Monday, October 5, 2015

A Sampling of Costumes From the Renaissance Faire

I thought I would share some fun costume images for those who are looking for Renaissance Faire or Halloween Costume Ideas.  These are just a few of costumes I encountered at my visit to my local Renaissance Faire.  These are only a few examples of some fun renfaire garb ideas.  Personally, I love the one above of a dog dressed as a pirate.  Many of the visitors with service dogs had really fun costumes for them.

There were all types of fun costumes to be found this year at faire. Including the "Three Sisters" who were witches of sorts.  They had a really fun gig they did throughout the faire.

I am not sure what these characters were supposed to be but they are fun costumes.

This zebra costume was an amazing makeup job and held up well during the 100 degree day.

The Fairy was very popular with the kids.

As was this performer who did mime and interacted with the various guests at the faire.

Some folks came dressed in their Wild West Gear.

The tree man was a great addition to the faire this year.  He was about 12 feet high and it was amazing that he could handle the hole filled terrain in those stilts.

Then of course there were more traditional renaissance faire costumes, like the Queens Guard Costumes.

And male and female peasant costumes.

These female Renaissance Faire performers had on more traditional costumes.

This child's Renaissance Faire costume was very meticulously made and held up well throughout the season filled with daily performances.

There were all types of interesting faire garb to be found at this event. I hope you enjoy this sampling.
Leave a comment below and let me know what types of costumes you see at your local faire or event.

Monday, September 21, 2015

My review of the Koi Assorted Coloring Brush Pen Set and the Tank Koi Water Brush in Medium

I love the 24 Piece Koi Coloring Brush Pens because they are so easy to travel with and yet the brush tips of these pens can be used to create some interesting effects just by changing the manner in which you press the tip onto the surface. These can also be used with the Koi Colorless Blending Pens for special effects and drawing texture on the project.

The tips are tapered which makes it easy to change the thickness of the brush strokes just by adjusting the pressure from the nib onto the paper, as well as the angle which you apply the nib.

 The Koi Coloring Brush Pens offer a great selection of bright colors in an easy to use pen form.

My favorite accessory to use with these pens is the Tank Koi Water Color Brush with the medium tip and/or  small tips.  They are great to pick up excess ink, as well as to create some fun affects on paper.

Tank Koi Water Color Brush Tutorial 
Using the Tank Koi Water Color Brushes with the Koi Assorted Coloring Brush Pens is pretty easy.   Below is a simple technique for using these pens.  You start by lettering the paper with pigment ink pens (waterproof) in a fun pattern.  Be sure to leave space on the letter for filling in with color.  Set aside to dry.

Step 1: Use your Koi Coloring Brush Pen to fill in the white open areas inside the letter.

Step 2: Using the Tank Koi Water Pen, add some water to the colored in area with the water pen.  Don't over saturate the area or it will make a mess.

Step 3:  Using the same  Tank Koi Water Pen , pick up some of the excess ink and use it to fill in areas on the paper around the letter.  

Step 4: To finish the project, just keep repeating the above steps with different colors of the brush pens.  You can use as much ink or as little as you want.  The fun is deciding which colors you like the best.

Below is a beautiful piece that one of my favorite artists, Lisa Engelbrecht,  made.  She used gold ink to draw the letters and then filled them in with some of her favorites pen colors.  I think it came out beautiful.

By the way, if you want to learn how to do some beautiful letter, the I recommend her book called "Modern Calligraphy" through which she shares her amazing talent for lettering and art.

Lisa Engelbrecht passed away a few years ago but her artwork constantly reminds me of what a wonderful and talented person she was.  I am so glad that I was able to purchase the pieces of her work that I have on my walls at home.

I really liked the ease of use of the Koi Assorted Coloring Brush Pen Set and the Tank Koi Water Brush in Medium and how pigmented the inks really were.  I would see these are a really good brush pens in the mid price range of $41 for the set of 24 colors.   I would love to read your personal experience in using these pens and how well they worked for you.  Just leave a comment below and share your experience.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Look at the 2015 Sephora Favorites Sun Safety Kit

Sun safety is really important to me and my family and the 2015 Sephora Favorites Sun Safety Kit offers a wide range of products to fit my needs.  The kit itself sells for $32 and for each kit sold,

Sephora donates $20 to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Having personally experience sun damaged skin and the less than fun experience of having a dermatologist remove potential melanoma cells from my

skin; I pay a lot of attention to sun safety for my family and myself.  I don't believe that a coat of sunscreen by itself is sufficient to protect my skin from the harsh California sun, so I do invest in quality products that provide additional protection to my skin.

There is an excellent selection of products in the bag and the products are mostly deluxe sized samples.

