Well, with all the laser cutting of paper templates, buttons and fussy cutters lately, you knew we had to get around to laser cutting fabric eventually. And it went smashingly.
Because I don’t have a sewing machine, I decided to make 1″ EPP diamonds. I can sew these by hand, and I need them for a gift I’m working on. Rebecca of Hugs are Fun, a much more experienced sewer with a machine, sent along a pattern for a coffee cozy designed by Skip to My Lou.
If you thought cutting paper was nice, cutting fabric is even easier! Cutting fabric made me remember how amazing this machine from the future really is. We cut 2 large side panels for a purse (which Rebecca is still working on) in 17 seconds. Sixty 1″diamonds with .375″ outline took less than 2 minutes. And the results were perfect. If you’ve ever cut fabric with a scissors, you understand the awe. Even rotary cutters, which speeds up cutting tremendously, don’t compare.
Because I seem to work better in lists, here’s what I learned fabric cutting:
– Like paper, cuts are quick and low power.
– The burn of the laser finishes the edges crisply. No fuzzies, no immediate fraying.
– There is less worry about it moving around. The gentle suck of our honeycomb downdraft table was enough to keep the fabric firmly in place. The pull was strong enough to hold 4 layers of cotton fabric in place to cut at the same time.
– I did have a fabric fly up when working with a tall piece (cutting vertically on the bed) vs wide piece (horizontally). The exhaust goes bottom to top, so it may have been more susceptible to the breeze. We lessened this by half closing the exhaust gate.
– There was zero difference in sewing up laser cut fabric vs. hand cut. Except everything lined up perfectly because the lines were perfect.
So, during Week 66, I made a disclaimer that the post wasn’t really about English Paper Piecing, but rather a platform to talk about how to laser cut paper. This week is about cutting and piecing together fabric – consider yourself forewarned!
To “fussy cut” a piece of fabric is to take great care in cutting the piece needed from a specific area of the fabric. You can do this to highlight a specific figure or artistic part of the fabric, but I most often see it used with English Paper Piecing to create a unique kaleidoscope effect with repeats of the same segment of fabric.
It’s easier to fussy cut, of course, when you can see what you want to cut. This is where acrylic templates come in. You can align your fabric under them template, and then use the outside lines as cut guides to trace or use a rotary cutter on. There are many fussy cut templates commercially available, but they re overwhelmingly squares or hexagons (which, by all rights, are very popular shapes in quilting). I couldn’t find a jewel shaped or octagonal template anywhere!
To get the outlines for the templates, I used the same vector lines I created for the paper templates in Week 66 and added a 3/8″ (.375″) border for the fabric that needs to fold over the paper edges and get tacked together to make the final shape. With good advice from Ryan, I figured out the easiest way to do this is add a .375″ outside stroke to the piece, then hit “expand appearance.” Then you get two lines: your original, and another the perfect distance away.
I used the expanded shapes to create two different kinds of templates, to see which I liked better. I actually did find advantages and disadvantages to both types, and often swapped back and forth!
Template 1: Created with 1/8″ clear acrylic. It’s a solid piece, with a deep vector line showing the dimensions of your finished EPP.
Because of the full coverage, it flattened slightly wrinkly fabric in the center as well as around the edges.
Smoothly ran across the fabric when I was looking for the perfect cut
The clear acrylic allowed me to see the edges of what I was cutting as well as the desired image. Fussy cutting can waste a lot of fabric, and sometimes the perfect images is closer the 3/8″ from the edge. 3/8″ is pretty generous, and in dire need, you can short it a little. Visually deciding what was enough to sew helped me waste less fabric!
Some artists actually use the acrylic to trace the outline of the desired image in the center with a removable marker, allowing them more reference points to align to for even more perfect fussy cuts!
Easier to put the 52 Lasers logo on it (which of course has nothing to do with functionality!)
