Sunday, 27 March 2016

Time to bow out.....

Been taking some time out to have a good think lately over my SixInchSquare many frustrating and stressful issues relating to it over the the last year or so and I have now come to the decision with a heavy heart....that I am stopping blogging on here. No more posts - no tutorials recipes and random ramblings...I am done.
On top of technical issues that have recently prevented me using the blog and uploading images, I've suffered increasing amounts of spam, malicious and obscene comments and I'm seemingly spending copious amounts of my precious time reporting, moderating, blocking etc it's ludicrous! I have better things to do with my time than being slave to the laptop dealing with this.
BUT the main reason for my decision has been copyright infringement and theft of my tutorials and images which came to a head this week.
I've had the odd problem over the years with stuff being used without my permission. Pinterest have been very good in removing content I have reported, but some other websites have been less then keen to co-operate. Some you will have read about on my Facebook page...but one particular case I've not posted about happened last year involving a person stealing whole paper flower tutorials from my blog, then selling as a downloadable programmes on Etsy...YES, selling it! FREE tutorial, they stole, tampered with the images, cropped, tried to remove © marks and passed off as their own sell for financial gain.....unbelievable! (well actually yes totally believable, it happens far too often nowadays grrrr :( ) Had it not been for a very nice person who happened across the Etsy shop while googling for craft tutorials, and then saw my own blog version and contacted me, I would have been completely unaware of what they had done. It's taken months of complaining and I finally found out last night that their shop has been closed. SUCCESS! YAY! Personally I do not think this is all my own doing....I have a feeling that other downloadables and artwork in their Etsy shop were probably stolen and others have also complained...maybe even threatened legal action. Whether this person realised the game was up and shut the shop themselves, or it was closed by Etsy intervening I don't know...I've had no recent communication off them...but all I'm concerned about is that it's gone, stopped...for now.
The problem now is I ask myself,  has it stopped? when will the next person steal images?...why am I putting myself through all this? Not long after I made the first complaint about the stolen tutorial, I received an anonymous comment to my blog which simply said (quote) "your images are public domain...we can do what the hell we like with them. If you don't want other people to use them...then don't put them on your blog". Considering I hadn't made the incident public knowledge, I'm assuming the comment came from the very person (Etsy shop owner/image thief) I made the report about. I don't know, but it's a coincidence for sure...and for the record they are VERY wrong...the images are NOT there for them to do the 'hell they like' with them, they are there to help and inspire and are copyrighted, all rights reserved.....this is made VERY clear throughout the blog to take the images then tamper with them to pass off as their own....then make money from them...IS NOT ACCEPTABLE! Sadly this kind of attitude is common and theft of images and artwork continues :(

I try to take efforts to protect my images, I add © marks, I embed copyright details and I also reduce the size of the images so that if anyone does copy and paste etc to their own files to reproduce, the images are small and of poor quality. It's probably the basic of protection but sadly those intent on stealing images will often be one step ahead and find their way around all this. I can only imagine that the downloadable items they were selling were of pretty bad quality which is equally annoying as I take great pains to produce quality clear and concise photographs and instructions and if any one connects this stolen, rehashed stuff back to me, my reputation is sullied.
I have had over 9 happy years blogging on the has been a hobby, something fun to do outside of work time. I've enjoyed making up tutorials, sharing my crafting knowledge but it's darn hard's doesn't come easily.....(those of you how do tutorials will fully well know this) and now what was once fun, is becoming stressful and all time consuming and ruined by some pretty mean people....
each tutorial I have provided has meant HOURS and DAYS worth of work. It involves much preparation and planning in advance, each card or piece is then photographed and all motions construction of, and details documented at EVERY stage, hundreds of photos are taken...this part can take a good day or so to complete, THEN I have to upload those images, sort, choose best to use, edit, resize, copyright mark and put in order...then it's all uploaded to the blog along with any typed in instructions, all edited again, proof read and re-edited before finally can take 3 days, even longer, to complete from planning stage to publishing the final article.....
ALL this is done in MY SPARE TIME.....AND FOR FREE. My blog is not a professional site...I am not a professional blogger...I get NO financial reward for all this. I do it for the fun and the reward that I'm sharing with crafters out there who acknowledge and appreciate my efforts.....but the theft of my tutorials and the images, hours of hard work all done from the goodness of my heart , now used for their financial gain is quite frankly soul destroying and sucks...big time :(
I am self employed, an artist and jeweller who has to put in many many hours to earn a living and I no longer cannot afford to spend precious time dealing with these people, dealing with reports, constantly monitoring this website, blocking, complaining etc....enough is enough :( 
In order to preserve my sanity I have decided to stop doing the tutorials, and all content I believe to be at risk from further theft has now been removed from this blog...this sadly means all my tutorials and any posts on my artwork etc will no longer be visible and accessible to you. I will leave the food recipes and the info on the Big Shot Plus….I will post up the final part I have promised regarding plate combos...and info on Tatty Button, but that will be it. My StudioForty blog will still be up and running as normal and all my Facebook pages are also still in if you wish to continue seeing any of my artwork, jewellery and so forth than please join me there.
I apologise to all my lovely blog followers, and those who have been awaiting new flower tutorials. Thank you all so much for your's been 9 years of fun...but it's now time to say goodbye on here.
xxx Ange xxx

