Making the Cut: Carole Firstenberger
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It’s no secret that I love my Silhouette machines and use them in as many ways as I can possibly think of. But I also love getting to know other Silhouette users, especially those who use their machines in a unique way. This is the second post in my “Making the Cut” series featuring some of those people, each of whom are artists in their own right. I hope you enjoy reading about each of them and are as inspired by their work as I am!
Today I’m talking with Carole Firstenberger of Creative Connections. Carole is a fellow Terri Johnson Creates Licensed Instructor and makes some of the most beautifully decorated cookies I’ve ever seen. I first met her in November 2017 when she taught a class on edible images at the All Things Silhouette Conference. It was fascinating to see how she brings her creative visions to life. Read on to find out more about her!
First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself and where you’re from.
I was born and raised in a very small town – Waldo, Ohio – which is about 40 miles north of Columbus. I moved to Bradenton, Florida in 1978 and love it! I retired from Tropicana Products after 25 years of service. I have three children, two guys and a gal, all getting to be toward Social Security age, so I guess they are not kids anymore. I have four grandchildren, all in their early thirties, with no great-grandchildren in sight!
Have you always been a creative person?
Yes, I guess I take after my mother (who is 91) and my grandmother. They both were very creative. I did lots of sewing at one point in time, creating costumes for my church and my mother helped me a lot with that.
When were you first introduced to the Silhouette and how did it become part of your cookie-decorating endeavors?
I always wanted to make beautiful Christmas cookies…you know, the kind you see in all the magazines around October/November. I decided that after I retired I would take some Wilton classes at my local Michaels to help with that endeavor. I took all three classes they were offering at the time and guess what I found out? I HATE to pipe! My hands are so hot, the icing just melts in the bag.
My Wilton teacher knew what I really wanted to do was decorate cookies, so one night in class she showed me a book – The Flour Pot Cookie Book: Creating Edible Works of Art by Margie and Abbey Greenberg. I bought a copy of the book for myself. They used fondant to decorate cookies. This was a real game changer and I was totally intrigued. The Greenbergs used purchased fondant, but with the help of a cake/cookie forum I belong to I experimented with fondant and cookie recipes until I was able to consistently produce a quality cookie decorated with homemade fondant.
Then I saw a post about edible images which grabbed my attention! I bought the necessary supplies from Icing Images, invested in a printer that they support, and started my journey again, trying different methods of printing and cutting the icing sheets. I used PrintMaster software to design and print and scissors to cut out the designs. That didn’t work very well (have you ever tried to cut a perfect circle???), so I bought some craft punches. They worked OK, but you were limited to the shapes and sizes of the punches and had to cut them one by one. And they are also expensive.
I started looking around for some kind of machine that would cut the icing sheets. Cricut was all the rage at the time, and I came very close to buying one. But I really was not crazy about having to buy the cartridges and the inability to freely design what I wanted, so I kept looking. Enter Silhouette! I saw a review of the Silhouette SD and it looked like what I wanted. The software (Robomaster) was free, the SD was reasonable. Back then, I believe it was around $70. I bought one and then after awhile, I bought a second one and the rest, as they say, is history. I am happy to say Silhouette has continued to improve both their machines and software over the years. Silhouette Studio version 4.1 is one of the finest software programs I have ever worked with and 4.2 promises to be even better!
Which machine(s) do you currently own?
I have an original Portrait, an original Cameo, a Cameo 3, a Curio and a Mint.
Do you have a favorite?
I have a couple of favorites. My overall favorite is the Cameo 3 and I cut all of my vinyl and cardstock with it. I love the two blade holders! I am still rather fond of the Portrait. It’s easy to travel with and cuts well, and is actually faster than the Cam3. I like the Curio, but it is new to me and I am still learning!
The Mint is my least favorite, it is also new and I am experimenting with it. I would like to be able to stamp cookies with it, but so far the stamps the Mint produces are not exactly friendly with the edible ink. There are many products that you can use to color edibles, so I am still looking for a match.
How has the Silhouette made it easier for you in your creative process?
It is a time-saver. You could never manually cut all of the things I produce with the Cameo. It is precise, it always cuts the same. I sell very few of my cookies, but have done lots of events for family and friends. I have discovered that I can make and decorate awesome cupcakes. As part of that, I make cupcake wrappers and cookie bag toppers with my Cameo. Sometimes I make two or three hundred cupcake wrappers of the same design. They are always exactly the same from the first to the last.
You can do almost anything you can think of, make it personal or make it generic. You do not have to buy anything to make Studio work, such as cartridges. You own what you design, not for just a few months, or until you decide you don’t want to do it anymore – they are yours forever. I still have Robomaster files, and even now those files can be opened in the newest versions of Studio.
