Worn Out Rotary Cutting Mats and Rulers

As quilters in modern times, I think we are totally spoiled by the nifty tools of the trade. I love my rotary cutter, mats, and rulers just as much as I love my sewing machines. I confess I have worn a few of them out over the years. Wearing one out lets you try the newer, sometimes improved, versions. But it creates disposal issues as well.

Rotary Cutter Blades
Rotary CutterThe first things that I wore out were blades, of course. That was when I realized that one needs to be just as careful when disposing of blades as a nurse is when tossing a needle. Unattended blades can cut the garbage bag, or the garbage handler. They can sift down in garbage trucks and wedge in weird places. Or local hauler sent out a flyer a few years ago showing pictures of unidentified things that had been found wedged in their dumping gears. I quickly recognized a rotary cutting blade among them and hoped that it wasn’t mine.

Rotary blade in caseSince that time, I have always stored my used blades in the plastic case that my new ones come in. When all the new ones are used, I trash the old ones securely in the plastic shell, which I actually over-wrap in some scrap cardboard. Our local metal recycler doesn’t want them for pretty much the same reason as the trash collectors–they get in the works! So off to the landfill they go, encased in plastic that will last hundreds of years. What an odd thought, all those pretty circles of metal sitting forever in the ground, and it seems so wasteful of precious materials.

I tried several ruler sizes before deciding that the basic 6×24″ was my favorite. I have some smaller ones, and a couple of square ones that are well used. But I have worn all the lines off of my oldest 6×24″ ruler. Only a few traces remain now, but it had both yellow and black lines at one time.

omnigrid rulersA ruler without markings is still a useful straight-edge, so I have kept it. When chalking out large grid lines, it will be useful (but for REALLY large ones I use a broom handle!) Many times you only want a ruler for drawing a straight line. It proved to be a great paper-tearing edge when wrapping Christmas gifts too.

But in quilting, those lines are my main cutting guide, so I need to be able to see them. Most quilters know, the lines on the ruler are usually more important than the lines on the mat. As my eyes have aged, I am even more aware that lines that are easy to read are a requirement. The original idea of the two-color lines was for universal use. On a dark fabric, the light lines showed, but the dark lines were important on a light fabric. There were a few particularly busy prints that are hard to see despite the two colors.

Frosted RulerWhich left me standing in the store comparing rulers. I was delighted to find one that featured crisp lines on a slightly frosted surface. I wandered the store with it in hand, testing it on several pretty bolts of various colors (Yes. I have been known to annoy store owners.) Not only did the surface ‘stick’ on the fabric better, but it made the lines easy to see on even the busiest print. I bought a better ruler, not just another ruler!

If I was not saving my old one for odd uses, I would have to toss it in the trash. No one seems to want to recycle hard plastics. Yet. We can hope!

Cutting Mats
Eventually I wore out a cutting mat. As a new quilter, I was over-attached to the lovely lines on the mat. I wore grooves in places, way beyond what one of those mat-cleaning tools could smooth out. As I learned to depend on the lines on my ruler more than the lines on the board, my usage improved, and my next mat lasted several years before being retired.

I used to wonder why they did not print them on both sides. Indeed, some do now, but over the years I have learned to use that blank side a ton, and extend the life of my cutting mat. Actually, after squaring my fabric up, I tend to use the blank side more than the print side now. Or I intentionally lay fabric on angles and cut using the ruler for the guide, avoiding the lines on the mat altogether.

Rotary Cutter MatsBy the time I hit my second worn-out mat, I was feeling some stress about simply throwing it away. I searched the Olfa and Dritz sites for info on recycling the mats. I found nothing, so I wrote to them. I got lovely replies back saying that mats should last a long time (well, they DID! Several years of constant cutting . . . I am a prolific cutter, I even cut for others.) I learned that the mats are made of a form of PVC plastic similar to plumbing pipes. They suggested that I contact my community recycling center for disposal ideas. I had donated my first worn-out mat to a paper-crafting friend, who is less particular about snags, but eventually it will end up in a landfill I suspect.

