Today we’re going to look at how self healing mats work. I personally love using my self healing cutting mat for sewing and pattern making. In fact when I had my fashion studio in London, my entire 2 metre long cutting table was covered in these mats to protect my working surface!
It made life a lot easier when it came to cutting out either my paper patterns or fabrics!
Now that my working area has been reduced to a small sewing room, I have only one extra large mat (its A2 and it MASSIVE) and an A4 sized one for cutting out those tiny pieces.
So, if you’ve ever wanted to learn about cutting mats – including how the self healing kind work! – this article is for you!
Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you make a purchase at no further cost to you.
What are Cutting Mats Used For?
Cutting mats have many uses! They are used in many crafts, but for those of us who make our own clothes, they’re used for cutting paper patterns and fabrics.
Using a cutting mat will help to prevent damage to your work surface but they’re also better for your blades too!
They’re used as a cutting board alongside a rotary cutter or other cutting tools like a craft knife / cutting blade to:
- Cut straight lines using the usual metric and imperial grid lines and a long metal ruler / yard stick
- Cut around pattern pieces on fabric for speedier cutting out
A lot of people use them when cutting and sewing leather at home and quilters also use them too!
Are All Cutting Mats Self-Healing?
Not all mats are self-healing. Some are made from a hard material, like polyurethane plastic, which can be self-healing but generally arent, and over time will be unusable.
Others are made from glass which are heavier than the self healing kind.
How Do Self Healing Cutting Mats Work?
Self healing cutting mats work by ‘absorbing’ the cut from a blade. This is possible because the mat is made from many tiny particles that are pressed to create a solid surface – one that is not rigid like glass or hard plastic – so that the ‘cut’ of the blade can be absorbed amongst those particles.
If you were to run a blade over and over in the same place on a self healing mat, you’ll see that the damage becomes more pronounced as the cut makes more of an impact each time.
Do Self-Healing Mats Work With All Kinds Of Blades?
Yes! You can use rotary cutters, craft knives and other blades with a mat, but be aware that as these blades get blunt, they will cause more damage to your self healing mat than a sharp blade.
What is a Self-healing Cutting Mat Made Of?
Mats that ‘self heal’ are made from multiple layers of materials. Usually this is PVC.
My ‘La Canilla’ self healing mat is made from 5 layers of PVC – 3 layers are new, and two are ‘recycled’ making it a little more sustainable than the average mat.
Are Cutting Mats Heat Resistant?
Generally, no, cutting mats are not heat resistant.
While you can get away with some very low heat when desperate, it is generally recommended that heat is not applied to a cutting mat as you will risk melting or warping them.
How Should You Store A Cutting Mat?
Some people like to roll them up but this will actually damage your mat! The best way to store them is either by laying them flat – this is why I keep mine on my worktable most of the time! – or you can store them upright *if* they are fully supported in such a way that they cannot bend and become warped.
Can You Repair A Self-Healing Cuttting Mat?
If your cutting mat is no longer ‘healing’ itself, it has probably become dry and brittle.
Try placing it flat, in a sink of cool water for 30 minutes to help hydrate it. If your mat is too big for a sink, then soak it in the bathtub, but be careful it doesn’t warp.
Can A Warped Cutting Mat Be Fixed?
If your mat is warped, it’s trickier to fix than time in a cool bath!
Follow the above solution but use warm soapy water so that your cutting mat is warmed up, and then dry it off, pop it on a flat worktable and cover with as many heavy books as you can.
You’ll want to leave in place for at least 24 hours!
How To Care For A Self Healing Cutting Mat
To prolong the life of your mat, you’ll want to care for it. Here are five tips to help:
- Make sure to rotate the mat when you’re using it so that you’re not cutting over and over in the same spot.
- Try not to cut with lots of pressure! If you’re having to press down hard with your blade to cut your fabric, then your blade is blunt and will cause damage to your mat. Change your blade instead!
- Clean your mat. I soak mine in warm soapy water to help ‘hydrate’ them!
- I did mention it already but the sharpness of your blade will have a big impact on the health of your cutting mat! Chnage them as often as you can!
