Casey Smartt's Fly Fishing, Photography, & Outdoor Stuff

Aleene’s Fabric Fusion

Aleene’s Fabric Fusion

by Casey R. Smartt

Every now and then I come across an unusual material at a craft or department store that looks like it might work for tying flies. Most of these non-traditional materials end up disappointing me because they really aren’t intended to be dunked in saltwater and chewed on by fish, but sometimes one turns out to be genuinely useful and definitely worth writing about.

A few months ago I stumbled onto an unusual bottle of glue in the sewing dept. at Wal-Mart. The glue was called Aleene’s Fabric Fusion and the label on the bottle said, “Non-toxic, permanent, dry cleanable, fabric adhesive.” Upon closer inspection of the bottle, I noticed the glue was clear and syrupy (like epoxy). I was intrigued because most water-based glues are milky and runny and I have yet to find any that can hold up to the kind of soaking and abuse inflicted on saltwater flies. In spite of better judgment, I tossed a bottle of “Aleene’s” into the cart. A few days later I started experimenting with it.

The first thing I noticed when I squirted some Aleene’s onto a toothpick was that it looked EXACTLY like epoxy. It was viscous, crystal clear, and it rolled and sagged easily around the pick. But unlike epoxy, the Aleene’s had no noxious fumes and did not require any mixing. I put some drops of Aleene’s on a white sheet of paper to test how long they took to dry and how tough they were once they hardened. To my surprise, the drops dried in several hours. The drops shrunk slightly as the water in the glue evaporated, but the solids left behind were crystal clear and extremely tough. They weren’t “glassy-hard” and brittle, but more like clear plastic or vinyl. I was impressed and ready to try Aleene’s out on some flies.

The first flies I used Aleene’s on were Surf Candy patterns. The body portions of these flies are traditionally made by soaking synthetic-fiber flies with epoxy and rotating them on an electric turner as the epoxy cures. The epoxy penetrates the fibers and creates a juicy translucent appearance. Surf Candies are relatively easy flies to make, but the epoxy stinks, it’s messy, and I pity the poor guy who accidentally gets it in his eyes. Unfortunately, besides expensive UV-activated acrylic resins, epoxy has thus far been the only adhesive that really works for these flies.

I tied up a few raw Surf Candy patterns, coated them each with a liberal glob of Aleene’s, and stuck them on a turner. An hour later, I removed them and was quite pleased with the result. The Aleene’s had penetrated the fibers of the fly and smoothed out to a shiny clear finish. The fly bodies were translucent and fishy-looking. I stuck eyes on each of the flies, added a second coat of Aleene’s, and put them back on the turner. The next morning I removed the flies and was thrilled with how they looked. The Aleene’s on each fly had shrunk slightly from its original volume, but the flies were smooth and translucent… exactly like traditional Surf Candy flies.

Next, I tried Aleene’s as a substitute for epoxy on beaded eyes for shrimp patterns. These eyes are made by stringing pairs of tiny glass beads (usually black/red or black/orange) onto a strand of monofilament. A drop of epoxy is placed on each pair of beads, fusing them to the mono and optically blending the beads together. The result is a wonderfully lifelike crustacean eye that can be used on shrimp and crab patterns. I was anxious to try out Aleene’s Fabric Fusion on the beaded eyes so I strung up a few sets and placed a large drop of Aleene’s on each where I would normally place epoxy. Several hours later each had dried to a beautiful finish. A second coat added additional bulk and the eyes smoothed out nice and round.

I couldn’t help but wonder what Aleene’s was made of, so I got online and pulled up a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet. It turns out the adhesive is a water-based polyurethane. It has a specific gravity of 1.08 (slightly heavier than water), and it conforms to the ASTM D-4236 standard as a nontoxic material.

The dried glue is super tough and will not crack or discolor. I did have several Surf Candy flies turn milky after accidentally staying closed up in a wet box for several weeks, but that was an extreme condition and a mistake on my part. So far I have used Aleene’s Fabric Fusion in all sorts of applications.

