Fabric covers act as camouflage

Poet Robert Frost noted that fences often enhance relationships between neighbors, but some enclosures don’t offer much in the way of aesthetics. Wood fences require maintenance, and chain-link fences aren’t overly attractive, but an innovative Californian has developed a way to enjoy the benefits of fencing without detracting from the landscape’s natural beauty.

Jonathan Sidy is a businessperson who specializes in product design. He operates Lateral Perspectives, something of a think tank for product developers. From that operation, several businesses have gotten their start.

Sidy also has been in the landscape construction business for 25 years, offering a full array of design, build and maintenance services. From that endeavor came the idea for Fence Fabric.

The floral images on the fabric affixed to this fence create a cohesive garden look.

Dressing up fences

Sidy developed the concept when he encountered a challenge on a Southern California landscape job. After planting a perennial bed with plants spaced to accommodate future growth, the initial look wasn’t pleasing to the client. For a finished appearance while the perennials filled in, Sidy created a camouflage screen printed with flowers and applied it to an existing fence.

Happy with the results, and realizing the potential, Sidy assigned Christopher Mercier, then employed by Sidy in a marketing capacity, to research the best materials and inks for a sturdy end product. A Missouri manufacturer who was familiar with similar products was engaged, and Fabric Fence was launched in 2005.

Once orders are placed, the images are formatted in the company’s Tarzana, Calif., office, which has seven employees on staff, including marketing and graphic arts personnel. After image preparation for a seamless appearance in the desired dimensions, the manufacturer prints the fabric with high-resolution images on flatbed printers.

Company representative Matthew Murray said the product is available from a growing network of distributors across the country. At present, distributors are established in Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Texas and Ontario, Canada. Landscape construction firms and other professionals can also contact Fence Fabric directly. Typically, orders are shipped from the manufacturer in about 10 business days.

Before and after a Fence Fabric installation.

Options

Sidy’s product can be used with new or existing fencing of almost any size. It can also help spruce up construction sites or be used as advertising banners. Fence Fabric can serve as screening for recreational areas or even add to the appearance of a water feature. Fabric rolls are shipped in sizes up to 50 feet in length and 16 feet in height. The options for fence fabric are nearly endless, with an assortment of patterns and materials available. Customization is possible if you don’t find what you want within the standard choices.

Virtually any image can be reproduced on fence fabric. Popular choices include foliage, stone, brick and wood. Landscape designs such as beach scenes, gardens and pastures are also available. The firm welcomes custom orders created from photographs, a client’s own design or company logos.

Recommended materials have been evaluated for suitability for printing and ability to withstand weather conditions. Most can be printed on both sides using UV-treated ink for durability. The company says that the materials don’t show fading for up to three years. The product has a wind load strength of 11,301 square meters per second and a tensile strength of 170 pounds per inch. The fence fabric weighs in at 10 ounces per square yard.

Supreme mesh vinyl is a good overall choice and recommended for heights greater than 6 feet due to wind permeability; it meets New York City building code standards for flame retardancy. Scrim vinyl is a nonporous material that is best suited for well-anchored fences about 4 feet high. Block-out material prevents light passage through the fabric; it can be manufactured with a two-sided print or a black back. For projects such as special event fencing that will be lit from behind, a backlit vinyl is available. The material can be printed on both sides with a full image or single color.

Before and after.

The company recommends reinforced edging and grommets at 12-inch intervals for most fabric fences; intervals as great as 2 feet are possible, depending upon the project size and anticipated wind conditions. Edges can be finished with a heat weld, in which an electric current is passed through the material to bind the folded edges together. Reinforced sewn edges are available and involves adding an extra strip of material at the edges before binding with a double stitch.

In standard applications in which the fabric will be attached to a fence, grommets and UV-stabilized zip ties are recommended. Other fastening options include screwing the fabric to the fence or using pole pockets. For special event uses, a stand may be adequate.

Depending upon material and fastener selections, a fence fabric costs between $1.50 and $3.70 per square foot.

Installation

Installation is a pretty simple process. For a chain-link fence, start at an upper corner, loosely zip tying around a link section. Attach firmly to the side and continue installing at the top along the length of the fence. Smooth and tighten fabric at the end before tying. Work along the bottom and end with any remaining sides. Excess tie material can be removed when the fabric is smooth, tight and completely installed.

When installing on a wrought iron or aluminum fence, the process is similar, but both top and bottom ties should be secured as you progress down the fence’s length. With wrought iron and aluminum, it may be possible to omit the grommets and install the fabric with screws and washers.

Look closely at the right side of the photograph to see the grommets attaching this “brick wall” to an existing fence.

Getting the word out

Murray said one of the best marketing tools has simply been the product itself. Its versatility and range of applications distinguish it from temporary construction fencing and special event banners.

When high-profile installations are in place at public venues such as zoos, Fence Fabric receives its best advertising. The company worked with the San Diego Zoo to develop dual-purpose panels. While serving as promotional banners for an amphibian exhibit, the fence also masked a maintenance yard. Later, the zoo ordered Fence Fabric with generic foliage images to place on wheeled panels; these serve as movable screens for areas that are being cleaned or are under construction.

“This project really launched our work with the zoo market, which has been quite successful,” Murray said.

Other notable projects include working with the city of Long Beach, Calif. What initially seemed a simple job turned into a challenge. An indoor display representing the city’s sites and landmarks, such as the reservoir and community parks, was developed with the product for use at a gathering of city parks and recreation personnel from California and other states. Murray said the project turned problematic when the photographs provided as images for the fabric were of insufficient quality for the process. The firm had to secure a photographer who could quickly provide high-resolution pictures. Locating an available professional proved to be difficult. When the scenes were finally shot, Fence Fabric had only seven days to prepare the images and have the fabric manufactured and shipped. In the end, the product was delivered in time for the event to satisfied clients.

Over the next few years, the company will be working with a hotel chain that is building 500 inns. Fence Fabric will be providing camouflage fabric during the construction process.

For more information, contact Fence Fabric by telephone at 888-336-2350 or visit them online at www.fencefabric.com.

Jenan Jones Benson is a freelance writer based in Greensboro, N.C.