Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Vision

While I work on my next humor book and continue recovering from surgery, I thought I'd re-post some old favorites of mine that you may have missed. Enjoy!



Last night I went to my kids' school for the annual Back to School Night. I'm sure everybody has this at their school in one form or another. The beginning of the evening was all the perky little PTA moms and one upsettingly perky PTA dad (I'm sorry, but PTA dads should not be perky. Men who are younger than me but are wearing sportcoats and have that old man, parted on the side haircut and talk about PTA budgets like they're selling me vinyl flooring cannot keep my attention for longer than two minutes, tops.) shaming us into taking out a second mortgage to donate to the annual giving program. They have changed the name of this program, by the way. It used to be called the Direct Donation Campaign, but now it's called Invest In Your Child, and the vinyl flooring salesman was SO PROUD of this. You could tell he thought this was the key that would open the wallets of every person in the room. Because we are all too dumb to understand that you are still asking for the same $100 bucks you ask for every year. Oh, so now you are asking me to INVEST my money? IN MY CHILD? Well, let me go sell some plasma, because that's TOTALLY DIFFERENT.

Next we heard from the project manager who is overseeing the building of the new kindergarten wing, and that would have been great because, hey, actual information, but he was one of those people not used to speaking with a microphone and he kept gesturing with his microphone hand. So his whole presentation was "mumblemumblemumblemumblemumblemumblemumble THE RETAINING WALL HAS BEEN COMPLETED mumblemumblemumblemumblemumble SEPARATED BY A FENCE mumblemumblemumblemumblemumblemumble HEY AT LEAST I'M NOT WEARING A SPORTCOATmumblemumblemumble..."

The best part of the evening was, and is always, the presentation by the principal herself. I have no doubt that this woman is a sterling educator, with years of experience and a proven track record, but she has clearly been to way too many business motivation seminars. Her presentation this year was all about the Vision Statement for our school. For our public elementary school. It's not a special school with a unique focus that might need to be clarified for the benefit of parents and other educators. It's a basic K-5 elementary school. It has, despite the complexities inherent in the task, a pretty clear job. I seriously doubt that there are any teachers aimlessly roaming the halls going, "But what's our vision? I cannot competently educate without a clear vision."

The Vision Statement she finally revealed was, as you can imagine, a masterpiece.

It is the mission of our Elementary School to provide a positive and challenging environment where all students will achieve academic, social, emotional and physical success. School staff, students, parents, and community working together will achieve and maintain an atmosphere of respect, support, and high expectations.

And that's fine. There's nothing at all wrong with this and I'm sure it does no harm, but I can't help but wonder if the effort that goes into writing and refining and then presenting these kinds of mission statements and vision statements makes any bit of discernible difference in how teachers do their jobs or kids do theirs. At one point she emphasized that she would be working very hard this year to make sure that everyone understands the Vision Statement. So, is somebody gonna go, "Um, I'm okay with most of it, I think, but I'm a little unclear on the concept of physical success. That means I get to beat them into submission, right? With big sticks?"

I think I just have a general problem with having the obvious spelled out for me as though there was no way I could have come to that extremely self-evident conclusion on my own, or that I will somehow be subconsciously compelled to do something more or better because I read some touchy feely words. Now, the magazine I used to work for had a need for a statement of purpose, because we were hoping to reach a certain type of quilter. Being able to clarify that made it easier for us to communicate with potential buyers, advertisers, and contributors and to keep our own focus when we considered projects and articles for inclusion. Because it wasn't immediately obvious what part of the niche we were trying to reach. But, if that statement were somehow just all about how excellently we are going to excellent our excellence, I would have a hard time reading it what with all the eye rolling. OF COURSE we want to do our work well. Success—yes. Excellence—yepperoonie. THAT GOES WITHOUT SAYING. Or at least it should. If you're doing a job and not intending to kick ass at it, ain't no vision statement in the world gonna make you start putting in an effort.

But, you know, maybe I'm just naive and that's how the world works. Maybe people really do give more money to the exact same program if it's called Invest In Your Child instead of The Direct Donation Program. Maybe people really do need to be told what their job is and that they're supposed to try to succeed at it in order to, you know, succeed at it. Otherwise, why would seemingly reasonable people spend so much energy creating Vision Statements?

