Saturday, 28 January 2012

Testing Sheba

After rather a rocky start to the day, I began to feel better in the afternoon, so I decided to do some test cuts with Sheba, my Black Cat Cougar cutting machine. I have got various different types of card and thought it would be helpful to test each one, and file away a sample, with a note on each, of what settings I used, and any other useful information.

It was quite straightforward to do, because I didn’t need to have Sheba connected to the computer in order to do this. You just have to set the cutter offline and press the Test button, after setting the origin, and repeat the test using different settings until you get the desired result.

Having taken advice from my friends on the Black Cat Forum, I’ve decided (at least for now) to leave my blade at setting 3 in the click holder (so that the blade tip extends by about a millimetre), and simply adjust the force for different media. Today, I just tested some cardstock samples – I have yet to test my heavy watercolour paper (which is excellent for making paper flowers as it does not disintegrate when wet with ink), acetate, and the dark blue card that I had so much trouble with at the beginning (on top of the orange card in the photo) – I think all these media will do better with the 60 degree Plus blade.

I am particularly pleased with how my Core’dinations papers cut – recently I bought some Tim Holtz Kraft Core and Distress Core’dinations which cut beautifully with the Cricut, so I wasn’t expecting anything less from Sheba. My Tim Holtz Idea-ology papers also cut very well.

My plain 12 x 12 cardstock that I got from an online paper mill also cut well. I was very disappointed last year when they stopped supplying 12 x 12 as it was an excellent source of good quality card in the larger-than-A4 size that I often need, but recently someone on the Black Cat Forum recommended American Crafts 12 x 12 cardstock at 216 gsm which comes in several ranges of gorgeous colours – primaries, pastels, earth tones, etc. and, I am reliably informed, it cuts extremely well. I rather doubt if this supply will dry up any time soon, so at least I’ve now got a reliable source of good quality everyday 12 x12 cardstock for all sorts of projects.

I am waiting for Lidl’s to bring back their supply of slightly-larger-than A4 cardstock which forum members also rave about – it’s very cheap, lovely colours, and cuts well.

One of my cards cut surprisingly well. Last year, I bought some unbranded, quite firm black cardstock from a craft show, and it cut like butter! Beautiful clean cuts. This will be great for cutting designs and putting silver or gold behind, and intricate cuts, too. Very pleasing!

Our local copyshop supplies a satin-finished white A4 card, and I bought a ream of this a while back. When I first tested Sheba, this cut very badly, but it was after I’d blunted my blade by using the wrong settings and cutting into my mat, so I was keen to try again with the new blade, but again I was disappointed. Dawn (owner of the Black Cat Forum and inventor and supplier of the Black Cat machines) sent me some basic white card for experimenting with, which at first glance I thought was the same, but it is not quite so heavy. This card cut 100 per cent better than the copyshop card, which I am not going to use with Sheba as the quality clearly isn’t good enough. It will be good for printing backgrounds (it prints well) and for cards bases with other, better stuff on top.

Mirror card cuts well, too. I tried it from the front and from the back. I found the shiny surface tended to lift glue off Sheba’s mat, so I am going to cut it always from the front – I wasn’t sure how the cut edges of the silver foil would look but it’s fine.

I am pleased with this afternoon’s session, as I now have a useful resource to turn to when working on projects. This will be added to in future as I add more papers and cards to my supply, and once I get going with different blades etc.

The result of all this is a whole pile of little rectangles cut in various colours of card, which look too pretty to throw out. Anybody want some home-made confetti?

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


I haven’t been around much since Christmas because I’ve been quite poorly with my M.E. and haven’t been able to do much. What spare energy I have had, has been used trying to get to grips with Sheba, my new Black Cat Cougar cutter. As you will see from my last blog post, I’ve finally started to see the light at the end of the tunnel and managed to cut my first successful piece.

