Author Archive | Dana Vitek

What is CHA anyway?

Those of us who have been around the crafting block for a while know that the Craft & Hobby Association’s Winter Conference and Trade Show is full of magic and sparkles, but for the new readers among us, here’s a quick overview.
CHA (pronounced C-H-A, each letter, not CHA, like cha-cha-cha) is like the Prom for craft manufacturers. Held twice a year, the Winter Show is the THE place to be for buyers for retail chains, independent craft stores, and media looking for the newest, coolest stuff in crafting. Manufacturers bring out their latest and greatest, the buyers order it, and in a few weeks’ (okay, sometimes months’) time, you, the consumer, can find it on your favorite stores’ shelves. And we here at Craft Critique get to report on it all!
The show isn’t just about what’s new, it’s also about what’s happening in the world of craft. There are tons of educational opportunities, workshops, and classes available. Add that to the speakers and other crafting rockstars who frequent the show floor, and we’re all in for a real learning experience.
Craft Critique is proud be among the media who report directly from the show; as we see it, you’ll see it. New tools, trends, and techniques… we walk the show floor all day, and then write about it all night.
Once the show starts on January 29th, hold on to your hats; we’ll be reporting all the best stuff for you to drool over.To follow along with all the news from the show floor “like” us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and even follow our new Pinterest Pin board.

Leave us a comment and let us know what *YOU* want us to report on: favorite manufacturers, product lines, anything you’ve heard about through the grapevine and want a closer look at.

The Martha Stewart Show: Impressions from the Audience

Reported by Dana Vitek and Sarah Moore

Before you read about our adventures with Martha be sure to enter the three amazing giveaways brought to you by Plaid, EKSuccess, and Provocraft

We were thrilled to get the invitation to visit the Martha Stewart Show live and in-person. Martha’s staff was amazing, and we got lots of special perks for being in Martha’s “Tech Section.” We got a special tour of the set, premium seating (we got a lot of camera time!), and permission to blog and tweet during the show.
Craft Critique hosted a tweetchat, which you can find here (#mscraftwk), which was fast-paced and very fun! Our friends from BurdaStyle, CRAFT, and Handwerk BKLYN joined in the fun from the audience.

Nora from BurdaStyle and Sarah from Craft Critique

The set was full of energy – staff members buzzing around making things look perfect, camera guys capturing all the right angles, and Joey Kola keeping the audience hopping during the commercial breaks. Between all the off-camera activity, the quick set changes, and our furious tweeting and blogging, it was almost bewildering at times. That hour sure went quickly!

Joey warms up the crowd before the show

The staff at the Martha Stewart Show couldn’t have been more gracious or accommodating. These kind folks always had their game-faces on, and we could tell that they all thrived on the fast pace and close quarters.

The studio is very large and spacious… bright too!
We were given a tour of the show floor. Here is Brooklynn Morris from Craftzine snapping some shots
Sneaking behind Joey during the tour!
Everything in the studio is usable… And so lovely.
Martha has all her Plaid paints very organized.
The view from where Martha stands. How about those bright lights?!?
Check out Martha’s shoes! Those are some high heels!

Last but not least we snapped a picture with Martha herself! She was super nice and cheerful and we were so grateful she took the time. We don’t have a copy of the pictures yet… But when we do we will post them here!
Thanks all for sharing in our adventures!


American Crafts -are you our WINNER?

We hope you enjoyed all the great American Crafts articles this week! And now for the winner of a prize pack from American Crafts…

Kayla and Samuel said…

I like to add a little extra to my cards and scrapbook pages, pretty boring. I make my own Christmas cards so this is great. I have been pretty in the dark about embossing options though, so thanks for a great review. American Crafts always exceeds my expectations, whatever they come out with I love!

Congrats to Kayla! Just email your name and address to “” with “American Crafts Winner” in the subject line. Thanks!

Xyron 9" Creative Station

Reported by Christian Tamez

Laminating has always been one of those mysterious crafting entities that I have always admired, but stayed away from. Mainly because most of the laminating machines I came across were fairly expensive and did only one thing, laminate. That is until the Xyron 9” Creative Station came into my possession.

 What I immediately liked about this machine was that it needs no electricity to run, which means you can use this machine anywhere, anytime and did I mention that it’s quiet? A simple turning crank on the side of the machine, (yes there is an arrow so you don’t get confused which direction to turn), and you can use this little machine with all of its different refills. Another bonus: with 9 inches of laminating width you can laminate a complete piece of 8″ x 11.5″ piece of paper! 