So, I figure maybe I need some more Vision Statements in my life. I'm probably not being excellent enough because my vision is unclear and ill-defined. I decided to start with my family:

The mission of the Dougherty Family is to provide the matriarch, Megan Dougherty, with enough snacks, fabric, and solitude to enable her to make a damn quilt once in a while. In return, she will clean some things occasionally, and cook some stuff, and will provide hugs on demand for all the shorties in the house. She will, if asked in JUST THE RIGHT WAY, also provide more adult-type hugs to the family patriarch as long as he is not in the doghouse for a birthday infraction or because he didn't take any Beano with that big bowl of chili and is now crop dusting every room he occupies. Everyone will do all of this excellently, with success and dynamic thriving growth and stuff.

And so, naturally, I figure this blog needs one too:

The mission of The Bitchy Stitcher blog is to enlighten, entertain, and inspire my readers through blog posts and Facebook status updates, which will only occasionally be about quilting. Oh, and there will be penis jokes. Excellent, excellent penis jokes. With success and dynamic thriving growth and stuff.

That's pretty fucking excellent.




Tuesday, May 24, 2016

It's not easy being the color of corruption and blight

I used to be amused when I heard people talking about colors they dislike and won't use in their quilts. Some people get all skeeved out by pink, possibly due to its unfortunate social designation as a "girly" color or perhaps as the result of some sort of Pepto-induced trauma. Some people hate purple because, well, some people are just damaged and cannot be saved from themselves. I used to hate yellow because my childhood bedroom furniture was yellow and the walls were yellow and my sheets were yellow and that's just too much yellow in one room. It was like my mom had been specifically deprived of that color as a child and had decided that her offspring would be bathed in its golden glow forever and ever to balance the scales.

But as I got more and more into quilting and into appreciating colors and how they relate to each other, I realized that yellows are perfectly lovely and useful, that any color can be beautiful depending on how it is used and there really is no need to throw any one color out of bed just because it once farted near you. This of course gave me ample opportunities to feel smug whenever anyone else would express their disdain for whatever color currently offended them. At the announcement of the Pantone color of the year I would watch as people gasped in horror and dismay, as though the Pantonians had, with malice aforethought, chosen the one color that makes people spontaneously combust upon seeing it. And so I would sit back and smugly smug to myself, "It's just a color. It's like one of the lesser Kardashians—it only has meaning in relation to other Kardashians."

However, as usually happens whenever I get smug about anything, the universe finds a way to take me down a peg. I started going through my scraps and organizing my stash in preparation for some projects I had planned, and during the process I kept coming across a particular color and thinking, "Ew." Or sometimes, "Gak!" And also, "Why the fuck is this here?" It is a color so heinous, so vile, you would think it ought to be outlawed for the sake of common decency, but no. It's real, and it's everywhere. I'm talking about, of course:

This color has managed to sneak into my stash and even into projects I have made. Years ago, I made a quilt out of a layer cake I had and thought I loved. I had believed the colors were predominantly blues and bright plums, oranges and yellows. But once it got it all put together, I couldn't quite figure out why it all just looked like mud.


At first, I thought it was all the yellow, but then I decided that the yellows, like all the other colors in the quilt, are bright and clear and happy. It's the greens that all look like overcooked asparagus.





There's nothing clear, bright and happy about those greens. Those are greens of despair. Those greens have lost hope. Those greens said, "Yeah, we could have evoked spring and leafy trees and the soft grass of a rolling meadow, but we'd rather evoke baby poop BECAUSE LIFE IS SHIT AND NOTHING MATTERS."

Green is a combo of blue and yellow, right? A little more blue and you lean towards teal. A little more yellow and you get your spring-y yellow-green. But then you add a wee bit of red to the mix? Then you get Nausea Green. It's not quite brown, not quite green. You can actually feel the orange in it, trying to claw its way out. It does no color that has to sit next to it any favors. And yet designers keep throwing it in with perfectly good colors, either as an accent:


Or as the background:


In fact, some designers will use it as one of the colorways in an entire line. So, who sits down with their fabric company execs and says, "For this lovely and delicate floral collection, I've created three palettes: Clementine, Berry Mist, and Sinus Infection"?


