One Tessellated Die – So Many Exciting Ways to Use It!

How to make a stunning variety of Handmade cards from a single metal die.

Let your creativity soar with a Gemini Twin Die Cutting and Embossing machine!

Sometimes, you see something you just love and you know that you HAVE to buy it.  The Rose Garden die by Gemini was like that for me.  Fortunately, it only cost me £9 – which I don’t think is bad for a solid week of pure crafting pleasure?  It comes in two pieces – the die itself and the wavy edge.

So what IS a tessalated die?

There are three types of tessellation according to Google:

  • Translation – where a shape repeats by moving or sliding
  • Rotation – where the shape repeats by rotating or turning
  • Reflection – here the shape repeats by reflecting or flipping

So now – are you starting to see why there are so many variations you can create with just one thin metal die?

Gemini Rose Garden Thin Metal Die
Gemini Twin Function Die Cutter & Embosser
Gemini by Crafter's Companion Twin Function Die Cutter & Embosser Machine

Why is a Handmade Card so special?

I think that a handmade card is a thing of real beauty.  Each one is a unique little piece of art made with love and care especially to convey a heartfelt greeting to someone special.  In the modern world where life moves so fast, making a handmade card is a lovely way to slow down a bit and show you care.  It’s similar to the satisfying feeling you get from baking your own bread or growing a plant from seed.  If you haven’t got time to make one, buying one is the next best thing and if your purchase also supports a good cause like Birmingham St. Mary’s Hospice – what’s not to love?

I set myself the challenge at the start of this project of not buying anything except the beautiful Rose Garden die.  I have a box of cardboard that I have hoarded for years and never done anything with it – so this was the opportunity.  Not buying any new materials was a bit limiting at times – I would have loved a bit more silver and lilac cardboard to work with – but I was not going to let my cardboard hoard go to waste.

In three days, I managed to turn a pile of leftover cardboard from previous projects into 30 tessellated greeting cards.  Hopefully, I will be turning these into cash to support St. Mary’s very soon.

With a tessellated die – there are just so many variations of how to use it.  Here are some of my suggestions – you might be able to think of even more?

  1. Cut a mat and stick it onto a corner of the card.  Place it on the top or the bottom of the card on either the left or the right.  You have four options already – which will you pick?   The choice is all yours!
  2. Leave your wavy cutting edge out and cut into the corner of a card to give a lacy effect you can see through, but leave the remainder of the card in tact.  You can stick paper behind it so that it shows through.  Mulberry papers are particularly delicate and lovely to use for this.  Cut the top or bottom, left or right corners – so now, you have four more options!
  3. Cut a mat and use it as a stencil.  Paint through it to decorate the card beneath.  Place it on the front of the card, combining it with a mat or use it to decorate the inside of the card.  No two of my cards are ever the same – each is a unique little piece of artwork.  So now, you have three more options:
    1. Combine the stencil with a mat – either on the top or the bottom of the card bottom
    2. Stencil both the top and the bottom and don’t use a mat at all
    3. Use the stencil to decorate the inside of the card.  I always think it is a nice surprise to find a beautifully decorated card when you open it up – like a real bonus, because it is totally hidden when you buy it.  You only get to see it when you come to write it!
  4. When you cut a die, you are left with a solid piece of card with a wavy line across it.  Use two pieces together with a small gap between and you can paint in a wavy line across a card.
  5. Or use the solid piece of card as mat in its own right – either inside or outside the card – giving you yet more creative options.
  6. Emboss.  Leave the tiny residue pieces in the die and pass it through the Gemini using an embossing shim in place of the metal mat.  Now you have even more options!  I didn’t really use this technique much this time – but next time, I will experiment with it much more.
Tessellated Dies - so many variations
So many exciting variations ...
Tessellated dies - exciting variations
Use the waste card and the wavy line too
Tessellated Card Ideas
Leave the wavy edge out and expose a corner

There are three parts to the process of creating a tessellated card:

  1. Cutting the Die
  2. Painting
  3. Assembly and Finishing Touches 

What You Will Need

Tessellated Cards - Tool Kit
Tessellated Cards - Tool Kit
Crafter's Companion Big Score
Crafter's Companion Big Score
Tessellated Cards - Essential Tool Kit
Tessellated Cards - Essential Tool Kit

 If you buy any supplies directly using the Amazon affiliate links below, Heart Upcycling will earn credit that I can use to support the work we do.  I would like to save enough to buy a lovely prize for a craft competition.  Maybe – with your help – we could generate enough to buy a Gemini machine one day to use in a workshop?!

