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Vendor Spotlight & GIVEAWAY!: Sizzix Big Shot

I was pleased to have the chance to test out the traditional die cutter, Big Shot by Sizzix and some of the Westminster Fabric dies which are specially designed for fabric and quilting. There is nothing that compares to a die cutter when one needs to dependably cut a large amount of shapes that are exactly sized and shaped.

I received the Big Shot Machine, which will cut with dies up to 6 inches wide. The package includes two clear Standard Cutting Pads, and the Multipurpose Platform which is used to accommodate various specialty dies like Sizzix Texturz, Embosslits, Clearlits, and Textured Impressions, or any product offered by Sizzix. The Big Shot is sturdy and with the crank on the side (instead of a lever that swings across the top) the Big Shot stores easily. The handle makes it convenient to move around to various workstations.


I also received three Westminster Fibers Dies: 2 1/2 Inch Hexagons, Plain Leaves, and 5 Inch Half-Square Triangles. Dies are most useful for fabric when they are simple shapes with gentle angles and curves. Anyone who is going to be sewing with their die cut shapes will need to quickly make a large pile of cutouts. The best tool for this job is a die cutting machine.

The 2 1/2 Inch Hexagons die cuts four hexagons at a time. The first thing I thought to try with this die was English Paper Piecing which is a hand sewing technique that stabilizes fabric around a paper template. Generally, one has to purchase the paper templates from quilt shops or other sources. With my own die, I can cut piles and piles of them and maybe even achieve my very own handsewn Grandmother’s Flower Garden quilt.

Holy Moley! I can’t wait! Okay, before I get ahead of myself, I’ll just try making one flower. I die cut a pile of 2 1/2 inch hexagons, and in the Big Shot, I was able to cut several layers of paper at a time. Next I used scissors to cut fabric pieces about 1/4 inch larger than the paper template and pinned the paper to the center of the fabric piece:

Now I baste the fabric around the paper. You really only need a few stitches to hold it together. I’ll need seven basted hexagons to achieve one flower. When they are all basted, I whip stitch the hexagons right sides together:

I forgot how much I love handstitching! In just a short time, I stitched a whole flower and a border around it. This is the underside before I finished the whole block. When a hexagon is totally surrounded, you can remove the basting and use the paper for another fabric hexagon. I started die cutting any scrap paper that entered my house, especially my daughter’s finished and graded school papers.

I’m telling you, I really got addicted to this and I started making calculations for a whole queen-sized bed quilt. My friends in my craft club recommended I try die cutting freezer paper hexagons and skip the basting altogether. Freezer paper worked great! I made about 45 hexagon flowers before I realized I was going to have to set this aside and try out the other Westminster Fiber dies. I know I never would have tried out this traditional technique if I didn’t have this terrific die from Sizzix.

Sizzix sells Bigz Hexagon dies in 4 different sizes, so if these are too large for you, there are several other options.

I got so excited about those hexagons, I forgot to show you how to actually use the Big Shot with Bigz dies. Bigz dies are 6 inches wide. You can use any other Sizzix product in the Big Shot, as long as it is not wider than 6 inches. When die cutting with the Big Shot and a Bigz die, sandwich the die and your fabric, paper, felt, or other material, face up between the two sheets of plexiglass.

I’m using 2 layers of felt here and the Plain Leaves die which cuts 8 simple leaves of various sizes. The largest leaf is about 3.5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. The smallest is the same proportion at just 1.5 inches long. With the Big Shot, you can cut several layers of material at a time. If you pack in too much, you will not be able to pass it through the Big Shot.With a die cutting machine you can get large piles of perfect shapes in a flash. I cut a nice selection of felt leaves. There is very little waste of my precious wool blend felt using this die.

Felt is awesome and the Big Shot cuts it just like butter. For my project, I’m going to also cut some leaves from fabric and iron-on fusible webbing. Lickety-split, I have a pretty pile of fabric leaves exactly the same size as the felt I just cut.

I ironed fusible web backed fabric leaves to felt with floral wire between to make this leafy fabric sprig. I can make a lot of these and make them into a wreath, or this would make a nice bow for a special wrapped package

Bigz dies can also cut aluminum cans!

I backed my tin with sticky foam to soften the edges and make it easier to craft with.