In fact, I've seen so many greens in so many lines heading over to this direction, I started wondering if maybe true green dyes have just gotten too dear, and whenever a designer turns in a collection that uses too much of it, the fabric company comes back and goes, "What, you think we're made of money? Go back and stank up these greens to a hue we don't have to buy on the black market." But I suspect that's not how fabric colors actually work.

And lovely, happy, non-bilious greens are possible to produce.


So it's not like it can't be done. Some people just choose not to, I guess. Just like some people choose not to bathe or perform routine dental hygiene.

Now, here comes the obligatory part where I say if you love dyspepsia green and you have decorated your whole house in it and you'd dye your own hair that color if you could I'M NOT SAYING YOU SHOULDN'T. If one of the fabrics I've shown above was created by a designer that you would sell your own children to sit next to on a crosstown bus, I'm totally not judging you. Everybody gets to have preferences and make choices, even if those choices indicate perhaps a mild brain-eating parasite infestation. Just because you clearly bathe in slime mold, that doesn't make you a bad person. Just like my deep and abiding love of purple doesn't necessarily make me supremely intelligent and worthy of adulation and emulation. You do you, as the whippersnappers say.

My actual point here is that while I was feeling all superior about how some people hate perfectly good colors for what I considered to be no good reason, and was routinely climbing on my "all colors matter" high horse, one color came along, barfed on my shoes, and taught me a very valuable lesson. A lesson that has given me pause, caused me to do some hard thinking, and has truly humbled me.

HAHA I'm kidding; this color fucking sucks.


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Please remember, The Bitchy Stitcher is my personal blog and also the place where I experiment with quilty humor pieces. If you have signed up for getting posts by email, you will get exactly that: posts via email. As of right now, I do not send out newsletters. If you don't like my posts, that's perfectly fine and understandable. But please either stop reading, or unsubscribe from the emails (there's a handy link for that at the bottom of each email). Lecturing me doesn't work, and threatening to unsubscribe just means I will go ahead and do it for you.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

First she writes a blog post. What she does next? DESTROYED MY FAITH IN A JUST AND LOVING GOD

I love quilters. I really do. And I especially love hanging out online where they hang out. Go on forums and pages for just about anything else (especially anything that attracts mostly dudes), and you'll just find a bunch of blowhards bloviating into the electronic ether. It could be anything from politics to popcorn (MY GOD, the alliteration today), and they will argue and posture and grandstand until you finally want to see all humanity die in a volcano.

But quilters are so earnest! And nobody is ever sure of themselves, so when they tentatively ask, "Is this good?" eight hundred others practically fall all over each other to say, "Yes, it's good!" People keep talking about the "quilt bullies" like that's a real thing, but honestly, if anyone has ever beaten up another quilter on a regular basis at guild and stolen her raffle ticket money, I've never witnessed it. What I do see is occasionally one quilter will not be as forthcoming with unreserved praise and might instead offer constructive criticism untempered with flowers and unicorn farts, and this is sometimes interpreted as being totally mean.

I keep hearing stories about actual bullying happening in online groups and forums, but I have yet to see it. Or maybe I see it all the time, but because my meanness meter is set to go off only if there's bloodshed, I just don't recognize it. What I do see is people being very helpful and very encouraging, and it's just sweet as hell. A lot of the quilters who participate are new to the craft and really have no idea what they are doing, but everybody is so patient and no one ever gets ridiculed for not knowing as much as others.


I have heard rumors that the more modern-oriented Facebook groups are the ones that are really nasty, but then upon further investigation, "nasty" usually means the admin deleted a photo because the quilt didn't quite fall under the "Denyse Schmidt would have pushed over her own grandmother to make something that freaking modern" criterion. But even if they do, there's still a vocal group of total strangers to buoy the rogue quilter up and make her feel good about herself again.

