OMG – Laser cutting Machine

My regular readers and all who know me personally will know that I am by inclination very low tech, my love of fabric and stitch having been expressed through hand and sewing machine techniques, with the occasional aid of paint by various techniques, and the use of adhesives and bonding materials. Wherever possible I use a rotary cutter, of course, and scissors for the tricky bits. In recent work using leather, I have resorted to hand cutting with scissors and using a leather punch to achieve lacey effects. However, last year, after attending the SDA conference in Kansas City and seen many interesting developments in work on show there resulting from some of the new technologies being explored in the textile field, I then spent some time with my computer and graphics design savvy son, who opened my eyes to the potential of a laser cutting device…. and so, I have been thinking and dreaming about this for the past 6 months. Finally, last week DH, DS and I all went to visit the distributor of one of these machines for an actual demo. It took me very little time to realise that this is an answer to my love of repeated units, the tricky non-traditional materials that I love, and slightly arthritic hands which really feel the impact of hours of cutting and punching through something like leather. And, the time saved putting my ideas together will be enormous.
It was no mean feat to get from Easton MD over to Fredericksburg VA, at 3 hours each way – but once there we spent several hours with Paul who ran one of these machines through its paces. I took along a selection of fabrics and other materials I was interested in seeing perform under the laser cutting beam. Although he had other stuff like granite, wood, laminated plastic and lots of other ‘hard’ materials, it was leather and fabrics including synthetics I was especially interested in, and sure enough, he did not have most of those things around. By either scanning the lines of a hand drawn or photographed design, and setting the level of the laser’s focal point to the surface of the material being cut, the same shapes can be cut, enlarged and reduced, with the aid of the dedicated computer, onto which of course the settings for each material and the different designs you are working with can be saved. The cutting takes mere seconds, no matter how complicated the shape. And, the scope of endless exact repeats is infinite. DH’s eyes were really opened, and I totally fell in love with a machine that day. My son says it was like watching a kid in a candy store….it was all I had hoped it would be.
One great thing about cutting/burning with a laser is that especially on synthetics, the heat seals the edge each side of the cut – meaning handling of the shapes does not lead to instant fraying, something that is hard to combat and which has been rather offputting re cetain materials – nylon organza, synthetic metallics and silk especially. See detailed view above left.

The full view, right, shows : UL cutouts of an artificial silk-like fabric with embossed glittery Christmas shapes; some gold lame UR; at LL some batting; and LR some stretchy red metallic knit fabric – all cut with exactly the same pattern at different sizes.

Odd layout – sorry – in deleting some text I accidentally got rid of one pic- which did not go back in where I wanted it – sigh – it’s just one of those days Blogger wins. I am just not re-doing this – it’s too hot and humid.
The samples are of Paul’s designs – he is an engineer and as I told him, it shows. I’d have gone for more organic shapes, but we didn’t have all day to fiddle around, and it is clear to me that between now and when the machine lands in Uruguay I need to make myself familiar with Adobe Photoshop, and get ready to start tapping the potential of this machine. The cost? IMHO quite hefty – but, really the smallest desktop model I am getting is just a bit more than one of the fanciest top line sewing machines available – and a bit less than setting up with one of the popular long-arm quilting machines. And so I have chosen to take a higher tech direction that I feel is in tune with where I am going with what I am doing.
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4 Responses to “OMG – Laser cutting Machine”

  1. sion says:

    oh wow, I’m green! I’ve been dreaming about one of those for years … can’t wait to see what you do with it 🙂

  2. Ellen says:

    Agree with sion on both the green and the anticipation! I’ve long admired your work, Alison, and think this tool has much potential in your hands. For those of us who can’t hope to afford one of these in the near future, check out for a very intriguing how-to on building your own laser cutter. I haven’t attempted the build myself yet, but am thinking about it. Best of luck with your new tool, I’m hoping you post as much as possible about the process as well as the results, this is such an exciting path you have chosen to take.

  3. Alison Schwabe says:

    Sion ansd Ellen – thankyou for your comments. I am well aware that I am very fortunate to be able to afford this tool – but it hasn’t always been that way; only a few years ago we were juggling each dollar reeeally fast to keep afloat. The mining business is either boom or bust, and we’ve experienced it all.

  4. Olga says:

    How fantastically exciting! I have found in the past when acquiring a new tool like this that first it helps realise ideas already in the brain, but very quickly it leads down paths previously unseen. Have fun.

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