Thursday, May 26, 2016


For the past few weeks you’ve heard me lamenting over a couple of super secret projects I’ve been working on. With wicked deadlines looming, it seems inevitable for my mind to wander a bit (but just a bit) to projects that might be next up on my to-do list.

I recently took the plunge and purchased a Silhouette Cameo cutting machine and it’s still in the box. I do have a couple of really good reasons for that: 1) the previously mentioned deadline stuff that really must take first priority in my craft room, and 2) I think I’m a little nervous about opening the box! (I mean, Jeesh!, even the sticker on the top is a bit intimidating!)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m completely excited about the possibilities, but learning new tricks is always a little intimidating. And the Silhouette tool isn’t necessarily designed for quilters and fabric.

Enter my friend Shelly Stokes. She has been working with fabric and her Silhouette machine for a couple years now with amazing success. Shelly and I recently chatted by phone about my unopened box of Silhouette goodness, and I thought I’d share some of that conversation. If you have a Silhouette machine or if you’re thinking about purchasing one for your quilty hobby, you might just be interested in reading more. . .

Here’s a bit of my conversation with Shelly:

Shelly: Thanks, Joan. I’m excited to chat with you and your readers today.

We’ve been talking about the Silhouette cutting machines on and off for the better part of a year. Maybe longer. A lot of the how-to materials already out there are aimed at non-fabric crafters, it’s been tough to figure out how we could make this thing useful in the fabric world.

Me: Right. All I see is paper this, vinyl that, rhinestones, cards, t-shirts, (oh my!). I like all kinds of crafts but for me, quilting comes first, what about us FABRIC people?

Shelly: You’re right. What about quilters and fabric art fans? Can a Silhouette cutter work in our world too?

Me: First things first. Can the Silhouette cut fabric? I’m not too keen on treating my soft quilting cottons with additives so they become stiff and paper-like just to be able to cut it.

Shelly: I had a lot of questions about this, too, Joan. When I went to the big All Things Silhouette conference in Atlanta in April, everyone I talked to said we had to stabilize the dickens out of fabric in order to cut it on a Silhouette. But, I decided to be a doubting Thomas and do some testing.

And what do you know, it worked! The fabric does need to be stabilized, but we’ve got options - quilter-friendly options. Fusible web when we want it -- or freezer paper when we don’t want to add any stiffness. So yes, we can cut fabric without making it as stiff as a board.

And before you ask, yes, we can use scraps! I know you’ve got bins and bins of tidy scraps that are just perfect for your projects. It’s super easy to press scraps to freezer paper and let the machine do the cutting.

Me: Yay! Shelly, you know me too well! I love finding new ways to use my scrap fabrics!

We’ve talked about using the Silhouette software to create designs. Do I have to make my own designs? Or are there designs out there that I can buy to get started?

Shelly: Good question. There are tons of great designs in the Silhouette Store and in lots of places around the internet. Sometimes a design will be just what I want, so there’s no need for me to start from scratch. But often, I might like the vine on one design and the leaves on another.

Using the software, I can cut the two designs into pieces and then put them back together for my project. Here’s an example. I purchased the two designs on the left from the Silhouette Store. Then I cut them apart with my super cool erasing method and put them back together to form the drawing on the right. I didn’t have to draw anything and I got a design that’s just right.

Me: That’s pretty slick. What if I want to make my own design?

Shelly: You can do that too. And it’s not rocket science. A lot of drawing programs (especially Adobe Illustrator) have 20 gazillion tools and options and possibilities. For me, they are downright intimidating.

But the Silhouette Studio software is a drawing program that has been put on a serious diet. The people that designed it did a great job of distilling the tools down into a simple easy-to-use subset of what you find in something like Illustrator. They kept a lot of good stuff, but dramatically reduced the complexity. (Can you tell I’m a little excited?)

Me: Yup. You are definitely excited. And you’ve got me excited, too. But I’ve got more questions… What about applique patterns? I hate the tracing part of the prep - light boxes and reversing shapes – bleh-h. I’m always so anxious to get to the sewing. Can the Silhouette help me there?

Shelly: Absolutely. There’s a pretty decent tracing capability in the Silhouette Studio software. You can scan a paper pattern or take a photo of it, then import it into the software for tracing. It’s much faster once you get the hang of it – and it’s fun!

And get this. Change the cutting blade to a marking pen, then draw the applique shapes directly onto the fabric with the Silhouette. Change the pen back to the blade, and cut around the shape to add the seam allowance. How cool is that?

Me: Okay. You’ve convinced me that I should open the box. I just know there are some really fun things waiting around the bend at Hummingbird Highway using this machine. Sew Along, anyone? I still have to get over those ‘fresh out of the box’ jitters. . . .I’d rather not experiment to figure all this stuff out. Waiting in the wings, I’ve got two or three project ideas . . .

Shelly: I’ve got just the thing for you and your Good Migrations readers. I’ve done the heavy lifting for you. I did all the experiments and figured out how to make this machine work for quilters and and the fabric art folks that hang around with me. And I’m running a class that starts on June 6th. It’s six modules over eight weeks. We’ll cover everything we talked about here today and a bit more.

Me: Sounds perfect, but that’s right around the corner. I’m up to my eyeballs in deadlines. Do I have to be online at a certain time? Will I have access to the lessons after the course ends?

Shelly: No worries, Joan. All of the lessons are pre-recorded. You do them when it works for you. You have “forever” access to the classroom, so you can start when your schedule lets up and come back whenever you need a refresher. I’ll be answering questions in the classroom for two weeks past the end of the eight weeks, so there’s plenty of time even if you start late.

Me: Wait. "Classroom?" Do I have to go someplace for this? Sounds like it could get complicated. Do I need any special tools to take the class?

Shelly: Good questions. And nope, you don’t have to go anywhere, the entire course is delivered to your home computer. The lessons are all online; a new step is introduced roughly once per week for a period of eight weeks. You don’t even NEED to have the Silhouette machine, but I suppose the course will make the most sense if you’re seriously considering that purchase in the near future. 

Once you enroll, you’ll receive a series of emails. One of those emails will be a supply list. I want you to learn how to use the machine to make some real tools you can use for future projects. But don't worry, you don't need bunches and bunches of special materials. Just enough to try things out.

Me: Okay sign me up! What if someone wants to learn a little bit more about the June 6 workshop?

Shelly: You’ll find all the details at the Silhouette for Fabric Art information page. If you’ve got a Silhouette that’s gathering dust (or still in the box! *a-hem!*), this is the perfect time to put it to use!

Click here and check out the deets. If nothing else, you have to check it out to see how tidy Shelly's desk is! Mine looks just like that! *wink!*

I'm in! Really, I've already enrolled. How about you? Do you have Silhouette Cameo cutter? Do you use it for quilting?

Happy Stitching!
joan ford

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