My daughter loves her new hairclip made with a plain leaf and some circles from another Sizzix Originals die I already own. Don’t fret! My Sizzix dies still work like a charm on felt and fabric even after cutting paper or aluminum.

People who already own a Big Shot and are ready to try quilting will want to try out the 5 Inch Half Square Triangle die. The 5 inch measurement is unfinished. Your sewn square will measure 4 1/8 inches in a finished quilt block, depending on the size of your seam allowance and how aggressively you iron your block open.

I cut strips of fabric about 6 inches wide. I’m going to stick with reds and whites in this project, so each time I made a cut, I layered a red strip right sides together with a white strip so the units would all be matched up and ready for the sewing machine.

I was able to cut about 6 to 8 layers of fabric at a time, but if I loaded too much, bits of fabric and fuzz stuck in the corners of the die. Occasionally, there were threads along the outside that didn’t cut, but this was not a problem as I was able to cut them quickly with my seam ripper.

I settled into a rhythm of 4 layers at a time. With the long strips of fabric, I could conserve by making my cut, then sliding the die to the next area and cutting again. I had very little waste.

So many triangles! My grandma would be pleased to see me using the fabric she bequeathed me from her sizable stash. Be careful handling these triangles because the diagonal edge is the stretchy bias and you don’t want to end up sewing a bunch of wonky squares. The other method of cutting half square triangles would be with a rotary cutter, mat, and ruler. I am not sure if this method is faster, but it certainly is more precise.

Crafters with a Big Shot who want to dabble in quilting can make a whole quilt with just this die and no investment in a rotary cutter, mat, and ruler. You don’t even need a good pair of fabric scissors if you use these quilting dies.

Just stitch up the diagonal of each set keeping an accurate 1/4 inch seam.

There are so many pleasing possibilities with Half Square Triangle units!

I settled on this setting which measures about 33 inches square and uses 64 Half Square Triangle units. You may keep a slightly different 1/4 inch seam allowance than I do so your finished top may have a slightly different measurement.

Pros:
  • Portable, durable, dependable, affordable.
  • Doesn’t require electricity, sticky mats that lose their stickiness, or computer programming.
  • Cuts a wide variety of materials interchangeably. Obviously, use discretion when choosing what to cut and don’t overload the dies. If a material doesn’t cut with scissors, it isn’t likely to cut with the Big Shot.
  • Useful selection of dies available for quilt making, felt craft, and fabric.
  • Westminster Fiber dies are well designed to make effective use of a fabric supply with little wasted fabric.
  • Nothing compares to a traditional die cutter like this when a large supply of shaped cutouts is desired.
  • New quilters can design a whole quilt using just one of the Westminster Fiber Bigz dies with no investment in many of the traditionally necessary tools for quilt making.
Cons:
  • Shapes are not customizable
  • Bigz dies are thick, so a collection of them will take up space in the craft closet.
  • Dies are labeled on the side. It would be helpful if they also had an image of the shape on the top of the die.
  • It is not necessarily quicker to cut all the pieces of a quilt with the Big Shot, but the accuracy and precision cannot be beat.

 

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 own a die cutting machine? Which one(s)? What crafts would you use the Big Shot for?

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

Vendor Spotlight & GIVEAWAY: American Girl Crafts- Funky Felt Pins

Reported by Maria Del Pinto

With summer quickly approaching it is a great time to plan some creative activities for my kids.  It is always wise to have some fun and easy kids crafting supplies on had to entertain the kids.  Since the American Girl dolls have always been popular in my household,  the idea of trying out the American Girl craft kits was met with enthusiasm by my girls.  The kit we tried out was the “Funky Felt Pins” which is recommended for children 8 years old and up.  The kit retails for $12.99.  

The packaging on the “Funky Felt Pins” is very colorful.  From the outside of the package, it does not look like you get much in the way of supplies.  However, I was happily surprised to find it was jam packed full of enough supplies for my girls and their friends to give this kit a try and learn some basic embroidery skills.
This kit comes with the following:
● Project & Idea Booklet
● 12 yards of embroidery floss in 4 colors
● 33 plain felt pieces
● 5 embroidered patches
● 12 adhesive pin backs
● 10 sequin flowers
● 1 piece of white practice felt
● 1 needle
● 1 needle threader
The instruction booklet does have some nice colored simple instructions for their versions of the following stitches and knots:
● running stitch
● applique stitch
● cross stitch
● french knot
● finishing knot
The kit is color coordinated with enough materials to create at least 12 pins.  Since it includes instructions and materials, it would make a fun scout troop project.  However, you would have to pick up extra needles for each girl; this kit only comes with one needle.

