I’m back this week with the third installment in our “Getting to Know” series and talking with Cindy Eckhoff! Cindy grew up in Texas where she studied Music Education at the University of North Texas, but now lives in Utah with her husband and two dogs. The Eckhoffs are the proud parents of four adult children.
Cindy is a five-time presenter at the All Things Silhouette Conferences having taught such classes as I Did It My Way – Expanding Your Design Potential with Tracing Tips & Tricks, Exploring the Mysteries of the Modify Window, Why, Oh, Why Doesn’t My Print & Cut Work Right?, When Good Cuts Go Bad, What Are All Those Little Black Dots?: Fine Tuning Your Designs With Point Editing, and Nailed It! Using Your Silhouette Cameo for Nail Art Designs.
I’ve been a student in several of Cindy’s classes and loved each and every one of them. She possesses an in-depth knowledge of the Silhouette Studio software that I can only hope to emulate. Her former position as a Customer Support Rep for Silhouette America has provided her with extensive troubleshooting experience that serves her well as a Silhouette instructor. It was an absolute delight for me to spend some time talking with her and getting to know her better.
Have you always been a crafter/maker?
Oh yes! My mom was a crafter and one of my most favorite memories is spending one Saturday each month working with her and my sisters on a project from the Craft of the Month club she subscribed to. Growing up, the most famous phrase in our house was “Oh, I can make that!” It’s funny because I still hear my sisters say, “Why would I buy that? I can make it!”
To me, when you make something for someone it says “I care enough about you to make you something unique.” I’ve done crochet, cross-stitch, quilting – you name it. I told myself originally that I wasn’t going to get involved with scrapbooking because I knew if I got started I wouldn’t want to stop. Then in 2002, we attended the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Our kids were homeschooled so we were able to come for the entire event. When we got back home, part of our homeschool lessons included having the kids write down their memories, add pictures, make drawings, and put everything in a scrapbook. Then I had a niece who started selling scrapbook stuff. I went to a party to support her, and I was hooked on that too!
Which model of Silhouette machine was your first and when did you acquire it?
I got my first machine in 2008, not long after they originally came out. I had a friend who had another brand of cutter so I started looking at getting one. As I was researching, I found the Silhouette and thought, “Why wouldn’t I do this? I don’t have to buy cartridges, I can use any font that I want, and I can create anything I want.” I liked the flexibility of that.
What was that first machine like?
It was the original grey and blue model that didn’t have a load button so it had to be hand-cranked. It used the ROBO Master software. The experience of owning that machine was really, really good because I went through all the same frustrations other users had such as “why do I get double lines when I trace?”, “why won’t the eraser leave an empty space?”, or “why is it ripping/tearing instead of cutting?”
I tell everybody that when I started working at Silhouette America and learned that all my frustrations were due to user error, I had to come home and apologize to my machine every night!
Do you remember your first project?
It was one of the free shapes that came with the machine – a 3D box about the size of a gift box for a necklace. I cut that and a butterfly that I put on top of it then I typed a word in a font and cut that. But the font was kind of ragged so that didn’t turn out too great. I’m not sure I still have the box, but I still have the pieces of the words. I used to use them as samples in my Cut Settings class.
Which machines do you currently own?
I’ve given the original machine to my son but now have the Cameo 1, a Cameo 2, two Cameo 3s and a Curio. I bought the Cameo 2 on sale for $100 and the both of the Cameo 3s, as well as the Curio, were given to me. I also have two Mints that I’ve received from the All Things Silhouette Conferences.
Do you have a favorite machine?
It’s really hard to pick a favorite. I like them all at different times for different things. I like the Cameo 3 for the dual-blade holders and it’s ability to accept thicker materials. But if I’m using just one machine, my go-to is my Cameo 2.
What are some tools you can’t live without?
I love the test probes from Harbor Freight for weeding. And I also love my squeegee that has felt on one edge. It works great!
