If you’re an avid felt crafter, like me, or just a dabbler, you’ve probably thought about using a die cutter and how it could help your creative process. I’ve been using a die cutter for about 4 years and it has greatly helped me scale my business and create new items that I could never cut out by hand. I get asked a lot of questions about die cutting felt, so I’m launching a series of posts on the subject that I hope will offer valuable tips and insight!
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I love using a die cutter for felt because it cuts out complex shapes cleanly and crisply. A die cutter really opens up a world of possibility for crafting with felt. It can help you grow your business if you have one and it’s just plain fun to shop for dies and test things out!
Die Cutting Tools and Equipment
Die Cutter & Accessories
There are many brands and styles of die cutters on the market. They generally all work the same way: A hand crank or motor draws the die+material through the machine, applying pressure as it turns and the die blades press through the material. (FYI a die cutter is different from an electronic cutter such as a Cricut machine. Which I have never used and can’t speak on.)
I recommend using the Sizzix brand of die cutter, and more specifically the Sizzix Big Shot Plus for felt. There are different sizes and widths of die cutter, and I just find that the Big Shot Plus is the best size for working with 9×12 felt sheets. There is a larger Big Shot Pro, but it is heavy duty and I would only recommend it if you are running a large business and have a dedicated space for die cutting. The Big Shot Plus is more easily tucked away when you’re done with it.
Typically when you purchase a die cutter it will come with the cutting pads and platforms that you will need for cutting. Those items are necessary, so make sure that you have them already or that they are in fact included in your purchase!
My Big Shot Plus came with a platform, 2 different adapter sheets and a set of clear cutting pads.
Steel Rule Dies
Steel rule dies are square and about 1/2″ thick. The (extremely) sharp blades are embedded in the base and covered with a protective layer of black foam. The first few times you use a steel rule die, tiny shavings of the foam will come off when you cut. They easily brush off your felt, but you should do a few test passes using scraps to get the excess foam all trimmed away.
A great feature of steel rule dies is that they can easily cut 2 layers of felt at once! That can be a huge time saver if you’re producing a lot of items.
(For die cutting with wafer thin dies, check out this post.)
This die is the Sizzix 656545, 3-D Flowers. It makes sweet little rolled flowers! This die is well loved, so that’s why it has lots of little fibres stuck to it. 🙂
Steel rule dies may have different names based on the company that makes them. For example, Sizzix steel rule dies are called Bigz Dies. I’ve also seen other brands call them Contour Steel Rule Dies or Heavy Duty Dies. They all work the same way. But you must double check that they are compatible with the die cutter you have or plan to purchase. There are some Bigz dies that are only compatible with the Big Shot Pro machine because they are very big.
Where to Find Dies
Tracking down dies is not always the easiest task. But I’ve already done loads of research on this and I’m happy to pass along the info!
I live in a fairly large city, and yet I’m still unable to find much in the way of dies or die cutting tools and accessories locally. My local craft store has a small selection of wafer thin dies (more on those in another post) but often they’re not of use to me. I have yet to find any steel rule dies locally.
My one stop shop for all things die cutting is Scrapbook.com. I have purchased my die cutter and many many dies from that website. It is reliable, with reasonable pricing and shipping options. They carry many different brands of dies, not just Sizzix. I’ve also purchased the Spellbinders brand of steel rule die from scrapbook.com and I would recommend that brand of die as well.
(Typically dies and die cutters from different companies will be compatible with each other.)
I’ve also had excellent experiences shopping at SimonSaysStamp.com. They have a large selection of die cutting tools and accessories and their customer service is excellent. Their selection of steel rule dies are called Heavy Duty Dies. They also sell die cutter machines and accessories as well as wafer thin dies.
How to Use Steel Rule Dies
Rough Cut the Felt
I’ve found that the most economical use of felt with steel rule dies is to rough cut the felt first. Steel rule dies typically have several shape elements on a single die. You may want to cut out only one of the shapes on the die instead of all of them, or cut all the shapes but out of different colours. For dies I use most frequently, I’ve made paper patterns for quickly cutting out a section of felt before I die cut it.
Die Cutting Felt with Steel Rule Dies
Die cutting with steel rule dies is actually rather straight forward because you don’t need to use any platforms or adapters. You just need your die and the clear cutting pads.
Put the die face up on a cutting pad, place your felt pieces and layer another cutting pad on top to form a sandwich. Make sure your die cutter is on a firm, steady surface. Feed one end of the ‘sandwich’ into the machine and turn the handle until it comes out the other side. Don’t be alarmed if the cutting pads make a slight cracking sound. New pads tend to do that.
You want to make sure that your cutting pads are well aligned with the edges of the machine. Otherwise the force of pushing them through the machine on a slight angle could damage it. You may have to use a bit of strength to get the sandwich through. Once the sandwich is securely in the machine after the first turn, you can grip the top handle with your free hand for some leverage.
The dies will cut into the cutting pads a bit, but that’s normal. Cutting pads eventually need to be replaced after extensive use. I used the same pads for about 3 years before I had to replace them. So they’ll last for a good long while, you’ll get your money’s worth!
Another fun property of the large steel rule dies is that you can remove blades if they are unnecessary to you. Keep in mind of course, that you can not put them back once they’re out. But they’re pretty easy to take out.
With a pair of needle nose pliers, get a good grip on the blade between the foam and pull. Make sure you wrap up the blades before throwing them away.
I took the blades out of this die because it was cutting slits into the petal that I didn’t want.
This is a great way to get the biggest bang for you buck since dies can be expensive. Make the dies work for your needs!
Don’t hesitate to ask any questions about die cutting felt in the comments, I’m more than happy to share what I know!