Sunday, September 23, 2007

Rotary Cutters and Chocolate: The Secret Connection!

Who would have thought that a tasty chocolate bar could have helped inspire the creation of an indispensable quilting tool? But, it did!

In 1956, Mr. Y. Okada was just a young man working in a Japanese printing company. And at that time, workers in printing companies used either razor blades and standard knives to cut paper. But, Okada noted, workers spent a lot of time either sharpening blades, or when the blades were finally used up, replacing them. So one day, as he ate lunch, Okada tried to think of ways to reduce that time and improve efficiency.

Now, as you know, some chocolate bars (my favorites included!) are molded into squares that can be snapped off into smaller bite-sized pieces, and Okada's lunch had just such a treat that particular day! As Okada snapped off pieces of his chocolate bar, it occurred to him that a cutting blade might also be made into similar segments. A blade could be made with multiple cutting edges that the worn edge could be "snapped off" just like a chocolate bar, thereby exposing a sharp new cutting point.

With this insight, Okada and his colleagues founded a company to manufacture these new type of blades and called the company OLFA, which is a Japanese word meaning "breaking a blade." Ever since that time, OLFA has gained and held the market for premium cutters, knives, and blades. And, in 1979, OLFA developed the first rotary cutter for quilters, making cutting fabric faster and more accurate.

OLFA also produces a self-healing mat, the rotary cutter's companion, that makes it possible for quilters and sewers to make clean, accurate cuts through multiple layers of fabric. (I can cut up to six layers of cotton with mine!) And quilters, using their natural resourcefulness, quickly extrapolated the concept and developed quick-cutting techniques upon which more than one company in the quilting industry is based.

Essentially, a rotary cutter is a rolling razor blade that looks like a high-tech pizza cutter. You can use it to cut fabric into strips, shapes, and pieces. The blade in OLFA rotary cutters are made from tungsten, which ensures a sharp, durable edge for reliable and accurate cutting. But one of my favorite features of OLFA rotary cutters has to be the safety guide that can quickly and easily be operated with my thumb. I use the safety shield every time I put the cutter to a piece of fabric (and so should you!)

OLFA makes rotary cutters in many sizes: from tiny (18mm) for the smallest projects like miniatures with tight corners or curves, to the largest (60 mm)—the size I use. Furthermore, rotary cutters come in two basic designs: original and ergonomic. And both are currently on the market.

The Ergonomic Rotary Cutter, also in several sizes, features a unique handle which provides a comfortable grip for the user as it has been shaped to fit the hand. If you happen to have arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, or any other repetitive stress conditions, this would be the cutter for you! You can also use the locking feature to allow the blade to lock open for comfort or to close for safety. This one is so easy on your hands that, after you've used a few times, you will abandon your other cutters in preference to this one.

As far as the mats go, OLFA rotary mats are self-healing and durable, which means that you can make multiple cuts of fabric without dulling the blade or slicing through the mat. They can be used on both sides and are marked with a one-inch grid to help you measure and line the fabric up on both the straight or cross grain.

We use rotary cutters and mats every day and couldn't do without them! If you ever bought fabric from us, or received it in the mail, you can be assured that we cut it with our favorite and well-loved rotary cutters. With over 20 years of supporting quilters behind them, OLFA says they are committed to providing products to quilters before they even know they need them. But personally, I’m waiting for OLFA to provide more time in any given day in which to sew!


Lindah said...

Oh, I with you on that: MORE time to sew!
Interesting story on the OLFA company. Somehow, I had always thought they were a Scandinavian company. Not that it makes any difference. I put a new blade in my ergonomic OLFA cutter this afternoon and away we went! Cut like butter.

Susan said...

How cool! I too thought they were a Scandinavian company.