Friday, 21 August 2015

Slurp slurp! Iced Chai Tea Latte

(firstly, apologies for lack of images in this word heavy post...I am currently having image loading issue and will add some as soon as possible...Ange x)

My first experience of Iced Tea Latte was surprisingly, for someone in the 40s, not that long ago...and I remember it well. I've never really been interested in milky drinks, let alone cold milky tea...from childhood I hated the taste of milk on it's own. Hated it on breakfast cereals...I actually eat cereals dry (yep I'm a bit weird like that) Milkshakes were fine if flavoured well, but milky tea...yuck! My tea was always hot, strong with the emphasis on the flavour of the tea leaves...and in some cases drunk black with no milk at all. I would drink an iced black tea....but a latte version? never really caught my fancy... it was only a couple of years ago that I found myself wandering around one of our many local food fairs - there was music playing, lots to see and do, lots of food to sample, it was an unusually hot beautiful day...and I was feeling parched. My bottle of water I tend to carry around in my bag was long drained and I needed! I had the usual choice of going into a store and buying an overpriced bottle of water (errr no thank you!), or treating myself to a tipple from one of the food stalls. They had the usual number of 'brand' coffee shop stalls such as Costa and Starbucks, some bars selling alcoholic drinks and a lovely collection of independent coffee houses and bakeries...all offering beverages in an overwhelming choice of flavours and varieties. Alcohol was not really a fancy...a bit to early in the day for me and too hot, Starbucks and Costa a no from the start (I do not buy from Starbucks full stop - I have reasons many to do with UK tax evasion practices...but hey that's my choice, I know so many of you out there love them so that's fine, I accept that, but I personally will not give them my money). So, that left the independents....all I had to do was decide what to have.

Hot drinks didn't do it for me on such a hot day....smoothies milkshakes and all their cool icecreaminess were tempting but a tad boring on the flavour varieties available and I was after something cool refreshing, unusual and maybe a bit more grown up! An independent Birmingham bakery store came to my rescue!

I noticed at this stall a small selection of iced teas and lattes and although I've baulked at drinking this kind of thing in thepast, the flavours they offered were intriguing from mango with green tea to coconut, real vanilla, earlgreys and their 'special spiced'. Seeing my dilemma, a helpful member of their staff offered me a small sample of the 'special'. A wee dram was poured over a single ice cube in a tiny cup and handed over with an expectant smile...'it really is quite special' she said...

...I warned her I was not really into milky drinks but went for it and raised it to my lips....the first thing that hit me was the nostrils were filled with warming hints of cinnamon and clove...and other spices I couldn't quite place....and then on taste I was quite blown away...silky smooth creamy with a good tea flavour coming through...but the addition of the spices were was like drinking liquid Christmas! The only thing that spoiled it for me was an slightly overpowering taste of ginger.....I'm actually quite sensitive and bit intolerant to ginger so it kind of took over all my taste buds in a not so pleasing way. Other than that it was really surprisingly tasty! I stated to think maybe I got this wrong after all....maybe latte are worthy of being hooked on!

"People say it's as good as...if not better, than a certain well known coffee shop drink" she said, discreetly gesturing towards that 'certain well known coffee shop' stall...the one with the weird green n white mermaid type wavy haired lady in their logo. "Chai inspired....but not quite Chai!" she went I replied explaining that I'd never and will never buy from that 'certain well known coffee shop' so I didn't really know and couldn't compare...but this Bakery's one was certainly lovely (just maybe not the ginger bit). I coyly asked if she could tell me the spices used...I could identify some...but not all...but she happily (a bit too happily in my opinion) informed me it was a secret blend of theirs, not to be divulged. Such a shame...but was worth a try.

To cut a long story shorter, I ended up purchasing one of their plain black tea iced latte which I found wonderfully refreshing, and quite delicious....but just couldn't get the spiced one out of my had been a taste revelation to me and I was determined to go home, do a bit of internet research to find out the ingredients myself...and make my own...surely it would be quite easy to do. I suddenly realised there and then that I was hooked lined and sinkered....I not only liked iced tea latte....I rather LOVED iced tea latte....

Iced tea latte...where have you been all my life!

Yes, yes I know...all you Starbuck people out there thinking 'she's only JUST discovered tea latte?!!!!...that's sooooo last year!'

I know...I know....I'm a bit of a latte novice...I'm a bit late into the game...and I don't even like and drink coffee either....she said, currently now searching for the most palatable coffee laced frappe...gawd help you when I discover'll never hear the last of it LOL!

anyhoos....back to the tea latte...