This is my desk for this week’s WOYWW. (If you don’t know what WOYWW is, click on the link in my sidebar, which will take you to Julia’s website – she organises this weekly hop around our various studios and craft rooms so we can be thoroughly nosey and check up on how messy we are all being!!)

As you can see, there isn’t much happening! At the back is the card I made with Sheba – I’m really pleased with how it turned out! On the left, the white lump is the defunct drive from my NAS drive, all wrapped up in layers of foam rubber, getting ready to be sent back to Seagate for a replacement under warranty. You wouldn’t believe the trouble I’ve had over this – first of all working through all the troubleshooting to find out what was wrong, and then all the procedure for sending it back – they certainly don’t make it easy! The stipulations for packing are beyond belief, especially as the wretched thing is broken!!!

On the right, is my little face mould that I bought on Ebay a while back – it’s a Sculpey mould as far as I remember – and has lots of different sized faces on it. In an idle moment yesterday, I filled them all with air-dry clay and they are hardening. When they are done they will go in a box ready for use – I’ve got a mixed media project starting to gel in my mind that I want to try with one of them. I bought some cheap canvases in Lidl the other day which will do.

On the brown table is a heap of stuff (as usual) – paperwork demanding attention, and stuff to put away. this always gets neglected when I’m poorly because I’m too brainfogged to tackle it, and haven’t the energy to use up on such boring pursuits as tidying up!

I’m making a real effort to join in WOYWW this week, as I haven’t made a very good start to 2012, have I!

Hope you all have a great week and produce lots of lovely creative stuff.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Sheba’s Coming of Age

I know I’ve been a bit neglectful of my blog of late – since Christmas I have been quite poorly with my M.E. and haven’t been able to do a lot. When I have had any energy I’ve had to catch up with various domestic chores and other necessary things, and if I’ve had any energy left, I’ve been trying to get Sheba up and running.

I must say I’ve had some problems with her! It’s not her fault – it was my silly fault trying to cut something from some very hard, dense card I have got (the navy blue card I made my hubby’s Silver Wedding card from) – and I ended up increasing the cutting force so much that I ended up cutting into the surface of my mat and blunting the blade! After that I was having no end of trouble trying to get a decent cut, and everyone on the Black Cat Forum, bless them all, were so brilliant, patient and helpful, and suggested it was probably a blunt blade, especially as there’s quite a visible impression of what I was trying to cut in my mat! They suggested I use some branded card so they would know what we were dealing with, so I ordered some absolutely fabulous cardstock from American Crafts – it’s 12 x 12, gorgeous colours, and a decent thickness (216 gsm/80 lb). I also ordered some Conqueror iridescent card from Dawn (who supplies the Black Cat cutters and runs the forum) and this came this morning – also totally gorgeous, but I haven’t tried that yet. I also ordered a couple of replacement 60-degree blades for Sheba.

Today I was feeling a bit better so decided to settle down and try and get to grips with Sheba. Yesterday, somebody on the Black Cat Forum posted the most fantastic summary, all in one place, of the various settings on the machines, what can be left alone, and what should be adjusted according to your project, and it was so helpful that I could feel the pieces starting to fall into place in my mind.

A little while ago I was following an excellent tutorial on the Inkscape Cutting Design forum which I have also signed up for (I never thought I’d say it, but I am actually learning Inkscape – after I’d given it up as incomprehensible last year!!) – Carolyn, who runs that forum, has done some very good tutorials for Inkscape, and I followed this one on spirals. I liked it so much that I decided to design a birthday card using this technique, with some stencilled text cut out beneath the spiral design.

Again, I had a bit of a struggle doing the text as I wanted to use Cairo font which is quite heavy, and the small pieces between and inside the letters were tending to get torn because it wasn’t cutting properly. Someone on the forum told me an easy way to create a stencil effect, creating a tall narrow rectangle and using path>difference in Inkscape – easy-peasy compared with what I was trying to do, manipulating nodes on each letter!

