part 1 of 5 in this series.

Go to part 2: Decorative rotary cutter blades for fun, quick and easy edge finishes

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