Refills are the different cartridges that you can use with the Creative Station. Five different options, including three different acid-free adhesives, two-sided laminate, and a magnet material. The machine comes with a Permanent Adhesive cartridge already installed, so I picked up the two-sided laminate and the magnet refills to go with my machine.

So the first thing I wanted to do was laminate, and preserve some of the memories I collected when I tagged along with Craft Critique to go see Martha Stewart. I printed some of my pictures, and to keep them from getting all smudgy from being touched, laminated them. You just put your item to be run through the machine on the little platform, press it gently against the rollers and turn the handle, simple, fast and easy. I made a quick video overview of the Xyron 9” Creative Station, take a look!

The second cartridge I purchased and was so excited to use was the magnet refill. I love magnets and love making them even more. I took one of my favorite pictures from that trip to Martha and turned it into a magnet so every time I go to the fridge, I get to see me with Martha. I also took some pictures and turned them into magnets for my family so they could think of me always. For my sister, I took a picture of her little baby girl, slapped some text on it, ran it through my Xyron, and like magic, an adorable magnet! 

Each refill cartridge was easy to trim; I was a little hesitant about using the removable trimmer for the magnet material but it did just fine and cut through cleanly on the first swipe. Scissors, craft knives, rotary cutters all easily trim away any excess Xyron material, leaving you with fun personalized crafty goodness. There’s a score mark on the removable cutter that lets you know where the blade will cut, very important so you don’t accidentally cut right through what you were laminating! 

All in all I would say the Xyron is a great tool to use. I had a great time decorating my fridge with all of my projects!


  • Extremely easy to use
  • Multiple uses for the machine – I love that this does not exclusively laminate.


  • Removable trimmer occasionally comes out of the machine
  • The magnet material could be a stronger magnet
  • Small items tend to use excess material, that cannot be reused

Do you have a favorite laminator? Do you have the Xyron 9″ Creative Station and love it? What about other Xyron products that you love?


Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Vendor Spotlight & GIVEAWAY!: Spellbinder Grand Calibur (Day 2 of 2)

Reported by Dana Vitek

I’ve been a Spellbinders customer since the beginning of time. I have one of the original Wizards; it says “Patent Pending” on it. I’ve been collecting the Spellbinders dies since before the Nestibilities came out. As such, I have amassed quite the collection:

I may or may not have a problem.

So when the time came to test out the Spellbinders Grand Calibur, I was the obvious choice.  Kandi did such a great job yesterday describing the contents of the box and such, I’ll just get right down to the business of showing off.

The first thing I wanted to cut and emboss has been hanging out in my craft room for years:

This is Craft-a-Board, developed by Ellen Hutson for use with the Spellbinder Nestabilities. It’s a sturdy board, like chipboard, but nicer. I could never get the Nestabilities to cut cleanly through it with the original Wizard, so I was excited to try it with the Grand Calibur.

I laid out all the dies I wanted to cut. The largest scalloped square there is the very biggest of the Grand Scalloped Squares. I also threw some scalloped paisleys on there because I had SO MUCH ROOM on the cutting platform.

Here they are after one pass through the Grand Calibur:

One piece didn’t cut cleanly all the way through, but a quick pass of the craft knife, and it was ready to go.

Compared to the trouble I had with this stuff using the original Wizard, I was thrilled!
While I had the Craft-a-Board out, I decided to make a puzzle for my daughter, using the Spellbinders Jigsaw Puzzle Die. I traced out the size of the die in pencil, and then went to town stamping and coloring the Craft-a-Board:

I centered the die over the design, and ran it through the Grand Calibur:

One pass through… 

and here it is in pieces:

Most of the pieces came apart with a little back and forth wiggling; I think I had to cut 2 or 3 pieces with the craft knife, and it literally only took seconds to do that. A quick, personalized 20-piece puzzle for my kid. These would be great as birthday party favors!

Now then, I have letterpress on the brain because I just finished up a some letterpress projects, and the packaging of the Spellbinders Impressibilities caught my eye. It says it can be used for letterpressing. Don’t mind if I do!

I pulled out my letterpress paper and ink, and inked up the Paisley Impressibility:

I laid it on top of the paper on the ‘A’ plate. I ran it through the machine using the “embossing sandwich” but there wasn’t enough pressure, and I didn’t get a good deboss.

So I tried it again with the regular cutting sandwich (‘A’ plate, paper, Impressibility, ‘C’ plate), and voila! It looks fabulous!

I was really impressed! Pun intended!

