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Author Archive | Kristine Fowler

Vendor Spotlight & GIVEAWAY!: Sizzix Texture Boutique

Since I’m a huge fan of embossing folders, I was pretty excited when I was selected to review the Texture Boutique by Sizzix.  If you haven’t already heard of it, the Texture Boutique is the smallest member of the Sizzix family of embossing and texturing machines.  Using the machine in conjunction with a Sizzix Textured Impressions, Texture Fades, Texture Trades or Simple Impressions Embossing Folder you can quickly and easily transform ordinary cardstock into an elegant card suitable for any occasion.  Not only that…..this is likely the cutest scrapbooking/cardmaking tool you’ll ever own!  Don’t you agree?

When I got my package from Sizzix, I did a little happy dance when I saw that I had received the ‘blue’ model of the Texture Boutique.  You see, my hobby space is painted blue – so it’s the perfect complement!  Here’s a couple of quick pics I snapped before I got down to the business of testing.

What’s Inside?

You’ll see from the picture above that when you first remove the machine from the box it requires a wee bit of assembly — the crank handle isn’t attached and needs to be screwed on.  Luckily, Sizzix has you covered, and they include a screw driver, saving you what could be countless minutes (maybe even hours, in my case) locating the right tool to do the job.  Once you’re done that, you’re all set and ready to go.  Included in the box are Instructions, Two (2) Embossing Pads (the black sheets in the picture above) and One (1) Shim (the thinner White, slightly transparent Mylar sheet).  You’ll use these pads and shim to make your embossing ‘Sandwich’.

In addition to the machine, Sizzix sent me item 657088 Elegant Vine & Flair Set of Textured Impressions folders which are designs for A2 size cards (4 1/4″ x 5 1/2″).  The folders themselves measure 4 1/2″ x 5 3/4″.  Like other embossing folders, you can use these folders a couple of different ways; to emboss a folded card, or to emboss a single sheet of cardstock (card front).  The directions for each are included both on the instruction sheet and are permanently affixed to one of the black embossing pads (which is just brilliant by the way!).  The main thing that you have to remember is that when embossing a folded card your embossing sandwich will not include the white Shim.

Once you have your Embossing Folder, paper, Embossing Pads (and shim if required) all stacked up, you’re ready to send it through.  Just stick it in the slot on the machine body and start turning the crank handle.  It doesn’t matter whether you are left- or right-handed; you can simply turn the machine around and work whatever way is most comfortable, it rolls both ways.  You turn the crank until the sandwich comes completely out the other side of the machine.  For me, that was about 16 revolutions.

Here’s a sample of what I did with the ‘Say It W/Flair’ folder that Sizzix sent me.

Because I really wanted to emphasize the embossed design, and I was using a white core cardstock, I lightly sanded the raised image.

And here, after stamping and heat embossing a sentiment, outlining the card with a silver paint pen, and adding flowers and a small pearl, is my finished card – a simple, yet elegant design that I can use for perhaps a graduation or retirement greeting.  Actually, this card was so quick to put together thanks to the Texture Boutique that I made 6 of them in less than 15 minutes!

Stamp Credit: Stampendous (M222 Confident Grad)

For a second project, since the Texture Boutique accommodates any embossing folder, by any company up to the 4 1/2″ x 5 3/4″ size, I used the Daisy folder by Crafts-Too (just to prove to you that I could).  And…since I’m on a mission lately to use up stuff that’s been lying around, I dug out a single sheet of light tan cardstock (origins unknown), which as it turned out coordinated great with this CTMH ribbon I’ve had kicking around for a while.  I teamed it up with a sheet of Creme Brule by CTMH, a sentiment by Gina K Designs, a couple of SU! punches, and I’ve got a simple, elegant,  monochromatic birthday greeting.  Again, I made some duplicates of this one – just so I have some on hand when the need arises – and to use up that stray single sheet of cardstock!

As you can see, because embossing folders add so much depth and interest to an art project all by themselves, I have a tendency to keep my final card designs fairly simple when I use them.

The Sizzix Texture Boutique machine measures 11″ x 7 3/4″ x 5 1/4″ including both the crank and beaded handle and weighs in at a mere 3 pounds (approximate).  Its compact size and light weight makes it super portable and an easy ‘add’ to the crop bag if you’re crafting on the go.