I found perhaps maybe TOO many recipes for Chai Tea Latte that I did get a little confused and bewildered....most claiming to be THE ONE they use for Starbucks...but nearly all with slight variations...and to be quite honest I have no clue what theirs tastes like, not really bothered either....I just wanted to get one to taste close to that bakery's one... and one that I like the flavour of.....and most importantly one with out the need for the ginger spice! I found plenty of the recipes using ready made chai tea bags, cutting out the need for using all the individual spices and I found some using premade shop bought concentrates but most of those were considered to be too sweet and I found some blogs and websites I read advised making the Chai concentrate from scratch so you can tailor the spices to suit the control the sweetness with your own additions of sugars and/or honey. That certainly suited me and help in my need to remove the ginger.

I found this little posting helpful on how to make your basic tea latte - and then finally settled on taking inspiration from this blog recipe here from Ali on

...and then I did some tweaking of my own (as per usual).

I felt Ali's recipe the most suitable to try because it was one of the very few that includes Star Anise and Allspice...and now on reflection and having tasted my own drink I made I think I can honestly say it was possibly these two spices that made the bakery chai inspired latte so nice...the ones I couldn't quite place at the time...they certainly add that special something to it all.

I also halved the recipe - Ali's recipe yields 4 cups (approx. 1000ml) of concentrate which was too much for me as I'm the only one drinking this stuff around here so it was halved and mine, with perhaps a little more reducing than was probably necessary, yielded a good 350ml...enough to fill one small plastic pop bottle that I then sealed and stored in the fridge. They advise it is stored a maximum 1 week so this is perfect for me to last just that and I can easily whip up another fresh batch in no time.

I felt her recipe was perhaps too heavy on the cardamom (uses 12 pods) for my liking....I know Chai is predominantly all about the cardamom but you have to be careful with this spice as it can lend to be a little on the medicinal tasting side of things. I reduced my recipe to just 3 pods, and also reduced the peppercorns and cloves to 3 each too....this was just to try out the flavouring and I can tweak this again with a fresh batch...but found this perfectly fine and tasty at this level. I also removed the ginger...obviously for my personal intolerance reasons, but it's optional and would say if you don't have an issue with it, then add it for sure as I think that warm hit would lend and extra something to the drink.

One last piece of advise is that you should ideally be using whole spices NOT ground powders as the powders are concentrated in themselves, vary greatly in quality and quantity and will upset the balance of the Chai mix. If you do need to use ground powdered spices then please refer to product label for amount substitutions. To sieve the whole spices you will need a normal metal or plastic sieve that will help remove the large spice pieces but still allow the vanilla seeds to pass through.

yields approx. 400ml of concentrate for use in iced and hot Chai Tea and Chai Tea Latte

takes approx. 25-30 minutes prep and cooking time plus extra to cool before use.

Stores for maximum 1 week in fridge

For best results use whole spices....not really advisable to use dried ground blends due to concentration variations (refer to product labelling for amount substitutions)


  • 3-6 whole crushed cardamom pods
  • 3 whole black peppercorns
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 2 whole cinnamon sticks
  • 1 whole allspice
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, roughly sliced
  • 1 vanilla pod, split down the length (do not remove the seeds)
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 cups (500ml) water
  • 2 black leaf tea bags (I use Clipper fairtrade breakfast tea) 
Keeping aside the tea bags, add all the remaining ingredients into a pan, bring to the boil over a medium heat, then reduce to low, cover with a lid and simmer for 15 minutes. Add tea bags, turn off the heat and allow to steep (brew) for a further 5 minutes. Squeeze out the teabags then strain off the spice pieces. Reserve the liquid and allow to cool at room temperature before storing in a sealed bottle or jar in the fridge (for up to one week).


ICED BLACK CHAI TEA - mix equal quantities of concentrate and water (or to taste) and serve in glass over ice. Add extra sugar or honey to taste if required.

HOT BLACK CHAI TEA - mix equal quantities of concentrate and water in a pan, over heat bring to a boil, serve in a heatproof mug, add extra sugar or honey to taste if required.

ICED CHAI TEA LATTE - mix equal quantities of concentrate and cold milk together, use a hand blender (or something like an Aerolatte hand whisk) for extra froth and silkiness. Serve in glass over ice. Add extra sugar or honey to taste if required.

HOT CHAI TEA LATTE - mix equal quantities of concentrate and milk together in a pan, warm until hot, serve in a heatproof mug. Add extra sugar or honey to taste if required.


PS - would just like to add that while brewing your concentrate you'll find the most amazing aromas filling your kitchen just reminding you of Christmas and spiced cookies or when you prep your apple pies for the oven...totally delicious!.....AND I kept the sieved the whole spices to dry out before consigning to the compost bin and it was just like keeping a little bowl of pot-pourri in the room. We had eaten a curry the night before and these spice aromas helped keep all the nasty niffs at need for incense sticks or chemical laden room freshener sprays.

Also...what ever you do, do NOT throw out the vanilla pod once retrieved from the liquid....these precious spices are too costly to just throw away and can actually be reused for flavouring sugars. Just dry out, break into a couple of pieces and place in a sealed jar of sugar for bakery use. It will impregnate the sugar and help make delicate flavoured tasty sponges and cookies...just remove from the sugar as you weigh it out and put the pod bits back into the jar. Top up the empty jar or as sugar levels go down and the pods can be reuses time and time again for ages.