The first thing we did was to lay out the pieces and then pick out a few different shapes to sew together.

Then I sewed the small floral sequin onto the green felt flower using white thread to make the stitches stand out.
I then sewed the green felt flower onto the orange felt flower.

Which was followed by sewing those pieces onto the darker felt flower.
The kids took a vote and wanted to add some bling to the flower.   So I added beads to finish it off the piece.
As you can see, the steps are very simple and easy to follow.  However,  I did find that it was a little bit challenging for little fingers to negotiate the needle and accomplish the smaller stitches.   

However, even with that frustration, the project certainly kept her attention.

A different size needle did make the difference for her and she enjoyed making her project.
Here are some other projects we made with the die cut felt pieces provided in the kit.  The first is a felt owl pin.
The second is a funky felt ring.  A quick note on this one, my daughter sewed the different pieces together. However, since she wanted a ring we felt that adding glass beads would add some sparkle and interest the ring.


The third is a funky felt hair band.
The fourth is a funky felt  hair clip for one of their American Girl dolls.
These projects are so fun and easy for the kids to do.  They also provide a great surface for adding beads, buttons, rhinestones, and more.  I like this because it allows for creative self expression and personalization.  Since this kit was such a hit with my girls, I will be purchasing some of the other American Girl Craft kits this summer to keep them entertained.
Tips:

  • Lay everything out so you can pick your colors and shapes.
  • If you are using the kit for younger children, you can help avoid frustration by using white glue to adhere the pieces together.  Let dry.  Then sew together with simple stitches.
  • Use up those fun beads and charms you have around the house to use as accents for these fun pieces.
Pros:
  • Plenty of material for a fun party activity or scout craft project.
  • The materials in the kit are versatile, you can use the pieces to create more than just pins.
  • Kit appeals to more than just 8-year-olds.  My 20-year-old thought they were pretty cute and wanted to make one.
Cons:
  • The felt die cuts are a little difficult for smaller hands to negotiate.  I would recommend using a different needle for smaller hands and perhaps backing the die cut felt materials onto a slightly larger piece of felt.
  • Not enough needles, it would be nice if they included more than one needle in the kit.
  • Some of the accent stitches are little challenging for some 8-year-olds.  I would recommend sewing or gluing on beads or rhinestones, if the child gets frustrated.

GIVEAWAY
The folks over at EK Success are giving away kits to two lucky readers. To enter simply answer any of the questions below in the Comments section of this article on our website. One comment per person, please.
What are some of your favorite summer projects for your kids?  Do you have any hand sewing tips for kids or kid craft ideas?  We would love to hear from you.

Winners are chosen at random. Contest closes Sunday, June 12th at 6pm CST. Good Luck!

Disclaimer

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

Book review: Donna Kooler’s Kool Felt Embroidery

Reported by Erika Martin

Both felt and embroidery have made a huge comeback in the crafting world and both have taken on a fresh new look from what it was years ago. I’ve enjoyed needlework since I was a little girl and started my first cross stitch project at 8 years old. Since that day, I’ve picked up all sorts of needle crafts and deepened my love of the large color range of embroidery floss.

A book that I’ve been playing around with for quite a few months now is Donna Kooler’s Kool Felt Embroidery. This 132-page book includes “30 felt projects enhanced with beautiful details,” according to the book’s back cover. The cover also states “that because felt has no grain, it’s an ideal surface for embroidery.” The book includes “instructions for cutting the felt into the patterns provided in the book, as well as directions for layering them in complementary colors and adding embroidered swirls, borders and decorative stitches.”

The table of contents is brilliant with pictures of each project, along with the name of the project and the page number it can be found on. The book contains a section on basics, such as types of felt and what you’ll need to create your projects; a section on basic techniques including how to use a rotary cutter, making pattern pieces, transferring designs, constructing a basic pillow, the hobo bag, a purse and pincushion and much more. A section is included on types of embroidery threads, tools and techniques and a list of stitches. The back of the book contains a wonderful glossary of stitches along with illustrations to create the stitches. For a new embroiderer, this is a great resource. A full section of pattern pieces is located in the back of the book.


