In a world that’s ever changing, even in the craft industry, things change quickly. I can remember when the Rotary Cutter first produced by Olfa in 1979 changed the way I was going to sew forever. I absolutely love my rotary cutter. I first learned about rotary cutters in 1987 when I started working at a fabric shop in Salt Lake City, Utah. I can’t even tell you how it changed my world. Back then, I wasn’t into quilting yet, that would come in 1988. For me, I used my rotary cutter for cutting out clothing. I bought some weights, the giant mat, and I was off to the races on how quickly I could put out new clothing. It was totally amazing. I still own that same rotary cutter today. When we moved to Cumberland, Maryland in late 1987, I took my first quilting class thinking I could make some friends. Imagine their surprise when I cut out my quilt with that same rotary cutter and that teacher was still teaching how to use templates. Strip piecing to my knowledge was non-existent as a technique then. Can you imagine??
So, last year, when I got back into quilting, I discovered the wonderful world of the new cutters. I was really taken aback tho by the pricing of them. They are not inexpensive, and you really do need to do your research with them. I took the time to do my research and I knew right off the bat I didn’t want a machine that I would still have to use templates or dies for. That just doesn’t make sense to me to have to buy templates when I can rotary cut whatever I need. So buying what is known as dies to me is just not going to happen, while I know many of you own those types of machines, for me, it’s just not the direction I personally wanted to go.
Finally, in September 2013, I purchased the Silhouette Cameo from Amazon. Suffice it to say, cutting fabric on today’s cutters is still a foreign kind of thing. It’s not easy, and there is a learning curve to it. I really made a huge effort to learn my Cameo, but I just had no luck trying to cut fabric with it. So I set it aside for a bit and kept looking for ways to cut with it. Please don’t get me wrong, it was possible to cut fabric with the Cameo, but not the way I want to cut it. I will rarely use Heat n Bond to do applique, it’s just not going to happen in my mind. I do not like the stiffness that comes with Heat n Bond, and I am not partial to zigzag applique as well and while some people add zigzag to it, others do not.
In January 2014, I purchased the Brother Scan N Cut, and from the day I got it, I have cut the fabric the way I wanted easily. Hallelujah, I was totally rejoicing.
I guess I am slow, I’ve been working on writing this lesson for months, just trying to take in everything I’ve learned about cutters and how they work since that time even from when I bought the Cameo.
First, I’m not going to kid you, it is by far faster, easier, and less expensive to cut your fabric with your rotary cutter if you are cutting out strips and template type shapes.
If you do applique, the process time is probably about the same. These lessons I’m going to show you will show you not only how to get your block to the software, but also to the cutter, how to cut out freezer paper, how to mark your quilt blocks, and how to prepare and cut your fabrics for your blocks. It will be spread out over several pages. This is not a one-page lesson because there is so much to learn about this great new technique.
First, I want to thank all of the people who have spent time creating pages and videos to show us the Cameo, the Brother SNC, Make the Cut software, Brother Canvas and Silhouette Design Studio. Without you, I could not write my own version of the techniques and show people how I now create my cuts for my applique blocks. A special thank you to Kari of the Bernina Designer Plus v7 Yahoo Group who gave us some tips on cutting fabric with the Cameo. I finally got what I wanted (almost and I am happy) out of my Cameo.
First, this page is mainly about supplies, software’s, and cutters, the actual lessons will be done on their own pages.
I’m going to first talk about software. There is software on the market for helping you get your pattern ready for the machine. I’ve mentioned several already, however, I’m going to list a few others as well
Make The Cut – 58.36 – Will create files for most cutters
Silhouette Design Studio – Free & 49.99 – Will create files for Silhouette cutters
Sure Cuts A Lot – 59.99 – Will create files for most cutters
Inkscape – open source – Will open and create files for cutting software
Craft Artist 2 – 39.99 – Will open and create files for cutting software
Brother Canvas – Free – Will convert .svg to .fcm via your browser
Embrilliance – 149.95 – For machine embroiderers only. This wonderful software will take your digitized design and convert to not only silhouette studio files but your SNC files. It will even create a .svg for those of you needing other formats. Easily. Cost is high, because it’s also a design editor. You need the Essentials part of the program to do this), but for those of you with the SNC, you don’t have to use Brother’s website to get your fcm file.
