This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Cricut. The opinions and text are all mine.
So guys, I have a little something different for you this week!
I get a fair few of those ‘partnership/ambassador’ emails drop into my inbox each month – usually for things like watches (which I don’t wear), sunglasses (hello, I live in England where we get about three days of sunshine per year), or clothing (er, I make my own clothing ??♀️), which means that basically I’m approached by companies that haven’t actually looked at what it is I blog about. So their emails go straight to trash. Because if they haven’t got the time, then I haven’t got the time. But then I got offered a different, and wildly more relevant, opportunity: a Cricut machine, in exchange for my thoughts on it.
Now a cutting machine isn’t something I’d thought about spending money on (mainly because I didn’t feel I had the time for another hobby), although I knew that they existed. I have way too many ideas for projects floating around my head as it is, without adding to that list, thank you. But, while I was thinking about whether to take the opportunity, an idea was born (yes, another one ?) – so I went for it.
In order to be totally upfront and give you full disclosure – I received this Cricut Air 2 machine for free, along with some materials to get me started (cardstock and vinyl). To go with the machine, I also purchased some tools and additional materials with my own money, because it was actually pretty damn fun (and there was shiny stuff to be had ?)
So, er, what exactly is Cricut?
What is Cricut, I hear you ask?
Well, let me start by saying that I always thought that ‘Cricut’ was pronounced ‘cry-cut’ (which, apparently, is a common misinterpretation) but it’s actually cricket, like the sport and/or the little insect. I’m filing this in the same box as the word ‘plaid’ which I still can’t quite convince myself isn’t pronounced played. (It’s ‘plad’, if you’re wondering, like I was for about ten years ??♀️)
As Cricut themselves say on their website, they are ‘smart cutting machines’. So, they cut stuff. Lots of stuff. When I first started looking at them, I thought they were for papercrafts (paper crafters? Is that what you call people that… papercraft?) – greeting cards, invitations, that sort of thing – which is why I wasn’t sure if they would be useful to me as a sewist. Turns out – they cut a heck of a lot more than paper, and yes they are useful to me as a sewist. Think of the machine as a magic pair of scissors that you can show what to cut, shout ‘GO, SHARP BLADE’, GO*, and watch them do your bidding.
*while shouting this, you need to actually press the start button. And *then* the machine will do your bidding. It doesn’t literally hear you with ears.
When choosing fabrics for the clothing I make for myself (and the Handsome Husbeast, of course), the one thing that really rains on my parade is the fact I rarely find fabrics that I’m in love with. Yes, they’re out there – I do find them – but I’m notoriously picky about prints, colours and fibre content – and other than dropping serious money on Spoonflower there’s not many options for customisation. Not unless you want to pay upwards of £20 per metre for all your projects (which I absolutely don’t).
I saw that the Cricut machine could open new avenues for me with their iron-on vinyl – I could customise otherwise plain fabrics, with designs of my choosing. This was very appealing ?
So, I signed up for the opportunity, thinking that the worst-case scenario was that I didn’t like it. While I waited for the machine to arrive, I started looking at the accessories I could use with my machine.
Because the Cricut can cut many different materials, and therefore covers a lot of different crafts, there are accessories for dayz. There’s different machines, different mats, lots of tools, lots of different types of vinyl. Browsing around to see what was available, my first thought was OMG I’M SO OVERWHELMED. I had no idea which things were relevant to my intended use of the machine.
I found removable vinyl (removable without residue for two years, good for things like sewing machine decals, laptop and phone decals, window decorations), permanent vinyl (yep, non-removable, ie permanent) for outdoorsy type stuff that will be exposed to the elements (think door numbers, wheelie bin numbers, plant pots, mailboxes), and activewear vinyl (for fabrics that stretch, obvs). But there’s me banging on about the sticky stuff – if you’re into card making, scrapbooking or any other papercrafts, it also cuts paper – I’m just not really into that. But I might be into that one day when I realise we’ve forgotten to send someone a birthday card and Tesco is shut (and/or I’m already braless and in my sweatpants and the thought of leaving the house horrifies me ?)