Here is a list of what came in the 2015 Sephora Favorites Sun Safety Kit:

  1. Amorepacific - Natural Protector spf 30 (.1 oz)
  2. Clarins UV Plus Anti-Pollution Broad Spectrum SPF 30 (.3 oz)
  3. Clinique Moisture Surge CC Cream Broad Spectrum SPF 30 (.5 oz)
  4. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Dark Spot Sun Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50 (.25 oz)
  5. Dr. Jar Premium Beauty Balm SPF 45 (.17 oz)
  6. Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment SPF 15 (.08 oz) 
  7. Josie Maran Cosmetics Argan Daily Moisturizer SPF 47 (.5 oz)
  8. Korres Yoghurt Nourishing Fluid Veil Broad Spectrum SPF 30 (.34 oz)
  9. Murad Invisiblur Perfecting Shield Broad Spectrum SPF 30 (.17 oz)
  10. Olehenriksen Eye Cream (.1 oz)
  11. Origins VitaZing Broad Spectrum SPF 15 Energy Boosting Moisturizer With Mangosteen (.5 oz)
  12. Peter Thomas Roth Max Sheer All Day Moisture Defense Lotion SPF (.5 oz)
  13. Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Cream SPF 50 (.6 oz)
  14. St. Tropez One Night  in Light-Medium (1.69 oz)
  15. Supergoop City Sunscreen Serum SPF 30 (.34 oz)
  16. Vita Liberata Passion Flower & Argon Dry Oil Broad Spectrum SPF 50 (.34 oz)

I thought this was a really good selection of products for my investment of $30.  And since $20 of my investment went to the Skin Cancer Foundation, I felt really good about my purchase.  I not a fan of tiny samples (single use packets) because I can not use the product enough to form an opinion on it or not.  These deluxe samples were big enough that I was able to use them and decide which ones worked great for me and which did not.

Below are some of my favorite products that were included in my kit.  The sugar balm is just the right size to stick in my jean pocket and have it on hand.  It does have sun protection in it, so my lips get some protection as well as moisture.

The Josie Maran Cosmetics Argan Daily Moisturizer with SPF 47 works really well for me and does not cause my skin to break out.  It does have a light fragrance, so if you are sensitive to fragrance make sure you check out the tester at Sephora to make sure it won't cause you any problems.

I also am a fan of the Ole Henriksen line but had not tried the "Total Truth" eye cream before.  I usually use the Ultimate Lift Eye gel because it helps diminish my under eye bags but this product is really moisturizing and great for night time use.

Now for my least favorite product:

The Supergoop City Sunscreen Serum with SPF 30, did not provide me with sun protection. I wore it for a few hours and managed to get sunburn.  It also made my skin itch.  The cream does have a noticeable fragrance which could easily have caused the reaction.  However, since I still got sunburn I will not be purchasing the Supergoop product in the future.  I had better sun protection from other products.

When you consider that I only disliked 1 out of 16 products, this really was a great deal.   Most of the Sephora stores are sold out of the kit but I have still come across some kits in the bigger Sephora locations.  They are perfectly sized for travel.  I was really happy with my purchase and enjoyed trying out some of the newer products that I was not familiar with.  It is a great deal if you can still find them in the store.

They seem to release a different one each year, so if you missed out on the 2015 Sephora Favorites Sun Safety Kit then keep an eye for the 2016 which should be released around June 2016.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

My Review of SKII Facial Treatment Essence

The Sk-II Facial Treatment Essence and mask is a wonderful way to boost skin firmness and improve the overall texture of the skin.  I have so many friends who swear by their line that I was more than a little interested in trying the line. Since the SK-II Facial Product line has such an amazing reputation for its skin care products, I was excited to have the opportunity to test out one of their mini kits for BzzAgent.  

My kit had the following products in it:

SK-II Treatment Essence (1oz)
SK-II Treatment Mask (1)
SK-II Essential Power Cream  (.05 oz)

The SK-II company uses only the highest quality ingredients which is reflected in the price tag of their product line.  The SK-II Essential Power Moisturizing Cream, 2.71 fl. oz. sells for $215.00 at Amazon and Sephora.  So getting to try this tiny sample of the cream was really important for me before I would commit to purchasing such an expensive product.  The little jar holds a bit less than .05 oz of the cream but with this product a little goes a long way. I have really oily skin and suffer from break outs and wrinkles (what a combo) so I was a little bit afraid that the cream would break me out.  I used a pea size amount on the drier parts of my skin to see if I would break out.  I am happy to say that the cream did not break me out.  I was also surprised at how smooth the texture of the cream is. It spread out so easily so a little really went a long way.  I got about three weeks worth of use out of this little jar. That was enough time to get a good idea of its effectiveness for my skin.  

The cream is great and really moisturized my skin.  I found it a bit too heavy to use during the day since it has been really warm out here this summer.  I decided to use it only at night and got some great results.  I think this cream will be wonderful during the winter when my skin tends to be drier.  

