Part 1, Stages 2&3, Project 3, Exercise 2 – Using a heat gun

29 September 2016

Project 3, Exercise 2 – Using a heat gun

I started by reading through the course notes and thinking carefully about what I wanted to get out of the exercise and how I wanted to approach it. My main sources of reference were: “Stitch, Dissolve, Distort with Machine Embroidery” (Campbell-Harding and Grey, 2006:103-112) and “Surfaces for Stitch” (Hedley, 2004:29-33, 61-62, 86). These texts had several suggestions for proprietary specialised fabrics for textile art use (some of which I possess), but looking at the course notes gave me the impression that the emphasis was supposed to me more on exploration of the behaviour of found objects. Apart from Tyvek and “Crash” (also know as Lutradur or Spun-bond), which are specialist materials, I stuck mainly to found objects.

I used a specialist craft heat gun for heating the materials and a full respirator, which meant I did not have to worry about fumes.


There are many different types of plastic, and if you use found objects (such as plastic bags) it can be difficult to know exactly what you are dealing with and how it will respond. I chose plastic bags which had a different feel/handle and indeed found that they responded differently. For future reference, I left half of the sample undistorted, so I would hopefully be able to identify similar plastics again. My results are detailed below:


SAMPLE 1: Red biodegradable plastic bag

This plastic came from a cut up carrier bag. The coloured surface is matt and the reverse (white) is shiny. I applied heat to red side. Below is a photo showing the distorted surface:

There is an interesting subtle but permanent creasing. However, more interesting was the reverse side:

The surface patterning is much more visible. The surface is still relatively flat, which might be useful for certain project. The biodegradable quality of the material could be a problem, however, depending on the anticipated lifespan of the sample/project.


SAMPLE 2: Stiff, clear plastic bag

This is the type of plastic bag you don’t find too often. It has a stiffness and crisp feel more similar to paper. I am not sure whether it is biodegradable (my guess is probably not).

Below is a photograph of the distorted surface. 

The way it responded to heat reminded me of Tyvek; the heated side forming concave “bubbles”. The shapes remind me of a lava lamp – somehow I expect there to be some slow, sinuous movement. This sample evokes feelings of calmness and relaxation.


SAMPLE 3: A textured fringe

Using a strip of plastic cut from the same bag as sample 2, I cut a pattern as shown in the diagram below:

I then carefully heated each of the strips to distort them. The resulting sample is shown below: 

I love the additional interest and irregularity that has been introduced by the surface distortion. I like the fact that instead of the sample laying flat, it takes on a three-dimensional form which is somewhat unpredictably determined by the surface distortion.

Viewing the sample lit with an angle-poise lamp (daylight bulb), I was able to create some lovely shadows (see below)

This was only possible because of the stiffness of the plastic, which made the sample stand up from the surface of the photography box. It suggests possibilities for this it to be used in conjunction with other pieces or to be part of a larger ensemble. However, viewing the sample against a white background resulted in almost completely loosing the tonal subtleties of the bubbling. I prefer the sample against the black background viewed in natural daylight. I wonder if there a way to retain this effect whilst simultaneously creating shadows?

I decided to sketch this sample. I sketched from life rather than the photo and I made a tonal drawing with a charcoal base. I found that the charcoal didn’t rub out to a bright enough white with the eraser, so I used white acrylic paint for the highlights. The sketch is shown below:


I”m quite pleased with the subtleties of the plastic which are reflected in this sketch, and using charcoal made it easy to depict both the soft edges and the sharp edges of the shadows.


SAMPLE 4: Small bubble wrap

I used the type of bubble wrap with small bubbles for this sample (for the large bubble variant, see sample 12). I found that when I applied heat, the air in the bubbles expanded causing them to burst, and the plastic then fused together. 

To make the sample more interesting, I applied heat in spots, rather than over the whole surface, so that there would be a contrast created between the distorted and the undistorted areas (see below):

The result is not as exciting as I hoped.


SAMPLE 5: A cut up plastic milk bottle:

I took a 2 litre milk bottle and first cut it into sections (see below)

I started by using the middle piece, and because it was very difficult to distort (being thick plastic), I decided not to continue and apply heat to the even thicker lid and base sections.

I applied heat to one of the edges of the square tube, then I also cut slits to the opposite surface and applied heat to these strips. The photograph below shows the results:

I like the fact that the distorted sample is stiff and holds it’s new shape, which could be a useful attribute for making a structural piece. There was also a change in texture, with the untreated plastic being matt and slightly textured, whereas the heated areas being smooth and shiny.

I was interested to find out how the sample would respond under artificial lighting (see below)


There were some good shadows created.

Looking from above created interesting shapes – from both the plastic tube, the shadows and the negative space of the background paper. The variety of the shadows is interesting, some having soft edges, others being crips and definite.

