Applique Engineering Solutions: Bernina CutWorks Tool

I really enjoyed making my little applique cat but one of the parts I disliked about the project and applique more generally is the cutting. With an embroidery machine that thinks 1 mm is equivalent to a country mile, precision is the name of the game and I don’t think I’m going to be in competition with Swiss engineering any time soon… Luckily I don’t have to be, as of course Swiss engineering has the answer to all of my cutting woes, in the form of the Bernina CutWorks tool.

There are three ridiculously fancy feet for the Bernina, the CutWorks tool, the PaintWorks tool (ever wanted to draw on fabric in an automated way, well now you can!) and the CrystalWorks tool (lets you add bling with the machine!) that all work with a special piece of Bernina software. Unfortunately, there not really not much that I can see out there on any of the three special Bernina feet in terms of documentation or projects, which is a bit of a shame as they are very cool. If you’re in the UK and are looking for a Bernina supplier, I can’t recommend Frank Nutt highly enough. They are brilliantly helpful and their order processing really is flawless.

One day I will blog about my first trauma experience with the CutWorks tool and software but thankfully we have moved on from there… to the point where I wanted to see if I could use it to cut some of the vaguely complex applique shapes for another little cat.

One of the problems with there not being much online about the special feet is that the manual the CutWorks tool comes with is… a joke and neglects key details like any information really on how to use the tool and what the different position markers mean but if you can find the DesignWorks (the software you need to use it) manual online, the CutWork section is actually very informative. The different positions change the angle of the cutting knife just to make improve the quality of the cut you get which is something you might want to think about when creating your designs.

Just in case you are thinking ‘yes, great, this little blade is what I need in my life’ – do be warned that  you will need the Bernina DesignWorks software which really looks like the work experience kid’s failed attempted at a project and contains so many niggles and interface annoyances that you won’t be happy you had to pay for both the core DesignWorks software and then extra for the three modules you need for three special feet… (and another cherry on the cake – you need to have a special USB permanently plugged in for it all to work for the licensing!)

Having said that, the tools themselves are great, and you can do the bulk of the work in other digitising software (I love Hatch) to mean that you only have to do really simple steps in DesignWorks. Sorry Bernina, how do you design such beautiful and innovative machines and accessories but then come up with software that looks like it is probably still written in COBOL?

How to go about cutting out my design then? Well, I did try just directly opening the .exp dieline files in Bernina Designworks but it did such an awful job of the autodigitisng from those I figured I needed to import them as something else. Unfortunately, Hatch did not automatically recognise the dielines as objects, so the quickest way was just to redigitise the shape myself. Unfortunately a fair old amount of information gets lost when you export the digitising files to something that can be stitched on the machine, which is a bit if a shame in this case.

However, with them redigisitised I could export them as .svgs, which Designworks could open and did a great job of the automation for the shape cutting. It does sound like a faff, but once I’d figured out what was and wasn’t working the redigisiting only took me a few minutes and it was all fairly straightforward.  

The workflow looked a little like this:

  • Open the .exp files of the original design in Hatch
  • Redigitise the shapes on Hatch as ‘closed shapes’
  • Export those as .svgs
  • Import them as .svgs artwork to Bernina Designworks
  • Use the ‘autoborder’ tool to turn them into cut areas for use with the CutWorks tool
  • Export these as .exps to transfer to the machine
  • Cut away!

What is nice with the autoborder tool is that it does pick which blade position is optimal for cutting the shape out so you just have to go and turn it while it cuts out.

The next question though, did the machine do a good job? I tested the cutting on unstabilised thin cotton, which looked promising, but it did just as good a job on the 100 % wool felt. I treated myself a little last week to a stack of the 1 mm felt from the Wool Felt Company, and I have no regrets. All the hanging fibres, pilling, fluffing and awfulness of the part acrylic mix was gone and you get a much cleaner finish. Maybe felt doesn’t have to be awful!

I have to say… other than choosing the colours, I felt a little redundant as the human involved in this project. My job was mostly obeying the machine when it bleeped wanting new thread or the knife position turned! I did get to choose from some gorgeous ribbons from V V Rouleuax, from whom I may have received something of a bumper order this week… They are a shop I can get behind, you want ribbons, this is ribbons in their 100 signature colours, every width, material, type and their gimp cords and passementerie is the fastest way to blow a hole in your bank account I’ve seen in a while. So much wonderful stuff!

But here he is, Mr Puuuurrrrrrfect, perhaps lacking some of the artisanal swagger of his other cat friend but that crisp, clean cutting made this ridiculously easy to put together and if I hadn’t managed to somehow weld some of the stabiliser to the felt, he would be a very crisp cat indeed! Experiment success!

10 thoughts on “Applique Engineering Solutions: Bernina CutWorks Tool

    • The one satisfying thing about Bernina DesignWorks is rage quitting by pulling the security controller USB out which kills the program…. I am happy with the cat though 🙂

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