Since I do not like the notion of cutting mats and other plastics filling landfills for a thousand years, I did talk to both the recycling and the re-use centers. Locally, our recycling center is not accepting PVC, so they told me to put it in the garbage. The reuse center came up with ideas like cutting them down for coasters, or using them as mats under plants. I suspect that cute coaster made of old cutting mats are in short supply, and probably wind up in that garbage heap in the end anyway.

For now, I use my most recently well-sliced mat to protect my dining room table when doing small projects. When basting quilts on the table, I slide it along under so a needle that slips pokes the mat, not the table.

The Future for Recycling of Quilting Tools
landfillI want to be a good steward of natural resources, and not depend on landfills for these items, so I hope we can find some solutions for disposing of them in the long run, as well as all the other household plastics we accumulate. There have been large experiments in recycling PVCs, but even the largest one I found in Germany seems to have been discontinued. My local recycler says it has to do with the cost of processing vs. the demand for the new form of the item. While plastic soda bottles have been converted to polyester carpets and fleece fabrics for some time, many other items just wind up in the trash.

I am torn on where to lobby on these issues. The recycling agencies only work with things that are in demand. Many mat manufacturers now print on both sides, which might extend the lifetime of a mat for many quilters. I find myself wondering if the people who make the mats could one day recycle them into new mats. If any of you have found workable solutions please share with us all! Indeed, the collective power of all us quilters might be a loud enough voice to drive someone into action on this.

But I do not want to backtrack to scissors either. In some parts of life I can make a conscious choice to avoid plastics, or plastic packaging. This does not seem to be one of those areas. I will use my mats and rulers until they are so grooved or the lines so worn off that their accuracy is gone.Needle and thread line copyright The Curious Quilter at WordPress dot comYou might also like: The Invention of the Rotary Cutter Changed Quilting
Great tips on using a rotary cutter correctly: Rotary Cutting Tutorial from The Purl Bee

Needle and thread line copyright The Curious Quilter at WordPress dot comWorn Out Rotary Cutting Mats and Rulers© 2013 by The Curious Quilter, thecuriousquilter.net, maryeoriginals.com. All rights reserved.


About thecuriousquilter

Quilter, sewer, writer, gardener, mother, sister, friend, always learning, always curious.
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19 Responses to Worn Out Rotary Cutting Mats and Rulers

  1. Susan says:

    You raise some interesting questions. I haven’t had to recycle used blades. A friend keeps resharpening them for me for years. I’ve collected them from people at classes and a friend who won’t re-use. I get 30 or so sharpened at a time and re-use them all again. He charges me $1.50 each, so that’s a lot cheaper than buying new ones, and I do it over and over. I do save the plastic cases, too. It’s how I mail them to the man who sharpens them. Mats – In the past I’ve cut them down to fit inside a file folder and taken them to classes for small pieces, or to work at a bee or something like that. I usually re-use more than recycle.

    • Peggy Topping says:

      I realize your comments were from time ago, but I was looking for info on sharoening blades. How did you find someone to sharpen your blades and how is it done? Is it like sharpening knives. What tool or machine is used in the sharpening process? Thank you for any assistance.

      • Sharpening and reusing blades via a commercial sharpening tool my buy you a little more use. But the design of the blades limits how many times you can do that before the blade gets too rough. I move my used blades to paper crafting where the re sharpened ones fare better than on fabric.

  2. Marilyn H. says:

    I saw an idea once for using the thin, “disposable” vegetable cutting mats as stiff bottoms on the inside of tote bags. I think the the cutting mats would be even better, forming a very sturdy bottom. You could even cover them with fabric so the rough areas would not be a problem.