It works great as a protective coating, an underlayment, a penetrating resin, or a general adhesive. It can be thinned if needed with a few drops of water. Best of all, there are no fumes and cleanup is a snap. Dried Aleene’s is very slightly flexible, which is good because it won’t crack. But, this probably makes it unsuitable for the standard rigid spoonfly made from epoxy-coated Mylar tape. For this reason, and the fact it shrinks slightly as it dries, I don’t consider Aleene’s to be a complete replacement for epoxy but it’s close.

If you have a youngster learning to tie flies Aleene’s would be a great glue for him/her to use. It has the same consistency as epoxy without the nasty side. Likewise, if you spend much time working with epoxy or other adhesives, I highly recommend you pick up a bottle of Aleene’s and experiment with it. You can find it at Wal-Mart and most craft stores. A 4-oz bottle costs around five dollars. It’s great stuff.

21 Responses to “Aleene’s Fabric Fusion”

  1. Sandy

    Great article! I like the way you described it. Have you ever tried using this on fleece or the like? I’m having issues with it melting the fleece. How long did you let the glue cure before using it?

    • caseysmartt

      Hello Sandy.

      Glad you liked the article. If you are having trouble with it melting any of your materials, there is a chance you have a petroleum solvent-based Aleene’s product, not the non-toxic Aleene’s Fabric Fusion. They make a bunch of different glues, so check the bottle closely. Make sure it is exactly like the product shown in the picture above. It should say “Non-toxic” on the bottle. A quick way to tell is to smell it. The non-toxic AFF has a very faint ammonia smell, like latex house paint. It is non-flammable.

      Solvent-based varieties will have a noticeable solvent smell- like paint thinner, toluene, or xylene. They are flammable.

      I have never had it melt any of my materials and have used it on craft fur, flash materials, plastic eyes, etc… I can’t think of any reason it would react with any synthetic tying materials used, including the artic fleece.

      I usually let the Aleene’s dry for several days before dunking it. Three days (36 hours) is plenty. If you only give it 24 hours, there is a good chance it will get milky after the fly is soaked for an extended period. Disregard what the bottle says about dry time, give it 36 hours, and it should last indefinitely. If you are building a head with several coatings (Surf Candy type flies) go light with each coating and let them dry 3-4 hours before adding additional coats. This keeps the flies from staying “soft” in the middle.

      Good luck and let me know how it turns out.


  2. david decker

    I usse a product called “liquid fusion” water based poly, looks like the same stuff, I keep one battle thinned 60-40 with water for “head cement” and the other full strength for building heads, ect.. Is it the same, and on another note, is there a thinner for UV activated cement?? The Loon I have is a bit thick to “flow” like I want it to. dd

    • caseysmartt

      Hello David.

      Yes, I think the liquid fusion is probably the same stuff.

      I do not know how to thin the UV activated resins. You might refer those questions to either Tuffleye or Clear Cure Goo. They should be able to tell you how to thin those products. I know they offer thin “brushable” versions. I was not aware that Loon mfg. a UV activated resin. My only experience has been with Tuffleye or CCG.


  3. Terry Dunford

    Hello Casey, Wonderful article! Thank you very much for doing that and spreading the word. I just got back from WalMart with a bottle of it and can’t wait to give it a try. One question I have though is that by now you’ve probably used quite a bit of it and probably fished with the flies you used them on too. I wanted to ask if you’ve run into any yellowing or anything else that I should be aware of before I start getting down and dirty with it? Thanks for your help!

    • caseysmartt

      Hello Terry.

      I have experienced no problems with AFF yellowing or cracking. It is very tough and resilient. There are 2 things to remember when working with it: 1) AFF requires 3 days to dry/cure completely. Even though AFF will look and feel dry after 12 hours, your best bet is to give the flies a good 3 days to dry before you really rigorously soak them. This is more important on thick-bodied flies like surf candies. 2) AFF will shrink when it dries, so if you are trying to build up a thick body, plan on applying several coats.

      This is a very good product and has a lot of different uses in fly tying.