I now teach a very in-depth cookie class, with all of my secrets and tips for making beautiful cookies. It has been quite a journey, with some bumps in the road, but lots of fun.
Did you experience a learning curve with the Silhouette and getting it to work with your projects as envisioned?
Back in the day I struggled with Robomaster. When they came out with the first version of Studio, it was a real improvement. I have worked with software, as a user, for many years; it was part of my job with Tropicana. Silhouette is definitely on the cutting edge of producing really good software. Since I have basically “grown up” with it, it does not give me too many problems. I am on the Beta team, and am patiently waiting until they give 4.2 a bit more attention. It is going to be fantastic!
What type of materials do you use as part of your Silhouette crafting?
- Icing sheets, of course. I buy them and the edible ink at icingimages.com.
- I love boxes, cupcake wrappers and cookie bag toppers, so I use lots of cardstock of different weights and colors.
- Scrapbooking paper. I do buy some ready-made, especially when Michaels has their hot buy on pads and you can get them for $5 each, but I also love digital scrapbooking paper. I have hundreds of pieces. I like them because you can always find that perfect design for your project. I pull up a design, resize if needed, print it on cardstock, and then I have a nice piece of patterned card stock for a box, topper, wrapper or whatever. And I am not above buying more patterns, if I don’t already own what I am really looking for 🙂 .
- Vinyl, mostly Oracal 651, although since The Rhinestone World is only 20 minutes from me, I also use FDC4400, which is a comparable product. I use Siser HTV and have a heat press.
- Acrylics, since I have a Curio and just recently went to an absolutely fabulous Curio retreat hosted by Whitney Brown Wadsworth. If you have a new Curio and are wanting to learn more about it, check in with Whitney and see if she is planning a new retreat. I am using my new-found skills to make acrylic coasters for Christmas gifts this year.
- Stainless steel, again with the Curio. Planning some more Christmas gifts, using dog tags, bottle openers and bracelets.
Where do you get inspiration for your creations?
I follow several Silhouette groups and boards, so get lots of my ideas from other folks. I love that everyone is so willing to share. I generally do not “copy” what others are doing, but take the idea and put my own twist on it. I try to repay that by helping others with Studio questions.
I am not really a “designer”. I am more than willing to pay for designs. Again, I usually do not find something on the internet and trace it; I want the folks who really are designers to get their due. I am also careful about commercial rights for designs for my classes.
Do you enjoy any other hobbies?
I have probably done just about every craft there is except painting (no talent there!). And I probably have something from every craft stashed either in my craft room or shed.
What is the most memorable/enjoyable product you’ve created?
This is a hard one. I have done so many things over the years that it is not easy to pick one. I think one of the prettiest and most unique project I have done is a wind chime made out of a wine bottle decorated with a cardinal made of vinyl. I gave it to my Mother for her 90th birthday.
When you’re not crafting, how do you like to spend your time?
I read a lot, and I line dance, usually three or four nights a week. I do some traveling and am an avid Disney fan, only a couple of hours away. Then of course, there is the usual – house cleaning, appointments, grocery shopping and on and on, just like everyone else!
What made you decide to become a Terri Johnson Creates Licensed Instructor?
As part of my job at Tropicana, I used to travel the country and do seminars on billing procedures. I was also a software testing coordinator and taught classes on how to use the testing software, so I thought becoming an instructor was a natural fit. I love when the light bulb goes on for folks and they are excited to see their project come to fruition!
If someone wants to take a class from you, or discuss the possibility of you teaching a class in their area, how is the best way to arrange that?
The best way to contact me is at [email protected] You can also PM me on Facebook as Carole Firstenberger. I teach some classes at my local Hobby Lobby on Cortez Rd and do one-on-ones if you live within an hour of me, or you want to come to me. For classes or a retreat, I am willing to travel within a reasonable distance – anywhere in Florida, south Georgia, and southern South Carolina. I would also consider Ohio and Michigan (I know, that is not a reasonable distance, but I have family and friends in both states). Contact me if you have a venue and friends for a class. I give a discount to you if you set up the details.
Thank you Carole for letting us get to know you better and for showcasing yet another way to use the Silhouette machines. Maybe someday I’ll get to take a class from you. Your work is both beautiful and inspiring!
Until next time,
P.S. Do you (or someone you know) use YOUR Silhouette machine in a unique way? I’d love to hear more so leave a comment and let me know!
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Lycia is a lifelong crafter whose goal is to help others find value, confidence, and joy in whatever they create. She geeks out on using technology to supercharge craft projects with Silhouette Studio, Design Space, Glowforge, sublimation, etc.! Lycia teaches these skills and more through online tutorials and videos as well as in-person classes at both the local and national levels.