Image courtesy of Cindy Pope
If you’ve ever dismissed these machines as just for paper crafts, get ready to be surprised. Artists are creating amazing projects using computer controlled cutting devices such as those from Silhouette and Cricut.
One of the most surprising tasks these easy-to-use machines can do is cut unfired metal clay. Metal clay is a material that contains tiny particles of metal, each one smaller than a grain of salt, plus water and an organic binder. The material is worked like a clay, fired in the kiln, where it sinters together and is a solid piece of metal.
When the metal clay piece is completely dry but not yet fired in the kiln, it can be cut on the Silhouette or Cricut. Artists are using these computer controlled cutters to make custom pendants, bezels, (the metal that is wrapped around a gemstone to hold it in place), and more.
Cindy Pope is a tireless researcher on what the Silhouette can do. She shares this in her Facebook group and in classes for CraftCast (https://www.craftcast.com) . She was inspired by metal clay artist Wannaree Tanner, who was among the first metal clay artists to use the Silhouette to carve and cut metal clay.
Metal clay comes in not only silver but also copper, bronze and even more variations.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Greenlese
Polymer clay artists are rolling their clay out to the thinnest setting on the pasta machine and then cutting out designs with electronic cutters, layering thin pieces of polymer clay together to create detail and depth.
Another surprising use for these machines is carving leather and Cindy Pope is again at the fore, combining her carved leather with carved and cut metal clay to create these bracelets.
Photo courtesy of Cindy Pope
Potter and all-around crafter Pauline Purdum uses an electronic cutter to create durable, deep, reusable stencils from of all things, fun foam, that craft material for kids. She uses these to make deep impressions in clay.
Photo courtesy of Pauline Purdum
She uses an after-market cutting blade upgrade, the Graphtec CB09, in her Silhouette which, according to proponents of this carbide blade, lasts longer and cuts more effectively. Comparing cuts by bloggers using the official Silhouette Deep Cutting Blade vs. the CB09 on the same material seems to show that the after market blade is indeed more effective. (Using it does violate the warranty on the machine.)
The brand new Cricut Maker ($400.00) has a rotary blade that allows it to cut fabric and comes with hundreds of sewing patterns and projects ready for instant download. While that’s pretty exciting, it’s tempered by the fact that the machine can only cut a 12” x 12” piece of fabric at a time.
The Silhouette can also cut fabric, though for best results, it should be ironed to interfacing first, but it can be cut out on a 12” x 24” cutting matt, allowing for larger projects.
And finally, if the Silhouette or Cricut machines aren’t enough for you, the next level up is the X-Carve for $1,000.00 and up. This machine uses a computer controlled router and it can cut and carve thick wood and acrylic, materials the Cricut and Silhouette can’t handle.
The software for the X-Carve is easy to use, though learning what router bits to use and generally operating the machine, may be a steeper learning curve than for the electronic cutting machines for crafts.
The Cricut Maker will release the knife blade soon which will allow it to cut thin balsa wood, just barely beginning to close the gap between the Cricut/Silhouette and the X-Carve.
Advancements in what the machines can do and what artists are doing with them are coming faster than ever. What amazing new innovations will be next?
Elaine Luther is an artist, jeweler, public speaker and public artist in the Chicago area. She uses assemblage, collage and direct sculpting to get her message across. Visit her at https://www.elainelutherart.com/