I think one of my favorite things about quilty Facebook groups are the complaints about the groups themselves, often from people who don't quite understand how Facebook and/or the internet works.


Groups like these get spammed a lot as well, and this really flummoxes people. Some of the spam is ostensibly links to those stupid clickbait sites that say things like, "She opened a regular old tube of extra-strength hemorrhoid cream. What she did with it next TOUCHED MY VERY SOUL." And some is porn, naturally, because this is the internet and nothing online is safe from being porned up on occasion, but many of these people don't seem to be aware of this and don't know the report-it-if-you-can, ignore-it-if-you-can't rule we all live by in the hinterwebz. 

But what I really love about these groups, besides the friendly support and the porn confusion, is that it reminds me I may have something to offer quilters other than my bizarre sense of humor and my stunning good looks. I have a tendency to dismiss my own skills and accomplishments. "I've only been quilting for 8 years," I think to myself. "In the grand scheme, that's nothing." But it's not nothing, and there are plenty of people out there who are in week one, month one, year one, of their quilting journey and they, like Jon freaking Snow, know nothing.


I think I may have something to offer the quilter who is just starting out, who wants to learn on her own as much as she can, but who finds the information out there incomplete, biased by sponsorship deals (okay maybe that's just me), and the people offering it painfully unaware that not everyone who quilts is wealthy and holds advanced degrees. Yes, there's a lot of information out there. I just think it could be better.


BUT NOT YET. Because I have to go back to the freaking hospital next week and have hernia repair surgery to shove my intestines back into my gut where they belong. Seems my big incision from last year's colon surgery didn't hold together real well. I've put it off as long as possible and have lost somewhere in the range of 12-15 pounds (out of a total of 50 I hope to lose in the next year) in the assumption that less poundage equals better surgery outcome. It certainly equals less knee pain and better fitting clothes. I have no idea what recovery from this kind of hernia repair is like, plus there's the whole being allergic to narcotics thing. I have heard estimates that range from one week to a month or more before feeling like myself again.

But until then, I have social media, and The Night Manager, and a large stack of books (okay, a large number of Kindle downloads, but whatevs) to keep me occupied. But if the porn content on Facebook quilting groups takes a sharp downturn over the next month, I assure you it's entirely coincidental. 



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Please remember, The Bitchy Stitcher is my personal blog and also the place where I experiment with quilty humor pieces. If you have signed up for getting posts by email, you will get exactly that: posts via email. As of right now, I do not send out newsletters. If you don't like my posts, that's perfectly fine and understandable. But please either stop reading, or unsubscribe from the emails (there's a handy link for that at the bottom of each email). Lecturing me doesn't work, and threatening to unsubscribe just means I will go ahead and do it for you.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A new direction

I've been spending a lot of time observing my fellow members of the Quilt Industrial Complex, and one thing I've definitely noticed is that branding is totally in right now. You are a big luh-hoo-zer if you are not creating, cultivating, and expanding your own personal brand. Basically, it's a sex tape world and we are all Kardashians now.

When I started out as a quilt blogger in, god help me, 2008, I chose the name The Bitchy Stitcher because, well, I thought it was funny and I never thought anyone would actually read me. As the years have passed, I have become less enamored with that name as well as with quilting in general. I mean, remember the deer craze? Do you know what the new deer is going to be? Bunnies. Fucking bunnies. In a world of axolotls, nudibranchs, and water bears, we get bunnies? Is anyone even trying anymore?

There was a time when quilting meant everything to me, but I've been thinking recently about what truly feeds my soul. What nourishes my psyche, what completes me and makes me feel whole? (I mean besides Tom Hiddleston movies.) There's really only one answer.

Food.

Good god, I love to eat. I mean, have you had really good eggs Benedict? There's not a damn bunny in the world that measures up to that. Given the choice between spending $150 bucks on a fabulous meal at a four-star restaurant or on a fat quarter of Tula Pink fabric from 2013, I'm gonna have to go with the num-nums at this point.