Disclaimer - I am not affiliated with Starbucks, Costa or Clipper in any way, nor with the websites I have linked to and have not received any free products to advertise or use in this recipe. All ingredients are from my own store cupboards and can be purchased at any good food stores and online.

Thursday, 11 June 2015


In my last post on my new die cutting machine Big Shot Plus I talked about the features of the machine and why I bought it, what you get, plus how to assemble for use (if you haven't seen it, here's the link - Big Shot Plus Part1 )

In this post I'm showing you my initial experiences with it and how it has compared to using my other two manual machines (Grand Calibur and Cuttlebug).

The biggest frustration I have had with my Grand Calibur (apart from being unable to use steel rule dies in it) has been it's 'dead spot' in the middle of the rollers...and area of less pressure and evenness which resulted in an inability to completely cut through some larger dies without having to rotate and move the dies and paper about numerous times....and in the case of large embossing folders a patch in the centre with no clear patterning. For a small number of my dies rotating them has not been possible because in order to place the dies (and embossing plates) in an area to reach the uncut/un-embossed sections, I would have to rotate a 'one quarter turn' (ie 90degrees), and the width of the opening of the machine just doesn't allow the die or folder to fit through. Even adding paper shims to the process didn't really help and I was too worried at adding too many, putting too much pressure on the machine and damaging the mechanism. These dies and folders became my 'nemesis' pieces...rendering me frustrated and giving up....rendering them pretty unusable. The following photos probably explain this a bit better.

Firstly I'd just like to make it clear that I am not running down Spellbinders (their dies are fabulous) or saying the Grand Calibur is rubbish...because it's has served me reasonably well. After trying a couple of other GC machines I am led to believe that each machine has dead spots of varying's seemingly common...and is found on most machines, NOT just with Spellbinders...even the new TODO machine has weak spots! The other Grand Caliburs I tried seemed pretty good and better than mine so I seem to have an unusually bad one. I'm told this is due to the machines being hand assembled and no rollers are placed the same, so there can be minor discrepancies in settings. There are also some pretty poor quality dies out there too so throw those into the mix and I was onto a loser from the word go. Anyway, there ARE some niggles with the original machine that Spellbinders did take into account and they have slightly tweaked and improved on the mechanisms and brought out an updated model....namely they have removed the white plastic tray in the opening which had 'wigs/lips' at each side that limited the width to 8 1/4 inches. The newer model has an opening of 8 1/2 inch...slightly better and many people love using their GCs...but sadly it still doesn't fulfil all my requirements.

So, on to the new Big Shot Plus machine. As I talked about in the previous has a 9 inch wide opening. Ok, so not that much bigger than the upgraded Grand C...but enough to make a difference...and yes, still not wide enough to rotate some of my dies 90 degrees BUT the difference is in the powerful metal mechanism with much more even pressured rollers that meant I found I was rotating and moving the dies about less...and in some cases eliminating the process altogether. ALL my 'nemesis' dies are now once again useable.

Lets have a look at my 'nemesis' dies and how they faired with my Big Shot Plus -

In order to conduct a fair experiment I used the same type of paper with all the dies...and decided to give the machine a good testing by using my personally hated craft construction paper -
This paper is a low quality paper, with soft loose fibre construction, cheap and excellent for sketching on, using to cut and make proto type models etc but not quality enough to use on cards and is a nightmare to use with intricate patterned dies because it does not readily release and tears so easily.

Nemesis die number 1 - Tattered Lace 'Bella'
 I LOVE this die...such a pretty delicate design, yes small enough to rotate BUT it has never cut cleanly in my GC nor Cuttlebug! I've never managed to get a complete and successful cut without at least 4 rotations and runs through the machine and nerve wracking peeling out of the die and trying not to tear the thin intricate sections. I've also tried using wax release paper with limited success. I've never doubted the quality of the Tattered Lace dies...they are top notch, but have held off from buying many as I didn't think my GC coped with them well enough.
VERDICT - I was shocked to find I ran this die through my BSPlus and it came out fully cut FIRST PASS rotating required what so ever! I couldn't believe it so tried again, placed the die dead centre in the rollers at what I thought would be the dead spot...and again it cut out first problems what so ever. It was still a teeny bit difficult releasing some of the areas out of the die but I put that down to the poor quality paper used.

Nemesis die number 2 - Spellbinders Romantic Rose S5 230.
Another intricate patterned die that I could not get a clean cut around the edge in the middle bits.
VERDICT - This die also cut cleanly first run through and released form the die easily. YAY we were on a roll! (The eagle eyed amongst you might notice a bit missing from the left hand side halfway down.....this happened after cutting. I stacked the die cut pieces together and they got tangled up and a couple ripped as I tried to separate them for photographing...doh!)