According to the BzzAgent website the "SK-II Essential Power Cream contains Stem-Acanax and Pitera™ to radically improve firmness and reduce wrinkles".  This miracle ingredient is at the core of the revolutionary products SK-II offers. SK-II Facial Treatment Essence is a liquid concentrate with 90% Pitera™ in every bottle. SK-II Facial Treatment Masks deliver an indulgent concentration of Pitera™ in a single application."

The Pitera compound stimulates the skins natural cellular repair and promotes more efficient skin regeneration.  For those who do not know, Pitera is a type of fermented yeast that is supposed to speed up the skins rejuvenation process.  The yeast come from Saki. 

The SK-II Facial Treatment Essence, 2.5 fl. oz. was my favorite product.  It is enriched with more than 90% Pitera.  Additionally, the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence has vitamins, amino acids, minerals and some organic aides which are added to help promote health skin cells and aid in the skin cell renewal cycle.  The website states that with daily application the essence helps improve the texture of the skin.  I have to agree with it.  It also helped clear up my skin and improve the tone of my skin around my mouth and cheek area.  I found it easiest to use by pouring a very small amount onto the back of my hand and patting it onto my face.  That way I would not waste any of the product.  This product sells for $105 for the 2.5 oz size at Sephora.

The SK-II Facial Treatment Mask is a very high quality mask. The cotton mask fabric is thicker than some of the other masks that I use from Sephora.  If you are not familiar with this type of mask, it is a bit goey when removing it from the packaging.  This is good because it means that the company did not skimp on the liquid product.  

You just need to carefully unfold the mask and place onto your skin. SK-II does include directions in their packaging which make using their masks for the first time very easy.  I love the thick texture of the serum on the mask.  My skin was pretty dehydrated that morning and just sucked the serum right up.  I kept it on for about 30 minutes and then just patted the residual serum onto my neck and chest area.  My skin looked great.  Thanks to the serum my skin was so moisturized that it swelled up slightly for about 5 hours.  It actually made my fine lines and eye wrinkles disappear for most of the day.  I had a photo shoot that day and my skin looked amazing.  I know that I will be purchasing the mask when I need to attend special events and look my best. The glowing skin effect did last a few days which was amazing for a one time use mask.   The mask sells for about $17 for one on  

Overall, the price of these products may appear to be on the high side.  However, if you consider how well they work and how little of the product you use at each application, then the price is actually pretty reasonable.

Update, September 15, 2015:  Costco has the SK-II kits for under $175.  So if you are a fan of the product, you might want to visit your local Costco and pick it up before they sell out.

Thank you to BzzAgent and SK II for providing me with samples of these products to test out and give my honest review of my personal experience with the SK-II Facial Product line. If you like sampling new products then check out BzzAgent for yourself and sign up to test and review products

Great News for those of you who live in the UK, BzzAgent has a homepage just for you.  If you would like to review products and give your honest opinion on them, then check out their homepage.

NOTE: if you are sensitive to yeasts, you may have a different reaction to the product than I did. I imagine if you suffer from any type of yeast intolerance you may want to check with your doctor before using this product

Monday, August 24, 2015

What is all the hype about the Ipsy Glam Bag, Beauty Box 5, Birchbox and BoxyCharm Monthly Boxes | Review

If you spend any time on YouTube you know that the monthly beauty boxes are all the rage, especially those by Birchbox, Ipsy and Boxy Charm (to name a few).  These boxes are billed and shipped on a monthly basis.  I thought I would show what I got in my August boxes so that you can make your own comparison on the value of each box and the items that come in them.


The Ipsy bag is one of the more popular monthly beauty bags/boxes.  Michelle Phan, creator of Ipsy,  has inspired thousands of people through her YouTube Videos, books and through the Ipsy bags.  Each month I receive a combination of deluxe sized samples and some full sized products (on occasion) all in a cute makeup pouch.  The Ipsy bag does not come with a product card nor the retail costs of each product.  You have to go the website to get more information on each product in your bag.  The cost of each bag is around $10 a month (which includes shipping).  The selection of product varies each month and I look forward to each bag.

One of the reasons that I really like Ipsy is that I can affect what types of products I get in the bag by doing product reviews on their website and by taking the beauty quiz.  For example, when I first joined they kept sending me perfume samples.  Well I don't wear perfume because my job doesn't allow it and my kids are sensitive to it.  So I re-took the quiz and made it clear in my product reviews that I did not want perfume samples in my bag.  Thus, I no longer get perfume samples which is great.

The August 2015 Ipsy bag got top points from me this month.  It came packed with products that I love to use and a great hair care product sample.