Step by Step Instructions

So now you have got all the gear together, turn up the music – and let yourself go!

Step 1 - Cutting the Die

  1. If you are cutting your own cards, make them up before you start.  A Big Score is indispensable for this.  I prefer a guillotine to a rotary cutter – get one with markings on it so you can cut your cards to the exact size you want easily.
  2. I really like the big square card format – 5 and a half inch square and 6 inch envelopes.  To cut a card out of a sheet of A4, I score it lightly at 5 and a half and 11 inches using the Big Score and then use that as guide for cutting using the guillotine.

    Save the offcuts – they are great for protecting your surface when painting later and for test strips when you are painting.

  3. Use your boning tool to slide along the card to fold it with a nice, sharp crease. 
  4. Make your sandwich.  Start with a cutting plate, add a plastic shim, a magnetic shim, your die (CUTTING SIDE UP!), material to be cut (right side down into the die), metal cutting plate, thin card or mat if you need extra weight with a particular card and finally top cutting plate.

  5. Feed your sandwich through the Gemini machine.  You will hear a very satisfying CRUNCH as your die cuts through your material.
  6. When you are using a very intricate die like the Rose Garden you will definitely need to pass your sandwich through the Gemini more than once.  I ran my sandwich through the Gemini 3 – 4 times each time to get a clean cut.  It is hard to reposition the card if you don’t get a clean cut, so better to pass it 3 – 4 times (depending on the thickness of the card you are trying to cut) to be sure than risk having to discard a mat that hasn’t cut cleanly.
  7. Oh – the excitement of pulling the card from the die!   You really can transform an ordinary piece of cardboard into something exciting and extraordinary so easily.
  8. 4 -5 sharp taps on the edge of your waste bin is usually enough to remove most of the cut pieces from the card.  
  9. I used an embossing tool to push out the bits that remained.  You might also find a glass headed pin useful and more delicate for paper/stubborn areas.
  10. Push out any area that look like they might not have cut cleanly first – then if it doesn’t all push out cleanly, you won’t have wasted your time with the rest of it.  
  11. Place your dies creatively to make best use of your card.  I cut two dies and loads of hearts out of this pretty pink shimmer card – and we are not done yet!  You can easily cut 4 dies from just one sheet of A4 card.
  12. Weed your die carefully to remove any cut out card stuck inside it.  I treated myself to a die cleaning tool to try to speed up this process but actually found it pretty useless. There really is no substitute for pricking out all the leftover pieces with an embossing tool or a pin.  The foam rectangle it came with was the most useful thing – good to support thin paper when you are pricking out your design.
Die Cleaning Tool
Die Cleaning Tool
Gemini Shim Plate Sandwich
Oh - the excitement of pulling the cut card from the die ...
Oh - the excitement of pulling the cut card from the die ...
Weeding the Die Cut
Weeding the Die Cut
Placing of dies to save card
Placing of dies to save card

You must, must, must remove all the scrap card/paper from your die or you won’t get a clean cut next time you use it.  I do the window test with mine each time – hold it up to the light and make sure you can see through every little hole.  It is amazing how often when you think you are all done, you often find a couple of stubborn little pieces left that you had missed.

Stage 2 - Painting

I think it was Picasso who said that every child is born an artist – it is keeping it that way that is the challenge.  People sometimes say things to me like – “Oh – for your creativity …”. Well, I honestly think that that ANYONE can make these cards – it is really just a question of having a go and not being afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.  So come on – get ready to discover your inner artist …

  1. Place your stencil over the card and paint over the top of it to fill in the holes.  It really is as simple as that!

  2. You need to hold the stencil in place so it doesn’t move while you are painting.  I found a small magnetic mat and a few tiny magnets were the cleanest way of holding the card firm to paint through a stencil.  Removeable tape, blue tack and masking tape are other options. Removable tape doesn’t always peel away nice and neatly in my experience.  It’s best used on parts of your card that will be cut away afterwards.  Experiment and find what works best for you.

