Learning to love synthetic materials

Learning to love synthetic materials

13 & 14 May 2017 Nadine and I spent a very enjoyable weekend at Inkberrow Design Centre working with synthetic materials. We were taking part in a “Cutting, Fusing and Manipulating Fabrics” workshop run by Margaret Beal.

Keen to learn from an artist who has made her name Fusing Fabrics we armed ourselves with the key equipment:

  • soldering iron
  • samples of brightly coloured organza, polyester etc.
  • miniature Snickers bars (not on the materials list but essential)
  • Odd bits of metal scavenged from the garage (Nadine), and the drawer in the kitchen where old pizza menus go to die (me).

Day one

Margaret began by teaching her simple cutting and fusing technique which is the foundation to her method. We prepared a selection of base pieces for further embellishment. For me, the most exciting part of this technique is that layering the materials on top of each other in this way tones down vivid colours. A step away from a Christmas tree colour scheme and towards a Paul Klee palette.

Having created sufficient samples to work with we moved on to cutting out shapes by tracing around our metal templates. The soldering iron gave a degree of precision that surprised me.

Once we were shown how to use the soldering iron to fuse the pieces back together we were able to make more complex work.

Jackie’s fused fabric samples
Nadine’s fused fabric samples

We were taught how to use the tip of the soldering iron to create marks. These patterns can be used to add further interest and cohesion to the work. This is something we will need to practise a great deal to be able to make the marks uniform and to avoid slicing through the material by mistake.

We ended the first day planning to use free machine embroidery to stitch in cotton thread through the layers of fused organza and polyesters.

Day two

On the morning of the second day we set up our sewing machines. Nadine had planned to make a start on a piece for our Fracture exhibition. I randomly doodled flowers and lines. The aim of these experiments was to get to grips with cutting back one layer at a time. I am not going to post any photos of these pieces; Nadine will hopefully develop her sample into a finished piece, my doodling is really not interesting enough to show!

After lunch we moved on further, manipulating the cutting and fusing process to create 3d shapes.

Miniature 3d pieces

We were both inspired by the samples Margaret used to demonstrate the 3d techniques. We both love making vessels so I expect we will try to develop these ideas to create pieces on a larger scale.


I must admit that prior to the workshop I wasn’t very keen on working with synthetic materials because I found the colours too loud and shouty. I was also sceptical that I would be able to use a soldering iron for anything more than creating messy blobby marks, unwanted holes and  unintended fires. Margaret Beal is a very talented artist and patient teacher who very generously shared her knowledge, materials, and access to a vast collection of samples of her work. Nadine and I both thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and are now hooked on the technique.



Earth was the clear choice for Nadine Tabberer who took early inspiration from aerial photographs of a river gorge.   Nadine likes to work large and often includes natural found objects or unusually textured materials in her work.   We have come to see Nadine as the weaver in our group as she explores the potential of manipulating metals, cardboard and fibres.

One colour one stitch
Silk vessel


Catherine Howard was drawn to the element of water after a visit to Antarctica.     Colour and texture are important to her and she enjoyed producing detailed pieces which incorporated free machine embroidery and embellishment.

Catherine produced a series of felted pieces. Capturing the energy of water with the use of colour and repeated curved lines. Tiny seed beads caught the light to add the notion of foam. Each piece began, appropriately, as wet felt but detail was added with needle felting.

Water detail from felted piece

Catherine produced a number of vessels made from mulberry bark and silk fibres. Displaying these alongside the Antarctica photographs which had inspired the work further described the vivid blue tones found naturally in icebergs.

Water vessels displayed alongside the original inspiring photographs




Anna Barrett, with her adventurous love of colour, texture and new techniques, worked on the element of fire.   She took inspiration from midnight fires on the beach near her home and incorporated ideas from her extensive travels.   Appropriately Anna used ‘hot textiles’ techniques in her work, setting about various synthetics with a heat gun with unique results.

Anna created both three dimensional and two dimensional work; experimenting with the combination of textiles with other media including paper, driftwood and pebbles.

Fire Sticks Found driftwood painted and wrapped with wire and threads.
Fire Pebbles Wet felted around pebbles

Anna created an installation of her Fire Sticks and Fire Pebbles on the beach where she had originally found the materials

Installation of Fire Sticks and Fire Pebbles


Anna used rust dying techniques to create these delicate pieces of silk

Fire cloth rust dyed silk

This complex piece combined charred driftwood and paper with fabrics dyed naturally with tea and rust