This past Christmas I made a TON of shirts which means I had a TON of weeding to do. Three of those shirts that I made were for my Mimmie, and my uncle and aunt Leslie and Lisa. You see, they have started growing things out in Mimmie’s back-backyard and it’s a proper little operation they’ve got going on. They’ve built a greenhouse and know things like about the PH of their soil and whatnot and it’s pretty awesome. Since they’re so into it I made each of them a “Spencer Farms” tee shirt for Christmas. But I never got them in the mail so they are sitting in a package somewhere around my sister’s house.
Instead of bothering her I decided just to make 3 new tee shirts and (fingers crossed) the plan is to get these guys in the mail TODAY. But we’ll see. I’m terrible about going to government places like the post office or, heaven forbid, the DMV like I did last week. Ugh. It was seriously awful. I get all of my stuff together, even fill out my forms at home to make this nonsense a little bit more expedient and when I finally get up to the counter I’m informed that I don’t have the correct birth certificate. So I get to leave, come home and order a new birth certificate so that when it arrives I can go back to the DMV to stand in line for ages and grab a little number and wait until it is called all over again. And if I’m told my new one is the wrong birth certificate, so help me lawd…
It wasn’t all doom and gloom at the DMV as there was an interesting lady, who had to be in her 60’s or 70’s waiting in line. You see she had on a tee shirt designed in crazy loud colors that said “This isn’t a beer belly, it’s the fuel tank for a sex machine.” I had quite a giggle as I passed her but when I lost Rob coming out of the building he informed after me running out toward the car that it was because he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Apparently stood there with his mouth catching flies reading her shirt :) But at any rate, I can and will get to the post office, if not today, then later this week. Pinky promise. Erm. Probably :)
I wasn’t bothered with making 3 shirts all over again because I may very well be the only person out there who loves weeding vinyl. It’s not a mindless task at all. It can often be more like a puzzle keeping up with what stays and what goes in the design. When I know that I’m going to make a handful of tee shirts or bags or whatever I have a tendency to cut all of the pieces and then sit down and weed the group in one go. For intricate designs it might very well take hours so I just pop on my Spotify Discover Weekly and make a big ol’ thing of it!
And since I’ve got my process down to a freaking science I’m going to give you details on how to weed heat transfer vinyl (HTV). Ready for it? Let’s get it.
Now this is my design for my uncle’s shirt. He’s, like, crazy into chickens. I don’t even know how many text messages I have gotten about chickens in the last few months, but it’s up there in numbers :) As such, it only made sense to make him a chicken Spencer Family Farms shirt, right?
Now I’m having some problems with arthritis in my hand and I wasn’t exactly the best artist to begin with making drawing these days immensely frustrating. In order to avoid all of that brouhaha I purchased a set of 7 farmer’s market logo designs to modify from Creative Market instead. I do not have the right to distribute these designs as freebies so if you also want to make shirts just like these (except with your family name and est. date, etc. which you’ll need to change in photo editing software) you’ll have to purchase your own set at Creative Market. Farmer’s Market Badges Vector Set. The set of 6 is currently $10 or you can buy an individual design from the package for $3.
Now that’s a pretty awesome design, right? Look at it again. There is gonna be a TON of weeding going on. Yep, every black area of the design is heat transfer vinyl that will need to be weeded out. But in all honesty it’s totally no big because I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. But first let’s discuss how HTV works….
Heat transfer vinyl is on a clear, glossy front sheet of plastic. The side that will be the design facing out on your project will be the what is stuck to the plastic. The matte side is the heat activated business that will attach the vinyl to your project. To cut HTV the glossy sheet faces down in your cutting machine and you cut through the backside of the vinyl. Because you’re cutting the BACK of the vinyl need to flip or mirror the image to be backward. It seems strange but this is so that when you lay it down on your project, glossy side up, it is actually the ‘right way’ for the design.
After cutting your designs and when you are ready to start weeding make sure your work surface is clean. Now, just as you cut from the backside you also weed HTV from the backside, removing EVERYTHING that you don’t want ironed onto your project in the end. Because this glossy plastic cover is adhesive as you remove the vinyl the sticky will be out in the air and can catch onto glitter and cat hair and anything else that you don’t want sticking to it. This is why starting on a clean work surface is a pretty good idea. FYI, if there is a little dot of scrap that is accidentally on the plastic sheet it WILL be adhered down along with the design once heat is applied. Every little bit of vinyl you don’t want transferred has to be removed. Once weeded place the design, glossy side up and matte side down onto your project. Place a piece of cloth, or a Teflon sheet on top and use heat from an iron (or heat press) to set the design by applying heat over the protective fabric or Teflon layer.
Before cutting your design always, ALWAYS do a test cut and remember to cut on the back side of the vinyl. Your test will be this shape cut in the upper left-hand corner of your vinyl. If you can easily weed this cut bit you’re in business. If not you need to finesse your cut settings and try again.
Now if you’re wondering how you can more easily see these cut lines, especially when weeding white vinyl I’d strongly recommend weeding near a bright light that you can angle just as you need it. With proper lighting shining across the vinyl the lines become much more easily visible.
To begin weeding I suggest starting within the center of the design first. In the past I was always drawn to remove the vinyl starting out the outside edges and all that happens is you get cat hair stuck to the adhesive while it’s sticky and hanging out there and you’re weeding the rest. And it sticks to your forearms when you lay it down on the vinyl while working.