Now that Sheba is cutting properly, the letters really weren’t a problem. Being a bit wary of increasing the force too much, some of the corners didn’t pop out as well as they might, but I was able to get all the cut pieces out in the end, with very fine scissors and a craft knife, but most of it cut just fine.

Today I’ve finally been able to get Sheba to do a decent cut, and this is the result.

The cardstock is some of the American Crafts cardstock, and I sprayed the back of the cut design with some Crafter’s Companion Stick & Stay adhesive, and then applied a piece of dull silver card to show through the cut part (this is the same card I used on my hubby’s Silver Wedding card). As a final touch I inked around the edges with Chipped Sapphire Distress Ink.

All that remains to be done now is to make a card insert so that the back of the silver card is covered up, and it also looks much nicer.

I’ve uploaded the cut file (svg) of this card to my Skydrive.

Phew! I finally feel as if I am getting to grips with Sheba!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

New Storage in my ARTHaven

The paper storage in my ARTHaven has been getting in an increasingly sorry state over the past months. I had some cardboard storage units which were supposed to be used with their compartments vertically, to store ring binders in, and when I converted my old office into my ARTHaven, I thought they would do turned around for paper and card storage. However, they were not designed for this, and are not strong enough. This is what’s happened to them.

Pretty ghastly, isn’t it. I decided something needed to be done, and I couldn’t afford the lovely wooden storage units some people have, and anyway I’m pretty limited for space (when I first converted my ARTHaven I thought “What a lovely lot of SPACE!!!” Funny how it diminishes with time, isn’t it.) I’ve been doing some research online over the past few months and eventually decided to go for wire mesh cube storage. The parcel arrived yesterday morning. Here are the panels straight out of the box.

Included in the pack were two different sorts of connectors – corner connectors and small double connectors for other joins.

The corner connectors enable you to join several panels into a corner in all directions, and click into place on the panels, resulting in quite a rigid structure.

This is the first panel with four corner connectors on it.

The first three panels assembled.

Two cubes assembled.

Four cubes with extra panels inserted as shelves. I attached these with twist ties, but if this proves not strong enough, I shall use cable ties.

I bought a kit with enough panels to make 12 cubes with no shelves, and using some of the panels as shelves, I was able to make up this unit.

If I want to buy further panels and connectors, I can do this on an individual basis, but for the moment I think this is adequate.

My hubby has attached it to the wall for me so that it won’t tip forward on top of me! Unfortunately the book shelves that it rests on are not as deep as the cubes, but it works OK. Here it is with my paper put in. There’s now much more room for expansion!

The higher part is pretty high up, and to access it easily, I will have to use my small stepladder, so I’ve used it to store stuff I don’t use very often. I think this is going to be a highly satisfactory arrangement.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Silver Wedding Card–In Retrospect

Looking back over my blog posts of the last year, I realised that I never did a post about the silver wedding card I made for my hubby – it was a very busy year anyway, and also, I got so carried away with his present that it got overlooked. I thought you might like to see what I did.

I designed and made my own wedding dress, and after 25 years, there were still scraps of fabric in my bits box, so I decided to incorporate these into the design, along with some embroidery to mirror that on my dress.

Here’s a picture of me on our wedding day with my dad, to show the dress.

(You can see the rest of the wedding photos here.)

The dress was made of white moiré taffeta with pale blue satin accents. The design was inspired by a variety of influences, but mainly Russian. My father made a wire frame for me to construct the headdress around. The detachable collar was inspired by Thai dancers’ costumes, and the embroidery, worked in several shades of blue pure silk floss, incorporated Indian shi-sha mirrors. The band around the waist was smocked with the blue silk floss, and the blue satin “straps,” also embroidered, were attached at the waist only. Under the skirt was a hooped crinoline petticoat with several layers of net, and the sleeves were also puffed up with ruched net attached to the sleeve linings. There was further embroidery in the blue silk floss over the shoulders and at the wrists, and the hem of the dress was finished with a narrow silver braid. The veil was plain white net with tiny silver sequins sewn onto it.