Now none of this functional information should come as a surprise to you if you’re already familiar with embossing folders and/or the Sizzix Big Kick, Big Shot or other competing brand embossing machine.  What you should know however is that the Sizzix Texture Boutique is, unlike the others, NOT capable of cutting.  It is an embossing machine only.  The Embossing Pads are solid indeed, but are not intended as cutting surfaces.  Further, the slot in the machine body will not accommodate dies.  This makes the Texture Boutique a single function machine.  One further caution is that while it can house embossing folders up to 4 3/4″ wide, it cannot house Sizzix Texture Plates which are closer to 5 1/2″ wide.  If you’re looking for a machine to support these, you’ll have to get one of the larger models.

The machine comes with a one (1) year manufacturer’s warranty which is less than Sizzix offers on the larger machines, but quite frankly, there isn’t a lot that can go wrong here.  Provided you don’t ‘overstuff’ the machine and try to force more through than it is designed to handle, it should be fine.  And…given that the machine MSRP is only $29.99 US, a one-year warranty seems reasonable.

Overall, I found the Texture Boutique simple to set up and even simpler to use.  The crank turns freely – and doesn’t seem extraordinarily stiff.  I do however think that maybe the inside rollers aren’t near as large as in other machines, since 16 revolutions for one card front seemed quite a bit more than I was used to.  This is however I suppose the price you pay for portability.  The machine would certainly need to be larger to accommodate larger rollers and would thus be heavier.  My only other issue, albeit minor is that you definitely need to hold the machine down with your free hand as you turn the crank handle.  The way the machine is built, it has a very narrow bottom end (contributing to its ‘cuteness’ of course).  As a result if you don’t push down, and instead push a bit forward, the machine has a tendency to tip.  The rubber feet help keep it somewhat in place, but there is no suction to hold it down to the table.

In summary:

Pros:

  • It’s Darn Cute!
  • Lightweight
  • Portable
  • Suitable for both right- and left-handed crafters
  • Instructions right on the Embossing Plates (so I can’t lose them!)
  • Mylar Shim – my other machine recommends using cardstock shims when necessary
  • Price

Cons:

  • Narrow bottom – need to hold machine down with free hand to prevent tipping
  • Smaller rollers means more handle revolutions
  • Folders width restricted to 4 3/4″ or less
  • Embosses only, no die-cutting

If you love the look of embossing and don’t have the need for dies, then this machine will likely fit the bill for you.  Yes, it is single function, but in my opinion it is priced accordingly.  Apparently, there are others who agree with me on this too!  In May of 2010, The Sizzix Texture Boutique was awarded the Best New Product in the Craft/Scrapbooking category at the 64th annual National Stationery Show.  It prevailed based on innovative design or concept, how the product answers an industry need, aesthetic appeal, creative use of materials and innovative packaging.  The Texture Boutique is the industry’s first low-cost machine devoted exclusively to embossing.

GIVEAWAY!

It’s Sizzix Week at Craft Critique! Our friends at Sizzix have graciously provided some of their products for us to giveaway to our very lucky readers. We have a Big Shot and an eClips to give away, both of which you can read about in upcoming reviews. Just answer the following question to be entered in the giveaway:

Do you dry emboss on your projects? What kinds of things do you like to make with this technique? Please share links to your work if it is online, we would love to see!

One comment, per person, per Sizzix article, please. Winners will be selected on Saturday, July 16, 2011.

CTMH Spray Pens vs. Inkessentials Mini Misters by Ranger

Reported by Kristine Fowler

It’s no secret, that like other industries, as things evolve, so do the tools of the trade.  Even the simplest of tools see improvement over time, and the Spray Pen by Close To My Heart is a great example of such an evolution.  Similar in form and function to the Inkessentials™ Mini Misters™ by Ranger, you can use the Spray Pen to ‘mist’ your projects and create visually interesting techniques with ink, paint, colour washes, alcohol, or other liquid media.  Or, if you just need a handy alternate dispenser, you can even fill the Spray Pen with your favorite stamp cleaner (although you have to admit, that’s not very exciting).  If you’re not already familiar with the mister tools, you can always pop over and read a 2008 article by Heather Strenzwilk where she gives the low-down on the Ranger Mini Misters.

So at this point you might be wondering, what I consider to be the big evolution?  How could such a simple product be so drastically improved?  Well, to start, let’s take a close up look at the two products side-by-side.

The most obvious difference between the two products is their size.  The Close To My Heart Spray Pen is about a third larger overall affecting the relative size of both the cap and the liquid storage compartment (the barrel).  The benefit of the larger container should be obvious….with a larger container, you can mix more media, and that’s definitely a good thing.  (I’ll talk about the cap in a minute).

