Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Experiments with Tyvek and Other Materials

Nearly three years ago (I can’t believe how quickly the time flies!) I did some experiments with melting different things, including nappy liners. I never took this any further but stored the pieces for future use, and the experience and information for future reference.

I am planning to use melted materials such as nappy liners and Tyvek in my teabag art projects, and to this end I got out the materials this evening and experimented with them to see if any of the results would be good enough to use. In my previous experiments, I painted the nappy liners first, but this time I have worked with the unpainted materials, and will paint them later should I decide to use any of them.

The materials I am using are Tyvek, Fibertex, Butterfly SoftSpun and nappy liners, and the two methods of melting are with the heat gun and the iron.

I bought the Tyvek and Fibertex at a craft show. I am sure there is a more economical way of buying this stuff, as the quantity in each pack that I bought was pretty small, and the price fairly high for what I ended up with. I have found large rolls online but this is going from the sublime to the ridiculous – I don’t think you could melt that quantity of Tyvek in a lifetime! I got the Butterfly SoftSpun online – apparently no longer available.

Tyvek is a material normally found in the construction industry – a breathable membrane made from fused, non-woven polyethylene fibres, used in the insulation and waterproofing of buildings. It has many other applications too; for instance, strong envelopes are made from it. It is extremely strong and resistant to tearing, and is lightweight.

This is the “paper” type Tyvek. It is not actually paper, but in this form it resembles paper.

01 Medium Tyvek - Paper

It is also available in a “fabric” form, with the impression of a weave in its surface, and a slightly softer handle. I obtained this under the brand name of Fibertex.

02 Fibertex - Fabric Tyvek

I decided to cut a circle from the “paper” tyvek, using a large circle punch. Big mistake. It jammed itself in the punch, and I had a dreadful job prising the punch apart in order to release the Tyvek.

03 Tyvek Will Not Cut with a Punch

I have heard that it cuts extremely well on an electrronic cutting machine, though, and some people make stencils out of it, and when they get too covered with paint stains, they themselves can be incorporated into a piece, and new stencils can be made.

04 Melting Small Tyvek Circle

Using a barbecue stick to hold it in place, I used my heat gun on this small circular fragment of Tyvek. It was not a success.

05 Small Tyvek Circle Melted

A small plasticky pellet was what I was presented with! Through this I discovered that it is better to start with a larger piece. I cut a larger, irregular shaped piece:

06 Irregular-Shaped Piece of Tyvek

which looked like this after being melted with the heat gun. Definitely promising!

07 Irregular-Shaped Tyvek Melted

For this series of tests, I decided not to colour the material but simply to try out different methods of melting the stuff. Painting the pieces afterwards gives one more control, as there is considerable shrinkage during the heating process and unforeseen consequences can result from pre-painted pieces. The paint itself can have an effect on how well the piece will melt, and colours can darken with heat, too.

The Fibertex melted quite well, in a similar way to the Tyvek.

08 Melted Fibertex

Moving on to the nappy liners, these, being so fine, go into holes extremely rapidly with the use of a heat gun.

I wasn’t overly impressed with the Butterfly Spun-Soft. I think I need to do some more research online and see what other people are achieving with it. In this picture it looks like a prawn cracker.

09 Melted Butterfly Spunsoft

A nappy liner laid out flat, and melted with the heat gun.

10 Melted Nappy Liner

The next photo shows the result of the nappy liner being folded into 4. A much more solid, tyvek-looking result!

11 Melted Nappy Liner Folded to 4 Thicknesses

Screwing up a nappy liner prior to melting it resulted in this:

12 Melted Nappy Liner Scrunched Up

All these results look superficially the same, but close-up, you can see the difference.

Moving on to ironing the pieces, each one needs to be sandwiched between sheets of baking parchment. In the first picture, the top example was done with the Tyvek in its paper sandwich placed directly onto my Presspahn heat-proof mat (see the sidebar for info about this mat) and using a fairly high pressure. However, reducing the pressure and putting the ironing onto a softer surface, such as a folded towel, gives much better results.  13 Ironed Tyvek

Ironed Fibertex is interesting, too. The top example shows the result of high pressure ironing on a hard surface, and the remaining two show much more movement in the material, as a result of ironing onto a folded towel.

14 Ironed Fibertex

Ironing the Butterfly Spunsoft was disappointing. It just shrunk the stuff, but didn’t produce any holes.

15 Ironed Butterfly Spunsoft

I need to go back online and see what other people are doing, and if there’s something I’m not doing right, to get the results I’m after.

The nappy liners do seem to do well – in this next photo, you can see several examples of ironed nappy liners. The top one is folded once (I think) and even though it looks quite nice close-up, there isn’t a lot if interest  in it. This was done with high pressure on a hard surface. On the right is a screwed-up nappy liner what has been ironed, fusing the layers together, and I think I can use this – or cut portions of it. The final piece (bottom left) is several layers of nappy liners, ironed with less pressure, and on a soft surface. This is my favourite piece so far.

16 Ironed Nappy Liner

The next job is to try painting some of the more satisfactory pieces, and experimenting with hand-sewing them. Some of them, which have had a lot of heat applied to them, have become quite plasticky and hard.


  1. Love your experiments. So good to present the findings like this with explanations and photographs.
    Try painting the Tyvek with thick cover of Lumieres and then heat. This bubbles and gives off fabulous results - lacey holes - just so enjoyable. I used to do a lot with mermaid stamps and made some fabulous caves this way.
    Hugs, Neet 40 xx

  2. Shoshi - our Post Office used to have Tyvek envelopes - I am going back a few years now but I am in the UK. Give yours a ring and see if they do have them.
    Hugs, Neet xx


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