  3. strangemodegirl says:

    I really love the idea of cutting the mats down to use under plants! I have a ton of houseplants and usually buy odd plates at thrift shops to put under them, but I think I will do that when I eventually need to0 replace my cutting mat.
    As for blades, I usually dispose of them as I would old razor blades. I wrap them in a bit of cardboard and then use electrical tape to tape it shut,

  4. Marg says:

    I agree with Marilyn H, use the mats in the bottom of bags, nice and strong, I have previously used old Xrays for the bottom of bags but the mats are heaps strong

  5. Chris says:

    I use the matts cut down by the sewing machine to use the rotary cutter to trim with. Also if you make purses they come in handy for the solid bottoms in the purses. I save a closed container that needles and old blades can fit into like a needle safe for medical fauciltites use. Blades that are dull form fabric can be used to cut paper.

  6. Nancy says:

    Can anyone give me an idea of what cutting tool would cut larger mats into re-usable pieces?

  7. Marge Gordon says:

    I recycle my used mats in my husbands workshop. They make great counter covers and stand up to his abuse. When he’s done with them we plan to use them to edge the garden, at least give it a try, something I thought of this sumer. And blades, I keep them in a large pill bottle and use as weights when I need them, holding down patterns, paper weight when wrapping, 100s of uses.

    • Rendi AMes says:

      I really like your idea Marge. I don’t have many used blades, but in time that would be better than throwing them away. I really like the idea of resharping them. I have a small one I use at home, but it isn’t like sending them to a pro to have them sharpened.

  8. Lisa says:

    I’ve used old mats, cut up, for the bottom stabilizer in flat bottomed bags I make…I just cut to fit, dull the edges (aka ‘have the kids take them out and rub them on the sidewalk” lol) and encase in fabric matching the lining.

  9. carol kumer says:

    Boy, I’m with you on the newest frosted rulers…..I love my new rulers is is so easy to see the lines…I’m in the going to replace my old rulers with the new frosted ones.

  10. nanayane says:

    🙂 THANK YOU for not wanting to fill the landfills with plastic and blades! I have a blade sharpener so very rarely do I throw out one…but I too put the old one in the plastic container the new one comes in! packaging tape the blank out of it to keep everyone’s hand safe…the mats…I use them till they’re dead then pass them on to be used by puzzle makers and artist types…they also work great for matchbox cars…a few sharpies and you have a highway system on a perfectly usable surface! the big one’s make a great surface for any play activity, messy or clean…oh…they work good under office type chairs too… 🙂

  11. Lorraine Anderson says:

    I used my old mats on my sewing tables to protect the surface from pins, I used one cut to size to place between fronts and backs of garments to pin appliques or pockets on

  12. Sandra D says:

    What great ideas! I recently bought a new one and designated the old one for cutting batting since the fuzzies want to stay stuck in the cutting grooves. I keep my old blades in a container marked “old” until I can try sharpening them. I also use the old ones to cut paper with. I have yet to dispose of them. I put bent pins, broken machine needles and Xacto knife blades in an old prescription bottle that I re-labeled “Caution, sharp tips” and when it’s full I’ll use duct tape and re-label the duct tape so people will know it contains sharp objects. Glad I found this posting.

  13. Laura in Washington says:

    Not sure if this will be new info to many of you but in the pursuit of extending a mats life i was told a fee years back to Crochet a simple dish scrubber with tulle or organza to use as a routine clean up of mat after each cutting session to get all the fuzziness out of the grooves made cutting so that the mat can heal. I do this occasionally and am always so pleased I try to make it a part of the routine. The second bit of advice from the same online source is to wash the mats periodically in luke warm water with a very mild soap. This actually saved my big mat that eas warped from the car on a hot day. I had planned on trashing it as beyond hope from the warp but having been less than a year old i searched for help. I washed the mat and then on a warm sunny day i laid the damp mat on a freshly swept sin warmed bit of the porch and placed a large piece of glass on top to aid in keeping it flat and this mat is still my everyday mat with no sign of the once warped nightmare!

  14. leslie says:

    In case you haven’t come across it yet, I wanted to mention that Fiskars is making an “eco” mat that is advertised as being 100% recyclable now.

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