Monday, November 14, 2016

This Is How I Cut

When I first started quilting twenty years ago, my biggest obstacle, fear, trepidation, etc. was having to use a rotary cutter.  Between that and lighting matches, which I don't do, I want to protect my beloved fingers.  I'll even admit that I'm not good at changing blades, I rather use a brand new one, I tend to buy them when they are a good price, or purchase individual blades and not bulk packages because I don't want to deal with separating them which really is hard to do.

Luckily, soon after I started quilting, June Tailor came out with the Shape Cut Rulers and I would not have made as many quilts as I have without this ruler.  I promptly referred to it as my best friend.  The first ruler cut up to 12" and had slots in 1/2" increments and now there are several other rulers, most notably the Shape Cut Plus which went up to 18" and had slots in increments of 1/2" but a guide to cut 1/4" which when this became available at first to Quilt Shops only, quickly became my new best friend.  I have at least six different versions of these rulers, even the grand mommy of them all, the Shape Cut Pro which cuts in increments of 2.5"which came out when jelly rolls, charm squares and layer cakes were becoming popular. (F.Y.I., Since my cutting mat is white, I put blue painter's tape on the bottom so I see the numbers better).

Other rulers and aids used to overcome my discomfort with the rotary cutter were these two speciality rulers, Guidelines for Cutting Ruler which are those cuts other than whole, 1/4" and 1/2" (believe me I am so annoyed when cuts are in 1/8", 3/8" and anything in 1/16", i.e., Gypsy Wife, and avoid making quilts using those measurements) and the Simple 7/8" Ruler for half square triangle which is useful when you only need to make a few of them, otherwise I am a big fan of triangle paper.  I do have other rulers, regular and specialty, too numerous to mention but I'm thinking as I write this post, I may now understand why men buy tools.

Almost three years ago, I started thinking about die-cutting machines even though at that time I thought I was the last holdout with my reasoning being they were too expensive, waste too much fabric, etc.  After purchasing and really reading Ebony Love's The Big Little Book of Fabric Die Cutting Tips and studying YouTube videos, hemming and hawing for a year,  I finally decided to buy one in November, 2014 because I was becoming very unhappy with my fabric cuts, the bow in the center of the strips, inaccurate cuts, etc. which I attribute to my shape cut rulers and myself getting up in age.  In less than two years, I now have three die cutters and almost one hundred dies and thought I give a little guide and thought to the machines I have.  Please remember these are only my opinions and I do not consider myself an expert but rather an enthusiast.  If you want to learn how to operate a die-cutter, be sure to check out the manufacturers home page online or YouTube.

The first die-cutter I purchased was the Sizzix Big Shop Pro and the big selling reason was because I could use both Sizzix and Accuquilt dies (you do need to purchase a special adapter plate). It is a big machine which has two different sizes of trays, regular and extra long which is need for the strip dies.  It weighs 45lbs and  the recommendation is to find a permanent spot for it since moving it around is cumbersome.  I have this machine, affectionately called, Princess Die-Cutter, on a metal cart and when I do use it I carry it over to my big basting table which is less than a yard away.  It's not too heavy when you remove the tray.  After I had Princess Die-Cutter for around a year, I was thinking that the Sizzix Fabi-Cutter would be nice to use for the smaller Sizzix dies and bought one when Amazon offered me an incredible deal.  Originally, they sold for $119 and Amazon's price was $89 and I kept putting it and taking it out of my cart for several months and they finally offered to sell it for $63 and I couldn't resist.  I think this unit was being eliminated so they were trying to get rid of their stock.  Even though both of my Sizzix die-cutters are less than two years old, they are the old models since the newer ones are now white.  And finally, I have the Accuquilt Baby Go which I received for Christmas last year, the reasoning being again, it nice for the smaller Accuquilt dies that I have.  I love it because of its portability.  Here's a photo of the three helpers and just another FYI, my studio is in the basement and it gets cold down there so that that's why there's plastic on the window.