I was sufficiently interested to attempt a sketch of this sample (see below):

I have drawn from the actual sample and used a 4B pencil. Again, what attracted me was the contrast between the hard edges of some shadows and the soft, diffuse, blending into the background of others. The sketch works well as an analogy.


SAMPLE 6: Soft, shiny, printed plastic bag 

Judging from the texture of this bag, I am assuming it is non-biodegradable. However, it is certainly very different in feel and handle from the plastic used in sample 1. The distortion, however, was not dissimilar to sample 1 (see below, wrong side view).

On the right side there was some interesting distortion of the text and logo (see below)

A close up of the bottom right hand corner of the sample above shows some interesting bubbling and stretching as the sample has distorted (see below)

I decided to sketch the bubbly surface. I started by using a household wax candle to draw with and washing over with Indian ink (see below)

It was difficult to draw the wax marks accurately because I could not see what I was doing, and once I had put the wash of ink over the top, I discovered they were too angular. I decided to draw more detail around them with an intense pencil, then I tried to soften the highlights and make the surface appear more “bubbly” using a white oil pastel (see below)

I feel as if I have only partially succeeded. The surface looks like a crumpled piece of paper rather than the distorted plastic. I am not happy with the result, but it was just not possible to draw over and correct the original wax marks.


SAMPLE 7: Red biodegradable plastic, flower motif

I had hoped to emulate a flower motif, by using a circle shape and cutting slits into it (see scheme below)


However, the result was not as I had hoped. I had wanted the cut strips to curl and shrink more. In the event, the shape was not dissimilar to the untreated plastic but with bubbles and ridges (see images below)

I thought it would be interesting to see what shadows I could create with this sample (see below):

The shadow was actually really pretty, and it made me think that there could be potential for stringing several of these samples on a line/thread and shining a spotlight at them to create a more dramatic shadow effect.


SAMPLE 8: Cling film, trapped dictionary pages

I read in “Surfaces for Stitch” (Hedley, 2004:60) that it is possible to distort and shrink cling-film with the application of heat, and further, trap object between 2 layers of clingfilm in the process.

I used torn pages of a dictionary, which were, in general securely trapped between the clingfilm layers by the heating process. However, there were a couple of areas where expansion of trapped air made the clingfilm burst. The cling-film shrunk during heating but remained malleable – a usefully property for subsequent stitching. 

Below is a photograph of the sample:

I had high expectations for the shadows that I could create with this sample (see below):

I had thought that there might be some shadows from the creases in the clingfilm, but in the event only the paper shapes were visible. The sample was so soft and floppy that it was difficult to stand it up in position that would create effective shadows. 


SAMPLE 9: Printed overhead projector acetate 

For added interest, I first printed an overhead projector acetate with an image which I had created with screen printing and subsequent digital manipulation. I had also used this image for creating overlaid samples in Textiles 1: Exploring ideas. It is shown below:

There was some interesting distortion of the acetate (and image) during heating (see below)

It is difficult to see from the photo above, but the distortion resulted in undulations rather than bubbles. The acetate retained it’s stiffness and no longer laid flat as a result of heating. This made it good for creating shadows (see below)

I love this view of the sample and the pretty flower-shaped shadows from the printed areas of acetate which obscure the passage of light. It has lace-like qualities. I wondered how the image of a face would look if printed in this way, distorted with heat and also viewed as shadows.

I sketched this sample because it is beautiful and has subtle shadows, but it was tricky to make the surface markings look distinct from the shadows (see below).


I used black and grey oil pastels to depict the printing on the acetate and shadows respectively. I am pleased with the fragmented appearance of the black flowers, which reflect how they are printed on the acetate. In the sketch, I depicted the acetate and the shadow of the acetate with yellow and grey Koh-I-nooh watercolours respectively. I tried to draw in some of the creases in the acetate with 4B pencil to try and define the acetate surface as distinct from it’s shadow, but I don’t think this has been completely successful. Part of the problem was that I wasn’t able to represent the bright white reflections of light on the acetate, which would have defined it as a surface. I think I could have drawn them in effectively with white oil pastel, had I started with a coloured background. Something to bear in mind for the future.


SAMPLE 10: Magazine wrap

I used some plastic which had been covering a magazine for my next sample. I was just about to discard is into the bin and then thought “what if…?”

Where the plastic was heated, it shrunk, fused and hardened. What made the sample interesting was that it was easy to differentially heat the surface, leaving untreated, malleable folds. This made me think that the level of control possible with this plastic would give interesting possibilities for sculpture.

The sample is shown below:


I was expecting interesting tonal shadows due to the different densities of plastic created in this sample. The results are shown below:

The shadows were like a webbed mesh, complex and engaging. However, it was difficult to create them. The sample was still rather flexible. I wonder what this shadow would look like projected onto another surface (if that were possible)?