Now let’s take another look.
 

You might notice, that on the flip side of the CTMH Spray Pen, you’ll see measurement lines – a very handy feature that is missing from the Ranger Mini Mister.  With the measurement lines clearly marked on the barrel, you can more ‘scientifically’ mix your media (think 4 parts water to 1 part paint, or 2 drops reinker to 6 parts water).  This also means that it will be much easier to duplicate a mixture that you absolutely love at a later date.  No more guess work.  Pure genius!  The Ranger Mini Mister on the other hand has product logos on both sides of the barrel, no measurement lines.

Next, let’s look at the cap/nozzle area as there’s a couple of major differences here.  On the Ranger version, the entire barrel is smooth.  The smooth finish extends to cover the part of the barrel that you ‘twist’ to remove the nozzle and fill the compartment.  In contrast, this ‘twistable’ section of the CTMH product is textured, in order to give you better grip.  This textured finish is particularly helpful if your hands are damp.

And now the cap…..again, there are a couple of differences.  First, the CTMH cap is made of essentially the same material as the rest of the unit.  The Ranger cap is quite thin in comparison, and might not stand up quite as well to even a little abuse.  I’m thinking that if it drops on the floor, and I step on it, it’s likely going to crack, rendering it essentially useless.  The CTMH version on the other hand is more substantial, and although I’m not willing to put it to the test (sorry), I’m pretty certain I could step on it without hurting it too too badly.

Secondly, there is a series of holes in the top of the CTMH Spray Pen cap, and the Mini Mister doesn’t have these.  We’ve seen this type of thing before, and it serves a dual purpose.  First, the holes allow air to be pushed out of the cap as your closing it to ensure that it closes snugly, and second, it’s a safety feature.  If for some reason a child was to put the cap in their mouth and swallow it, the vent holes in the cap could prevent asphyxiation.  The other major difference in the caps, is the presence of the ‘pocket clip’ on the CTMH version.  While I probably won’t be carrying the Spray Pens in my shirt pocket any time soon, it is beneficial.  Not only can I use the clip to secure the Spray Pen to the inside of my crop bag, but by virtue of it’s existence the ‘pocket clip’ stops the Pen (when capped) from rolling off the table, and stops the cap rolling off the table (and under my feet) when the Spray Pen is in use.  Once again, a small improvement in design has what I consider big benefit.

When it comes to function, these pens are virtually identical.  Both pens ‘pump’ easily, and with neither version have I experienced ‘clogging’.  I do find the CTMH pen a bit easier to operate though because it feels more substantial.  When spraying, the Mini Mister feels almost ‘consumed’ by my hand, whereas the CTMH version does not.  This is perhaps a matter of personal preference, and if you’re used to the feel of one version, you may find it initially awkward to make the switch, but it’ll be easy to adjust either way.  Looking very closely at the actual nozzles of the two pens reveals a minor difference, in that the little plastic piece which is responsible for directing the spray on the CTMH Spray Pen is angled downward ever so slightly whereas the Ranger version is completely straight.  I’m not sure if this can really be considered a benefit, as I’ve not noticed any functional difference.  I can only assume that the nozzle was in fact engineered this way for a reason, and presumably to provide some benefit – that’s the best explanation I can offer you on that one unfortunately.

Before I get to the creative stuff, you’re probably wondering about price.  Does the price tag reflect the ‘improvements’ I’ve mentioned?  Well, I think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that the CTMH Spray Pens are priced very similarly to (if not better than in some cases) the Ranger Mini Misters.  A 3-pack is available for just US$3.95 / CAN$4.50.  Even once you add the shipping and taxes (if applicable in your area), these are definitely not going to break the bank.  The Ranger Mini Misters I’ve purchased, I’ve always paid around CAN$5.00 for the 3-pack, regular priced, at various locations.

Now the fun stuff…..here’s how I’ve used misters recently.

Using my CTMH Spray Pen and a mixture of reinker and water, I misted a 3×3 inch acrylic block and then used it like a stamp on my paper.  This created the pink/white background for my focal image.  I love the way that with this method I was able to get a nice solid pink in the middle, surrounded by what looks like over-spray.