My Ipsy August 2015 Bag (Theme is Prep School) had 5 products plus the cute black and white bag:

  • Marsk -  Synthetic Hair - Shadow Brush.  I love how well this brush picks up eyeshadow.
  • Pencil Me In - Natural Eyeliner Pencil with Sharpener (in cap) in the color Boysenberry.  The color was great but I did have to seal the pencil with to keep it from smudging.
  • Skone Cosmetics -  Luxe Doubler Eye and Lip Pencil in Wine.  The pigment on this pencil is excellent. It also glides on very smoothly.  It wore well and did not smudge.  
  • Hikari Cosmetics - Lip Gloss in Salsa - While I loved the color, I just could not stand the smell of the product. I did find it is not as sticky as the Stila lip glosses but I just could not get past the smell. 
  • Mark Anthony - Argon Oil (.7 oz) - I love this product.  The texture of this product is similar to other argon oils. The scent is fantastic.  My hair soaked it right up and it look so shiny.  I cannot say enough about how great the product is.


Birchbox is another very popular monthly beauty box.  It costs $10 (which includes shipping).  You can control some of what gets included in your box by answering their surveys and responding very quickly to their emails.  I still get perfume samples but I do get them less often than before (still it would be nice to eliminate them altogether).  Birch box does include a card with each box that gives a little bit of information on each item in the box.

The best way to control your Birchbox shipments is to get into their "ACE's" category by earning 500 points in one year.  You can easily achieve that by reviewing every item you get in each box.  I think they currently reward you 10 points per review, so it is pretty easy to achieve that goal without additional purchases.  The ACE's program allows members to have first choice on a featured sample which dictates which box they will get.  You just have to remember to constantly check your emails because they do sell out of certain samples pretty quick.

My August Birchbox had the following samples in it:

  • DevaCurl "SuperCream Coconut Curl Styler  (1.5 oz) - Full Size (5.1 oz) retails for $28.  First I have to say that the Coconut Scent on this product is really strong. If you don't like coconut then stay away from it.  I love the smell, so it did not bother me. However, I cannot use it in my hair during the week because the scent is strong enough to bother my co-workers.  I also liked that is was Sulfate and Silicone Free, too many of my hair products have those ingredients in them and it is refreshing to find one that does not and that it still does what it claims to do.
  • Balance Me "Congested Skin Serum" (.2 oz or 7 ml)) - Full Size (15 ml) retails for $30.  I gave it to my daughter to help clear up her skin and it seemed to help. However, at $20 for 15 ml this product is a bit expensive. 
  • LAQA & CO.  Cheeky Lip in Cray-cray (full size) - Retails for $20 for a set of three.  I love how easy this color glides on and how sheer it is. The color is build able but I like sheer colors for summer.  
  • Shea Terra Organics "Rose Hips Black Soap Deep Pore Facial Cleanser" (.5 oz) - Retails for $16 (4 oz). This product really deep cleans the skin and works great with my "Foreo Luna".  It got my skin so clean that I immediately ordered the 4 oz size.  It doesn't have much of a scent (it smells like ivory soap to me) and it does clean the skin really well.  It can strip the skin of oils, so I recommend using your toner and/or serums right after cleansing to keep your skin from drying out too much.
  • Juicy Couture "I am Juicy Couture" perfume sample - Unfortunately this sample is wasted on me since I cannot use fragrance.  I did give it to my next door neighbor's teenager who loved it.  The sample is .05 oz.  - Retails for $94 for 3.5 oz.  

Beauty Box 5

Each month for around $12,  Beauty Box 5 sends me 5 deluxe and/or full sized product mix of samples from various categories (makeup, beauty accessories, hair, skin care, fragrance, and other body products).  The best deal is to prepay for the year at a cost of $90 which works out to $7.50 per box.  One of the things that I like about this box is that each month the selection is really varied.  I have not had a single repeat of any item over the last year.  I also appreciate that they include a product card with each shipment that describes the products in the box and lists the retail price of a full size product for each item.

The August Beauty Box 5 had the following samples in it:

  • A "Donna Max" printed full sized nail file with a handy plastic case.  I love this feature because it keeps the nail file more hygienic than just throwing it into my purse or tote.  This is a really nice file that retails at about $4.99
  • A Luxe Longwearing Eyeliner Pen in Plum from "Starlooks".  I love eyeliner pens so I was pretty excited to have this full sized product in the box.  I tried it out and loved the brown plum color.  It is very pigmented and works great with a natural look.   I did notice that I had to let it sit and dry on my eyelid for about 45 seconds to avoid smearing it.  Once it dries it stays on pretty well.  This retails at $19.99
  • A "Pur-lisse Deluxe Sample of their "Moist Hydra-Balance Moisturizer".  This was a .5 oz sized sample of the moisturizer which is perfect for my travel bag.  I have used this product before and really like how it works with my complexion.  The full size (1.7 oz) of this moisturizer sells for $55.00.  Thus you can understand how happy I was to get the deluxe sample in the box.
  • A Hask Beauty "Deep Conditioning Hair Treatment" with Argon Oil.  This was a full size (1.75 oz) and retails for $2.99.  The product is the thickness of yogurt and smells really good.  I applied it to my hair and it left it really soft and manageable.  Hopefully, I will be able to find the product in my local beauty supply or drug store.
  • From Jerome Alexander the box included this full sized wild pink compact called the "Hot Stuff Go Pop Compact" which has 3 bright colored eyeshadows and three complimentary colored lip glosses.  The colors are not colors that I would use but my daughter thought they were cool, so she got to keep  the compact.  The compact retails for $10.99

The August 2015 Beauty Box 5 was a great deal, I got a 4 full sized products (that I liked) which is a really good value for my investment of $7.50 (including shipping).