      • Terry Dunford

        Hello Casey, thanks for getting back to me so quickly! That is great news about AFF. I plan on making some foam and balsa poppers, so do you think one good coat after I paint them would be enough? Or would you recommend that I do two, and, if so, how long should I wait to do the second coat. Thanks again for your help. It is much appreciated.

      • caseysmartt

        Hello Terry-

        One is enough to give a nice durable clear coat. If you need to toughen the flies up, add 2. Place freshly coated flies in a turner and give them about 1 hour or so between coats. It seems like someone mentioned to me they had trouble getting AFF to permanently stick to foam. I can’t remember the details, so it might have been an isolated issue. Let me know how your flies come out.


      • Terry Dunford

        Hello Casey, thank you for that information. I do have a fly turner. I will try one coat then give them a try on the water after several days of curing. Wouldn’t it be a lot more convenient and easier to work with if I were to put it in a bottle that has a brush applicator? Also, no problems with drying out in it’s bottle? That should be all my questions. Thanks again for your help.

      • caseysmartt

        I usually use a toothpick to apply AFF. A small brush works good too. AFF is self-leveling and will spread out evenly and smoothly around your fly on the turner. Never had any problems with it drying out in the bottle, but I’m sure if you left one sitting around open long enough it would get funky.


  4. Fred Donovin

    Thanx for the welcoming note.Got a bottle this a.m.Gonna tie me up some surf candies & some others.Is it sticky to work with?$4 something @ Wally World in NC

  5. Fred Donovin

    Been using it couple weeks now &really like it.Surf candies look good&heads onstreamers as well.Havent tried eyes as yet.maybe tomorrow PM.Fred

  6. exexangler

    great article. i can’t tell from the picture, but do you have both an orange and a black bead in the eye?

    • caseysmartt

      Thanks, glad you liked it. Yes… Those eyes have 2 beads. Also, the AFF is available in a pen which makes application easier.


  7. exexangler

    have you noticed that the AFF starts to yellow after some time? i tied a bunch of albie flies with them and i’ve noticed some yellowing (it’s been about 4 months since i’ve tied them). also, it looks like it is yellowing in the bottle as well.

    • caseysmartt

      I have not noticed any yellowing on my flies. But, I usually lose them or replace them after a few months so I suppose it is possible. It seems, though, I remember reading on Duncan Craft’s website that AFF is acid-free which would suggest it does not yellow over time. A good test would be to apply some AFF to white paper and leave it in a window for a while, then apply a new drop after a month or so and compare the opacity/color.


  8. exexangler

    great. thank you for being so helpful. i will do the test and let you know. i am thinking it might have to do with it reacting with adhesives, particularly super glue. i used the glue to build up a pearl braid body, before coating with AFF. i’m going to test that as well. thanks again! (btw…love your posts and flies!)

  9. michael

    I’m tying some epoxy like bodied minnows with aleene’s fabric fusion, I’ve just started playing with this unknow substance (thanks by the way) and working on new patterns, I have come out in the end with a pretty good effect on these patterns, but it takes me 3 or 4 coats to get a good glassy effect, what I was wondering was there anyway to thicken the aleene’s? so it could be applied a lot thicker, an just cut out 1 or 2 coatings. An also I have no rotary wheel to dry my flies on, would you have any advice on how to get good results without one with this same product and other epoxy, glues, ect.

    sorry for the long Q.

    • caseysmartt

      Hello Michael.

      I get a good glassy “Surf Candy” effect with only 2 coats, but I use a turner. Without one you will not be able to get consistent results with Aleene’s or epoxy. The thick coats you want will sag and roll/drip too much when manipulated by hand. I know of no way to thicken Aleene’s.

      Another option you may want to consider is to invest in one of the light-cured acrylic set ups. Tuffleye and Clear Cure Goo are two popular brands. Start up kits consist of a special flashlight with an intense beam, and a few tubes of the acrylic resins. These resins have the consistency of epoxy, but cure in a matter of 10-20 seconds when hit with intense light. The resins are available in hard or flexible versions. They cost more than epoxy or Aleene’s, but if you tie many epoxy type flies the convenience of instant cure is worth it. The finished resins do not yellow and are impervious to water and most solvents… Very tough.


Comments are closed.