So, I think it's time to shift my focus, clarify my priorities, and rebrand my ass. I'm done with The Bitchy Stitcher. It's been a great ride, but it's time to move forward and follow my bliss. From now on, I will be known as:



I will be offering plenty of recipes that are essentially taken directly from published cookbooks, but which have been re-worded slightly to make them my own. For example, wherever a recipe calls for milk, I will call it "some of that sweet motherfuckin' moo juice." Because this will indicate that I am edgy and transgressive.

I will offer lots of long-winded, stream-of-consciousness meditations on the nature of butter and the essence of smoked paprika, as well as plenty of dubious science with links to "studies" that show the way to eternal youth and vitality is to mainline lacinato kale until you pass out.

Be sure to follow me on social media as well, as I will be Instagramming my dinner every day ay 6:30 pm sharp.







As always, thank you all for your support, and be on the lookout for my first cookbook, Crepes n' Crap, in a bookstore near you.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Get the tissues, honey

(Note, this post has copious instances of "the f-word," as well as quilty representations of same.)





As most of you know, my mom died in December of 2013. Her death hit me hard, coming just a little less than a year after the death of my brother. I was fortunate to have a wonderful relationship with my mom, and her absence has left me still struggling to figure out what life without her looks like. My mom was one of the funniest people I've ever known, and when I started writing quilting humor professionally, she was always my intended audience. If I thought it would make my mom laugh, I knew it was good.

Earlier that same year, the first Quilt Con happened in Austin, TX and Chawne Kimber's Give A F*ck quilt was on display there. The reaction to this quilt on social media was, shall we say, all kinds of fucked up, as people got offended, expressed their offense, started accusing each other of being terrible people and bad mothers, all while the world kept on turning and no one ever died from a "fuck you" to the head but you wouldn't know that from the way these people reacted.

In response to all this folderol, a group of people got together, inviting other like-minded quilters they knew of, and formed a bee, using a Facebook group as a way to organize. We each made blocks based on our favorite curse word: fuck. It was our way of supporting Chawne's work, stretching the creative muscle a bit, and having fun with new people.


The group held together beyond the making of these blocks. Some members went to the next Quilt Con together. Some came to Maryland last December and had a sew day here in my studio. Our closed (and secret) Facebook group is a place where people can bitch about problems or just celebrate being one of a bunch of fucking weirdos.

I didn't know it at the time, but shortly after my mother died, the other members of the group started talking about making me a quilt. They knew my favorite colors were purple and orange, so they started there, each person making a block or blocks of her choosing in that color scheme. The resulting blocks were set in a gray background. And then—

AND THEN

A giant, glorious, beautiful OCTOPUS


I can't even imagine what it took to draft that beast, to cut it out, to make sure it fit properly. But look at it. It's perfection.

BUT.

This was, remember, in early 2014. After the top was finished, it was given to a longarmer for quilting.

And then it basically disappeared. I can't give more details than that, but suffice to say it looked as though it would never be returned, and there was even some fear that it had been destroyed. But there was no way to know.

Roughly a year later, the group decided to tell me about the quilt.


It was truly the most overwhelming thing, finding out that these people had done something like this for me, something so personal, so tailored for me, and at a time in my life when I needed comforting DESPERATELY.  And it was lost! All that work they had put into it, all the planning, and all they could do was tell me about it and share what pictures they had. 

I was so angry and hurt for them, that someone could treat something so meaningful so cavalierly. And bless them, they never stopped trying to get it back. I even contacted people I thought might be able to help, all to no avail. Until November of last year, when one of the group was able to make some headway and the quilt top was finally returned. 

That same member of the group did the longarming herself and it was sent off to another member to bind. FedEx delivered it yesterday.

This story, hiding as many details as it does, doesn't really express enough about the two-year+ process of making, "losing," and recovering this quilt. And it doesn't really express much about how awesome and funny and unfuckwithable these women are. And it sure as hell doesn't express how much this quilt means to me. It's not just that I can't find the words for it—I don't think there ARE words for it.