Sure Cuts Alot – 59.95 (standard version) Depending on if you buy the Pro version or the standard version. Current newest version 4 (I didn’t buy the pro version) allows you the ability to convert .svg to .fcm and this makes this software the cheapest software you can install on your pc to create your .fcm files. Brother canvas is still free. Even if your a machine embroiderer, this makes this a less costly option to Embrillance, and you can add the tiny allowance to your shapes that Embrillance automatically does for you manually. My only gripe with SCAL is no way to choose which page you want to open your .pdf at.
Each of these software’s work in their own way. Whether you’re a quilter or crafter, they will work in one way or another for you to help you create your cutting files.
The only software in that list that I don’t own is Sure Cuts A Lot, and while I did try it out, I prefer Make The Cut, I just found it easier to use. However, each of the above versions has trial versions that you can try to see which is easiest for you. Brother Canvas is not software you install on your pc however, you need to create an account and use your browser to convert .svg files to .fcm to be used in your SNC. You could also scan them or use via formats such as .jpg, but it’s much easier for me to use Brother Canvas because you can setup your SVG as well to cut how it should once you get to the cutter.
With both Brother Canvas and Silhouette, they are designed to go with the cutter of the respective brand, and they are not designed to write files in any other formats. It’s not possible in the current version of Silhouette even to export to .svg which imho is a huge mistake for Silhouette to take away from their customers.
I would encourage any Silhouette customer to upgrade their free version to the Designer Studio version tho. I won’t be showing you anything that I’m aware of that can be done in the free version, so if you don’t own the upgrade to the Designer Studio, you will need either Make The Cut or Sure Cuts A Lot in order to create your files if you plan to export to .svg.
If you are not into paper crafts, I also would not encourage you to purchase the Silhouette subscription service. While it may seem like a great deal, it is not easy to take the artwork you purchase and create patterns for your block with it and they are not designed for you to do so either.
These lessons will only focus on the Silhouette Cameo and the Brother Scan N Cut, they are the machines I own and so I will be showing how to cut with them. However, the one common denominator I have found with all of this is that preparation of your files and your fabrics is pretty much the same no matter which brand of machine you use.
These lessons focus on preparation and cutting fabric based on the use of Freezer Paper, Starch and Fabric Stiffeners. No Heat n Bond was used at all in the preparation of these lessons.
Supplies You Will Need:
Reynolds Freezer Paper or C. Jenkins 8×11 Freezer Paper or C. Jenkins 15×12 Freezer Paper / Note: Do not use C&T’s version of Freezer Paper. The reason for this is because that freezer paper has a strong adherence to the mat and when you’re removing it from the cutter, the freezer paper seems to adhere itself more to the mat and does not come off without scraping it off. In other words, you’ve just wasted very expensive freezer paper because you had to scrape it off your mat versus lifting it off.
Best Press – Consider buying this by the gallon, you will go thru a lot of it. Other starches which are cheaper will work, but you will use far more of them, and you risk getting flakes all over your fabric.
Terial Magic – Slightly more expensive than Best Press, but, does the job in 1 application, takes less time to do, no cleaning of iron is needed as often, and uses far less of the product.
4-Inch or 6-Inch Brayer – A must have tool. This is used to flatten and smooth our whatever medium you are laying on the mat. Many machines already come with “scraping” tools for the same purpose, but the Brayer really makes a huge difference in getting a nicely laid out fabric or freezer paper.
Painters Tape – This is an optional product used to help when your medium is slightly hanging over the edge of the sticky part of your mat.
While these tools are geared towards the machines this lesson is featured with, they are really needed for any cutting type of machine. You can use those that come with your machine or purchase other types to find what is best for you.
Where mats and blades are concerned, shop around, while I usually find the best prices on Amazon, I have found good prices on eBay and other shops as well. Walmart also carries the Silhouette mats. I am not sure about Brother at Walmart.
If you plan to scan with your Brother SNC, take the plunge and buy the scanning mat. The reason being is that while you can use the normal mats in the scanner if you get any cut lines or markings on them, the scanner will pick them up. The scanner on the SNC is very sensitive and even the tiniest of cutting scraps will be picked up in the scan.