Stamp Credit: “Baby Love” by CTMH

For this second sample, I combined CTMH Create-A-Shade Paint, Water and Reinker and used the mixture to ‘mist’ the large green panel which was previously embossed (using a Tim Holtz Texture Fade), and then inked with both brown and juniper colored inks.  Unfortunately, if I do say so myself, this photo does not do the card justice.  I hope though that you can at least catch a glimpse of the shimmering splotches.  Adding the pearl paint to the mixture, your spray takes on an iridescent look, and it’s actually quite shiny!  It’s similar to the look you would get with commercial mists that are designed to sparkle.

Stamp Credit: “Find Your Style” by CTMH


So….to wrap this up, here’s a quick summary of how I view the product differences (red indicates distinct product advantages). Remember from the perspective of function and price, the products are virtually identical.

CTMH Spray Pen

  • 10 mL barrel (allowing you to mix more media)
  • measurement markings on the side of barrel
  • textured ‘twist’ for better grip
  • the cap is substantial, should resist accidental damage
  • holes in cap for safety and ease of use
  • pocket clip on cap to prevent pen rolling & to secure in bags
  • sold only in packages of 3
  • not available via retail, must be purchased from a CTMH rep
  • only available in one color

Inkessentials Mini Misters by Ranger

  • smaller barrel (not sure of the exact measurement)
  • no measurement markings
  • smooth ‘twist’, less grip
  • the cap is weak in comparison
  • no holes in cap
  • no pocket clip
  • sold in packages of 3 AND individually
  • widely available via retail
  • 3 different colors available

The one fact that I have not tested is whether the CTMH Spray Pens fit in the (very compact) Inkessentials™ Mini Mister Organizer storage block by Ranger.  Both the CTMH Spray Pen and the Mini Misters appear to have the same circumference (although I don’t have a micrometer; if there is a difference it appears that minute), and so I would assume the Spray Pens would fit, but I would love it if somebody out there could put this to the test.  CTMH does not currently offer a storage solution for the Spray Pens, and it certainly would be handy.

As always, we’d love to hear what you think and we welcome your comments.  Have I missed anything in my comparison?  Have you tried the CTMH Spray Pens or are you a die-hard Mini Mister fan, and not willing to make the switch?  Let us know!

Disclosure

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

Book Review: A Compendium of Curiosities by Tim Holtz


Reported by Kristine Fowler

A Compendium of Curiosities — don’t you agree that the name of this book in and of itself demands attention?  With an essentially non-descript cover, citing only the title of the book and the author against a very distressed old-world type background, it just begs to be opened.  Even if it wasn’t written by Tim Holtz (of whom I am a huge fan), I would be curious.  Wouldn’t you?  That’s why I decided today might be a good day to give you a peek inside and let you know just what this book is all about.
 
Title:  A Compendium of Curiosities

Author: Tim Holtz
Publisher: Advantus Corp
ISBN: 040861928266


The book is about 8.5 inches square with a hard cover.  It has 77 pages which are spiral-bound to the inside. The book opens as most do with a standard title page, publishing info and table of contents.  These, and all of the pages in the book, have the same distressed appearance (signature Tim Holtz-style) as the front cover.
The real ‘story’ starts on page 1 (Title page and TOC are not numbered) with a peek into the author’s Studio.  He sits at a table literally surrounded by the materials of his craft: stamps, scissors and paints among them — but perhaps more importantly he lets the reader know that he surrounds himself also with inspiration: vintage pieces, full of nostalgia.  In his message to readers, Tim Holtz explains that A Compendium of Curiosities is “not a ‘how to make’ book, but rather ‘how to create’“.
The next section of the book is devoted to the ‘tools’ of his trade.  These are not standard dictionary descriptions but instead are full of advice and personal anecdotes.  Tim speaks of the tools in first-person prose so you get a good understanding of exactly how he uses each an every one.
The next 21 or so pages are an introduction to many of Tim Holtz’s Signature Products from his idea-ology line.  Again, there is not a description of each per-se (after all, we all know what Keys and Keyholes are), but rather advice or suggestions for how you can use each one and 4-5 photographs to support his recommendation.  Many of the idea-ology products are straightforward (e.g. Paper Stacks, Vintage Buttons and Type Charms), but I for one appreciate the opportunity to get more information about and ideas for using  some of the perhaps more obscure products like Grungeboard and Hitch Fasteners.  
The final section, and by far my most favourite part of the book, is the Techniques.  To quote the author “the explanation of technique is key to development of our creative skills” and this section does just that.  There are 35 techniques explained, one per page, with 6 photos to support each one – there is a lot to learn.  Even if you’ve tried some of these techniques before  (by reading Tim’s blog or watching his channel on YouTube), I’m sure you’ll appreciate having a condensed step-by-step right on your desktop while you create.  While a detailed supply list for each technique is not given, the photographs clearly show product in use, and product labeling so you know exactly what is being used for each technique.  His how-tos are succinct and to the point – with only one page devoted to each technique, they have to be.
Some of my favourite techniques and ones I just had to try after reading A Compendium of Curiosities are:
Water Stamping & Alcohol Ink Monoprint
Here is a simple tag I made using the Water Stamping technique explained on page 51 of the book. You can see particularly well in the close up image that there is a ghosted flourish-type image across the top of the tag.  This is the water stamping technique.  Now I admit, it took me a few times to get this right, and I was getting a little frustrated but didn’t give up.  Figuring out exactly how much water to use is key to getting a successful water stamped image.  Too much and it looks splotchy, too little and you can’t see the water stamped image at all.  But as they say, if at first you don’t succeed……keep trying.  You’ll eventually get it and after that there will be no stopping you.  I just love the subtle effect you get with this technique.  It takes an otherwise pretty but rather ‘blah’ background and just steps it up a little.