I have withdrawn from social life a lot in the last couple of years, and that includes social media, and, by extension, this group. That sense of not quite knowing what my place is in the world anymore without my mother has turned this already introverted person even farther inward. Health problems this past year haven't made that any easier. Colon surgery. Then a frozen shoulder (still frozen, by the way; still hurts—I'm told it can take a year or more to resolve). Now a hernia. And an ovarian cyst. Oh, and some kidney stones for good measure. It's hard for me to be the person I used to be, because I basically hurt all. The. Time. (And I'm allergic to narcotics.) Every time I think I'm moving forward, I get kicked back a little bit. Thankfully, nothing is life-threatening, but I know it has made me somewhat difficult to be friends with.

So, what I really want to thank them for is that, despite all of that, despite me withdrawing and not communicating much and basically being a big giant bummer and not the funny-ha-ha Bitchy Stitcher, they kept loving me anyway. They kept fighting to get that quilt they made for me back, so they could finish it and send it to me. So I could wrap myself in it whenever I feel lonely or weepy or any of those feelings that make me want my mama so bad.


So thank you, Paula FleischerJanet MeaseSam Hunter, Kimberly Brandon RolzhausenAdva Weinstock PriceLinda PayneMelissa KirkMelissa ZawrotnyCaz NowisMaddie KertayFlaun ClineJean MarieMegan NullKim LapacekTrisha Priewe FranklandAlice RidgeChelley Smith BlackBarbara MontejoDeborah Gipe. And Tama Blough, who passed away last year.

Now, if you'll excuse me. I have something in my eye.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Thought of the Day

So, quilty t-shirts are, like, the shizz now. And everybody's trying to get more and more edgy. "I Quilt Because My Anti-Psychotic Medication Isn't Very Effective." "G's Up, Feed Dogs Down." "My Quilt-Related Tattoos Have More Daggers Than Your Quilt-Related Tattoos." Like that.

And, hey, I get it. I have been marginally involved in the quilty t-shirt biz for several years now, plus I love a well-executed, simple design. Like Cheryl Sleboda's Sewing Skull:


But what gets me are these shirts I keep seeing all over Facebook. I have no idea where these come from or who is creating them. And people must looooove them because they get shared a million times.

Ones like this:



And this:


And this:


And I swear, all I can think when I see shirts like those is:



Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Accuquilt Go! A Thorough (and hopefully unbiased) Review (Part Deux)

(Yes, this is super long, but never fear. There will be a handy summary at the bottom.)

As I mentioned in the previous installment, I chose the basic Go! cutter ($249.99) rather than the Baby ($129.99), the BIG Electric ($499.99), or the Studio ($595). And I am going to stop using the stupid exclamation point now. The Go cutter weighs 15 pounds, and when it is open measures approximately 30 inches long by 12 inches wide, not including the protrusion of the crank. The Go Baby weighs 8.5 pounds, according to the website, and looks significantly smaller. I mention this because upon reflection, I am wondering if the Baby would have been a wiser purchase, and I'll be mentioning why as we go along.


The cutter includes a "value die." This is a die that, in one unit, contains blades that cut a 4.5" square, a 2.5" square, and two 2.5" half square triangles.


It also includes a pick (an implement with sharp points on each end for picking out any bits or threads that get caught in the dies), and a 5' x 10" cutting mat.


That's what the mat starts to look like after a bit of use.

I also purchased a triangle-in-square die ($34.99), because this is a block I use a lot in designing, but am not so great at cutting out.


I also purchased the Go Qube 8" which contains 8 dies that can be combined to make 8" quilt blocks (I make 12" blocks out of them, because nobody tells me what to do.) Unfortunately, three of these were redundant as I already had those shapes in that size in the included value die, but I also got a square on point (for making a square-in-a-square, another favorite of mine), rectangles, quarter square triangles, 4.5" half square triangles, a parallelogram, and the ability to cut four 2.5" squares at once rather than just one. The Qube cost $169 and Accuquilt says buying the equivalent dies separately would run about $206.91


Accuquilt makes the Qube in four sizes (6", 8", 9", and 12"), all with the same shapes, just different sizes for each shape. I chose this one not because I necessarily wanted 8" blocks, but because I tend to use these sizes (4.5" and 2.5" squares, 2.5" and 4.5" half square triangles, etc.) quite a lot. Except for the 12" Qube, all the dies from all the other Qubes are compatible with either the Go or the Go Baby. So far, I haven't yet encountered a die I think I would use that wouldn't have been compatible with the Go Baby, so considering its lower price tag, its lighter weight, and its smaller footprint, the Baby might have been a better purchase. But there is always the chance that there could be a die I MUST have which only works in the Go, so I went with my normal philosophy of "better to have too much than not enough." But then again, that is also probably why I'm fat.

