Monday, September 10, 2012

The belated Smart-Fab post

I apologize. This should have been written a while back, but like so many other things, it got set aside when I was distracted by something more immediate, especially with the spring art show and my June retirement. But I don't like to make promises I don't keep, so - here it is - better late than never, right?

This post is about Smart-Fab ( and this is a link to the official website). A while back, I was contacted by a representative for Smart-Fab, wondering if I would be willing to test the product in my art room and write about it on my blog. I would be sent some rolls to use for testing. I said YES. Time passed, and no Smart-Fab arrived, so at some point, when cleaning out my emails, I came across the initial communication. I emailed the rep and asked what had happened. He apologized and said he'd still like to get it sent to me to test. The Smart-Fab arrived at a time when I had all my lessons planned for the art show, and not much time left for experimenting. After that, it was all about getting in the 'last hurrah' before I retired.

So I did a bit of experimenting on the Smart-Fab myself, and only used it in a limited fashion with the kids, due to the unfortunate timing of its arrival. We received three rolls - one bright orange, one deep blue, and one white. The white was at my request because of something I hoped to try. Here's what we/I did with the Smart-Fab:

Like I said, I had specifically asked for white. I wanted to test out the 'toothpaste-resist imitation batik' process on it. (Here's my instructions on this process, my all-time most viewed post). No good. The paint washed right out along with the resist, so I returned to using bleached muslin or cotton sheeting for this project with the kids, and did not use the Smart-Fab. Here's a toothpaste batik from a couple of years ago:

So instead, we used some of the white for a sky. We were making a garden for the art show, and I wanted a big sky behind it. A handful of kids came in after school to paint the sky. I put two tables together, covered them with newspaper, rolled out a huge piece of the Smart-Fab, and gave the kids a variety of blue and white paints, mostly acrylics, but also some leftover latex house paint and anything else we could find. They used giant brushes and the sky looked great. BUT - here's one problem, folks - the paints went right through the Smart-Fab and absolutely soaked the newspapers, and we had a LOT of table cleanup to do. Plus we used more paint than would have been needed on paper because of the soak-through. Then, what to do with it to dry? If it had been painted on big paper or cardboard, I simply would have stretched it out in the hall, but we needed to put a drop-cloth UNDER it in the hall because there was as much paint on the back as on the front. So if you use this product for painting, make sure you plan for the soak-through factor.
On the plus side, the painted sky looked really nice, and it was great to have a sky that could be hung without tearing. We thought it was big, but it was not big enough, so we used a layer of the the dark blue for the sky above the painted sky, which you can see in the picture above. This stuff holds up well - it was attached to our bleachers and stayed up with no problem for the duration of the show. All the dragonflies were pinned to it and it worked out great.
Also for the art show, we used the dark blue Smart-Fab in utilitarian ways: we draped the base of the Chihuly tower with the dark blue, and we rolled out pieces of the orange and white for tablecloths under sculptures. It looked nice on the tables, like tablecloths, but was hard to keep in place.

My second graders each year used air dry clay to make little folded slab pockets to hang on a wall. I called these "posie pockets", and the kids made flowers with tissue paper and pipe cleaners to put in the pockets. (Sorry I can't find any photos of these.) This past spring I thought I'd substitute the Smart-Fab for the tissue paper, since I had been to the NAEA conference and had gotten small sample squares of many colors. I thought it would make the flowers much more durable. Stupidly, I didn't try it out myself first. By the 2nd class of 2nd graders, I ran for the box of the tissue scraps and gave up on the Smart-Fab. It was hard for the little guys to cut - too 'mushy' - very frustrating. Then, I always had the kids push the pipe cleaner through the center of the tissue, but they couldn't get them through the Smart-Fab. I ran around with "the pokey tool" (a punching awl intended for leather but that I used for anything that needed a hole) and pushed holes into the centers for them. Note to self: don't use Smart-Fab for tiny flowers. It should be great for big stuff.

Due to lack of time, I tested other stuff on the Smart-Fab myself but didn't use it with the kids like I hoped. I experimented with oil pastels, and I liked the way it looked particularly on the dark color, but the hard part was keeping the Smart-Fab in place while I worked.

As for paint, I've already told you about the acrylics, which looked nice. I think tempera is less suited for the material and watercolors are useless.

Gluing: If you read the info on the Smart-Fab literature, it will tell you it takes all sorts of glues, but I do not concur. I tried: Elmer's Glue-All, tacky glue, glue sticks; heck, I tried every glue I had other than hot glue, which they said not to use. One after another, I was able to peel off whatever was glued on after the glue was dry. Maybe you'll have better success than me, but I wouldn't spend any time trying to glue this stuff.

Sewing: I think this could be where the best uses are for Smart-Fab. Use it for sewing costumes, etc; it does not ravel and is very strong, and can be sewn by hand or machine. The colors are bright and do not fade. But unfortunately, it is not so great for sewing with little kids, because a blunt needle will not penetrate it. Believe me, I tried. So unless the kids are old enough for sharp pointed needles, forget it.

Do I hate the stuff? No. Do I think it has great uses? Yes, but not for my needs. I would DEFINITELY consider using it for draping, for decoration, for making costumes, etc. I could see making giant flowers, or grass hula skirts, and much more. But try it out yourself before you plan lessons with it with young kids. They will likely get frustrated trying to cut it or puncture it.

I left ample leftovers in my classroom, and hopefully the new art teacher will have some fabulous ideas for how to use it! With Halloween coming, the leftover orange could even be used to cover a bulletin board, or to drape on display shelving, or to decorate the art room!

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