Nemesis dies number 3...and 4 - Create & Craft Couture 'Summer Blossoms' and 'Holly Jolly' (largest template dies)
More large intricate dies that wouldn't cut cleanly. Small enough to rotate if you are completely cutting out the pieces for frames...but again needed at least 4 passes through the machine and also presented big problems if trying to cut negative/aperture style directly from the card stock base.
VERDICT - They all cut clean and easily with just two passes (with one rotation) through the Big Shot Plus...and came out even better when tried using a better quality paper.
Nemesis die number 5 - Create & Craft Couture Collection 'Deco Boutique' (largest template die)
I found this one a real nasty to cut with my machines, so much so I avoid using's a fantastic design, beautiful patterning but I have only ONCE managed to get a full cut which required so many nervous rotations and passing back and forth through the machine with more pieces of tape holding the paper and die down than I care to talk about. Even after a successful cut I never quite managed to fully release it from the die without tearing a bit...the stems of the flowers are so thin even wax release paper didn't help. Being 7 inches at it's widest point I couldn't rotate it if used to create an aperture in a cardstock base
VERDICY - It cut cleanly with just two passes (and one rotation) BUT the poor quality construction paper was a nightmare to release from the die and tore to bits. So success in cutting, but the paper let me down. I cut again using a better quality paper (smooth printed 200gsm) and it ran through in two passes and one rotation AND released cleanly....
Whoop whoop! A great success and I can now use this wonderful die again!
Nemesis die number 6 - Xcut frame
Another die that suffered from dead spots and being over 8inch long it was a squeeze to rotate 90 degrees and run through the Grand Calibur. A total no go with the Cuttlebug because it too didn't cut clean and I was not able to rotate at all.
VERDICT - It cut clean and fully in ONE pass through the BSPlus rotations required! Success!
Nemesis die number 7 - Tonic Dies 'Keepsake Cracker'
This die does actually cut out....but the dead spots running down the centre meant the three score lines that enable you to fold and form the main body of the cracker, were not achieved. I've had to try to score by hand and this is time consuming to make sure you can get clean enough lines and sharp edges....careful measuring required...not as easy as you think when you got many to make at Xmas time! The die measures approx. 8 x 9 3/4 inches so you cannot run this through a Cuttlebug...and you cannot rotate it 90 degrees in the Grand Calibur to overcome the dead spots.
The Tonic Keepsake Cracker die...showing the three lines running horizontally through the mid section. These are not cut lines...but score lines and the dead spots on the rollers miss them out and you cannot rotate the die to try to rectify this.
This image shows the die all set up in the plates ready to cut...this is a full sheet of construction paper that is nearly 23 cm wide, larger than A4 size and I haven't had to cut the edges down to fit it through! My Grand Calibur only just manages to take the width of A4 paper, but only if you are precise and accurate and get the paper and plates dead square and lined up exactly or else the paper catches on the sides and wrinkles up. So, that's another 'plus' for the Plus!
VERDICT - With even pressure and power of the rollers this die went through the BSPlus fully cut and fully scored in ONE pass! Hurrah! No need to rotate...which is good as it would fit this machine either!
and even with the cheap quality paper, it cut and folded neatly and precisely to form a 'cracking' cracker!
and now on to my most hated die...
Nemesis die number 8 - Marianne Designs 'Anja's Squares'
I love Marianne Designs...especially the ones with the fretwork designs, have many of them and use them a lot and I'd never had any problems cutting MD dies...until I got this one. It's barely 10cm square in size so easily to rotate but boy it has NEVER cut cleanly and it has proved difficult to rotate and pass through the machine because it shifts and falls away from the die and double cuts. But it suffers dead spots badly. The outside edge is not a is the fretwork parts that won't cut properly. It is THE most difficult one to cut out of ALL my die collection (and I have many dies!)
Using construction paper was asking for trouble...and I had lots of masking tape at the ready too...I wasn't very hopeful...
VERDICT - Just TWO passes through with ONE rotation and this was the first time I'd managed success and to see the die cut in all its glory!
what was even more amazing was that the pressure of the BSPlus rollers actually embossed the paper while it cut it...I didn't have to re run the piece through with an embossing mat...something I've never managed to achieve with this die anyway.

and finally.....