It also includes a DVD, but i have not watched it. Life is too short.

As you can see, the dies from the Qube are square and cut one to four shapes, depending. You can put up to 6 layers of quilting fabric on a die, so you don't have to cut just one square at a time.


Why are the shapes all angled relative to the base (housing? chassis?)? Because the cutter works by passing the die between rollers that press the fabric against the blades nestled down in that foam, and you get a much easier motion and a better cut if the blades pass through at an angle rather than straight on.

But what this means is that you need to be very aware of your grainline as you place your fabric on the die. You need to make sure, even if the piece of fabric you are cutting isn't itself cut along the grain, that you orient the grain of the fabric to follow the straight edge of the die blade. Honestly, at first this threw me for a loop and I thought I'd be constantly ruining cuts by aligning the fabric to the die chassis (base? skeleton? carapace?), instead of the blades, but I got on board pretty quickly. Since the whole thing is new, it's pretty easy to develop the right habits from the start.

Despite the fact that I hate videos, I think this part kind of requires it. They are super short, I promise, and there is no doot dee doot, royalty-free music to endure (though I was very tempted to add the Carmina Burana) or even any talking. It was hard enough to hold the phone and film while also cutting fabric; any narration would have mainly consisted of mumbles and grunts. These just show you the basic process of lining up a piece of fabric on a die and running it through the cutter. (I am uploading these through the Blogger interface. If they don't work for you, I will also post them to Facebook. )

video


video

The crank and rollers turn in both directions, so you can use either hand, and you can put the dies in from the left or the right. I think you can see that the crank turns very easily. You do have to give the die a bit of a push to start it through, but nothing major. The cranking does get a bit harder as you add more layers of fabric. I am still able to turn it with the full six layers that they say is the limit even with my bad arm, but it wasn't a tap dance, and my shoulder complained for a bit afterwards. If you have strength or pain issues, fewer layers may be important to how you use it.

A word about the cutting mats. The mats are necessary to give the blades something to push against as they go through the rollers. You wouldn't want them to press against the rollers themselves, because then you'd either be replacing the rollers or replacing dies if the rollers were so hard they dulled or bent the blades. Part of the ongoing expense of having a die cutter is replacing the mats. I have not felt the need to replace either of my mats yet, but I will get some extras when I can just to have them. People complain about this a lot, that the mats get worn and need to be replaced, and often feel that this is either laziness or greed on the part of the cutter manufacturers. Personally, I think this is just the reality of how these machines work. The blades need to be able to cut into the mat a little bit in order to, for lack of a better phrase, get a bite on them. It keeps everything stable while also maintaining the integrity of the blades. Just flip or turn your mat each time you use it, and it will help the blades to cut just a slightly different part each time, prolonging the mat's life. A 6"x6" mat runs about $7 and a 5"x10" mat is about $8. (There are larger mats for larger dies as well, with corresponding prices.)

In every case except one, my dies all give beautiful, clean cuts. For some reason, my triangle-in-a-square die has a spot on one of the right triangles that just misses and leaves one thread attached, so I have to go in and carefully snip it before I remove it. This is not a big deal to me, so I haven't looked into returning it or replacing it. But out of all the dies I have, that's the only one with any issues, and it's a fairly small issue. The dies and the cutter itself are all solid and well-made. The only thing I am keeping my eye on is the crank handle. Initially, I purchased a used Go cutter on eBay, and the crank handle broke off during shipping. I close up my cutter and put it aside when I'm not using it, and I watch the crank carefully as I move it around because it could easily get whacked against a wall or a piece of furniture, and I don't think it would survive.