Some other things I can’t do without are painter’s tape, a T-square ruler for putting HTV on shirts, HTV remover for when I make a mistake, and the see-through quilting rulers. I also made my own pressing pillows from high-density foam and ironing board fabric and I love those too.
You said your son now has your first machine. How did that come about?
That’s a funny story! My son is a football player and when we moved to Utah, he wanted to decorate his room with jerseys from all his favorite players. He wanted 6-8 of them and I knew that was going to be expensive, so we decided to figure out something with the Silhouette instead. We took a 12”x12” scrapbook frame, spray-painted the back of glass and on the front of the glass put adhesive vinyl that looked like the back of a football jersey with the player’s name and number.
It was quite a learning experience for us both. At the time, I didn’t know about the Offset button in the software, so all the point editing was done by hand. I didn’t know you could move elements using the arrows on the keyboard. I didn’t know how to curve text, so that was also done by hand. We were making twelve of them and I knew it was going to take forever so I taught him the software in order for him to help me. It was so much fun because he was a high school junior and here we were working together for hours on this project. When he went off to college, he called and asked if I could make another one to replicate his high school jersey and I said “Sure!” His comment then was “I’m going to show it to all the guys and take orders for you.” Instead of doing that, I gave him my original machine and he’s now started a business with some of his friends making these designs of high school football jerseys that all the college kids love.
Besides working at Silhouette America, what other ways has your hobby turned into a profession for you?
My strength is in teaching because I have a lot of teaching experience. It’s how I’m unique and where I can help people the most.
In addition to teaching at All Things Silhouette, I have an online class that is available through the Terri Johnson Academy and I’m the HSN spokesperson for Silhouette America. I also have my website, Smart-Silhouette.
Your website offers paid memberships in addition to free content. I love your explanation of why you charge for the lessons you provide. People don’t realize how much time goes into maintaining a site and writing tutorials – even just writing a handout for a class.
Yes, and I update my class notes every time I teach. Basically, if you compiled all my class notes together, you’d have a book. My blog posts are also very in-depth and they take a long time to write.
Did you ever write articles for the Silhouette blog?
No, because they are really looking for established bloggers to be part of their team. I didn’t start my blog until around November 2016 so I don’t feel like I’m ready yet. I may apply in the future though.
In your opinion, what makes you such a good Silhouette instructor?
Learning to become a good Silhouette instructor is really not that different from what I studied in college as a Music Education major and then later practiced as a high school band director. Anytime you teach something the process is the same. Teaching music is combining two things – education and a creative outlet. Teaching someone else how to use his or her creative skills with a digital cutter is really not all that different.
I was talking to a psychologist one time and he said there are basically four methods of communication for teachers:
- What’s in your brain.
- What comes out of your mouth.
- What goes into the student’s ear.
- How their brain processes it.
Each of these methods has filters based on personality, experience, learning styles, etc. In my classes I try to hit every learning style – I provide written notes, the students watch me do it, they listen to what I’m saying, and then they try to do it themselves.
What makes me unique is my experience working at Silhouette America and troubleshooting for five hours each day. During that time, I got very good at problem solving. There are a lot of people that can make projects and show others how to make them, but to be able to think ahead about some problems you might run into when you’re making that project or troubleshoot the problem when you do encounter it is definitely my strong suit. A lot of what I’ve incorporated into my classes is born out of personal experience.
I can tell that when someone asks you a question, the wheels start turning.
Yes, they do! If someone asks me a question and I don’t know the answer right off the top of my head, I’ll work on it until I figure it out. I remember one time when I was working at Silhouette America and a lady called in for instructions on how to weld a peacock feather to a frame. I couldn’t figure it out but gave her enough knowledge to get her started. When I went home that night, I spent time until I figured it out. I figure if I’m going to teach you how to do something, I’d better know how to do it backwards & forward. My goal is to know every nook and cranny of the Studio software.
How did you get involved as a presenter at the All Things Silhouette Conference?
