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Vendor Spotlight & GIVEAWAY!: Sizzix Big Shot

Reported by Susie Ziegler

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

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Felt Comparison: Acrylic vs. Wool

Reported by Cassandra Darwin

Felt is one of the hot trends in the craft world right now, from appliques on aprons and clothing, to pincushions, to scrapbooking; felt is everywhere! I thought I would take a chance to do a quick comparison of three different types of felt and some examples of projects that would use each one.

I’ll start out with a quick definition of felt. According to Wikipedia, felt is a non-woven fabric that is instead made by “matting, condensing, and pressing” fibers together. For the sake of our comparison, I will limit the scope of our comparison to two different felts that you can purchase at craft and fabric stores (acrylic and wool), and in the case of wool “woven felt” you can make it at home.

Acrylic Felt
This is probably the most accessible type of felt, found in craft stores everywhere. It is usually sold in small pieces like these, measuring approximately 9 inches by 12 inches and retailing for about $0.25 per piece.

Oftentimes you can find acrylic felt sold by the yard at fabric stores. This comes in handy for larger projects or if you need a certain color not available in the smaller sizes. Let’s get right down to the nitty gritty on acrylic felt.

Pros:

  • Widely available, and in a huge range of colors
  • The least expensive out of all three options
  • Because of the first two pros, it is the perfect material for trying new things and learning techniques before moving on to more expensive materials
  • Perfect for holiday decorations, card making, or other projects that will not be handled much and don’t need a long life
  • I know that at least a few brands use fiber from recycled soda bottles to make acrylic felt
Cons:
  • Relatively thin and not very strong – will pull apart
  • Usually not as clean of a cut, more loose flyaway fibers
  • Cannot be washed or laundered
Here are a few projects where I have used acrylic felt:
Adhesive felt scroll for scrapbooking
Die cut acrylic felt flowers for hair clips
Hand cut acrylic felt shapes for Valentine’s tags
Wool Felt
Wool felt is the next step up – it is more expensive, and often much harder to find than acrylic. Here are a few pieces that I picked up from different quilting and specialty fabric stores around San Diego:
The prices range from $2 for a few scraps to $6 for a 9 inch by 12 inch piece. I’ve also found that the texture, thickness, and quality vary in each little piece I collect. So for larger projects you would want to get all of the felt you need at one time for consistency.
Pros:
  • Stronger and more durable than acrylic felt
  • Stand the test of time for your heirloom projects, like applique on a quilt
  • Will withstand dry cleaning, and can be washed at home if you take care to not let colors bleed
Cons:
  • Much more expensive than acrylic felt – I feel like I should save my wool felt for the “special” projects
  • Because it is more dense and strong, some crafters prefer to use acrylic felt for softer, dainty accents like flowers and butterflies on dimensional projects
And a few examples using wool felt:
Applique penny rug that my mom made and gifted to me
A few more penny rugs in a local quilt store that I would love to copy
Woven Wool Felt
This type of wool felt is something I learned about last year, where you can shrink down knitted wool (like old sweaters) and use it just like a thicker version of wool felt (no raveling). Here is a quick how-to on the process.
Once you have the woven wool felt, you can use it just like wool felt but you’ll need to account for a thicker texture when planning projects. Here is one that my mom and I worked on for Christmas presents:
She had collected about 7 different wool and cashmere sweaters from thrift stores and then did the hot water washing routine described in the how-to link above. After that we had more than enough colors and textures to make 10 different cupcake pincushions. They were a big hit amongst the recipients and we all started planning what to make next. This is one of the pincushion patterns we plan to use for the woven felt:
Thanks for reading, and feel free to share your thoughts and experiences about the different types of felt.
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