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cotton mesh material with permeable coating, square mesh (app. 4.0 x 4.0), spacing between holes app. 2.5, 18% cotton, 82% thermoplastic synthetic resin, heating time: 1 to 2 minutes, working life: 2 to 3 minutes, water repellent, biodegradable
Attributes: Varaform is exactly what the name says: a variable and versatile forming (moulding) material. It is made up of a natural mesh cotton carrier impregnated with a thermoplastic synthetic resin. When it is cold, Varaform is rigid like a wire mesh; once heated it can be formed for a few minutes into any shape you want. It can be heated and cooled repeatedly. This means that you can easily make changes to any shape you have already made and/or you can also use the material again wherever you like.
The configuration of the cotton mesh and the resin is the same for all three versions – the difference lies in the mesh size of the cotton material. The gauze version looks much like a translucent plastic film with a rough surface (to the touch) because the cotton has such a fine mesh that the resin impregnation forms a closed surface. Varaform light and Varaform heavy, by way of contrast, have a (in each case) given mesh size; this is a real advantage when making complicated moulds with undercuts or overhangs because no excess material will end up forming overlapping folds in order to fit properly. Varaform gauze, on the other hand, is better for dealing with more intricate details because it is thinner and has a closed surface which is more capable of producing details that might otherwise be too fine for thicker materials to bring forth. Consider also that this really comes into play if you want the material to produce folds alike those of a draped skirt chiselled into marble. The difference between the light and heavy versions is in the size of the mesh. Heavy has a larger mesh and is therefore somewhat heavier (hence the name!), more rigid and sturdier.
Varaform is very easy to work with – it is only during the heating of the material that care should be taken because the resin will become very sticky and sticks everywhere (to the master pattern, yes, but to your fingers as well!) if it becomes too hot. This attribute, on the other hand, can also be advantageous: for example, if you want to bond individual pieces of the material to one another or to glue another material to it. The positive take goes like this (in short): the material becomes self-adhesive when you really heat it up a lot.
Applications: Originally developed for medical uses (splinting material), this thermoplastic material is in the meantime being used for many other purposes: from animal preparations to fashion design, model making to restoration work, and is even being used for theatre and cinema scenery.
It can be used in the field of sculptural design to make moulds of different shapes or for making free form objects. You can make masks and moulds of faces or make relatively precise and, more importantly, quick moulds of larger objects so that the initial meshed shape can then be covered over with paper or cloth or have plaster attached. Even without any covering material, the white cotton mesh is sturdy, functional (you can simply attach things to it, hang things on it or run things through the mesh holes) and is visually very interesting all on its own.
Treatment: All three version of Varaform can be cut to size when either cold and hard or heated and pliable by means of scissors, nippers or blades. Varaform can be heated with hot water (app. 70 °C) or with dry heat (from a heat gun). Individual sections of your mould can be reworked by employing a Hot Air Gun or a hairdryer to reheat them first.
Varaform is very dimensionally stable especially if it is further stiffened by means of forming bulges and wrinkles in the object. And it is really very lightweight, about half as heavy as plaster, and this makes it a good choice for making larger objects. In such instances the resulting object can then be partially reinforced by adding a second layer of Varaform or some other reinforcement material (folding over the edges also contributes to stability). Another way to add strength to the material is to use a rolling pin to press a number of the sheets together before you even begin to apply it to your object or make your free form.
There are certain moulds where the following method is particularly useful: place a thin, wet piece of cloth over the master pattern, lay a heated sheet of Varaform over that and then work it into the details with your hands or by using a modelling tool.
Varaform can be covered or coated with a variety of materials: cloth, paper, latex, silicone, and other resins like polyester or epoxy resin. In addition, it can be painted using all the customary types of paint (acrylic paint, enamel paint…).
The manufacturer specifies a shelf life of 5 years for this mesh material. The material will certainly not fall apart after that five years – the problem will most probably be that the efficacy of the resin impregnation will begin to taper off.