I’ve shared several posts lately about projects I did for my front porch (welcome sign, door mat, address sign). Now on to the back yard! Well, yard is a bit of an understatement. We live on the side of a mountain so it’s mostly a slope. The good news is there are 2 retaining walls, so we have a built-in terraced garden area. We’ve been working hard lately to remove 5 million rocks, till the soil and plant a garden. And so naturally I turned to my Curio to help me create some plant markers. I used some wood tags and a Singe Quill pen.
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Materials for plant markers:
- Silhouette Curio
- Singe quill pen — You can use this one of 2 ways:
- If you don’t have a Singe Quill, you can use any pen that will write on wood, as long as it’s a Silhouette Sketch Pen or fits in the pen holder.
- Thin wood shape — I used both these tags and fat popsicle sticks
- Cardstock or very thin chipboard (for the Curio jig)
- Painter’s tape
- Embossing heat tool
- Needle-nose pliers
- Wood sealer such as polycrylic or a spray sealer
- Wire that’s bendable yet sturdy. I found some in my husband’s workshop, but I think this is similar. It’s around 16 gauge. If you’re using a wood piece that sticks straight in the ground like this, you can skip the wire.
Why use a Curio?
The Curio is different from the other Silhouette cutting machines. Rather than putting your material on a flexible mat, it uses a rigid base. (To read more about first steps with a Curio, including what a jig is and how to make one, see this post.) That gives you several advantages with a project like this–
- There’s more of a solid surface for something like a pen to push against. I feel like this gives a more consistent sketch.
- It’s got more clearance under the bar, so you can use thicker materials easily.
- The machine is extremely precise. You can unload the base, check out your project, put it back in, and it will cut/draw in the same spot.
You should know that Silhouette America is discontinuing the Curio. There are at present no announced plans to replace it with any other type of flatbed cutter. That means you need to get it now. Silhouette America is sold out, but you can still find Curio machines on Amazon.
I did try this project with a regular machine and will give you my results below. I would definitely NOT recommend you try it with a Cameo 1 or 2, Portrait 2, Silhouette SD or original QuicKutz machine. Those only have a 1mm clearance under the roller bar and any wood you use is probably thicker than that.
Step 1: Create a design for the plant markers
I prefer to design on a full 12 x 12 page, then move pieces bit by bit to a Curio-sized page. So, that’s what I’m going to show here.
Plant marker shapes
You want to have a shape that’s just like your wood piece. For the craft stick, I just drew a rounded rectangle and altered the curves with the red control points. The tag was a bit more complicated. I used basic shapes and Modify options to create mine, but that’s a pretty involved process if you aren’t used to it. The easier way is to use a PixScan mat as I described in this post. Or, you could probably get away with just tracing it.
Next, add your text. This is why this project is fun — because you can use any font you like. I used one called Skinny Minnie. Even though it’s pretty thin, I still needed to do some tricks to deal with long words and plants with 2 words.
On my first go-round, I didn’t make any attempt to fill in my words, expecting that since they are thin I wouldn’t need to. After my tester, I decided I would and added line fills. I used an edge fill, plus the striped fill with a 90% angle (so vertical on my letters) and .020 spacing.
You can also add designs if you like. Since I used a pretty large tag for my vegetable plant markers, I added some designs to sketch as well. You want something that’s single line, such as you would use with a Foil Quill. Since you’re working in a very small area, it can’t be overly detailed or you’ll just get mush. I used primarily 2 dingbat fonts called Eat Healthy and Garden Goodies. I did have to trace a few images.
You’ll need to leave some margin around your design, so keep it away from the edge. That’s just to make sure the pen won’t get off the tag and to leave room to secure it to the mat with painters tape. I also like to leave more room than normal between the designs and around the edge of the page. We’re not having to worry about trying to fit a bunch on the page because we’re only sketching on the plant markers.
This is also the time to change your page setup to a Curio size.
Since I linked above the post about how to create a Curio jig, I’m not going to repeat that here. Using a jig, along with painter’s tape, helps the wood piece stay in place as the machine moves across it. This is less necessary with a pen that with one of the etching tools, so a piece of cardstock or thin chipboard works fine.