Moving on to one of my favorite media: shrink plastic! I love making little charms for cards and jewelry, and I wanted to see if the Grand Calibur generated enough pressure to cut plastic with the low-profile Nestibilities.

Test subject:

I ran it through the Grand Calibur, and the plastic cut with no trouble at all! I set my old-school Old Milwaukee heat-gun to work, and came up with this cute little dragonfly:

Here’s a fun little card for a coworker’s new baby girl, using the letterpressed paper, the dragonfly charm, and some cut paisleys:

I figured that since it could cut shrink plastic, it could probably cut thicker plastic too, like the ubiquitous clamshell packaging. I swear, I have saved every plastic package since the late ’90s. Really. I refuse to let it go to a landfill, but I’ve never really figured out what to do with it. Well, now I know!

This is actually the packaging from the Grand Scalloped Square Nestabilities
again, one pass through, no problem…

all sanded up and ready to go!

I’ll bet you’re wondering what I made with all this stuff… okay, I’ll show you.

While I was cutting paisleys, I cut a bunch of them, and made a scrapbook layout featuring my kid wearing a dinosaur hat:

this was a happy little accident… 2 paisleys=a heart!
this kid knows what’s up.

I decided my layout needed some rub-ons, but didn’t have the energy to use that Popsicle stick doohicky, so I placed the rub-on where I wanted it, and ran it through the Grand Calibur, just to see if the pressure would transfer the rub-on.

It totally did! What a time-saver!

And here’s the finished layout. This uses the largest (8″) Scalloped Square that I cut from the Craft-a-Board; the smaller scalloped square, also from the Craft-a-Board; that sanded plastic piece that I cut from the packaging, and the Paisley heart: 

Please be gentle… I am not a scrapbooker!

I put the Grand Calibur through its paces, and am happy to report that I never found anything it couldn’t do. EXCEPT. Except it is just not quite big enough to use the regular Sizzix dies. I was so hoping that I could whittle down my die-cutting machine collection to just the Grand Calibur, but I have way too much $$$ invested in regular Sizzix dies, so the Big Shot stays.


  • Wide-format opening allows for 8″ dies to be used.
  • Grand Nestabilities match the smaller Nestabilities, and allow for layering.
  • Easy-to-turn handle, no shooting the sandwich stack across the room like with the original Wizard.
  • Can cut lots of media, not just cardstock.
  • It’s pink. Ish. Kind of a raspberry, really, but I’m down with that.


  • Opening is not quite big enough to allow a regular Sizzix die through.
  • The crank handle takes many revolutions; seems like the gear ratio should be reset.
  • That’s all I’ve got. Really.

Our friends at Spellbinders have given us a set of Grand Scalloped Squares AND a set of Grand Squares (which coordinate) to give to one lucky reader (that’s a $100 value!). Just leave a comment on this blog post answering this question:

Knowing now what different media you can cut with the Grand Calibur and the Nestabilities, what would you try to cut?

One comment per person, please. Winner will be selected on Friday, April 29, 2011.


Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Vendor Spotlight & GIVEAWAY!: Spellbinders Grand Calibur (continued)

Reported by Kandi Phillips
I’ve always loved shaped cards and couldn’t wait for the chance to create my very own scalloped card! One the amazing things the Grand Calibur does is to emboss all in one cut when using Nestabilities! I placed my cardstock fold in half over the die and then ran it through the machine.

I was left with a fun scallop shape complete with embossed edges.

Using some of my previously cut dies I created this quick shaped card.

When using the oval Grand Nestabilities in conjunction with the coordinating scallop dies, you can create a precise layer that will fit perfectly on your die-cut shape.

Using my sewing pattern flower I dressed up the front of the shaped card and added some felt petals also cut out with a die.

You can also use the Grand Nestabilities to cut photos! Since you’ll always place your media face down on the die (with the die edges facing up toward the cutting plate) you can get an embossed edge even on your pictures. I centered the die over my photo and then taped the edges outside of the cutting area.

Flip it over on your plate and then pass through your machine to result in an embossed and quickly cut picture.

Using the dies and the previously cut scallop I created a scrapbook layout inspired by the ovals as eggs.

For my next test I wanted to take things to the next level. How many of you have extra scraps of ribbon that you think you need to hang onto “just in case” and then never use on a project? I gathered up some of my strips and secured them onto a scrap of white cardstock.

I placed the smaller oval die on the back side of the ribbon. I knew I didn’t need to have an embossed edge on this one and I wasn’t sure if it might damage the ribbon so I used the opposite side instead. I secured the sides with tape in case of accidental shifting before it was placed in the machine.