Clear edges could be a little distracting, especially with busy or loud patterns
Easy to lose! It’s clear so it blends in with everything.
Template 2: Created with 1/8″ opaque white acrylic, and is just the area encompassed by the stroke. The center is cut out, like a low-tech view finder.
Smoothly ran across the fabric when I was looking for the perfect cut
I preferred the opaque edges when finding the perfect cuts – it separated out the noise of the full fabric
You couldn’t see the edges, and a couple times I got too close to a hole or wayward rotary cut for my fussy cut to work.
The full clear template is probably more versatile, and I would probably like it better with frosted or tinted edges – enough to still see though, but to set it off from the rest of the fabric better. You wouldn’t believe how many times I simply set it down and lost it. I found I used the different template types in tandem, specially when I was trying to utilize every scrap. I could see if a given space would fit two shapes or only one!
Well, I’ve managed to fall in with a group of quilters. More accurately, English Paper Piecing enthusiasts. If you’ve never heard of English Paper Piecing before and couldn’t care less about cute geometric fabric shapes, don’t worry, this post isn’t really about quilting. It’s really about cutting paper.
According to The Sewing Directory, “English Paper Piecing, (often referred to as EPP), is the technique of folding fabric over paper templates and hand sewing these together. The paper template shape ensures the blocks are accurate and also makes it easier to piece angles together.” To complete a 80 x 90″ queen sized quilt with 1″ hexagons using the EPP method, you need a whopping 2775 hexagons! And 2775 paper hexagons to form them with.
Options on how to get these paper shapes: buy them, cut them by hand or on a paper cutter (not easy for hexagons!), get a punch, or die cut them. Buying them can get expensive, hand cutting can be inexact, and punches are limited to those commercially available. Some high end die cutters work off of patterns like the laser does, using blades to cut paper instead of laser power. Cost of these methods ranges from pennies to about $500. Coming in at more than 10 times more expensive, you can also use a laser! Not exactly a cost effective investment for just EPP papers, but if you got a tool, use it, right?
We’ve been cutting paper on the laser since we first got it – all my jewelry tags are laser cut. Perhaps this is why it never occurred to me to talk about it. I use 100lb paper for my jewelry tags for added strength, and we used 67 lb paper for the EPP pieces. Cutting paper on the laser is quick and easy as pie! Here are our top tips for laser cutting paper:
Go quickly at the bare minimum needed power. Too slow and too much power leads to too many scorch marks.
If you’re using a downdraft cutting table, your paper may be thin enough to slide into the space between the ruler and the honeycomb support structure. Fold the top corners and the bottom left corner up slightly to prevent this.
Sometimes the exhaust air can lift a sheet of paper up off of the honeycomb, ruining a cut. Lay out your design so that you have a little space near the bottom of your paper and use something heavy to hold it down. We use a small metal bar that once was used to use as a bookbinding weight.
If you’re trying to line up printed material on the page with your laser cutting, exercise proper bleed practices. Make sure your art extends beyond the cut area so that incorrect registration doesn’t result in misaligned artwork and noticeable unprinted areas.
Very important before lifting the lid when your job is done: Briefly close your blast gate or otherwise temporarily defeat your exhaust system. Especially with smaller pieces of paper like stud earring cards, the air pressure change when you lift the laser lid might suck your perfectly cut paper right up and dump it outside. What a mess!
Cutting the EPP papers was a fun prompt to do a post on paper, and a way to give back to the EPP community that I’ve been admiring on Instagram. Please enjoy these freebies Ryan and I designed – Letter sized templates for 1″ hexagons, 1″ octagons and squares, and 1″ jewel patterns in .svg format. Rebecca at Hugs are Fun was kind enough to save them in the .studio3 format for Silhouette machines as well. Please enjoy! Templates are free and for personal use only – please do not resell.
It was amazingly fun to mix and match all the cut papers on the workbench – like the Tangram puzzles I enjoyed as a kid! I can’t resist sharing some.