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This guide aims to help you get to grips with the basics of die-cutting, looking at its beginnings all the way through to the different types of die-cutting machines available, and how each one functions. After all, being a rookie needn't be so intimidating!
Die-cutting wasn't originally introduced to the world for craft purposes – in fact, its original intensions couldn't have been more different! In the 1800s, the shoe manufacturing industry was extremely labour-intensive, requiring the worker to manually cut leather soles for shoes. It was clear that this wasn't the most efficient way of working – not only was it incredibly time consuming, but the soles weren't replicated half as accurately as they needed to be.
Standardised shoe sizes were, in effect, non-existent at that time, and it wasn't until the debut of die-cutting in the mid-1800s that they found a solution for this frittering problem. This new development meant that shoemakers could produce templates for soles to precisely reproduce using a die-cutting machine – and voilá! – mass production was born!
It's safe to say that the die-cutting process has been considerably improved and remodelled since the 19th century with the development of technology. Now, die-cutting can be used across far greater trades (most relevantly, in the ever-popular crafting industry!) and can even be accomplished in the comfort of your home. The very first hand-operated home die-cutting machine, the 'LetterMachine', was manufactured by Ellison in 1977. Instead of using a crank as you'd recognise it today, this machine used a lever to push pressure on the 'die sandwich,' ultimately cutting out the die design.
Dies in the '70s were large, chunky wooden blocks with rubber on one side and steel rules depicting basic designs on the other. Today, die-cutting machines are significantly more compact, efficient and, more often than not, multifunctional. But the machines aren't the only things to advance – dies themselves have come a long way too! Now, dies are mostly made of wafer-thin metal and feature complex designs and patterns, providing far more intricacy in cutting.