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66: Tips for laser cutting paper

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.

Jewel shape, mini triangles, hexagons, octagons and squares!
EPPs we designed – Jewel shape, mini triangles, hexagons, octagons and squares!

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.

    You can see scorch marks on the jewels - this also happens if you have a dirty honey comb.
    You can see scorch marks on paper – this also happens if you have a dirty honey comb.
  • 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!

jewel-paper-pieces-with-wordsCutting 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.

I was having so much fun arranging the cut pieces on our workbench - I call this one twirling bloom.
I was having so much fun arranging the cut pieces on our workbench – I call this one twirling bloom.
Expanded twirling bloom, trying to find a good repeat point.  When cutting the jewel shapes, you get triangles as well (not pictured)!
Expanded twirling bloom, trying to find a good repeat point. When cutting the jewel shapes, you get triangles as well (not pictured)!
Art Nouveau inspired EPP pattern
Art Nouveau inspired EPP pattern

06: Seed Swap Goodies

It’s time to think about the growing season!  Last summer, I revisited something from my childhood on the farm – growing my own food. I dutifully invested in pots (all container gardening for me), dirt and seeds and had a grand time experimenting, grazing from my garden and eating ALL of the basil.  (I loved the basil so much I rigged up a grow light inside to enjoy it all winter too!)

Looking forward to this year, I have extra seeds from last year, and want to try new things. I couldn’t justify wasting the left over seeds from last year, and I didn’t really want spend a ton on new seeds… so time to swap!

So many seeds!
So many seeds!

I should throw in a disclaimer here – I’ve never been to a seed party, so I was flying blind.  I had no idea how much time the actual swapping would take, and no idea the amount of seeds other people would bring.  I also purposely planned the party early in the winter to share seeds people had experience with from the year before, and so that people would still have time to buy seeds if they weren’t able to procure them at the swap.

My party plan:

1. Invite all awesome people who have gardening aspirations

2. Make awesome jalapeno popper dip  I pinned, so if the party flopped, mouths would be too full to complain.

3. Assemble seed envelopes

4. Swap seeds!

5. Hand out planting worksheets with frost date and planting times (frost dates determined by the Farmer’s Almanac, and worksheets from Martha Stewart)

6. Make newspaper origami seed pots

7. Hand out my laser cut party favors (I’m sure you were wondering how this fit in to 52 Lasers by now! )

 Laser cut projects for the seed swap:

Seed Packets:

Cut and ready to go!  The plastic baggies were there for back up, which was a good thing - I only figured about 10 envelopes per person.  Definitely needed more!
Cut and ready to go! The plastic baggies were there for back up, which was a good thing – I only figured about 10 envelopes per person. Definitely needed more!

With so many seeds, we needed a way to bag them, so we designed miniature seed envelopes. In looking at the original packets the seeds came in, I distilled the information to the basics: name of the seeds, where to plant them, and how to plant them.  I left the backside empty for notes.  The size of the finished packets is small – 1.75 x 2 inches –  I really wanted to fit 6 to a page.Seed Envelopes Pattern

This project is admittedly overkill for the laser, you can easily cut them out with scissors (and I encourage you to do so – print your own with the Seed Envelopes Free PrintableJust glue them together with a glue stick, or tape them if in a hurry.)  We scored the fold lines, too, and it was almost  a bit too much.  They folded beautifully, but with the bigger seeds I worried about the seams splitting.

Seed Spacers:

At a glance, my basil are 7" apart.
At a glance, my basil are 7″ apart.

This was super easy, design-wise – 1 inch wide, 13 inches long, and holes every inch.  Makes placing the seeds up to one foot apart a breeze!  I made it out of scrap wood and the spaces are big enough to fit a pencil to make a hole or accommodate larger seeds.

Dibber:

Nicely 1/2" in the ground!
Nicely 1/2″ in the ground!

Make poking holes to the right depth easy!  We marked common planting depths on a piece of wood that will fit in the seed spacer above.   My dibber is quite blunt, so it is really only useful in loose, fluffy soils.  Something to think about, design-wise, for the future.

(They were such a hit, I did decide to list the Seed Spacer and Dibber Set in my Etsy supply shop, Beadeux!)

Party Observations (or things I learned for next time)

The Jalapeno dip was a huge success, as was the party itself.  We had a very small, but friendly group.  I have so many amazing seeds now,   including Glass Gem Corn – thanks Jim! The actual swap was pretty time consuming, and we didn’t even get to numbers 5 and 6 on the list (garden planning and seed starter pots).  Since we were able to fit around a table, we found it was best if we just picked a category of seeds to pull out and swap – like all tomatoes, then all legumes, or tubers.  It was so much fun to dig through other people’s seed stashes!  And the best part?  “Let’s do this again next year!”

PS – Patty, one of my party guests, introduced me to winter sowing (yes, winter!)  I think I’m going to try a few mini greenhouses.  Has anyone reading this tried it?

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