When I removed it from the back of the machine I found it hadn’t cut all the way through the ribbon, but that was quickly fixed by trimming around the edges.

I dressed up the oval with some flowers and can’t wait to use this cute Easter egg on another layout or card!

Finally I took the plunge into cutting fabric! The first pass through didn’t yield the expected results and I was a little dismayed.

After doing some research on the Spellbinders website it recommended using a shim in the form of regular printer paper to bring the die closer to the fabric. I ran it through and again and still wasn’t able to get the even results I was hoping for.

Thinking I need to use more printer paper, or actual cardstock, I created a thick sandwich of cardstock and layered my fabric over the dies. It was amazingly difficult to crank the handle with such a thick sandwich and after hearing a large pop I was worried I had completely broken the machine. I reversed the handle and luckily everything was still in working order, and even better I had some fabric cuts!

Now, I’m still going to go back and try to find the perfect sandwich and mix for cutting fabric, but if you’re thinking of trying this, it may vary depending on the fabric you’re using, or how thick your cardstock is. If you’ve got a recipe for success I’d love to hear about it!

After spending so much time cutting I knew I needed to focus on the embossing side of things. I already knew I couldn’t emboss with my Sizzix® Impression Plates, and I needed the W-025 Raspberry Spacer before using my Cuttlebug ® folders, so I went in a different direction. I wanted to try and use various items in my craft supplies to create unique embossed backgrounds. I used embroidery floss, chipboard butterfly cuts and buttons.

Unfortunately the buttons were too thick so I couldn’t get it all the way through and had to reverse. The chipboard almost cut through the cardstock, but the floss created a really cool effect.

I tried another set of chipboard die cuts that were a little thinner, but still it almost cut through the cardstock from the deep pressure of the machine.

Lastly, I wanted to use a brass stencil to test out the embossing feature.

In comparison you can’t see too much difference from the Big Shot Express® example on the left to the Grand Calibur example on the right.

I added some distressing ink and although it’s not very visible in the photo, the image from the Grand Calibur is slightly deeper and a little crisper.

Overall, I am in love with the Grand Calibur and what it can do. Although I am disappointed at my results with fabric, and the fact that I can’t use my Bigz® dies, I am incredibly pleased at being able to use other dies I’d almost given up on. Combined with the fact that I can use extra-large Grand Nestabilities that coordinate with the smaller scale Nestabilities, and the amazing crispness of the cuts, I know I’ll always turn to the Grand Calibur for die-cutting outside of Sizzix® dies.

The Grand Calibur retails for $129.99 and replacement cutting plates can be purchased separately for $24.99. Additionally, the Grand Nestabilities can be purchased for $49.99, and as mentioned coordinate with the smaller versions of Nestabilities seamlessly.

  • Wide cutting plates let you cut with the super-sized Grand Nestabilities dies and also cut multiple dies at once
  • Amazing crispness and deep embossing when cutting through most mediums
  • Compatible with most dies on the marketBuilt in handle that you can hold onto while turning the crank handle
  • Stability base works well and keeps the machine in place

  • Crank handle requires at least 30 revolutions to complete one pass
  • Isn’t compatible with Sizzix Bigz® dies and requires a spacer plate for use with Sizzlets®, Fiskars® plates and Cuttlebug® folders
Our friends at Spellbinders have given us a set of Grand Scalloped Circles AND a set of Large Format Circles (which coordinate) to give to one lucky reader (that’s a $100 value!). Just leave a comment on either of today’s blog posts answering this question:

Have you used the Spellbinders Grand Calibur before? What do you use your Grand Calibur the most for, or what would you use it for?

One comment per person, per article, please. Winner will be selected on Friday, April 29, 2011.


Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!

Vendor Spotlight & GIVEAWAY: Lifestyle Crafts L Letterpress and Epic Six (2 of 3)

Reported by Dana Vitek

I have long admired the look of letterpress, and have happily shelled out more than $6 for ONE letterpressed card. Letterpress just looks (and feels) so sophisticated. So I was very excited to try out the L Letterpress and Epic 6 Combo Kit from Lifestyle Crafts.

The Epic Combo Kit comes with everything you need to get started letterpressing. The Printing Plates are clear, rigid plastic shapes that are flat on the back. I applied the Adhesive Sheet to the back of the Printing Plates, and got busy arranging them on the Letterpress Platform.

Printing Plate with adhesive backing

I squirted some of the light blue ink onto the acrylic plate, and rolled it out with the included brayer.

