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.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

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

Well, it finally happened. No, not that. Not that, either—what are you thinking? No, I mean that after a few years working within the Quilt Industrial Complex (and then basically showing it my middle finger and walking away from it), I have finally been Offered Stuff. For free. In exchange for...something undefined. We never got that far.

I'm not going to say what the product was, and I hope the marketing person who offered it to me understands that I am not shaming her or her company. Companies do have to market themselves, and one way to do that is to get the product out there where it can be used and mentioned by people with an audience. I totally get that. And I also get that quilting is an expensive hobby and it's nice to get free stuff. For many people in this industry, who make an actual living at quilting and pattern writing and such, those inherent expenses can be career-breaking unless they develop a relationship with certain companies who can supply them with fabric and other necessities and offset some of that cost.

And while I do occasionally write and sell my own patterns, it is not a big enough enterprise for me to really justify free stuff for it. I mean, I can barely be bothered to blog about my actual sewing, since most of it is experiments that end up in the reject pile. I can see why a company would want me to use and promote their stuff. I do have an audience, and it's a pretty engaged audience as well, and that's what marketers generally look for. I'm frankly surprised that after all this time someone out there only just now picked up on that.

I won't go into all my reasoning, because I tend to get long-winded about this stuff, but I just don't want to be a representative of anybody but me. When I tell you "this is what I think," I want you to know that it is actually what I think and not what I've been paid or otherwise influenced to say.

I do realize that I probably overthink this stuff, but I have a hard enough time getting a good night's sleep as it is—I don't need questions of minor ethics plaguing me at night. So I chose to decline their kind offer. Because the review I'm going to do today (about a totally unrelated product) is the only kind I really want to do. I bought something with my own money because I wanted to see if it would fill a need. And now, I can tell you all kinds of things about it without consciously or unconsciously censoring myself, because mama don't owe nobody nothing. (That's three negatives; I think that works.)

So, without further blather:

The Accuquilt Go! Fabric Cutter: A Review



I have had my eye on one of these things for years, but couldn't commit to laying out the scratch. The main reason I was interested in it was accuracy. I am kind of a freak about having my pieces line up properly. See this magnificent beauty?


That's several years of practice right there. So, the accuracy I have been trying to accomplish has actually become attainable, and I thought perhaps a die cutter was no longer necessary or desirable.

Then my shoulder decided to be a total bitch.

About two months ago, I started having problems with my left shoulder, and, being the sort of person I am, decided what that shoulder obviously needed was yoga. Helps with all kinds of other things, so why not this? Instead, it got worse. I lost a lot of range of motion and many normal tasks just hurt like hell. I saw an orthopedist who injected my shoulder with steroids and sent me home with a stretchy yellow band and a sheet of exercises to do for six weeks. If it wasn't better in six weeks, the next step, they said, would be an MRI and then physical therapy.

MRI on Friday!

So, in the meantime, I cannot do any rotary cutting. (Well, I can, but I regret it later.) I happened to have a bit of money put away from a side job, so I decided to take the plunge and buy a cutter and some dies and see if I could use it with only one fully functional appendage. Why did I choose an Accuquilt? The other most popular cutter seems to be made by Sizzix, and it looks like the Sizzix cutters are generally cheaper. In addition, I have heard that Accuquilt dies can be used in Sizzix machines, but no dies other than Accuquilt's can be used in any of the Accuquilt cutters. So why did I pick something more expensive and possibly less versatile? 

Because the Sizzix website made me mad. They have a million different cutters, and I could not find a simple chart to tell me the differences between them. One, called the Fabi, seems to be marketed to quilters, but there's no clear indication as to why it would be more desirable for that purpose than one of the others. And do you want to find the quilting dies? Good luck. There is a drop down menu under "Products" at the top of every page, and the "Quilting" choice in bold letters in that menu only takes you to a page that shows you pictures of four different cutting machines. WITH NO LINKS TO ANY OF THEM. And dies? What dies? So, you go back and look at that menu again, and finally, you find another listing for quilting, under "Themes." Themes. Birthday, Halloween, Seasons, Pastafarianism, Porn, and Quilting. (Just kidding. there's no Pastafarianism dies.) I am a woman with a searing, white hot pain in her shoulder—I do not have time to dick around on your website looking for what I want. Themes, indeed.

But honestly, quilting for Sizzix seems almost to be an afterthought, though I know lots of quilters use it and even people like Victoria Findlay Wolfe design dies for them. But it still feel like their main focus is paper and scrapbooking (at least that's the impression I get from all the emails I now receive from them), and while that doesn't mean their cutters and dies aren't perfectly serviceable, even wonderful, for quilting, it's something that could sway an individual on the fence about what system to purchase towards the competitor. Like, oh say, me.

Accuquilt's website is very clear, because they are only marketing to quilters. They also have four basic models: small, medium, large, and electric (Go! Baby, Go!, Studio 2, and Go! BIG Electric). This simplifies things, despite all the stupid exclamation points, and clearly is meant to soften up cranky women who are pissed off about being in pain for two solid months. We could call this predatory, but we'll let it slide for now.  They have a lot of helpful videos, if you are into that sort of thing. I admit, I hate taking the time to watch a video, but that's because I am a very fast reader and would rather glean the specific information I want from text than sit through 20 minutes of perky people chirping about their product over some doot dee doot dee doot music. But that's just me. I will also admit that I ended up ordering from Amazon and not from the Accuquilt website, because I also decided on some dies that were not in stock there. I'm an instant (or at least next day air) gratification kind of girl.

Large, heavy packages arrived the next day, and I immediately started playing with my new toy, even though it was dinnertime and people were hungry and whiny about it.  Did I love it? Do I now want to marry it and have a million little Bitchuquilt (Accubitch?) babies? Or do I curse the name of Accuquilt forever and wish its inventor a lifetime of butt boils?

That's Part Two (coming soon). Also in Part Two, I'll talk about specifics of the machine, how it works, how well it works, as well as what pitfalls you may encounter when using one. I hope to post this on Thursday, January 7, but if my left arm actually falls off my body, it may take a bit longer.