My favorite monthly box is BoxyCharm.  Now BoxyCharm is a more expensive box at $21 per month (includes shipping).  I get 4 to 5 full sized beauty items in each box.  They also have specials product deals on their website.  This box does not currently have a way to personalize the product selection included each month but so far I have not received anything that I did not like.

BoxyCharm also includes a product card that describes what each product is, how to use it and the retail value of the product.  If you really like an item, they do sell it on their website.  You can also earn points by doing product reviews and exchange them for discounts off future orders.

The August 2015 BoxyCharm had the following full sized products in it:

  • Coastal Scents Revealed 3 Palette - Full size.  I had previously purchased the Reveald 2 Palette because the colors were so similar to my Naked 3 pallet.  The colors in the Revealed 3 Palette are very pigmented and are very easy to work with to create a lot of different looks.  I love both the Revealed I and II palettes and was happy to find the Revealed 3 in my box.  The Reaveled Palettes retail for around $39 but you can get them on sale for $15 to $20 (even less on Black Friday).
  • Mica Beauty Gel Eyeliner - Full Size.  This eyeliner is amazing.  It glides on very easily and is very pigmented.  Once it dries it does not smudge or fade out.  This gel liner retails for $35.
  • Seta Eyeliner Brush - Full Size.  This works great with the gel liner above.  The synthetic bristles pick up the correct amount of gel to easily glide it along the lash line.  This eyeliner brush retails for $16.
  • Nios Shield Leave-in Conditioner - Full Size. I had heard about this product and wanted to try it. It retails at $26 for 4 oz bottle, so I was very happy to get this product in my box.  It has been super hot out here in California and this product held up well. It has a spf of 15 in it which helps protect the hair and scalp from the sun.
  • The last product is So Susan Statement Skin highlighting crayon.  The crayon shape makes it easy to use.  It is not heavily pigmented so you can either use it as a very light highlight or layer it to make the highlight more intense.  I have fairly pale skin, so it did not show up on my skin without layering it a bit.  It did show up well on my daughter's skin (who had a nice tan).   I like the ingredients in this product it is made with Chia seeds, silk peptides and is cruelty free.  

I definitely feel that the BoxyCharm box is a great investment.  I look forward to getting that box each month.  So what do you think about the beauty boxes?  Leave a comment below and share your favorite or least favorite beauty box.

Note: All boxes in this review are paid for by myself.  My reviews are just my personal experience and thoughts on the products.  You may have differing views.

Friday, August 21, 2015

My review of the Sizzix Big Shot Machine

Recycled Soda Tin Floral Barette
Above is a cool view of a recycled project made from aluminum soda cans.

The flowers were cut out using the  Sizzix Big Shot Machine Only (Powder Blue & Teal) by Ellison  die cutting machine.  The teal is the newest color in the series and works just as well as the pink and black one.
Big Shot Machine

Lately, it seems like every craft show I attend has someone demonstrating and/or using a 
Sizzix Big Shot Machine or the Sizzix BIGkick Machine Only (Vintaj Special Edition) by Ellison
that is created specifically for metal at their booth.  I have seen people use such a variety of materials with these machines that it never ceases to amaze me.  Even beyond that, is the projects people make with their die cut pieces.  This tool appears to be one of the "must haves" for an avid crafter and recycling junkie.  

At the "Unique LA" show I attended recently, I watched my friend Stefanie Girard (author of 

 Sweater Surgery and reporter for Craft Gossip), demonstrate how to use the big shot to cut shapes out recycled felted wool sweaters and make fun jewelry.  These were popular workshops that were sponsored by various groups and organizations, including Craftside Publishing.   The folks in attendance just loved being able to use the "Big Shot" to cut up the sweaters to make cool jewelry pieces like the ring below.  For more great recycled project ideas, just visit one of her many blogs (included the card album blog).
Recycled Felted Wool Sweater Ring
Seeing all these cool demonstrations, has made me want to own a die cutting machine of my own.  I have a very limited crafting space so I had to do a little research to figure out which machine would do the most for the price, size, and cost.  The "Big Shot" retails for $99.00 (plus shipping) on the Sizzix website.  I did a google search and found the price on the Sizzix Big Shot Cutting-and-Embossing Roller-Style Machine varied depending on the retailers and some of the specials they were holding on machine.  Amazon offers it at a great price.  Also, I have seen it sold with accessories in kit form at various scrapbooking and craft shows (ex:  beginners kit, advanced kit, etc.).  So the price can vary. 