Here are the materials I selected to make the card.

The pieces for the front of the card I cut with Jiminy Cricut, using some dark blue cardstock and silver mirror card, cutting an oval aperture for the embroidery, our initials in two entwined hearts and, of course, the number 25.

I matted and layered the component pieces for the hearts, initials and numbers to form the embellishments for the card.

You can see on the silver mirror card for the heart piece that I have hand-embossed the outlines where they cross, to give the impression of two pieces interlocking.

Here is the heart motif attached to the matted and layered aperture of the card.

These are the materials for the embroidery. You can see the central motif in progress.

You can see that I have outlined the central white moiré taffeta shape with chain stitch worked in silver, onto a background of pale blue satin. On the right you can see some Indian shi-sha mirrors waiting to be attached. For this project I used pure silk floss in three shades of blue. This was given to me by someone who got a huge quantity from a convent which was closing down. It is fabulous with a wonderful sheen to it, but absolute murder to work with as the fine silk fibres catch on everything, including the slightest roughness on one’s skin. Sewing down the small mirror fragments with their rough edges was very difficult – I had to cover the edge with a fingernail as I pulled the thread through each time, and there was a risk of the thread breaking.

I then worked three lines of chain stitch in the three shades of blue silk floss to attach the lace to the moiré taffeta for the background, trimming back the taffeta under the lace.

This piece was then laid over a piece of dull silver card and attached around the edges with double-sided tape.

The embroidered motif was attached with chain stitch in silver thread.

The final touch was to add a fringe of small tear-drop shaped silver beads along the border of chain stitch silk embroidery.

Here is the completed card, with the embellishments attached to the front and the embroidery in the aperture. The whole thing was matted and layered onto a sheet of the dull silver card. I stuck on a matching piece for the back of the card, and made a card insert with a verse.

Here is the card with the shadow box I made as a present for my hubby, showing them to have the same colour scheme.

I have made a video slideshow of the construction of this card rather than a video as such, because watching someone doing all that embroidery would be like watching paint dry!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


Well, here we are in 2012! Sorry I missed the last 2 but I was too busy getting ready for Christmas for the first one, and too shattered after Christmas for the second one! Anyway, hopefully I’ll be back on track from now on.

For anyone who doesn’t know, WOYWW is “What’s On Your Workdesk Wednesday” – a weekly blog hop organised by our own lovely Julia – click on the link in my sidebar which will take you to her blog where you can sign up and join the fun – we all nose around in each other’s creative spaces and see what we’re all up to and how much mess we can get away with!!

My main work table is a dumping ground this week. I’ve done nothing creative on it since before Christmas. Although we had a pretty quiet Christmas, two days on the trot spent with family and friends was enough for me and it took me 4 or 5 days to get over it, so I haven’t done much at all since Christmas.

I had a bit of a clear-out in the bedroom the other day and removed a stack of books from by the bed, and these are now stacked up on my work table waiting to be put away. The dark red box is a My Craft Studio Encyclopaedia CDRom set I got off Ebay last week – to be honest I’m a bit disappointed with it, but it was second hand so didn’t break the bank! I expect there will be some things I can use off it. The small brown cardboard box is Sheba’s accessories box which is now virtually empty – it will go in her main box and be packed away in the loft. All her accessories are now in the little box built into her lid.

On the table on the other side, though, is the most exciting thing to show you this time – Sheba, my new Black Cat Cougar cutting machine! She arrived before Christmas and had her Coming Out Party a couple of days ago – see my blog post for details and a video, complete with all her special Cougar noises!!

If you look carefully, you can see a slight glow on top of her, which shows that she is switched on and her display is lit up. So far that’s all I’ve done really.

Initially I experienced some problems because her buttons didn’t seem to do what they are supposed to do. I thought it was probably me, so I went straight to the Black Cat Forum for some advice! They are a wonderful crowd on there – no problem is too hard for them! (It turns out that the latest machines have a slightly different system, so the start-up guide was incorrect in this instance.)