Step 2: Draw on the plant markers
Put your jig onto your mat. I used the platform stack 2+2+mat (1)+jig. Then put the wood blank in the hole and secure it with painter’s tape.
Put the singe quill or other pen in the pen holder and load it into your machine. HINT: I used the medium collet and pushed the pen all the way in.
Make sure to use “Sketch” as your action and “Pen” as your tool.
Let the machine do the work!
Now, you aren’t going to see what it drew because it’s clear. Sometimes if you look at it at an angle you can see a very faint mark.
If you like, you can do a tester one first just to make sure. Halfway through my project I remembered there’s both a bold and fine tip in the package. I had started with the bold and so kept going, but in hindsight I should probably have used the fine. I ended up using it to freehand some leaves on my flower plant markers.
Step 3: Singe the designs
Here’s where you need the embossing tool. I’m going to recommend you practice first on a scratch piece. On my tester, I held it too long and singed the wood itself along with the pen marks (look at the bottom edge).
Hold your wood piece with something like tweezers and move it around over your wood piece where the machine drew. Keeping it moving seemed to help with avoiding singeing the background. Also, don’t put it right next to the wood but about 1″ away.
Do it long enough that you like the amount of singe you get. This takes awhile, so don’t give up, thinking it didn’t draw at all. It took mine a full minute to even show up…
…then about another minute to get it as dark as I liked.
Then I read on the WeRMemory Keepers website that you could do your heating in the oven. They said 2-3 minutes at 350°. I tried that. Do stay in the room and watch them, just in case. After 3 minutes, there was nothing. At 5 minutes, I got this–
I left them in for a total of 15 minutes. Here’s what they looked like then–
It was definitely easier and it didn’t darken the background, but they didn’t get as dark as I’d like. And, oddly enough, they singed different amounts on different plant markers, even from the same package.
That probably has more to do with my wood or oven than the pen. I took them out when I noticed the edge of one beginning to singe the background. I ended up doing more with my heat gun and got them darker. In the end, I liked this best because it was the most even. Plus, my hand was getting a cramp holding the tweezers for so long.
Testing with a Cameo 3
I decided to go ahead and try my luck on the Cameo 3. I used a strong cutting mat, no jig and did not tape down my pieces.
Because the base is not rigid, I had to hold the mat level during the process. Otherwise, the pieces popped up when they weren’t right above the platform. Even with that, it must have caught at some point and gotten off because on one it drew too high on the wood piece. The singe result was just fine. But I’ll probably stick with the Curio for my plant markers.
A few observations on the heating process
- All in all, I found my popsicle sticks singed best. I darkened the background on some of my tag plant markers because I was trying to get it as dark. If you aren’t happy with your results, try a different wood piece. WeRMemory Keepers does sell wood blanks for the singe quill, and those may work better but I haven’t yet tried them.
- It does not appear to matter if you do the singe right away or wait a bit.
- If you accidentally singe the background, just try to singe it all evenly and it will look fine. Or just go with it like I did on some.
Step 4: Seal the plant markers
This isn’t about “sealing in” the singe. That’s a chemical reaction you’ve made on the wood, not something like a marker that might wash off. It’s to protect the wood itself. Your plant marker will be exposed to a good amount of water and soil, which can deteriorate wood. Sealing it helps your plant marker last longer, particularly on those you stick straight in the ground. If you are just using these inside in an herb garden, you might get by without it.
First, I used some spray sealer I had on hand so I wouldn’t have to mess with a paint brush.
But after several coats it didn’t feel like it was doing enough, so I did end up putting on a couple of coats of polycrylic.
Step 5: Add the wire
For my popsicle stick markers, I just pushed them in the ground. But for the tag ones, I added a wire I stuck in the ground.
I cut about 10″ of wire, made a shepherd’s hook at the top, slid the tag on and closed a loop at the top.
My finished plant markers
Here are a few of my plant markers.
Happy summer! Guess I’ll go weed the garden.
If you want to see another post on making wood tags with the Singe Quill, see this project.