The main drawback that most people see to the cutter is the potential for fabric waste and the need to plan and prepare fabric ahead of time in order to minimize this waste. When you cut yardage the old fashioned way, with a rotary cutter, you can cut strips to the exact width and then sub-cut your pieces from there, and so the measurements of what you are cutting and what you are cutting from might leave you with leftover chunks.  Those chunks are the pieces that often get put in the scrap bin—too small for the project at hand or to fold up and put in with your yardage, but big enough for something else later. You end up with useable chunks leftover because all your cuts abut one another.

But with a die cutter, as you can see from some of the pictures above, you often have one or just a few shapes on a die, so after you make one cut, you have to move the fabric to place it in position for the next cut. If you are very careful, you can get your next cut quite close to the first one, but there will always need to be a bit of fabric in between, otherwise you run the risk of not getting a clean cut. So you end up with stuff like this leftover:


Now, maybe if I had cut the same pieces from this bit of fabric with a rotary cutter, I would have had a larger chunk leftover. Then again, I might have had a thin strip that I wouldn't have used anyway. It's hard to say.

But as you can see, you can keep a pretty small space in between your cuts and along your edges as long as you are careful when you place your fabric. You can't really use large pieces of fabric, like full yards (well, you can, but the excess fabric gets bunched up and you end up ironing it over and over). So, you will need to cut down your fabric anyway, unless you are using small precuts or scraps, and you can keep these cut pieces only slightly wider than the shape you are cutting. If you are springing for the gigando Studio cutter, which is 30-some-odd pounds and designed to live on its own table and not be moved around, you can get some bigger dies (also more expensive) that will cut many more pieces at one time, all abutted nicely, but then you have a big honkin' machine and no more place to display your collection of ceramic Rick Springfield figurines. The Go cutter does have a few larger dies that cut multiples of the same shape, such as this one that cuts 12 HSTs at a time (more if you use multiple layers), so these could be useful if you determine that the sizes and shapes available fit your needs well.

I find the variety of dies suits me fine. I was pouting earlier in the day because they didn't make a half rectangle triangle that finishes at 4 inches, until I realized that the right triangles from my triangle-in-a-square die would accomplish that very thing. Currently, the Accuquilt website lists 99 appliqué dies, only one of which wouldn't work in a Go or Go Baby. Appliqué dies aren't really my thing. I love appliqué, but I prefer hand appliqué, and these dies do not allow for that; they assume you are going to do fusible, which is a perfectly valid lifestyle choice. 214 dies altogether are available for the Go and 137 for the Go Baby.  (The Studio has 441!)

Besides how easy it seems to be on my shoulder, my favorite aspect of the cutter is that I am now making excellent use of my scraps. These are my scrap bins:


I have always wanted to make better use of them, and while there are certainly myriad ways to use up scraps, the cutter seems to be working the best for me. In fact, I've been working on a Block of the Month-type project using my Accuquilt and these scraps that I want to share with you soon. You won't need an Accuquilt to do it, but I'll have instructions for cutting with and without it, so everyone can play. I promise it'll be super-shenaniganny.




Summary:

PROS:

  • Solid construction
  • Good website and usage info
  • Easy to turn, even for stupid, traitorous shoulder
  • Lots of dies
  • With practice, can produce lots of pieces fast, even with single-shape dies


CONS

  • Expensive
  • Mats need replacing (true of all systems)
  • Potential for fabric waste (true of all systems, and can be minimized)
  • Can't use dies from other systems
  • Doesn't have a setting to play the Carmina Burana when you're feeling dramatic.




As with anything, your mileage may vary; your needs and the way you prefer to sew may be entirely different. I certainly wouldn't push an expense like this on anyone who wasn't already wanting one or who didn't already think it might fill a need. It helps to analyze the sizes and shapes you use the most, and see if the cutter system you are interested in has dies for those. All in all, I am loving mine right now, and I feel like its definitely going to help see me through until I can comfortably use a rotary cutter again.

Which I will probably use to saw off my left arm so I can hurl it off a cliff and watch as is bounces off the craggy rocks on its way to drown in the cold, grey sea.

Stupid shoulder.