If you are making cartonnage fabric boxes using quilt cotton fabric, as I always recommend, you are using the most common and easy material to make them. Cotton is a natural fabric and it has great properties to be well glued to the pieces of cardboard and turned into beautiful fabric covered boxes and other cartonnage projects. But, what if you decide to challenge yourself and use a different fabric? Maybe you were visiting a fabric store and saw a bunch of synthetic fabrics and are wondering if you could use them instead? So, the answer is …. Yes and No! It depends on your patience to practice, to test and see how the material will accept the gluing process…. I had made some beautiful projects using some synthetic fabrics and I will show here some tips and tricks that can help you in this journey.
Natural and synthetic fibers
Textiles can be natural or synthetic. The most common natural fibers are silk, wool, cotton, and linen. They are produced by plants and animals that can be spun into thread, filament or rope and further be knitted, woven, matted or bound. Regenerated fibers are natural materials that have been processed into a fiber structure. Regenerated fibers such as cellulose and wood pulp are used to make materials such as rayon and acetate. Synthetic fibers are man made from chemicals. They are generally based on polymers and are stronger than natural and regenerated fibers. Some of the most common synthetic fibers are nylon, polyester, spandex and acrylic.
How to use synthetic fabrics to make fabric covered boxes and cases
So, let me reinforce here that if you are new to cartonnage, don’t try using synthetic fabrics on your first projects…start using quilt cotton and you will have so much fun learning the cartonnage fabric box making process itself. Then, when you are used to the method, you can start trying synthetic fabric if you want.
Ok, then I will assume that you are ready to try synthetic and will go from there. If you need more ideas and tutorials on basic cartonnage using cotton fabric, check my online school. To explain how I work with synthetic, I will show you some pictures of making a notepad cover using faux suede fabric (that I bought at JoAnn), and let me tell you that it’s my favorite synthetic fabric to work with (the composition says 98% polyester and 2% spandex). I believe this can be a good choice for you to start with.
Why should I use synthetic fabrics to make cartonnage boxes, books or cases?
Because can be fun, you can challenge yourself to try something different. Because you may need a project that is more neutral, or like a wedding book or box like those in the pictures below that I have made sometime ago. Or just because you love that particular fabric, the touch, the color, and couldn’t find any quilt cotton fabric that could give you the same effect.
Differences when covering a box or case with natural x synthetic fabrics
Using cotton fabric is much easier than using synthetic for some reasons, but mainly because natural cotton accept the glue very well and if using the right amount of glue, the glue will not pass through the fabric showing up on the right side of the fabric. Synthetic fabrics are very different and there are so many options, some are thinner than others. Some have more space between fibers allowing the glue to pass through very easily, like nylon for example. In this case, the glue will make marks on the fabric and that will just ruin your project.
So, let’s see some tips:
1) Choose a fabric that it’s not super thin or super thick….. keep in mind the thickness of a quilt cotton fabric and see if you can find something similar or just a little different;
2) Before making your final project, test the process I will be showing here in small pieces of cardboard, or even try making one of the small projects I have in my free online course. After you are happy with the results, then try something bigger;
3) Also test the use of masking tape on top of your fabric, not all synthetic fabrics will accept it without damaging....so, again, test, and in case you can't use masking tape to help you in the final steps, keep pressing until you see it's dry, use clips, be creative;
3) Before making any boxes, try to make a case like a notepad cover;
4) Repeat the process for any other synthetic fabric you have fall in love in the fabric store, not all fabrics will react the same.
Then, it’s time to see what is different in the process of making a fabric notepad cover covered with synthetic fabrics that are basically made out of polyester.
If you want to see the complete process of making this notepad cover using cotton fabric and paper, here is my video showing this project. What you will see below is the same process, but I will make it all covered in the same synthetic fabric outside.
So, let's see the process:
To use the synthetic fabric for cartonnage projects, my first suggestion is layering it with a piece of paper. In simple words, first of all, you will be gluing a piece of thin paper on the back of your synthetic fabric. I like to use construction paper, but you can use other kind of thin paper for that, even copy paper. Check craft stores, you will find some options of white papers in rolls. So, in the first picture below, I just put the pieces of cardboard I will be using to make my project on top of the white paper and cut the paper about 1” bigger all around – you will not glue the cardboard there, you are only using the pieces as a template to cut your paper the right size. Then, cut your fabric a little bigger than that piece of paper you just cut. After that, apply glue all the way on the paper piece (thin layer all around - be quick as the glue can dry. If it's a big piece of paper, then, see later in this post how to proceed). Then, glue that piece of paper on the wrong side of your fabric, and smooth very well with your hands to make sure it's all well glued.
Once you have your fabric backed with paper, it's time to start making your project, in this case the notepad cover (that could also be the cover of one hinged lid box!). Apply glue to the cardboard pieces and glue them on the paper that is the back of your fabric. Follow the sequence of the required project you are making. In this case, I use 6mm spacer between the pieces of the cover and the spine. Then, it's important that you trim around leaving no more than 3/4" (most important, having only the fabric that is paper backed around). Then, cut the four corners using the corner miter tool and then, when you are gluing the edges over the cardboard, it's better applying the glue to the paper on the edges, instead of doing it to the cardboard (see the pictures below).
After that, you will need to use a bone folder or a plastic spatula to help you gluing the edges over the chipboard, here you will notice a huge difference from when only using fabric. It will be more difficult to glue, but take your time, press over and you will be able to make it. Same idea for making the inside pieces.
See other projects I made using a similar white fabric. To glue the ribbons and lace, I was very careful, tested first and then using the same glue I was able to glue them to the top of the cover during the process. Some ribbon will mark with glue, so, as I said, test first!
Using faux suede fabric to make fabric boxes and cases
As I said earlier, faux suede is one kind of synthetic fabric that I really like using on my projects. As I made a notepad cover recently I also took a picture of the first step, where I was gluing the paper on the back of the fabric. So, if your piece of paper is big, or if you are afraid that it will dry before you finishing applying the glue and gluing on the back of the fabric, one suggestion is making a "roll" with your fabric, applying the glue in parts and gluing the fabric over also part by part. When one part is well glued, than you apply glue to another section an unroll the fabric over to glue it in the right place, check the pictures below.
Here are some of the projects I have made using faux suede fabric, hope you like them.
That's what I have to share today, lots of other ideas of fabric projects you will find on my online school. Using synthetic fabrics can be either frustrating or very fun! Take your time, test, test, and oh, test one more time! And don't forget to always enjoy the process, it's the JOY OF CARTONNAGE!
If you want to be inspired with more projects and DIY kits, check my website.
I will love to hear from you! See you soon!