  3. If you cut a die from the centre of a piece of A4 card, you will then have card all around your stencil to protect the card you are painting on beneath it completely.  It is more wasteful of cardboard, but you can use the stencil again and again.

  4. Experiment with pressing your stamping tool lightly or firmly and with the amount of ink you load onto it.   Do you want to create something soft and delicate or do you want to make a bolder, more definite statement?  You can increase or decrease the intensity of pressure as you work to create an ombré effect too if you are feeling very creative.

  5. Work in sweeping circles from just off the edge off the edge of the card and move inwards to cover the stencil completely with ink.

  6. Use the stencil that you have painted over as a mat itself.  You can change the colour of your card completely using distress oxide inks that react beautifully with the colour of the card underneath. An unattractive lurid bright green turned into a pretty vintage pink after a few minutes stencilling with it!

  7. Keep your work area scrupulously clean.  Paint travels – fast – and messes up your clean cardboard all too quickly.  The distress oxide inks are water soluble, but it’s best to avoid a mess in the first place if you can.  Glitter residue, sticky glue residue and tiny trimmings from card all need to be removed quickly before they spoil your next piece of artwork.  Baby wipes are great for this!

  8. Stamp pads clean with soap and water – but not completely.  I prefer to keep one for each colour ink to avoid any contamination.  An old chocolate box was just right for keeping the stamps apart – the holes were exactly the right size – what joy!  Heart Up-Cycling!

  9. Drying your work with a hairdryer – or better still a heat tool – intensifies the colour and protects your work from smudging.

Painting with Distress Inks
Painting with Distress Inks
Turning the ordinary into the extraordinary
Turning the ordinary into the extraordinary
Turning the extraordinary into something even more beautful
Turning the extraordinary into something even more beautful
Magnetic mat
Magnetic mat
Stamp pad storage - a chocolate box - Heart Upcycling!
Stamp pad storage - a chocolate box - Heart Upcycling!

Stage 3 - Assembly and Finishing Touches

Beautiful finishing touches make all the difference to a handmade card.

I used an assorted of greeting dies, but you can also use sheets of reelable stickers if you like.  You don’t have to add a greeting at all of course – it makes the cards more versatile if you leave them blank.  I always leave my cards blank inside – so you can see clearly what you are getting on the front of the card and don’t get any unexpected surprises.

  1. Stick an inner piece inside your card – for giver to write their greeting on.  I fixed mine with a piece of double sided sticky tape cut to about half the length of the card and stuck in the centre on either side of the crease.
  2. When you stick your intricate die cut mat onto your card, handle it lightly so you don’t damage or tear it.  It’s a bit like making pastry?!  Fine point tweezers are really useful for this.

  3. Which glue to use?  I used to enjoy make cards with my daughter and she would always tease me when I said to her sternly to her that “there is nothing worse than gobby glue”.  We still laugh about it today.  Of course – there are a lot of things happening in the world that are far worse than gobby glue – but you get the point – neat glue really matters!

  4. Stick’n Spray is an expensive – but great glue.  You have to wait 30 seconds or so for it to become sticky enough to work with after you have sprayed your mat.  The, it is repositionable for a good two minutes before it becomes permanent.  It leaves no residue (well – most of the time!). BUT – It is very expensive, it can be very tacky on edges sometimes and you need a lot of scrap paper or card to protect your working surface because you have to spray it on.  It’s not foolproof either – a couple of my mats had to be re-stuck when they peeled away a the following day.  
  5. Hi-Tack glue is cheap and very cheerful.  It is really lovely to work with.  I usually squeeze a little out onto scrap card or a plastic lid then spread it using a cotton bud or a cocktail stick.  Used very sparingly, it rubs off when dry if you do make a mistake.  It also holds very well. For workshops, it is definitely going to be my glue of choice.
  6. Position your mat carefully on the card – glue residue rarely comes away completely cleanly.  Fine point tweezers are really useful for this.
  7. For your embellishments and greetings, play with shapes and colours until you hit on a combination that suits the card you have made and works for you.  There are no rules here – you are the artist!
  8. Do you see the little shoe inside this wedding card?  I made it for a good friend of mine who is a bit of an Imelda Marcos with shoes.  Imagine my satisfaction at finding the perfect little shoe in my stash – complete with sparkly rhinestones – Heart Up-Cycling!