- Prevent damage to your mat by keeping it away from sources of heat and as flat as possible too!
When Should You Replace a Cutting Mat?
Knowing when to replace your mat is easy – you’ll start noticing that the cut lines are no longer ‘closing up’ despite soaking it as recommended above!
Other ways to know your mat needs replacing is when you find that your blades are getting blunter faster or that your fabric is getting damaged when cutting it.
So, what are the best self healing mats?
3 Best Self Healing Cutting Mats
The ‘best’ mat will really depend on what you plan to use it for. Some mats are quite thin and will not last as long as those that are made from more layers which are therefore naturally thicker and longer lasting.
You’ll also want to consider the measuring grid – some mats come with imperial measurements, others with metric, and a fair few are reversible with one on either side!
You can buy a relatively decent self-healing mat at most art stores or haberdashery shops, but here are the 3 best self-healing cutting mats at A2 size, that I have personally used!
1. La Canilla
I love the self healing cutting mat from La Canilla (<– the big one in the above photo!). It is one of the more expensive available, but it has definitely been worth the cost for me!
Benefits of the La Canilla:
- 3mm thickness makes it longer lasting
- Gridlines are in centimetres and inches
- A2 size (60cm x 45cm / 23″ x 16.5″) so plenty big enough for larger work
This cutting mat from WorkLion is very similar to my preferred one, but comes in a bigger variety of shapes and sizes.
It has the same 3mm thickness, but it is more expensive than the Canilla and not quite as sustainable but does a very good job at staying put and healing!
Learn more about the WorkLion cutting mat.
Finally, we have the Fiskars mat. This is a well known brand, and so was one of the first I tried, but it’s actually only half as thick as the La Canilla and WorkLion mats but more costly.
For that reason alone I would suggest looking at the other two mats first!
Are Smaller Cutting Mats Worth It?
I have made sure only to recommend the best A2 sized large cutting mats, as I do feel that these are the bare minimum you’ll want if you plan on using them for cutting out sewing pattern pieces! If you wanted a bigger cutting mat, then you could also have a custom cutting mat made to your required dimensions!
However, just because I love the larger mats doesn’t mean to say that a smaller mat has no value. I actually have an A4 sized version – it’s a generic nameless double sided mat from the local Dutch hobby store! – that I have nearby for those smaller pieces.
These are great for:
- Patch pockets
- Collar pieces
- Quiting pieces
And much more besides.
But, you don’t need to spend a fortune on these smaller ones. You can usually pick up a generic one for less than $10 / £8 at art stores and haberdashery shops!
This 6″ x 8″ Olfa mat is a self-healing rotary mat and is small, portable and strong.
This 8″ x 8″ Fiskars mat also has a self healing surface, is portable and makes cutting at different angles easy as it’s a rotary cutting mat!
Final Thoughts On Buying And Using A Cutting Mat
Not everyone will find value in a having a cutting mat. If you prefer to cut out fabric and paper patterns with scissors over a rotary blade, then it would be pointless buying one for yourself.
However, if you do find yourself often cutting smaller pieces of fabric out – whether for smaller sections of a garment, or because you’re getting into quilting – then a mat that self-heals is probably a great addition to your sewing tools!
Consider what kind of grid markings you need – if you work in metric and imperial, then a double sided one is your friend, otherwise grab a single sided mat.
And finally, do consider the thickness. For some serious cutting needs, you’ll want to go with 3mm thickness for better results and alonger-lasting mat.
If you’re looking for a cutting mat because you want to start sewing leather, check out my tutorial on how to sew leather on a home sewing machine!
Eve Tokens (aka The Creative Curator) is a fashion designer, creative pattern cutter and sewing pattern designer.
Eve graduated with a 2:1 in Fashion Design from the University of The Creative Arts in the UK, has a BTEC diploma in Creative Pattern Cutting, a Foundation Degree in Art & Design from Wimbledon College of Art and gained extensive experience in the fashion industry by interning and freelancing for London based fashion brands – Hardy Amies, Roland Mouret, Peter Pilotto and others.
As well as running her own small sustainable fashion brand, Eve has more than 25 years experience sewing and making clothes for herself and family members.