Happy WOYWW, everybody, and also a Very Happy New Year to you all, and may 2012 be a wonderfully creative year for all of us.

Our Nephew’s Wedding–Follow Up

This evening we went over to visit my hubby’s brother again because our nephew and his wife were there – this is the first time I’ve seen them since the wedding in August, and we were able to give them our presents at last. My hubby didn’t take them to the wedding because it would have meant carrying them on the plane to Estonia, and they’d only have had to bring them back to London with them, so we waited until now.

Here they are, having received their presents, which, as you can see from their faces, they were delighted with! Our nephew’s wife is a very creative, artistic person and she in particular could fully appreciate how much work had gone into the gifts. You can read about my present to them here, and my hubby painted a watercolour of the church where they were married, and they were particularly thrilled with the fact that he’d painted tiny figures on the hill in front of the church, just as they had been on the wedding day.

My hubby’s other brother and his wife came too, and our nephew’s wife’s parents and little sister were there as well, and it was so nice to meet them at last – I recognised them from the wedding videos and photos. There were 11 of us around the table in the conservatory and we had a great meal together!

Here they all are after the meal.

As we were leaving, the bride’s mother gave us this lovely big bar of special Estonian chocolate!

Now I’ve got even more choccie to chomp my way through post-Christmas before I get my diet back on track! Such hardship…

It was a great evening!

Monday, 2 January 2012

Meet Francine

New Year’s Day was a most exciting day for me! First of all we had Sheba’s Coming Out Party, and then we had a new arrival! (Actually the new arrival came before the Coming Out Party but we won’t quibble about that, will we.)

We have some friends who live in Dorset, and they try and visit about once a month to come to our church. The husband’s mother died recently, and they have been busy clearing her house. When they arrived today, they brought with them a beautiful doll, which I thought they’d just brought to show me, but then they said “She’s for you!”

His mother apparently had three of these, and they are bringing the others next time they come!

They think that this particular one is about 25 years old, which amazed me because she looks brand new, and perfect! She still has a label attached, which says “My name is Francine.”

Her body is made of stuffed calico, but her face and hands are made of porcelain. Her face in particular is beautifully made, with delicately tinted cheeks and “real” hair eyelashes! She has a wonderful head of brown ringlets.

Her clothes are beautiful – and beautifully made and finished.

She is not a toy, but a collector’s piece, made by Leonardo Collections. I have never owned anything like this before, and I am very thrilled to have her.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Sheba’s Coming Out Party

Today was the Big Day! Appropriately, New Year’s Day, 2012. Sheba, who arrived in our house before Christmas, was finally let out of her box.

My hubby helped me, and he lifted her out and put her on the table for me.

She’s a fierce black kitty with Claws and Teeth ready to cut anything I throw at her! However, she’s still tied up with cable ties which need to be removed before she will cut.

Here is her control panel. I’ve been mugging up on how she works by watching Youtube videos and visiting the Black Cat Forum (great folks on there, so friendly and helpful – “The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask”!!) and soon I shall be pressing her buttons as if I’ve been doing it all my life.

To the left of her buttons she’s got a neat little box to put her bits in – spare blades etc. On the lid of the box is the Black Cat logo which looks like a very fierce kitty indeed!

This is her back view – not easy to get a very good photo because there’s not a lot of room.

I had this beautiful notebook as a present, and I’ve decided to use it for making notes about Sheba – different settings etc. It’s appropriate that the book is decorated with cats!

The book is kept closed by a flap with a magnetic strip.

Inside the front cover are the most beautiful end papers, also decorated with cats.

The pages are lined, and there is a bookmark.

Inside the back cover is a handy pocket for putting loose sheets into.

I think this is such a beautiful object, quite fitting to go with my beautiful new Black Kitty Sheba.

Finally, here’s the video I’ve made of Sheba’s Coming Out Party.

Jiminy eat your heart out. Time to make room for the Coolest Black Cat on the Block.

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