In 2015, my husband’s employer transferred him to Peachtree City, GA. Around the same time, Silhouette America was moving their offices further north and it was going to be too far for me to commute and make it worth my while financially. My husband was living in Peachtree City and coming home every other weekend and I was trying to show the house, take care of the dogs, pack, etc. So I decided to quit my job and prepare for our move.
A friend who was still working at Silhouette heard about Terri (Johnson) planning the first All Things Silhouette Conference in Peachtree City. She sent me a text saying I should volunteer to teach. I thought, “Why would she want me? No one knows who I am!”, but my friend really encouraged me to check it out.
So I contacted Terri and offered to teach at the conference. She talked with Ben at Silhouette Customer Support and he verified my credentials. She then asked what I wanted to teach and I said, “Here are the things people call about. Here are the things that people struggle with the most – cut settings, tracing, etc.” I sent her a list of possible classes and her response was “Let’s teach them all!” so I ended up teaching about five classes for that first conference. And when we opened up registration, my classes were filled in about ten minutes. We had to add extra sections and move my classes to bigger rooms to accommodate more students.
Did you ever move to Peachtree City?
No, my husband ended up changing jobs and we stayed here, but it’s so interesting because the prospect of moving is what got me on this track. Both my husband and I were wondering why God was moving us to Peachtree City when we felt He still had things for us to do in Utah, but I trusted that He knew what He was doing!
What do you like best about the All Things Silhouette Conference?
I love teaching and I love crafting and I love combining those two things. I feel like one of my strong suits is encouraging others and being able to say “Hey, you can do this too!” I feel like I can get people inspired and excited, so when I see that happening it’s really fun for me. A lot of people will come out of my classes and say “I have the confidence now.” I love that!
Also, by now I know all the presenters and we love hanging out together. Terri has put together an amazing group and when I’m not teaching I love going to their classes and learning new things too.
When you’re not crafting, how do you like to spend your time?
I watch a lot of sports with my husband and my boys. I LOVE sports! This time of year I start getting incredibly anxious because there is no football, so we watch replays of last year’s games or arena football. We’re very involved in our church. I do a lot of home dec projects. I say that I like to read, but haven’t read much lately because my brain is so full by the end of the day. I like to spend time with my husband and here in Utah there are a lot of outdoor activities we do – small hikes, etc. I like to hang out with my boys, and my daughter too when she’s here.
Another thing we do a lot in the fall is travel down to see my son’s football games. This is his senior year, so we will be traveling to all his home games, plus the one here in Utah, and the one in Texas since that’s where I grew up.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Mainly I want to tell people, “You can do it!” Frustration usually results from a lack of knowledge. You want to blame the machine but if the machine is messing up it’s because of something you’re telling it to do. The machine doesn’t have its own brain and it’s not trying to sabotage your project. There’s a reason for what it’s doing; you just have to figure out what that reason is.
Don’t be afraid to try something new. When you’re first starting out, expect that you will make mistakes. Experiment on cheap material. Be willing to waste a little bit of material in order to learn the machine. Do some testing before you send a 3-foot long piece of vinyl through the machine. Don’t set unrealistic deadlines for yourself.
Don’t expect for there not to be any technical difficulties or bugs in the software. Even a big company like Microsoft has glitches with their programs and operating systems. You’re asking the software to do all these amazing things, so you have to be able to figure out what those things are. A student in my Modify class said to me “You got me excited about all the things I could do but also showed me that I had a responsibility to learn what all those things are; to learn the inner workings. So if I send a file to cut and it rips the material, it’s my job to figure out why.” She was right — it’s not the machine’s job, it’s not Customer Support’s job, it’s YOUR job. Customer Support can guide you, but you need to be willing to try to solve the problem on your own.
Conferences are great and Facebook groups are great. It’s great that we can share knowledge with each other because we learn from one another. Be willing to try something new and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Cindy, I couldn’t have said it better myself. The best way to learn is to experiment and be willing to take chances. I hope that I can educate and inspire my students in the same way you’ve educated and inspired me. I so appreciate the time you spent talking with me and I look forward to seeing what’s next in your Silhouette journey!