SAMPLE 11: Laminate with trapped fibres

I used a piece of laminate into which I had trapped threads and fibres. The result of heating with the hold air gun was to produce undulations very similar to sample 9. However, it also caused the laminate to separate (especially around the edges) – a photograph is shown below:

I was not particularly taken with the sample – I don’t think the heat distortion added to it’s appeal, rather just made it more confused. I looked at the sample lit with an angle poise lamp (see below):

There was an interesting mottled effect from the fibres and a yellow tinge to the shadows. This was however a function of the laminate could have been achieved without deforming the sheet.


SAMPLE 12: Large bubble wrap

After the disappointment of sample 4 (small bubble wrap), I thought I would repeat the experiment with the large bubble variant to see if the results were any more interesting (see below):


The results were certainly more pronounced, but probably the result would have been not that much different had I just chosen to selectively burst some of the bubbles?

I also considered the shadows projected by this sample:

Again, quite interesting, but more a function of the bubble wrap rather than the distortion with heat.



SAMPLE 13: “Crash”

“Crash” is a specialist fabric, similar to Luxtradur/Spun-bond, which has been designed for use in mixed media textile art. When heated, it shrinks and disintegrated, leaving a delicate web of fibres.

I used a piece of fabric which I had already coloured with black fabric paint. Often, the fabric is used conjunction with another material – for example, stitched onto a contrasting backing, so that when heated, there is support for the fragile fibres which remain. I used my fabric on it’s own for this sample, but I was careful to leave some areas untreated, so that the fabric still held together! I notice that the areas where the paint was thickest gave some protection to the “crash” fabric which disintegrated less in these areas.

The sample is shown below:

It was difficult to create shadows with this sample. I needed to get the material close to the surface for them to be bold and interesting (see below):

However, I managed to project shadows onto the vertical surface too:


SAMPLE 14: Pipe-cleaner

Not really a fabric, but the wire covering is synthetic, similar to polyester velvet, so I thought I would give it a go! I heated only some  of the length of the pipe lean, leaving other areas untreated for comparison. In the areas I heated, the fibres melted around the wire, which remained flexible (see below)

The transformation to give thick and thin areas gives added interest, and I am more likely to use a pipe cleaner treated in this way than an unmodified one. Previously, I have created samples using fibre covered wire (which I have spun). The wire is suitable for sculpture because it can be bent and moulded, re-moulded and changed if desired. The creation of different shadows can be explored (see below):

This is one of my favourite samples, and I set it up in two different configurations to sketch (see below):

It turned out to be a highly photo realistic sketch. I used a black ink gel pen for the pipe cleaners, which I softened afterwards with water. The shadows were simply made with a 4B pencil, which I smudged. I really feel for this sample. It reminds me of dancers – it has poise, a definite position in space and a suggestion of stored energy.


SAMPLE 15: Sparkly polyester organza

For this sample I used some sparkly polyester organza which I had previously used for a paper lamination exercise in Textiles 1: Exploring ideas.

When I heated the fabric, it puckered, but also formed holes and appeared “shredded” in some areas. This shredding was particularly appealing, as it produced areas of bare threads along the grain of the fabric (see photo below and close-up)

The lustre of the fibres was not degraded by the heating and remains an attractive feature of this sample.


SAMPLE 16: Polyester voile

This was also fabric which I had also previously used for the paper lamination exercise in Textiles 1: Exploring ideas. It’s qualities were quite different, however to the sparkly organza used in sample 15. The organza had lustre, frayed very easily and shredded when heat was applied. In contrast, the voile was matt and did not fray (it is similar to the specialist fabric used for screen printing mesh). When heated, it puckered, but did not shred. Instead, the mesh of the weave fused together. I purposely applied the heat in parallel lines to exploit this effect and I was delighted to have produced a permanently creased and ruffled fabric (see below)

This sample also created shadows, which (opposite to the fabric) reflected the higher density of the melted fabric and creases as darker tones. (see below)


SAMPLE 17: Metallic synthetic, heat creased

I found some interesting commercially heat creased fabric in my stash which was shot (i.e. had different colour threads running through the warp and the weft). One of the threads was metal which made me suspect it would respond interestingly to the application of heat (in the book “Stitch, Dissolve, Distort” it is suggested that metallic organza (also referred to as Indian organza) produces interesting results when heated) (Campbell-Harding and Grey, 2006:106). 

The material produced puckering and shredding when heated, with the pre-existing heat-set creases being removed in the process (see below)

It would appear that the shredding has resulted from one of the threads melting and disintegrating whilst the other stays in tact. Probably the same explanation can be offered for sample 15.