The Sizzix Big Shot Machine Only comes with:

  • Big Shot Machine (14-1/4 by 12-3/8 by 6-5/8 )
  • Multi Purpose Platform
  • Directions imprinted right on the platform so you wont lose them (unless you misplace the platform)
  • Pair of standard Clear cutting pads

Sizzix Big Shot Starter Kit
  • The Sizzix Big Shot Starter Kit on Amazon comes with:
  • Big Shot Machine
  • Standard Cutting Pads
  • One Extended Multipurpose Platform
  • One Bigz Die
  • Two Sizzles Dies
  • One Textured Impressions Embossing folder (these work with thin metals too)
  • One Framelits Seven die set
  • Ten Cardstock Samples
  • Instruction Booklet

My first question upon opening the box, was "what is this multi purpose platform for?"  It looked a bit odd so I did the smart thing and read the instructions.   I love the fact that the machine is so easy to set up.  The cool multi purpose platform itself has flaps called tabs.  Each tab gives the directions for using various dies, embossing and texture sheets printed right on it. The multi purpose platform is important because it shows many of the Sizzix products and how they are compatible with this machine. If you shop at the Sizzix website it has a button that leads you to all of their products that are compatible with the big shot.  Additionally, the platform allows you to use other company dies, embossing, and texture sheets with this machine. 

The base of the big shot is sturdy which is helpful when trying to use the extra long dies like the "Suitcase" die (#657124).  

Upon reading the directions, I realized that the Big Shot cuts and embosses a wide variety of materials.  Since, I had a limited amount of dies to test out, I decided to take advantage of my local craft store sale on dies and pick up a few to help me test out the machine's capabilities.  Once I was armed with enough dies, I had a field day running different materials through the machine and trying out the dies.  

I tested an wide assortment of materials including, acetate, card board, corrugated card board, card stock, 
aluminum and plastic from soda containers

chipboard, papers (different weights and textures), plastic, place mats, fabric, thin leather, some hand 

made papers, tin, sticker paper, rubber, and more using the Sizzix Die's.  Basically anything that was less
the blue felt material above is 1/8" thickness

than 1/8" went through the machine.  I tried out some craft wood that was the thickness of wall paper and very soft.  It went through without any problem.  

I have listed below some of the different materials and results I got from testing the Big Shot. 

Aluminum Cans
I started with some rinsed soda and energy drink cans then using an old pair of scissors, I cut up the cans.  I wore my leather 

gloves to protect me from the sharp edges that I was bound to encounter while cutting up the soda cans. This was a smart move, as I ended up with quite a few sharp edges.  I flatten out the piece of a aluminum and then ran through the "Big Shot" using my

butterfly die (#654996 ).

The finished piece was very cool and since this die is a butterfly and I could fold up the wings to give it more dimension.  

I decided to test a nice orange burlap place mat that I had on hand.  I put a small piece through the big shot and used my Flowers Layer (#654982) die cut.   It did cut the burlap but the burlap started to unraveled fairly quickly.  So I decided to try the old stand by "Modge Podge" on the burlap.  

I used the my favorite gloss-lustre because it gives everything a little bit of shine.  I applied it to both sides of the burlap (allowing to dry between applications). Once the material had dried, I ran it through Big Shot machine.  This time it cut the burlap without any unraveling problems.  The dried Modge

Podge also made it easier to shape the petals.  I added a bit of glitter to the petals,  then attached a pin back to make it into a flower pin.

Cork Board
I tried a round cork board drink coaster in the machine that was a little thicker than 1/8".   I found that it was too thick to run through the machine.  So I decided to try a thinner piece of cork board (less than 
1/8") and then ran it through the "Big Shot" using my butterfly die (# 654996).  It worked just fine.

Aluminum Can and Cork Project:
I combined the aluminum can pieces that I had cut earlier with the cork board pieces to make some fun butterflies.  

Then my girls mounted them onto some plant sticks for one of many teacher's aid gifts that we have been working on.  My daughter added some sequins onto the butterflies to catch the light and make it fun.  
I love that my girls can join me in using the things we die cut from this machine, as well as its' applicability to kids crafts.

Felt Craft Sheets - Self Adhesive
I wanted to use one of my "Hello Kitty" dies that I had on hand, so I decided that one of those self

adhesive felt craft sheets would be fun to test the "Big Shot" on.  I tried a single thickness and it worked very well.  
Hello Kitty Die Cut in Felt

I decided to try a double thickness and it did not cut as cleanly as the single thickness did…so I think I will stick to a single layer of the felt for future reference.   