Heart Up-cycling!

Heart Upcycling Logo
Breathing new life into a pretty greetings card
Cutting a die from an old greetings card
Heart Up-Cycling - Never throw anything away!

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from this project, it is never to throw ANYTHING away again!  You can make wonderful mats and embellishments from an old greeting card.  My favourite cards were the ones I created using my stash of saved bits and pieces from pretty cards I had been given in the past.  

I’m thinking with regret now of all the beautiful cards I have been given over the years that I could have kept – but it’s too late!

If you have any pretty cards you are willing to part with – please donate them to your local hospice shop for me?

Keep reading to find out what happened to the mat I made from this card.  EVERYONE makes mistakes … but really – it doesn’t matter!

My favourite cards were the ones I made using up-cycled embellishments.

Do you know what else I have learned?  Mistakes are GREAT!  You just have to see them as an opportunity to learn, not a failure. Often, they can actually lead you to produce your best work.

I’ll let you into a secret now …  That beautiful blue hydrangea card that I found – the one I was so proud of?  The one starring in the video at the top of this post …?  Well, it tore when I tried to stick it onto a card.  I tried sticking it onto another card, which just made matters worse.  Now, I had an over thick, bent card with a torn lace die cut stuck firmly onto it!  In the end, I cut hearts out of the good bits of the card and found to my delight that it produced a beautifully textured 3D shape that I think looks really well on the finished card!  You’d never know – would you?!

Never throw away any pretty card or paper you come across.  Old greeting cards, pretty packaging etc. can all be happily up-cycled.  Watch out for future projects that will make good use of these pretty packages…

Recycled card embellishments - Heart Up-Cycling!
Tessellated card from an old greetings card
Pretty Packaging - made for Up-Cycling?
Litter bin - waste not want not
Die before weeding
Punching tiny scraps from card for future projects

It may seem strange to include a photo of my waste bin on a blog post, but I wanted to show you just how little I threw away at the end of this project.  This was it – honestly – just the tiny bits that came out of the dies!  If anyone can find a use for those, please do leave a comment and let me know?!

Even the tiniest scraps like those below can be punched again.  Edge and corner punches are great for this.  This project was rather like a giant game of Rapidough by the end of the three days!

I am going to use these tiny bits to make a Mother’s Day card next Spring – like the beautiful one my daughter gave to me many years ago now which I have carefully kept.  I’m not cutting that one up!  

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Saving tiny scraps for future projects

Tips and Tricks

In arts and crafts – as in life – there is no substitute for experience!  I hope I can pass what I have learned from this project onto you so you can avoid some of my mistakes and enjoy your crafting journey all the more.

