I was first exposed to spunbonded "fabrics" like Lutradur and Tyvek several years ago and was captivated by their seemingly infinite possibilities for textures, surface design, construction, and more in your fabric art. You can paint them, heat-distress them, stamp on them, print on them, foil them, stitch them, and they don't fray: what more could you ask for? Spunbonded materials are perfect for making fabric beads, fabric collage, fabric books, and so much more.
Since I first became acquainted with these fibers, I have learned many tricks and have seen how other artists have used them (as well as similar types of fabric like Kunin felt, diaper liners, dryer sheets, etc.) in their art.
There are so many different effects you can achieve, and British artist Wendy Cotterill has pulled seemingly all of them together in one new book, Lutradur and the New Fibers: Creating Mixed-Media Art with the New Spunbonded Materials.
Wendy was kind enough to answer a few burning questions (pardon the pun!) about her book and techniques, and I found her answers enlightening.
Q. What drew you to work with these spunbonded materials? How did you get started?
A. Until recent times, synthetic fibers have been the poor relations of natural fibers, but part of my design ethos is to work with the material you have rather than against it, i.e. use its unique qualities to its best advantage. How I got started was quite random. As a retailer of textile art supplies it is part of my job to familiarize myself with products and quite by chance a magazine editor approached me to write an article on using Lutradur. Where to start? So I took my own advice: try and see what you can do with it rather than what you can't. It forced me to think outside the box with some surprising results.
Q. What are the qualities you get most excited about with these materials?
A. The unique quality of spunbonded fabrics is in the very fact that they are synthetic or thermoplastic and heat-based treatments and techniques are ideally suited to these fabrics. Fabric artists have barely begun to scratch the surface (no pun intended!).
Q. How has it changed your fiber art?
A. It hasn't intrinsically changed my art, but has opened up many opportunities to create images and/or surface embellishment which would have been impossible or very expensive to produce by traditional means, e.g. synthetic fabrics accept laser toner transfers far more readily than natural fabrics, so imaging on fabric can be done without the need for a traditional print studio.
Q. What are some of the newest things being created with some of these materials?
A. One of the most exciting developments for spunbonded fabrics is the possibility of application of laser cutting and engraving techniques. Many schools and college now have access to this technology and will only be a matter of time before it become universally available to individuals. Just think, a technique like devore burn out, can now be simulated onto a fabric surface at the touch of a button.
Q. What are some things you need to be aware of when stitching Tyvek or Lutradur, especially after it has been heated or burned?
A. Tyvek and Lutradur are pure polyester fibers, but do react slightly differently to heat. Tyvek has plasticizers added it, which makes all types of Tyvek shrink and harden more than say Lutradur. Polyester fibers are not known to be toxic when heated although fumes can be visible. It is strongly recommended however, that you should work in a well ventilated space, as constant exposure to these fumes could trigger a sensitivity in some people.
Q. How do these materials help you take advantage of the effects of layering?
A. The manufacturing process dictates the finished structure of the fabric. Polyester fibers are blown in a molten state into the air and as they settle, form a web like, open structure. This together with the fact that fine polyester fibers are translucent produces a translucent fabric, depending on the density (measured either as grams per square metre or microns). When coloring Lutradur in particular, using transfer dyes as opposed to paint, will help retain some of this translucency. In addition, further color mixing can be achieved by placing a dyed piece of Lutradur over a strong solid color with quite dramatic results.
Q. If you could share just one "secret tip" for using these materials in art, what would it be?
A. Placing your spunbonded fabric into an embroidery hoop when heat distressing will prevent the fabric from curling up, and will enable any holes that open to do so in a more controlled way. This is essential if make objects with flat surfaces such as a cover for a book or for incorporating into a quilt.
Thanks, Wendy! Lutradur and the New Fibers: Creating Mixed-Media Art with the New Spunbonded Materials is filled with techniques for creating fabric art and wearable art and accessories. I particularly like how she uses differently treated layers together to form one amazing piece. It's definitely going to be close at hand in my studio.