With the Brother machine, you can not use the Silhouette or any other brand of mats in the machine. However, with the Silhouette, you can use other brands of mats in the Cameo, so let’s say you find the Cricut mat on sale for better than the Silhouette, you can use those mats in your Silhouette, although, wait until your warranty is up before you change your brand of mat. It’s my understanding that the various companies will void your warranty if you’re not using their products to cut or print with. — Added May 2017 Using other mats on your cameo can create calibration problems, and it is very difficult to re-calibrate the machine. Please stay with the silhouette mat b.
Both brands have different blades. With Brother to cut fabric and freezer paper you only need the Standard Blade. I do not know in regards to stencil template plastic which you would need since I don’t use the plastic to mark my quilting patterns with. I only use my Brother for fabric cutting, so, I don’t feel the need to purchase a second blade holder and keep it for paper only.
Pen Holders – I’m not impressed with the marking ability of the Brother Scan N Cut, this is the one area of the machine that I don’t really think they thought out too much in terms of what people will want to use. The one thing that the SNC offers over the Silhouette machine is that they have the blue washable and the purple pens. However, you can use these pens in your silhouette cutter as well so it’s not necessary for that respect for Silhouette to make these pens. If you plan to mark fabric or freezer paper and you’ve purchased the cameo, purchase the additional pen holder.
Note: As of late 2015, Brother came out with a pen holder for the SNC that allows your own pens. This is a huge bonus to your SNC and one I intend to try out. There are some videos on youtube to see how this pen holder works, it is my understanding it won’t take the large sharpie pens, or fat Crayola pens, but will take the smaller ones.
Pens: With the Silhouette and it’s pen holder, you can literally fit most pens and markers into the holder. Not all, but most and the thin ones like Jellyrolls can be made to fit in them. With the Brother, only their pens will fit in their pen holder.
While I do own Silhouette’s Sketch Pens, it’s not necessary to use these.
You’ll need a Spatula. Both machines come with this as part of their supplies when you purchase the extended packs. For some things, you may even need what I call the pick because it reminds me of that pick the dentist puts in your mouth to scrape your teeth with.. ewwww… You could probably find these cheaper even at a medical supply.
You will need a scraper as well. Some people use old credit cards, I’ve seen one video where a lady used a wind scraper (used for removing the ice off your window shield on your car during the winter months) and various other tools. My favorite has become the Spatula that came with my Brother SNC, but I also ordered the Cricut Scraper and Spatula. The spatula makes it very easy to lift your fabric or freezer paper off sticker mats or fabric or paper that has adhered quite strongly to your mat. You want to use these as they will prevent ripping or fraying on the paper or fabric.
The Brayer is one of the best tools you can own for adhering your fabric or paper to the mat. It runs over the medium and gives a smooth nice surface helping to get any air bubbles out at the same time. It’s not sold by any of the cutting companies, you usually find them in the paint supply departs of your Home Depot or paint sections of department stores.
To say that I think you should have a backup knife and mat on hand is an understatement. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read where people cut their mats. I to have cut my silhouette mats up. I haven’t done that on my SNC, but I knew better when I got that machine as well. The biggest reason a mat will get cut through is because the knife setting has been placed too high for what your cutting.
Like scissors, keep a knife for cutting freezer paper, and a knife for cutting fabric on hand.
The Actual Cutters:
I’m going to talk about the differences between the two different cutters I own.
I personally believe that neither is better than the other is. But if you were to ask me even three months ago (early April 2014), I would have hands down said the SNC was the better cutter. However, since Kari essentially told me what I needed to do to get the fabric to cut on the Cameo, that has changed. It’s not that I want you to go and spend $700.00 to buy two cutters either, so if I were going to tell you which cutter to seriously look at, it would be the Cameo and the biggest reason is because of the marking/printing abilities of the Cameo.
I will put another machine out there for you tho. The KNK Zing machine is also considered one of the best machines on the market as well. It comes with Make The Cut software and has a huge support fan base. I have seen it cut fabric without any starch or backing type material and that alone is a very impressive thing to me. Should my Cameo ever quit on me, this will be my next cutter. The only thing that the Zing doesn’t do is the scanning, but the Cameo also does not have a scanning ability on the machine itself. The SNC has a separate scanner built in with the machine. You can, however “scan” into the Cameo or MTC software via your pc scanner.