Light blue ink rolled out onto the included acrylic plate

After rolling the ink out, I used the brayer to apply the ink to the Printing Plates, which were attached to the letterpress platform with the thin, double-sided adhesive sheets:

I then loaded the L Letterpress A2 paper onto the platform, closed the lid, and rolled it through the Epic 6 machine:

Tada! That was quick! And painless!

Here’s a shot at an angle; hopefully you can make out the beautiful debossing. It’s lovely in person.

I wanted to try a few different combinations, and discovered a few pitfalls along the way.

See that ink just hanging out there? Clean that up first.

It can be tricky to get the right amount of ink onto the plates. Too much ink and it will splatter or smear; too little ink and the coverage isn’t perfect. I found that erring on the side of too little ink is better.

Not too shabby…

 Here’s an example of both too much and too little ink on the same card. I’m nothing if not efficient. There was too much ink on the “g” of “thinking” and not enough on the brackets around the “you”

 I found that the printing plates with the thin lines work better than the ones with thicker lines or more solid areas. I really had the best luck with this wavy line motif, so much so that I made a bunch of them, swapping out the greeting. I’ll be able to customize them for the recipient, and most of the work is already done!

I also figured that while I had all the stuff out, I would run a bunch of the word printing plates through at once.  I’ll be able to add a touch of letterpressed class to my regular cards just by cutting around the greeting I need:

So now I can add something special to my otherwise lackluster cards!

I wanted to check out whether or not you really need to use the fancy L Letterpress Paper.

The short answer: yes. 

I tried the letterpressing process on two other papers (PaperTreyInk’s White Cardstock, and Fabriano Medioevalis Folded Card (unfolded), and while they look nice, they hardly debossed at all. The L Letterpress paper has a soft hand to it; it allows for compression, whereas the others are pretty compressed as-is… there’s no room for the paper fibers to move around.

Sorry for the bad lighting… silver ink is tricky to photograph at midnight

I know it’s hard to tell in the photographs, but trust me… the L Letterpress paper is the way to go. It comes in several typical invitation sizes, as well as mini-cards, and in both white and ivory.

Another great thing about the Epic Six is that in addition to letterpress, it can also be used for die-cutting. In fact, Lifestyle Crafts has released a bunch of great dies that will appeal to both the trendy, and classic, among us.

The die-cutting function is pretty typical… layer the die, cardstock and cutting mat onto a platform, and roll it through. There’s a great video tutorial on their website that tells you how to not only use their dies, but other companies’ dies and embossing folders as well. LOVE THAT! It’s so nice when a company designs around what I already own!

Two of the Bloom dies

Epic Six in action!
perfect cuts through Stampin’ Up cardstock

Here are some of the finished cards. The beauty of letterpress is that less is more. Of course, a little bling never hurt anyone!


  • I can letterpress my own cards. That’s HUGE!
  • Letterpress paper is available in multiple sizes and colors, and is really, really nice.
  • Epic Six is a multi-tasker; die-cutting AND letterpress!
  • Can use other companies’ dies and embossing folders in the Epic Six; it comes with different base plates to make the sandwiching easy, and there’s a video tutorial to help.
  • Modern, trendy, and traditional printing plates and cutting dies available.
  • Lifestyle Crafts has an option for Custom Printing Plates! You can letterpress your own design! Epic! (pun intended)
  • The new cutting mat for the die cutting system is not clear, it’s made of self-healing material and won’t crack like other clear plastic plates.


  • Hoo-boy, letterpress can be a mess.
  • The ink is sticky and can be hard to clean. USE THEIR WIPES… they work. I tried baby wipes… they don’t work.
  • The new cutting mat for the die cutting system is not clear, it’s made of self healing material; I can’t tell when I’ve moved the cardstock off of the die until it’s too late.

I have so many ideas brewing, and can’t wait to spend some more time getting inky!

You can buy the L Letterpress kit and dies separately if you already have an Epic Six, or you can purchase the Epic Combo Kit.

Special Deal for our readers:
Use the promo code: CRAFTCRITIQUE – for 20% off through the end of April!

Our friends at Lifestyle Crafts have generously offered an Epic Combo Kit as a giveaway to one of our readers! Answer this question in the comments below to be entered:

Take a look at all of the Cookie Cutter and Nesting dies that are available…. which ones are your favorites? What would you make with them?

One comment per person, per Vendor Spotlight: Lifestyle Crafts article (there will be three). Winner will be chosen on Saturday, April 23, 2011.


Click on the link at the top of the page to visit Craft Critique for comments, giveaways and more!