Nemesis die number 9 - ALL Border design dies
Not just the Memory Box one pictured...but ALL the border dies in my collection that has one side or more that does not cut out. It was ok if I cut with them on the vertical, so they could be placed under the best parts of the roller avoiding the dead spots...but if I wanted to cut on the horizontal, then I couldn't get a clean cut through the centre and couldn't rotate the card 90 degrees if the card stock itself was too 'wide' to fit through the machine. This card below shows the border die cut on the horizontal. I had to borrow another friends machine to run it through and it still took two passes through their machine to get a clean cut.
The height of the card meant I couldn't rotate it to have the paper placed on it's side and thus die cut on the vertical, or even place the die at an angle which is an in trend thing to do on cards at the moment too. It limited what size and design cards I could make and use these dies on.
VERDICT - I happily found that all my border dies went through my BSPlus with one pass...two at the very most and fitted through comfortably both placed vertical and horizontally. This Memory Box die 'Kensington border' is pictured because it's the most intricate design of my collection of border dies...and it cut and released perfectly in one pass....even with the poor quality construction paper!
and finally.....onto embossing folders!
I don't own many A4 embossing folders because those I did have didn't run through my Grand Calibur cleanly and I was left with bare patches in the it put me off buying more. Even some of the smaller folders had dead spots and needed constant rotating and moving about. Those I tried to use I had had to cover up the bare un-embossed sections with mats and flowers and other embellishments...which meant I was limited with what I could design using them.
I'm happy to say ALL my folders emboss perfectly through the Big Shot Plus....all only requiring ONE pass through, not rotations required. The even pressure of the rollers provides a great deep clean embossed image...fantastic! I guess that means I can go and buy some more A4 folders! ;)
So, that rounds up what I've managed with my 'problem' dies and folders...I'm a very happy gal now and LOVE LOVE LOVE my new Big Shot Plus. 
The grotty bits of masking tape are already accumulating on the machine...which means one's found it's's here to stay!
Next post on my BigShotPlus will cover the various shims and plates required to cut different makes of dies and folders.

Friday, 8 May 2015

There's a new toy in the studio! THE BIG SHOT PLUS part1

Well, actually it's a bit of an insult to call it a's not's oh so much more than's definitely a fabulous and much appreciated tool....

Welcome Big Shot Plus to the StudioForty!

So, in this blog post I'm going to talk about the machine, why I chose it and what you get in your standard how to assemble it ready for use. I will post up a 'part 2' on my findings in cutting, embossing and using the machine later on.
As you are aware, lots of arts and crafts take place in my studio - from jewellery making to felting, from drawing and papercrafts to card making and painting, and one thing that has been aiding me in my cardmaking and certainly the basis of my paper flower a die cutting machine.

For those of you unaware of these - Die Cutting machines are basically manual or electronic driven devices that use cutting dies or embossing folders (and in the case of computerised and electronic ones, cartridges and programme files) to cut or make patterns/shapes into paper and cardstock (and some other materials such as draft metals and fabric depending on machine). Manual machines are obviously worked by hand using a crank/handle and cut with pressure via running the material through two rollers. Electronic ones cut with blades via a computerised system and instructions you programme in.

Many years ago I started off with a little Cuttlebug ( as shown in this you tube vid by OdonataCreations ) which to this day I have still got a soft spot for and it has proved a much loved workhorse for me but as dies and embossing folders got bigger and more intricate and bigger machines started appearing on the market, there was only so much I could do with my little old 'bug'. I acquired an original Spellbinders Grand Calibre but found I couldn't use my Tim Holtz/Sizzix steel rule dies in it and it had big 'dead spot' in the centre which made cutting and embossing of larger pieces a bit frustrating and time consuming so I started looking to upgrade to something bigger and with a bit more 'ooomph'!

SIZZIX was a brand name that kept popping up time an time again in my research, a company highly recommended by many crafters, and a company providing reliability and variety with many machines available to suit many needs and requirements...especially within the BIG SHOT range....and I was very interested to hear that these machines would be able to provide much more use in my studio.....not just for papercrafting but also in my jewellery and artwork (more on that later).

The Big Shot range has three different sized machines which you can find the information about on the official SIZZIX PAGE and also Paula Pascual, a designer for them has also blogged a great piece about all three machines HERE. It was the mid range Big Shot Plus that I decided was perfect for my current requirements (in an ideal world I would like the Pro machine but sadly, alas, until I can move to a bigger studio and provide this huge machine with it's own dedicated space and set up, it is no go)

Here are some of the plus features and why I went for the Plus machine -
  • It is a manual machine worked by hand using a crank/handle so in the event of loss of electricity power, you are still able to use this machine. The simple mechanism means obviously no additional electric components to 'go wrong' or break.
  • it has a 9inch wide 'mouth' enabling it easily accommodate up to A4 sized cutting dies and embossing plates and this allows you to rotate many larger dies 90degress to ensure even and clean cuts.
  • The 'Plates' are 9x15inches allowing you to comfortably use A4 paper sheets without having to additionally trim edges to fit...and you could technically run much longer lengths of paper through if needed.
  • the mouth/opening depth enables you to use the thicker steel rule dies (Sizzix state "it works with the entire Sizzix product library (with the exception of Bigz Pro dies) – including our smallest to our big 9" wide plastic-backed dies and embossing tools" , plus many other makes of dies and plates can be used with it's selection of adaptor plates.
  • You can cut a number of dies in one go making your creating more efficient and quicker (NB but please be aware that Sizzix do issue a warning that excessive numbers of dies used resulting in damage to the rollers will void the exercise caution and common sense).
  • The rollers and mechanics are mainly metal based which means it is more durable, powerful, and provides better and even pressure thus enables you to use a variety of materials from fabrics to craft metals....and there are less 'dead spots' which cuts down on the number of times you need to rotate and run the pieces through.
  • The design of the machine is solid and secure, has enough weight to ensure there is no wobbling or instability yet is still lightweight enough to be portable.
  • It has clear plastic cutting plates so you can still see your paper/dies etc when running through and watch in case anything moves out of place. Some other machines use opaque coloured plates so you end up cutting 'blind'.
  • It will take the Vintaj Sizzix deco Emboss and Decoetch plates so you can emboss and 'etch' designs into metals for jewellery making.
I think the design of the Big Shot is well thought out - low slung with a low centre of gravity and large 'footprint' only requiring little pads to protect the table top so there is no wobble or fear of the machine being knocked over. No suction feet are required which means the machine can be placed on any type of flat surface and is always stable. The machine is one solid formed piece with static platforms both sides of the mouth so has no folding up 'flaps' (eg like the Flutter Cutter, Cuttlebug, Xcut Xpress, ) Yes, this means a bigger machine that takes up more storage space BUT the upside of this is that it means less 'parts' of the machine with joints/weak spots and vulnerable areas to break or wear out. So the overall machine is more durable. The static platform supports feeding the plates through (unlike machines such as the Grand Calibre that have no platforms) so you can arrange your dies and papers in situ on the machine, then feed through with no worries of having to gather up the sandwich of plates and accidently dislodging and moving the dies etc out of place.
The large support platforms allow you to set up the plates, dies and paper in situ on the machine....and not compiling the sandwiches of plates on your worktable, then precariously picking it all up and trying to feed through the mouth while worrying you're moving the pieces about.