  1. If you take away just one tip from this post, make it this one:  To avoid bending your plates and keep them nice and flat, ROTATE AND TURN YOUR PLATES WITH EVERY PASS THROUGH THE GEMINI MACHINE!  I can’t understand why the instructions that come with the machine don’t make this clear?!
  2. You can flatten your plates out by running them under very hot tap water for a little while to gently heat them and then coax  them into shape – but it is far better to avoid the problem than try to solve it!  Replacement plates are expensive, so it pays to be really careful with them.
  3. Be careful when you place your dies – CUTTING SIDE UP – SO YOU CAN SEE IT! If you don’t you will cut your shim.  It is an expensive mistake you should only make once.  Rather like the old adage when you are sewing – measure twice cut once, with die cutting, always check twice before you cut.
  4. Work tidy.  I bought some Weston Boxes to store all my bits of cardboard and paper in.  It made it SO much easier to collect together similar coloured card instead of sifting through the big pile each time.  It fires the creativity somehow when you are just looking at a pile of the right colours and are not distracting by a jumbled rainbow of other bits and pieces.
  5. Work orderly and don’t rush the process – good things take their time.  If you are making a few cards and not just one, work in a sensible order.  Cut first (a clean job), then paint and LEAVE IT TO DRY!  Then glue and LEAVE THAT TO DRY TOO!
  6. A couple of poly pockets are a really good way to protect your cutting plates and add a bit of extra pressure in your sandwich too so you get a clean cut.   Trim off the holes at the side and use one on top of the base cutting plate and one beneath the top cutting plate.
  7. Two for the price of one.  You can cut thin paper by  placing it over card when you cut.  It gives it a bit of extra support so the thin paper doesn’t get stuck in the die.
  8. Stick to thin card (up to 300 gsm) and lightweight fabric only.  Vellum will cut – but tears easily and does not give great results.  Thick card and plastic just don’t work and risk ruining your machine/plates.
  9. A magnetic die storage folder is a good investment if you find you like working with metal dies and want to collect a number.  It keeps them flat and means you can find them easily .  You can add additional sheets as you build your collection of dies.
  10. Be very careful with the metal shim – it has very sharp edges.  Early on in this project, I held the sandwich with one hand other side and attempted to square it up – like a deck of cards.  Big mistake – I got a nasty cut on one of my fingers.  Much better to live with the sandwich being a bit uneven – it goes through the machine fine like that!
  11. If you are working with water soluble paints like the distress oxide, then a detailer water brush opens up a whole new world of creativity.  You can lift out the colour to create a distressed effect and easily add an additional layer of complexity and delicacy to your work.  I want to do more of this in future projects!

  12. Leave any cards which are stubborn to stick under something heavy (I used my art boxes) overnight.  You can use a card cello bag or kitchen roll to protect them while they dry fully. 

  13. Don’t race to finish your cards too quickly.   Leave them standing out somewhere for a couple of days and see if any bits fall off and need remedial attention!  Glue dots – are useful to fix any bits which refuse to stick.

  14. Don’t be mean with things like foam pads – be really generous with them!  They cost a fraction of a penny and save your embellishments falling off when that special someone opens your card.

  15. If you want to ribbon bows, I think organza ribbon works really well and a bow maker tool makes them really neat and easy to tie.

  16. Look out for second hand Gemini machines on EBay – they come up quite regularly.
My cardboard store
My cardboard store
Remedial work - overnight gluing!
Remedial work - overnight gluing for areas that failed to stick first time around!
Using a water pen to distress a die cut card
Distressing with a water pen
Recycled magnets from Quick Find brochures
Recycled magnets from Quick Find brochures - useful to hold your card in place on the magnetic shim
Tessellated card - creative paint effects
Next time - I can do better?!

Sources of Inspiration

This is a really good video to get you excited about using Distress Inks.  I warn you – it is hard to resist buying a few once you see it.  They come in such great colours too – like “worn lipstick” and “faded jeans”.  Go on – who can resist?!

Tessellated card - creative paint effects

This is the video that inspired me to go and buy the Rose Garden die that started this project off. There are some great free tutorials on this site to inspire your crafting journey. 

One final thought to leave you with.  I have always loved crafting, but I never really made much time to devote to it during my working life.  Now I am retired, it is thankfully a different story.  I bought my Crafter’s Companion Gemini die cutting and embossing machine at a Craft Fair 4 years ago.  The marketing demo they put on was very good and I could see the potential for this machine, so I took the plunge, bought it and carried it all the way home with me on the train.  It is very heavy!  I used it just once in those 4 years – what a waste! 

Arts and Crafts  is something you should  DO – not just dream about!  If you love it, but don’t make enough time for it in your life right now, I urge you to try to carve yourself out a bit of YOU time to do what you really enjoy?!  I’m sure you deserve it!  Come and join a workshop – that way – you will make yourself put the time aside!

Not a subscriber yet?  I have purchased two more dies – sign up and see what I make with them …!

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