Also if it’s a design you’re worried about messing up, because they can get really confusing sometimes, I always weed the most difficult part first. This way if I do mess it up it’s a waste of vinyl but significantly less time than if I weeded the entire piece leaving the worst part for the end and then with the confusion wound up messing it up. You can also print your design to keep in front of you as a reference for where you need to weed.
The first tool I often go for is my Silhouette hook. It retails for $7 or less and is a good buy as far as Silhouette branded tools go. Even if you use a different cutting machine, you can totally use a Silhouette brand hook. If you’re a brand loyalist with a Cricut you can purchase a Cricut hook here instead. And if you want to save a couple of bucks you can always go with a generic weeding hook here.
A pair of scissors is going to help you out tons when weeding and they don’t need to be anything special. Just use what you have. Because the front plastic sheet is so sticky if your vinyl sticks back onto it while you’re working it can be a huge mess you have to clean up. When I’m pulling up a large piece every inch or 2 I’ll chop that business of with a pair of scissors and throw it away as prevention.
When it comes to itty, bitty, teeny, tiny pieces my go to is an X-acto knife with a fairly sharp blade. The side of the pointy edge is amazing at grabbing smaller pieces, but these days I have been known to weed an entire vinyl decal with nothing but a craft knife like this whether the bits were big or small. It takes a bit to get the hang of using a craft knife as you have to stab the vinyl and pull it straight up to keep without slicing through the vinyl. Once you get it this is such an easy way to work quickly.
HTV can be super prone to static and scraps will stick to each other and it the smaller pieces might also try to stick to your hands. While working I recommend never making a pile of scraps near your work. Instead I’d suggest holding them in hand and tossing them in the garbage often. It’s awful to have a static fueled tumbleweed of vinyl scraps roll across your piece and get stuck to the design. Just awful. Trust me.
When working with smaller pieces I suggest grabbing a piece of scrap paper (something sturdy like cardstock works best) and some double-sided tape. Apply a few strips of tape onto one side of the scrap.
Lightly touch the vinyl to the tape and it will stick right there meaning it can’t get stuck back onto your design.
Now I can tell that you’re totally a smart person BUT I feel the need to warn you that craft knives and X-acto blades being sharp things can CUT the dickens out of you. Please take care when removing vinyl from the blade so as NOT to cut yourself.
Continue filling up the tape (and check out that cat hair, it’s inevitable!) and once it is fully covered or it becomes difficult to add more vinyl bits place more tape on top or fold over so that the piece sticks shut and place more tape on top.
Now when I’m trying to work very quickly I often just place a small piece of double-sided tape directly onto the index finger of my non-dominant hand. Since my hand instinctively moves with the other as I work the tape is always super close by to catch my tiny pieces.
Sometimes when trying to remove very small pieces you can only pry up a teeny area and then it is difficult to grab with your weeding hook, craft knife or fingers. For that reason I always keep a pair of tweezers on hand. Typically I toss my most recent eyebrow tweezers into my Silhouette tool box when they don’t grasp hair well enough anymore. I typically purchase Revlon tweezers but my next pair I’m going to experiment with a new brand, I think. Not that you asked but this is a big deal in my life right now :)
When you’ve gotten that center business weeded it’s time to remove everything on the outer edges of the design. Take care when removing the large pieces from around as it can easily cause the entire piece to curl and it gets stuck together it’s a flippin’ nightmare.
To prevent this weeding lines are an amazing tool. These cut lines extend from the outer edge of the design to cut all of the way to the edge of the vinyl sheet itself. You then remove these smaller pieces while maintaining control on how your sheet moves with you much more easily. You can create these weeding lines in your initial design within your design software but I prefer to take my X-acto knife and very gently run it along the vinyl to create weeding lines as I go where it seems to make the most sense as I work.
Once you’ve finished weeding hold up the design the right way and double-check that there are no pieces that need to be removed. When working with white vinyl I make sure to have something solid colored in the background, like a piece of paper like above for an easy visual.
Once properly weeded heat up your iron stick that business according to the manufacturer’s directions for your vinyl to your project, like my Uncle’s shirt here.
Let’s recap 10 ways for a better and easier way of how to weed heat transfer vinyl (HTV):
- Always test cut until you can easily weed that little tester area.
- Have a bright light shining on the design to more easily see the cut lines, this is especially helpful on white vinyl.
- Start in the middle of the design, removing the vinyl around the design last.
- If very difficult or confusing, start with the worst area so that if you mess it up you won’t have lost as much time when starting over.
- For difficult designs print a copy of the image to better know which areas should be removed.
- A weeding hook, either by Silhouette, Cricut or generically branded is the go-to weeding tool.
- Trim away large pieces with a pair of scissors to prevent them getting stuck to the clear top sheet as you work.
- An X-acto knife or craft knife with a reasonably sharp blade is awesome at grabbing tiny pieces that need to be weeded. Take care when using sharp blades.
- When tools or fingers have a difficult time prying up a piece of vinyl, especially a very small piece, a pair of tweezers is just the ticket to remove it.
- Catch small pieces to keep them from getting stuck back down on your design with double-sided tape on a piece of scrap paper or even on a finger of your non-dominant hand.
- Weeding lines that extend from the outer edge of the cut design to the edge of the vinyl sheet placed correctly will allow you to remove smaller pieces of the vinyl surrounding your design leaving less opportunity for the project to stick to itself.