Sunday, December 6, 2009
NYTimes Article on the Future of Craft
December 3, 2009
For Crafters, the Gift of Automation
By PETER WAYNER
THE easy replication enabled by the digital era is coming to the tactile world, and one of its first stops is the two-dimensional world of paper, felt and vinyl. Computer-driven styluses can cut, burnish and emboss paper and other materials using instructions purchased or swapped on the Web.
Such automation may seem at odds with the concept of handmade, but there’s no doubt the tools allow for bigger and more elaborate projects that might cause cramps if cut manually.
Jennifer McGuire, an artist in Cincinnati, plans to make 150 Christmas cards using her Silhouette digital cutter to make hundreds of snowflakes in slightly different sizes. Then, she said, she will glue them together in layers, place a family picture in the center and add a loop so the snowflake can hang on a tree.
“In the past, I’ve cut some myself by hand,” she said, “and that takes way too long.”
The cutting machines look and manipulate paper like printers for personal computers but have blades instead of ink cartridges. They started appearing more than four years ago, and the earliest versions used patterns from cartridges and digital memory cards. This year, the manufacturers have enabled customers to buy patterns from professional artists and are making it easier for crafters to swap patterns through online networks.
Besides making cards, crafters use the machines for scrapbook projects, home décor, lettering and artwork. Here are three machines often mentioned by crafters:
Jeremy Vander Woude, the general manager of Pazzles, based in Boise, Idaho, said his company was finishing tests of the Pazzles Craft Room, a Web site that borrows ideas from members of social networks and adapts them to support Pazzles machines. Customers will be able look at the creations of other crafters and download plans to replicate them. Some features will be free, and some sections, like the collection of professionally designed projects, will be available for a fee.
With the Pazzles cutter, “you can use any fonts, you can design your own images, you can take public domain clip art, turn it into line drawings that can then be cut,” Mr. Vander Woude said. “If they’re having a bit of trouble making their project work just right, they can get on the Internet and chat with one of our designers.”
The machines cost $600 for the basic model and up to $3,000 for professional models intended for heavy use.
The Cricut line from Provo Craft in Spanish Fork, Utah, includes machines that can be used with or without a home computer. Jon Lee, brand director for the line, said customers typically liked the simplicity of purchasing and using a collection of cutting patterns on a cartridge without having to understand software or computers.
In the past, Provo Craft sold patterns on cartridges that might include several hundred designs with a similar theme; it hopes to expand its online offerings and triple the number of cartridges available next year. Designs include a variety of original and licensed outlines, including popular cartoon characters like Batman and SpongeBob SquarePants.
The basic machine costs $149, and the Cricut Expression, which can handle 12- by 24-inch paper, is $349. The company also makes a hand-held tool called the Gypsy that is used to choose fonts and shapes to be cut. It lists at $300.
Mr. Lee said Cricut’s Internet-based tools might offer individual patterns to customers for a particular project, but he declined to provide details. One small company, Craft Edge, sells a $90 software package that has fonts and outlines that can be cut on the Cricut machine.
This line of digital cutters uses the iTunes model to sell individual patterns on the Internet, said Kirk Pead, the vice president for sales and marketing at Silhouette America in Lindon, Utah, adding, “We started getting third-party artists to give us images, and they’ll be paid royalties based on how many times they’re downloaded.”
Once owned by QuicKutz, a company that makes tools for crafters, Silhouette has been spun off on its own. The company recently announced that it was licensing patterns from Hero Arts, a company that makes rubber stamps, and Mr. Pead promised more to come.
THE Silhouette SD costs $300 and includes a $25 gift card for patterns from its online store. Pattern prices usually start at $1.99, with an unlimited subscription for $30 a month.
Erin Lincoln, a member of the Silhouette Design Team in Boonsboro, Md., said she had used the machine to cut patterns for etching glass, create spider cutouts for Halloween and make hundreds of stars to decorate her son’s wagon for Memorial Day.
“I like the fact that it looks manufactured,” she explained. “I don’t like the stuff looking hokey-crafty. I want the stuff to look as professional as possible. I don’t want uneven lines or edges.”