My thoughts on the two manufacturers, Sizzix and Accuquilt, is if I could do it all over again, I would have purchased the Accuquilt Studio Cutter 2 which both Sizzix and Accuquilt dies can be used.  At that time, I didn't want to spend the extra $200 and I thought this die-cutter was made for high volume users like quilt shops.

Accuquilt die cutters are made specifically for quilters and I find their dies cut the fabric much cleaner than the Sizzix dies.  More often than not, after making a die cut with the Sizzix, there is always threads attached that need to be removed in order to separate the strips/pieces.  Sizzix has been making die cutters longer but they weren't specifically for quilters but also for scrap bookers.

Accuquilt dies are more expensive than Sizzix and you can find Sizzix dies on sale at great prices from Sizzix. com, especially during Black Friday which from my experience is the time to stock up.  Amazon is another place where you can find great prices.  A word of caution, when Sizzix dies are on sale, especially really low prices, base on previous experiences; they could be reduced because something is wrong with the die, as with the 4"x 8" rectangle die which was not accurate, the die could be mislabeled, (which is another source of confusion, because you have to make sure the die measurement is for cut size and not finished size), or the die is being retooled.  During the past year, three of my dies were defective and happily I had no problems with getting replacements quickly.

I do think using a die-cutter is better for you ergonomically and for accurate cuts but whether it is a time saver is a toss up for me.  There may be a perception that you put the fabric on the die-cutter run it through and Voila' you have 100 pieces.  It doesn't work quite that way.  Without getting too technical, it's best that the fabric is pre-cut to match the size of the die space and for some that may seem redundant.  Pre-cutting your fabric and strategically placing it on the die also reduces fabric waste.  Also, there's the time I spent on the leftovers, little and not so little strips which I put in a box and later sorted out to see which strips/patches can be used for quilts, rugs, fabric twine, etc.  I'll save anything that is 1/2" or bigger.

Besides the expense of the dies, cutting pads needs to be purchased for both machines and are pricey, especially the ones for Sizzix.  I purchase them from either Amazon or directly from Sizzix or Accuquilt when there is a sale or free shipping is offered.

One of the nice things about having my die-cutters, I can cut my own jelly rolls, charm squares and layer cakes and not have to deal with those pinked edges since I have a 2.5" strip die, 5" square die and 10" square die amongst my many dies.  When I first bought dies, I based it on the size of blocks I mostly made which were 8" and 12" so I looked for dies in 2" and 4" increments.  Accuquilt has a nice system of selling their dies in size bundles but it is pricey.  Also, another source of patterns is the books and magazines for pre-cuts.  My most used die I would say is my 2.5" strip die which stays on Princess Die-Cutter and I have die-cut many strips for binding and strip quilts.  Another thing, once you sew a HST that was die-cut, you'll never go back to your old method, I love that they are die-cut without dog ears.  I keep a die inventory list so I can refer to it when I see a pattern or before I purchase a new die.  For reasons I can't explain, I purchased two of the same die, several times, and have learned my lesson not to buy until I check my list.  If you buy directly from Sizzix or Accuquilt, dies are not returnable unless they are defective.

Most of the quilts I make now are those that I can use my die-cutter.  Sometimes I will change a pattern so I can use my die-cutter.  Here are some of my quilts which the die cutter was used:

Dies used: 4"x8" rectangle & 2.5" strip die
Dies used" 3"x 6" trapezoid and 3" HST 
Accuquilt 3'x6" Half Rectangle Die
Accuquilt Hexagon and Equilateral Triangle Dies
I have more quilts that can be seen on my Pinterest Boards: RMM Quilts and Quilts To Die-Cut for.

I know that I've put my die cutters to good use and can justify the expense.  There are still some committed (notice I didn't say die-hard) rotary cutters like Mary and Connie who I demonstrated my Accuquilt Go this past weekend.  I wish I took a photo of them watching me with total skepticism and disbelief, based on previous experience with their die-cutter,  after seeing how nice the die-cuts came out.  I don't have to change my rotary blade as often and my triangle paper supply is just sitting there.  I once said that if I became Queen of the Quilting World, I would abolish any pattern using 1" HST but they are safe now because I have a 1" HST die.

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