The Maker is Cricut’s flagship model, with a bit more cutting force behind the blade so that you can cut leather and thin wood (and fabrics!). I have the Explore Air 2, which is an ever-so-slightly pared-down version of the maker. If you’re not fussed about cutting wood, save yourself some money and get the Air 2 (and then spend the money you’ve saved on some shiny-shiny iron-on vinyl ?)
The Air 2 comes in mint or yellow – I received a mint colour, which I was secretly hoping for as it was my favourite out of the two options. Inside the box, you get the machine (obvs), a power cable (also obvs), a connector cable (I thought it connected via WiFi, but turns out I could have been wrong), a pen (which I thought was a bit strange) and some instructions. Now, I’ve never used a machine like this before, and I was dreading a massive instruction booklet and a very steep learning curve.
What I liked about the setup of the machine (which is done via the internet, and that USB connector cable that was in the box), is that it gives you a simple demo project to run through. The cardstock for this practice run is pre-cut and included with your machine in the box, so all you have to do is follow the on-screen prompts and you can see what the machine does. This was fantastic because there’s nothing worse than opening something you don’t have a clue how to use and wondering where to start – this holds your hand, shows you what the machine does and how it does it, and you don’t have to read a single instruction booklet. It gets my thumbs up, for sure ??
Design Space is where it’s at
I initially struggled for ideas of things the machine would be useful for. It turns out that all I had to do was go into the Cricut Design Space (which you can get to online as a web page, or as an app on mobile devices) and you’re suddenly presented with more project ideas than you could probably make in your entire lifetime – and things I definitely hadn’t even considered would be possible.
Because the machine can cut so many different materials for different things it can be quite overwhelming to even know where to start (Invitations? Greetings cards? Decals? Aaarrrrrgh ?), so I decided that I’d focus on vinyl.
The first project (that introductory one I mentioned) is a greetings card, and you have to follow the instructions onscreen.
The grid on the screen corresponds with the grid on the mats that work with the machine – the mats look like regular cutting mats but are sticky, to hold your material in place (genius) and you can visually see on-screen where the thing will be cut. I laid down the paper onto the mat and then was told to load the pen (the one that came in the box) into the cartridge. Erm, sure, okay… I was a little confused. Turns out these machines can write too! Me and the husbeast watched this little machine write on the cardstock, in fancy writing that was way better than anything I could ever achieve with my own hands. When it came to cutting out a little fancy bit to finish off the card, I didn’t get the mat loading process quite correct and it slipped – and started to cut the design half off the paper ? Ooops. I realised that I’d not followed the instructions of push, and the rollers hadn’t quite managed to grip the mat and suck it in under the blade. That was the one and only time I made that mistake though, I got the hang of it after that ?
It really was seriously easy to use – within about half an hour of unboxing it I was using it to cut things. The design interface is really intuitive, and because you’ve got the same grid on screen as on the cutting mat it’s easy to see exactly how big things are going to be cut. One of my biggest worries, before I used the machine, was ‘how do I know where it’s going to cut, or how big it will be?’ Turns out I didn’t need to worry. It was simples ??
Let’s get cuttin’
I had already planned that my first project with my new toy was going to be some decals for my sewing machine – I’ve seen loads of pictures of machines on the interwebs that have been jazzed up, and I felt mine looked a bit plain in comparison ? I had already bought some .svg files from Etsy – I spent a couple of hours bookmarking my faves, so now I also have another list of ideas much like my never-ending-and-never-reducing sewing list ??♀️ A little sloth hanging from a branch was my first purchase (because who doesn’t love a sloth?) followed by some bohemian dream catcher feathers, and a couple of others that I’d earmarked to be ironed on to T-shirt’s when I eventually got that far.
That shiny-shiny vinyl I mentioned earlier that I bought? It’s the ‘Miami Sampler’ three-pack of removable vinyl ?
This is the haul that came with my machine, to be practised with before I cut into that extra special metallic stuff:
So my little sloth was loaded into the Design Space (painless, via a super obvs ‘upload’ button), and I resized him to something that I thought was reasonable (about four inches square). I cut one brown piece and one red piece of vinyl (for the tree and the sloth, yep you can cut different elements of the design in different colours ?) and stuck them on the board in what I hoped was the right places. It would cut both elements in one go, on the separate pieces of vinyl. I loaded the mat (being sure to push it in place, not wanting to get that wrong again), shouted GO, SHARP BLADE, GO* and hoped.