Second Project - Hello Kitty Tote
Since the felt is flexible, I decided it would be a great accent on a tote bag for one of my girls.
Hello Kitty Tote Bag

Foam Sheets
I received a really cute suitcase die cut that I was curious to try out and see if it would work with the foam sheets you can find at the craft store.  The suitcase die is very long and requires using longer clear

extended platforms to run this particular die through the Big Shot.  The felt sheets were a little less than 1/8" thickness.  I cut the sheet to fit the die and ran it through the machine.  Running the extended platform through the big shot takes only a bit more work than the shorter ones.  You need to hold them together until the die is 1/4th of the way through, then it run slowly through to get a nice cut on your paper or material.  Needless to say, it worked great and the thickness of the foam made the suitcase a little bit sturdier than if I had cut it out from card stock paper.   The foam did not fold as easily as paper would have and it did need to be stitched with thread to stay in the suitcase shape. However the end result was worth that little bit of extra effort. 
Foam Suitcase
Plastic 1 liter bottles
I washed out the bottle, then using very sharp scissors I cut the top and bottom from the bottle.  Then I cut down the center and laid it under some heavy books to flatten it out.  Once it was flat enough, I cut the plastic to fit the die.  I ran the die through the machine and it cut it out quite nicely.

It was very sheer so I decided to paint the petals before I put them together to create the flower in layers.  I used the Plaid Enamels to paint the plastic and they worked really well together.  Once the paint dried, I shaped the petals by pinching the ends and then put the flower together.  Since it was  plastic, I realized it would be great to use to decorate a pin wheel for the garden.
Plastic Bottle flower attached to pinwheel
Plastic Place mat
I had a plastic place mat made from a harder plastic than the 1 liter bottles.  The animal print just screamed to be used in some type of fun flower.

I cut the plastic to fit the Flowers Layer die cut (#654982) and put it through the "Big Shot" using the extra long clear plastic pads.  I was glad to see that it worked well cutting out the petals without leaving any sharp edges.

Third Project - Animal Print Flowers
Using the plastic flowers I cut out from the animal print place mat, I took the pad from my pergamano set so I could use a stylus to give the petals some shape.

I glued the pieces together, added a brad in the center, and then glue them to pin backs so they could be used as a pin.
The animal print flowers were so cute that I decided to add them to a gift bag to decorate it and for  the receiver of the gift to be able to use the wearable pin later on.
I also made some cute barrettes from some of the many flowers we had cut from the placement (which was a very large place mat).

Rubber Shelf liner
I picked up some the non-slip rubber shelf liner and put it through the machine using my Flowers Layer (#654982) die cut.  I was able to run 2 sheets at a time with out any problems.  It probably would have done 4 but I only needed a few flowers for this test.  It did cut the through the rubber without any problems.  I tried putting the petals together to make a flower but it was too thin to hold it's shape well.  So I decided to coat the rubber with the Modge Podge and glitter to see what would happen.  I let it dry overnight and it stiffened it up the petals so I could attach them to some flip flops to make them a little more decorative.  They came out cute!

Self Adhesive Plastic Shelf Liner
This is a little thicker than most shelf liners, however,  it cut without any problems.

The girls used the cut outs to decorate journal pages and an old tag I had from a trade show.
decorate tag
Competitor Dies
According to the information on the tabs, you can use the wafer thin die and other competitors dies on this machine.  So I decided to give it a try. I had a set of the "Spellbinder Nestabilities" frames in my craft box to try out. These are so versatile and it would be fabulous if I could use them with the Big Shot.
I placed one of the clear pads on top of Tab Number 2 (which means both tabs are under the pad).  Since the Spellbinder frame die is considered to be fairly thin, I decided to see what would happen if I feed it through without the proper backing (foam pad).
It went through without any problems but did leave deep marks on the clear plastic cutting pads.  You can see below how clean this machine cuts through the paper.

Then, I followed the actual directions on the tabs for wafer thin dies.  I placed the die face up on the pad.  I put a piece of paper stock on top of the die followed by a piece of foam and the second clear pad.  It cut clean without any problems.

Using the impression part of the die, was a little trickier.  I put Tab Number 2 through the machine first to hold the platform in place.  Then, I placed the Spellbinder Nestibilities die face up directly on top of Tab Number 1.  Then placed the paper.  I covered the die with two pieces of foam, and the clear pad I ran it through slowly.  

When I removed the pads, the die had left an impression perfectly, 

however it did leave some cuts on the piece of foam.  
I checked the Sizzix website and found that this problem is easily fixed by using the sizzix silicone pad and by following the directions on that packaging.  However, for now at least I know it works with what I have on hand.
Next I tried the Sizzix die "Shells & Starfish" (1/8" thickness).  This is a fun little die with a summer beach theme.  The shells and starfish on this little die are so cute!

I put it through the big shot and using card stock and it cut through cleanly.

I decided to try to cut another piece of soda can tin and I was surprised to see that it cut through the tin cleanly.  