Both the Cameo and the Zing hook up to your computer. The SNC does not, it uses a separate flash drive to cut the files with. The cameo also has the ability to hook up to a flash drive should you not wish to use it next to your computer.
When cutting fabric, no matter what I do with the Cameo, I will invariably have some shapes where a small scissor cut needs to be made to remove the shape from the other part of the fabric. This has not happened to me with the SNC at all. So the SNC has the edge on cutting fabric.
The cameo does a better job of marking than the SNC does. It has the ability to use many different types of pens in its pen holder. The Brother pens are the only ones you can use to my knowledge in the SNC.
The SNC is more expensive to use. It needs a support sheet for cutting fabric along with the mat. The cameo only needs a mat.
The SNC has the ability to program in a seam allowance at the size of your choosing. The cameos has to be added to your studio file to make a seam allowance happen.
It is easier to set the mat in place on the SNC than it is on the cameo.
Setting the knife and pen holders in place is equally as easy. Changing the knife size on the SNC is easier tho than on the Cameo.
The cameo is lighter in weight than the SNC is. A carrier can be purchased for the cameo, but the SNC does not have a carrier.
The cameo, while it has been out longer than the SNC, has a better support system than the SNC. While there are groups you can join for the SNC, Brother is not well known for its technical support. It is dependent on its dealers who sell the machine to teach it to you and if you purchased it online from various sellers, your pretty much dependant on online sources to find out what you need to know.
The SNC will only recognize the .svg format via the online brother canvas software, a hindrance if your internet should be offline. There is no other known way to get patterns to the machine other than to scan them in.
The Cameo software does not export to .svg, nor does the free version of the software import .pdf or .svg and only the newer version 3.0 recognizes the pdf format.
Setting up the placement of your shapes is easier on the SNC than it is with the Cameo. The differences here are because of the live screen on the SNC allowing you to drag your shapes around the mat area to match up where you’ve placed your fabrics. The Cameo does not have this feature, to do it, one has to compare the measurements on the mat versus the software screen on their pc.
Via the scanning feature, the SNC has the ability to do a fussy cut easily, no other cutter can do this easily.
I realize that I’ve pointed out a lot of negatives with the SNC, however what sells the machine for me is the fabric cutting ability, the fact that I know Brother makes a good product having one of their embroidery machines was part of the reason I chose to go with the SNC and at the time the Zing was a huge waiting list so I chose not to wait.
Some Additional Tips:
To take care of your mats, purchase some Baby Wipes – non-allergenic, fragrance-free and alcohol-free. You will not need a big box of these, they will last you a long time. By far and away, everything I tried just didn’t do very well until I learned about the Baby Wipes, they are simply amazing for cleaning the mats, they even pick up all the little fabric fibers.
If you use storage units, give yourself a drawer just for your cutting supplies, so they all stay together in one place.
Taking Care of your blades, I found a nice post at the Seasoned Homemaker, the other day on cleaning blades, I to had no idea you could do this… I knew the cap came off on the Silhouette blades, but never really gave it a thought to clean them. This is a cool post and I’ll definitely be cleaning up some of the blades I’m thinking are dull.
A note about additional sources, as time passes, each of these sources articles get older and older, please take that into account. Software gets updated, cutters get updates, and people find different ways to do things. Everything I’ve learned from is based on what is on the internet. My entire knowledge about cutting is from what others have taught via video or blog articles and my trying the techniques to gain my own experiences.
Most of these articles/videos feature cutting fabric via the use of Heat n Bond or those types of mediums. Some articles/videos feature other methods, such as cleaning your blade, sketching and various other techniques.
One other little tip, just because someone uses their cutters to cut paper or vinyl doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate your own methods into what they’ve shown you. You would be amazed at what you can learn about the software alone just by reading a how-to on a paper cutting method.
I have certainly not added every single link or video out there, it’s just too many, but I have tried to list those that were most helpful to me.
Have I missed something you think is important? Do you know a tutorial or video I should add? Write me, I want to know about it.
Edit: While I mention above that I mainly use the Brother SNC for cutting fabric, this has changed as of September 2014. I mainly use my Cameo. It’s just easier for me to have it hooked up to the pc and cut thru the software itself. I love the Scan and Cut, but I don’t like that it has so many steps to use it and the screen on the SNC is too small most of the time for me to see with.