For this tags I used Distress Inks by Ranger to create the background, along with images from two retired CTMH stamp sets.  The sentiment is from Pure Love and the heart and flourish are from Key To My Heart.

The second technique that I’m loving is the Alcohol Ink Monoprint.  Again, this was something I had to try a few times until I got it right, but it’s definitely a keeper.  I’ve used alcohol inks in the past to colour metals, and to achieve the Polished Stone effect, but the Monoprint is cool too.  It’s meant to be subtle.  I did learn pretty quickly that you can overdo it and wind up with something that’s not so pretty, but once you learn when to stop you can create some beautiful backgrounds.  Here is a card I created with the focal panel featuring the Alcohol Ink Monoprint background.

The last section of the book is a Gallery.  The Gallery section is 7 pages and contains 28 photos of books, cards, tags and scrapbook pages — presumably all by Tim Holtz himself — that showcase many of the techniques explained in this book.   If you love Tim’s grungy style, there is some serious eye candy here; if you’re like me at all, just looking at it will immediately motivate you to go and get creative!  It’s so inspiring!

Pros:
  • Spiral bindings lay flat when the book is sitting open on the desk – this is great for how-to books that you are referencing while you are crafting.
  • At only 8.5 inches square, the book is very portable and you can easily slip it into your crop bag for quick reference when creating on the go, or even in your purse for some light pleasure reading in the car or at the soccer field — well whenever you’re away from home.
  • The book is full of photos!  Don’t be fooled by its small footprint – it is absolutely packed with information and photographic evidence.
  • Other than the gallery – there are no ‘projects’ in this book, but this is a pro because the book is designed to inspire your creativity, not lead you through it.  Tim gives you the ‘source’ for inspiration, but the rest is up to you!  As a result, you’ll find yourself leafing through it again and again.
  • While the cover price of $24.95 might seem a bit high at first since I know you can get a lot of this information for free on Tim’s blog and YouTube the quick reference nature of this volume is worth the investment.
  • Since many of Tim’s techniques are a bit messy, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it got a bit ‘dirty’ while you were crafting (think ink smears, paint splatters etc.).  But don’t worry….the cover (and pages) have a bit of a sheen to them so wipe clean fairly easily, especially if you catch it right away.

Cons:
  • While I love the spiral binding, for the number of pages in this book the spiral could have been a teensy bit larger.  I find that the pages ‘catch’ sometimes as I’m turning.  Not good.
  • It was published in early 2010, so it does not include new products launched at CHA in July — perhaps we’ll see a Volume II in the future?
  • If you don’t already own any of Tim’s Signature Products before buying the book, you might find that you’ve got to make a sizable investment to stock up on supplies just to get started.  I have a small assortment of his stuff, but after reading, I’m definitely wanting it ALL!  (The good news is, I know exactly what’s going on my holiday wish list this year!)

In summary,  A Compendium of Curiosities is a must-have for all die-hard fans of Tim Holtz but is equally useful for crafters just beginning their creative journey.  If you have some of Tim’s Signature products already, this will be a handy resource for you to learn how to use them all.  If you’ve never heard of Tim Holtz and aren’t sure what he’s all about this is a more than perfect introduction.  Even if you decide that you don’t like his grungy, eclectic and vintage style, you can take what you learn from this book and apply it anywhere – putting your own spin on it.  It is a book that is sure to unlock your creativity and inspire thousands of future projects.


Disclosure

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