SAMPLE 18: Metallic silver fabric

This was some fabric which I had previously used in appliqué. Looking at the frayed edge I could see it was made up of metallic threads in one direction with fine synthetic threads in the other. The application of heat caused holes to form in the fabric and some puckering (see below).

The resulting fabric is fragile and very reflective (the photo does not adequately show this).


SAMPLE 19: Synthetic lace

I had hoped to get some interesting distortion of the flower shapes by heating this fabric, but the results were a little disappointing (see below):

The fine net in between the motifs disintegrated more readily and just formed holes in between the flowers.


SAMPLE 20: Grey acrylic felt

This acrylic felt discoloured and puckered slightly when heated with just a few small holes forming. I don’t find the result especially attractive.

SAMPLE 21: Red acrylic felt

I tried different types of felt because they are different thicknesses and some distort better than others. This red felt was excellent. It partially melted and formed an interesting honeycomb structure (see below);

Because the distorted fabric is peppered with holes, I found it created some interesting shadows (see below):

I managed to pin the felt into a shape with a paper clip which made it easier for me to illuminate it from different angles.

SAMPLE 22: White acrylic felt

The behaviour of the white acrylic felt was disappointing and similar to the grey (see sample 20) with yellow discolouration.

Failed Fabrics

the fabrics shown in the photograph below did not distort with the application of heat. They include two types of net and some red metallic stretch fabric.

Other materials:

SAMPLE 23: Polystyrene sheet

The material is the type of polystyrene sheet used in packaging. As a result of heating, it shrunk and the air bubbles collapsed and fused together. Holes formed in some areas (see below), and the heated areas hardened and became less flexible.

This sample reminds me of a ghostly face. I think the shadows (see below) are less dramatic than the sample viewed in natural light against a black background.

SAMPLE 24:Tyvek fibre

This Tyvek was a sheet of craft material which I had purchased. The instructions stated that there were lots of ways in which it could be coloured (for example felt pens, coloured pencils fabric paint and dyes). I chose acrylic paint. I painted one side of the sheet and left it to dry completely before applying heat (see photo below)

Before heating, I cut slits in one side of the fibre sheet. I applied the heat in spots. It caused distortion (puckering and curling), and in places where the heat was left longer, holes formed.

Undoubtedly part of the appeal of this sample is the colouration and patterning which is possible. I also found that as I got used to heating it, that I was able to exert a degree of control over the extent and direction to which it distorted and curled. This gives many possibilities for use in mixed media work.

SAMPLE 25: Biscuit wrapping (found Tyvek fibre?)

The Oreo biscuit wrapping had a different feel to the Tyvek fibre sheet which I had purchased. It had the added interest of being printed on one side. The material deformed quickly when I applied heat, and had I continued for much longer the whole wrapper would have ended up as a shrunken screwed up ball of material. To avoid this, I applied heat for short amounts of time and only to some areas, not the entire surface. 

The two photos below show the results on each side:


SAMPLE 26: Tyvek fabric

Tyvek Fabric has a slightly different texture to Tyvek paper. I had never used it before, so when preparing my sample, I left a section bare whilst I painted most of the surface with fabric paint (see below)

I found that the sample distorted very easily, so I applied heat with the cooler of the two settings on my craft gun for better control ability. My observations were that the finished sample was generally more pliable than Tyvek paper, especially in the less intensely heated areas. I believe it could be stitched through more easily. It distorted differently to Tyvek paper, shrinking more and producing many small creases instead of large ‘bubbles’. The photographs below show the results:

The close up above shows the many tightly creased areas and the embossed surface patterning of the fabric before distortion. The photos below show the reverse (unpainted side). It reminds me of wrinkled and warty skin!

There was no obvious difference in distortion or handle between the painted and unpainted sections.

SAMPLE 27: Sizoflor

Sizoflor is a synthetic material used decoratively by florists. The results were very similar to sample 13 (‘Crash’), however not being a specialist textile fabric is was much cheaper. I purchased several colours, but decided to use silver for this sample. 

I left the right side of the sample untreated for the purpose of comparison. Like sample 13, it was also extremely fragile and made interesting, lacy shadows (see below)


Post script: It was only after obtaining a copy of “Hot Textiles” from the library, that I realised the Sizoflor is the same material as Lutradur (i.e. “Crash”) (Thittichai, 2007: 17), so in effect samples 13 and 27 are made from identical material (albeit that sample 13 was painted, sample 27 was purchased in a silver colour).


Campbell-Harding, V. and Grey, M. (2006) Stitch Dissolve, Distort with Machine Embroidery. London. Batsford.

Hedley, G. (2004) Surfaces for Stitch – Plastics, Films and Fabric. London. Batsford.

Thittichai, K. (2007) Hot Textiles: Inspiration and Techniques with Heat Tools. London. Batsford.


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