*pushed the start button, no shouting involved
Well, it cut the design, but something didn’t look right. Bits were missing and had been scraped off the backing. That ‘something’ turned out to be the fact that I’d forgotten to change the settings from ‘cardstock’ to ‘vinyl’ after doing the test project ??♀️ It was cutting the vinyl too heavily because obviously, it was thinking that it was cutting heavier cardstock and needed more pressure on the knife. D’oh. I let it finish, but then put another bit of vinyl down and remembered to change the pressure wheel to ‘vinyl’. Well, it turned out a lot better that second time let me tell you – instead of cutting through the vinyl and the backing (as it did so on the wrong setting and made removing it from the board totes difficult), it only cut through the vinyl which made peeling off all of the negative space about a gazillion times easier ? I then whipped out the Transfer Tape that I’d bought – which is essentially sticky back plastic – to lift the vinyl shape off the board and then position it onto what it was to be stuck to. I went with the most low-risk option of sticking my little sloth onto a piece of cardstock, and he actually came out perfectly ?
By this point, which was literally only about an hour or so in, I felt confident about using my nice holographic vinyl. It was a pain-free process and the sloth was born and had his new home pretty quickly!
I wasn’t going to stop there though… I wanted MORE decals. I uploaded the dream catcher feathers to put next to the sloth, along the top of my machine, but then quickly realised that this was a big design. At the size I wanted to print it, it would lose all the detail. Hmph. Not to be beaten, I set the machine to cut it out as large as possible (limited only by the size of my cutting mat – 12 x 12 inches, but you can also buy 12 x 24 inches which I have since done), and started the cutting process. It was at this point I realised that the larger, really intricate designs take a really long time to cut. Like, you’re gonna want to set it going and then do something else – sitting there watching it cut (as I had been doing, because it was so fascinating) was not really an option every time unless you’ve really got nothing better to do. After it had finished, I realised that weeding out all of the negative space around those feathers was actually going to take longer than it took to cut it ? BUT – it was 100% worth it, and I guess it’s no different to an embroidery machine – you just have to let it do its thing ??♀️
Yep, the husbeast got roped in to help ?
The design is now looking totally fabulous on my machine cover:
So now I had that empty space on my machine to fill (that was going to be taken up by the feathers which had since been promoted to the machine cover), and I had an idea. I wondered if it would cut out the arrow from my Wanderstitch logo ? It was a pretty detailed design (and by pretty detailed, I mean the most intricate thing on the planet, ever), and I kind of doubted the machine could rise to the challenge. I also loaded up the ‘Wanderstitch’ text to cut as well – because, well, just for lols (and so there wouldn’t be any doubt about whose sewing machine this was ?).
It took my challenge and passed the test ✂️
I know I said earlier that sitting there watching the machine cut was a bit of a waste of time, but I actually did sit there and watch as it cut the arrow – as did the husbeast. It’s really interesting to see which parts of the design it does first – you think it’s forgotten to do a bit, but then it’ll go back there a bit later and complete the section. The nerd in me really wants to know the reasoning behind the order – how it chooses which bits to do when ?
It actually did a stellar job of cutting the arrow, it’s really impressive ?
So what’s next?
The Explore Air 2 has definitely earned its place alongside my sewing machines. It did everything I asked it to, and there wasn’t anything I couldn’t figure out how to do. I know it can do way more than I’ve used it for, and I doubt I’ll ever unlock its full potential because the possibilities are nigh on endless. The Design Space is a really intuitive portal and there’s TONS of inspiration. I genuinely was impressed at how easy it was to use.
Despite me initially lacking in ideas of what I’d use the machine for, I now have hundreds of ideas ? I’m going to incorporate it into my wardrobe by way of slogan tees and hoodies, and I’ve also got the beginnings of a plan to use it to get some awesome back pocket designs for jeans. Watch this space ?
So, whatd’ya think? Do you reckon you’d find something like this useful?
On the blog next week – my toadstool Deer and Doe Melilot shirt! Subscribe below to have it drop straight into your inbox! ??
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