Each project is broken down in easy-to-understand steps. The author, Donna Kooler, tells you what you’ll need for felt, decorative thread (she even includes the numbers for floss so that if you want to recreate her project as it’s shown in the book, you can choose the right colors of floss to go with it) and other supplies. The “What you do” section of each project is broken down in numbered steps and is easy to follow; some of the steps include illustrations to accompany them.

One of the many things that I like about this book is that it’s great for all levels of stitchers. New stitchers can start off with no experience at all and learn through this book, while advanced stitchers can take the projects and tweak them a bit to add extras to them and create their own twist on the project. I’ve been hand stitching for 25 years and even I learned some stitches that I’d never done before!

Another of the things that I love about this book is that each project has multiple pictures shown along with tags for each stitch used so that you can recreate the pattern exactly has Donna Kooler has done with her projects.
The projects are whimsical and fun, and I love the practicality that many of them serve, along with the fun accessories that can be made to add to any wardrobe. I tweaked some of the projects and also experimented with some of the stitches that I’d never tried before. There is more than enough in this book to keep my stitching hands happy. My 10 year old daughter has also found her hand stitching improving by working with the illustrations in the back of the book and using the patterns and projects.

While the book includes a cell phone case pattern, I chose to use a die cut piece of felt to create my case, though I also used it as a way to practice the “whipped spider stitch,” a stitch I’d never heard of or done before. The directions and illustrations in the back of the book, along with photos of finished projects in the book helped to give me a perfect result on my first try. This book really is that detailed and helpful.

While creating some cell phone cases, I was able to pick a few stitches up that I had gotten rusty on, like the chain and outline stitches. The simplicity of this book reminds me that even basic stitches can take on a whole new look.

After seeing some felt coasters at a craft fair this past December, I gave the “Twirling Flower Coaster” a try. This is one of the easiest projects in the book and would make a great starting project for young kids learning to embroider.

I traced the pattern onto a piece of white computer paper first. You can also take your book to a local print shop and have them enlarge any of the pattern pieces. I used the pattern piece at the size it was printed in the book.
The pattern piece got pinned to felt so that I could cut a purple piece of felt and a green piece.
When I got the pieces cut, I twisted the purple flower on top of the green flower so that it showed beneath and pinned the two pieces together.
I used one of the stitch patterns shown in the book but added some beads on each of the stitched petals.
When I make these again, I’ll be enlarging the pattern as the pattern in the book was a bit smaller than what I wanted to make. This will be a great project for my daughter to do to make as gifts for teachers and relatives and it’s also a great project for me if I’m looking for a quick gift for a wedding or bridal shower, etc.
I also chose a time-consuming project and one with a little more difficulty. I decided on the “Belt of Many Paisleys.” I did tweak the measurements a bit since I made the belt for my 10 year old daughter, and I used smaller D-rings.

I chose to work with earth tones and cut a pieces of oatmeal and rust colored felt. I traced out the paisley pattern from the back of the book and then traced around it on the oatmeal colored felt. Since the pattern called for placing one piece of felt over the over, it didn’t matter that I used pen to trace since that side of the felt was going to be face down against the other piece of felt.
I used a pair of precision tip scissors to cut out the paisleys and then used spray adhesive to glue both of my pieces of felt together.
The belt in the book calls for different stitches on all of the paisleys but instead I chose to do all of the paisleys the same. Even still, it was a lot of stitching, but very therapeutic.

I added a couple of D-rings at the end of the belt and finished off the edges with a green blanket stitch.
I roughly put about 26 hours of work into this belt, but it was well worth it. I enjoyed the process so much! Not all of the projects in this book take that much time. In fact, the book includes a variety of projects for different skill levels and time values. Of course, like I’ve done, you can tweak a project if you want to simplify it.




Pros:

  • This book retails for $17.95, which works out to be 60 cents per project (30 projects with patterns included!) – a fantastic value
  • Book includes many techniques, stitch glossary, full supply lists, etc.
  • Variety of projects for beginners all the way to advanced stitchers
  • Beautiful full color photos and labels identifying all stitches on each project

Cons:

  • As much as I tried, I could not find one.

Donna Kooler’s Kool Felt Embroidery is available at Amazon.com, and if you use this link to purchase it, you’ll be supporting Craft Critique!

Time for your turn! Do you have this book? Which projects have you done and which are your favorites?

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