Texture and Embossing
I also read that you can use texture sheets and embossing tools with the Big Shot.  I do not own any embossing tools, so testing those were out.   However, I did have some texture and embossing sheets from other companies to test out.  I decided to try one of the Cuttlebug embossing folders (Provo Craft) out in the Big Shot.  I used a piece of

aluminum can that I had cut from an energy drink.  Using the enclosed platform, I made sure that tab
number 2 went through the machine first.  I placed the cutting pad with the "Cuttlebug Emboss Sheet"
(Victoria) sandwiched between the top and bottom pad.  I laid them on top of Tab number 1.  I ran it through the machine.

I carefully removed the aluminum from the embossing sheet.  The design embossed beautifully and looked great on both sides of the aluminum piece.

I then tried the "Makin's Clay Plastic Texture Sheet" and the "Shade-Tex" rubbing plates (Scratch Art) which are significantly thinner.  I put a piece of foam down onto the platform, then I placed the texture sheet on it.  I put a piece of parchment paper on it and then a piece of foam followed by the top pad.  I ran it through the machine.  The texture sheets are not made of the same material as the Cuttlebug sheet and they did not work well on this machine.  Both did leave a slight impression on the paper but it was not much of one.  I think the texture sheets you use on this machine need to be made of sturdy materials to work well, instead of the lighter plastic or rubber.

For the money, this machine is a great investment because of its versatility and portability.  My friends and I enjoy having outdoor crafting parties and often there is no electricity easily available.  The Big Shot offers a tremendous potential for both my crafting needs and my upcycling projects.  The fact I can use it too cut so many different types of materials is a real plus.  I often switch between fabric projects and paper projects, to be able to use the machine for both is a not only a spacesaver but a money saver too!  Also, having seen some my favorite recycling gurus out there utilizing this machine to create some really cool art is inspiring as well. I would highly recommend this machine, for its many great qualities and affordable price.

Update August 21, 2015:

Many of you have contacted me to find out when I will post a review of the newest  Sizzix 660340 Big Shot Plus Cutting/Embossing Machine, White/Gray,

well the current price of that machine is $143.00 with free shipping (if you are a member of Amazon Prime) so it will have to wait for a bit.  My friend Stefanie purchased the Big Shot Plus Cutting/Embossing Machine, so I spent the afternoon checking it out and here are some of my preliminary thoughts about it:

  • The Big Shot Plus Machine measures:  15 3/4 inches by 11 3/4 Inches with a height of 7 1/2 Inches. These measurements are approximate. 
  • The biggest draw of the machine is that you can feed your 8 1/2" by 11 inches papers through the machine to cut out the die shapes.  I use the 12 inch by 12 inch papers a lot more, so I would still end up having to cut my paper to feed it through the machine.  So I am not sure if spending an additional $75 for the machine is worth it at this time, with out knowing more about it.
  • I not sure if you can use your collection of dies in this machine, as I did not have my collection of dies with me that day (and she lives 75 miles away from me) to test out and she only had regular 8 1/2 by 11 paper to use. 
  • The color of this machine is a simple white with grey trim look.  It doesn't have the fun colorful designs that the regular big shot does but it really does not need it either.  It is a nice machine to have if you have the space to store it.  
  • Because of its' size, it is not as portable as the big shot.  However, it does not need to run on electricity which is always a plus when crafting on the fly.

Tips for using the regular size Big Shot:
  • Always use the right platform or cutting pad board with the appropriate die.
  • Carefully place die or texture plate facing the correct direction (according to manufacturers directions).  If you are new to using these types of machine, just know that the clear plastic pads will get scratched and cut over time.  The die cutting process does leave its mark behind on those, so try to remember to rotate and flip the clear pads to get even wear on them.
  • Local craft stores do not have a large selection of these dies in stock, they are trending towards the electric die cut machines which I think is a mistake.  There is a need for both types, especially if you want to take your die cutting machine with you somewhere where there is not electricity readily available. Anyway, you can find a great selection on die's online.
  • Check the Sizzix website to get some more project ideas to make the most of your machine.
  • The Big Shot comes wrapped in a huge plastic container.  If you cut it carefully, you can use that same plastic and run it through your big shot to die cut it and use it for craft projects or mini books.
  • The longer dies are harder to push through the machine, but have patience and it will go through.  I found that if I put a rubber anti slip mat under the big shot while using those longer dies it does help keep the machine it from moving as much.

Leave me a comment, I would love to hear about your experience with this machine and hear what types of materials you have cut with this machine.

Just a note, I did purchase the Cricut Explore Air Wireless Cutting Machine  and will post a review on it some time next month.  

So far I am really liking the Cricut Explore Air Wireless Cutting Machine for using on my larger pieces of paper and other fun materials.  I did find that Michaels Craft Store had the best bundle price on it (plus I had a bunch of gift cards for that store) which included some extra mats and markers.  However, I want to use it more and test it out on a variety of materials before I review it fully.  However, the Cricut Wireless Cutting Machine does require power to work so it is not quite as portable as the Big Shot is.  And I personally consider it to be a completely different type of machine, since it does not use traditional dies.