NB - 'Deadspots' is my reference to the areas on the roller with uneven or less pressure....usually found towards the middle of the rollers. Rollers naturally have more power and pressure at the outer edges where they are nearer to the cogs and mechanisms and all manual craft die cutting machines tend to have this, but the degree to which this happens differs from make to make. You tend to find with larger dies and embossing folders (especially those with more intricate designs) the area near the middle may not be completely cut or marked in the first pass through and you have to run it through the machine a second, third or even more times, rotating the die and paper and repositioning towards the outer edges of the rollers to achieve a full cut/emboss. Having to move and reposition will
always leave you in danger of dislodging the paper and ruining the final finish/cut so the less you have to do this, the better. The more heavier duty machines, the ones with metal mechanisms, tend to suffer from less 'deadspots' as they have better and more even pressure throughout the rollers.
A number of companies are currently offering options of packages in which you can buy the Big Shot Plus machine - a basic package which includes the machine, cutting plates and adaptor plates.... and starter packages with additional dies, papers and accessories. I chose the basic package.

This is an overview of what I got -
The Big shot machine has a chic white and grey heavy duty plastic body with metal mechanics. The overall body measuring 12inch wide by 16inch long. With the handle it is a total of 16inches wide. The design is sleek and rounded with no harsh corners or edges, and it has four sturdy feet and with it's low profile this gives great stability. The handles are both rounded with soft grip rubber and comfortable to use. The ridged/rib design on the base allows the plates to run through the machine smoothly with little resistance and no friction.
You receive the machine packaged securely in a box with polystyrene protection. The handle comes detached and included separately in a bag with it's fittings and needs to be assembled by the user. This is a simple and quick thing to do and there is no other assembly required. Once the handle is fitted the machine is ready for use immediately.

The handle fittings included in your package are as shown in the image above - the handle, a small black screw, a small metal washer, a soft grey rubber button and an allen key plus easy to follow instruction booklet.
There is a protective black plastic cover over the connection for the handle, on the side of the BSP machine. This needs to be removed....
It pulls off easily to expose the metal connection....
It says on the cover, to remove and discard but I have kept it just in case I need to remove the handle again in the future.
The handle slots onto the metal connector, it will naturally fall into the downward position and will just need some gentle support with one hand when you fit the screw.
The tiny metal washer needs to be placed onto the thread/shank of the screw as shown above...
and slotted into the hole in the handle, making sure the handle is pushed into body of the machine so the screw joins with the metal connector.
The allen key is then used to tighten the screw firmly but taking care not to over tighten or you might break the screw and thread.
The soft grey rubber button now fits over the screw to keep it secure.
And that's it...all complete and ready to use. The great thing about this machine is that it's symmetrical in shape so that it can be turned around and used either way, with the handle to the no problems if you're right or left handed.
The basic package includes standard (thick white) base plate, two clear cutting plates and A and B adaptor plates. The base and adaptor plates are printed with very useful information on what plates to use with which Sizzix products. For other makes of dies and embossing plates you will obviously need to try out various configurations of plates...more shims may also be required, and this also applies to the various paper/material used too. Additional plates, accessories and rubber sheets can be purchased from various craft suppliers.

I will be keeping a little notebook to hand so I can write down plate combinations as and when I use and will also give this information out on my 'part 2' post.

For Sizzix products the combinations are as follows -

Sizzlets, Embosslits, Thinlits, Triplits and basic textured Impressions require additional B PLATE adaptor

A4 Textured Impressions require Base & 2 x cutting plates only

Texturz require Base, Silicone rubber sheet, & Impressions pad (rubber sheet and Impressions pad are not included in the basic package and need to be purchased separately)

In Part 2 I'll blog about my first experiences of die cutting and embossing with the Big Shot Plus.

Hope you found this of interest.


Monday, 27 April 2015

Rhubarb and Orange 'Pops' RECIPE

Well, that time of year is upon us once more.....Rhubarb season!

Yep, the time when you look out to your veg patch one morning to find a plant that looks like a cross between a Gunnera and a triffid...and you swear the day before it was just some tiny little buds barely emerging out of the soil....
that time when you realise there is only so much rhubarb you can freeze, preserve, can, pulp, juice...and make crumble with...and you start trawling the internet and Pinterest for new ways to cook with rhubarb...

rhubarb and apple sponge cake

the time when people start gingerly asking you "Do you like Rhubarb?"...and you just KNOW that's the opening question leading up to the plea "PLEASE take some of my rhubarb....I have too much growing"...

...and they then stop mid sentence when you give a wry smile and they then just know that you are part of the club already....

you are a rhubarb grower!

and so they don't even bother to go on to ask if you'd actually like to take a whole plant...not just some stalks because they also know that it's...

that time when you yourself yet again stand staring at the three huge monster plants growing in your tiny patch and with only two of you in the house to feed, say to your self yet again..."this year I WILL get rid of one of those plants"....

but you don't

because you are greedy

because you LOVE rhubarb
rhubarb and ginger chutney
ahhhhhh those tender young pink stalks...the tang, the sourness of the greener older stems...

Yes...if you grow will 'get' this oh yes indeedy!
Rhubarb 'Dorset Window Pudding'

So, lets get onto the important bit....EATING IT!

This years Pinterest trawling lead me to THIS link - Lemon & Rhubarb Cookies so it's thanks to Kate at as she takes the credit here. I'd yet to try rhubarb in biscuits so was keen to give it a go....the result however was very different to what I'd imagined...maybe due to me, as usual, tweaking it a bit....I'm not sure.....but anyway they were different but DELICIOUS! Mine came out more cakelike rather than cookie/biscuit...more cake cum scone cum biscuit bites so I have renamed them....partly due to Clive eating one...then another...then another and remarking how easily they 'popped' into the mouth....

So I have called my version 'Rhubarb and Orange Pops'

The orange part obviously coming from the fact I didn't have any lemon to hand, but tonnes of fresh oranges due to my current obsession of making rhubarb, orange apple, carrot and spinach juice drinks for I know Orange and Rhubarb do go well together...the tang of the rhubarb is tempered by the sweetness of the orange and the colours of the pieces and zest look like little gems amongst the pale yellow soft fluffy sponge.
more like a rock cake!
My first batch took me by surprise....firstly thinking they were going to be cookie like, I followed the instructions and placed small spoonfuls onto my baking tray expecting them to spread and flatten out a bit...but found they actually kept their shape , puffing up slightly. The result was a rock cake shape!
but still moist, light and tasty !
I liked that....but now knowing how my mix was reacting in the oven and you have to be very careful not to let them overcook, I felt they probably needed shaping a bit and slightly flattening and smoothing out. For the second batch I took spoonfuls, then reshaped with a dampened fingers...the mix is reasonably firm, not too runny or sticky so it's quite easy to smooth out.
a bit more uniform in shape and colour.
I used the same recipe ingredients amounts and my mix yielded 30 'pops'....but really depends on the size of the spoonfuls you want. Mine were just about right 'two bite' pieces...but you could make smaller...or larger and remember to adjust the cooking times accordingly.


Prep time 15 mins    Cook time 12-15 mins   Makes approx. 30
  • 185g softened butter
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unrefined caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups Self Raising flour
  • 2 tsp cornflour
  • 1 cup rhubarb chopped
  • zest of 2 large oranges
  • juice of 2 large oranges
  • 1/2 tbsp of additional caster sugar
Pre heat oven to 180oC / 350oF / gas mark 4

Dice the rhubarb into small 1cm pieces and put in a bowl with the orange zest, 2 tbsp of the orange juice and the 1/2 tbsp of additional caster sugar. Combine well and set aside.

In another bowl, cream the butter, dark brown sugar and caster sugar together until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg and then gradually sift and fold in the SR flour and cornflour.

Stir in the rhubarb mix, and combine well and evenly...add more of the remaining juice if the mix is too thick and unworkable. You want a firmish mix that holds onto the spoon...NOT runny or of dropping consistency or they will not hold their shape.

Place spoonfuls of the mix onto a prepared cookie/baking tray, spaced a couple of cms apart...then shape gently into rounds and pat out smooth using dampened fingers.

Bake for approx. 12-25mins depending on your oven type and size of the 'pops'. You are looking for a pale golden colour slightly darker at the edges and they spring back when gently pressed with a finger (just like cooking a sponge cake) Take care not to over bake or they will become dry and crumbly.

Gobble up a couple while hot from the oven and no-ones looking.....and allow the rest to cool on a wire rack.

Get the kettle on, make a brew...bask in the aromas wafting around your kitchen, then relax, put your feet up, enjoy your moment of kitchen goddess bliss.....while you pop another couple in your mouth!