Four years ago, for her daughter’s wedding, Terry McFeely decided to help out by making festive flowers from fabric for the wedding reception.
“She wanted me to make these little orchids to put on people’s napkins at all the tables,” McFeely said. “And so I’m a fashion designer, so I said ‘sure I can make these little flowers.’”
McFeely discovered that it wasn’t as easy as she thought, saying that the fabric was really soft, making it hard to shape and form. Attendees at the wedding, though, were so impressed with McFeely’s flower pins that they suggested she start a business making them.
“But I couldn’t do it because regular fabric is very flimsy, it’s soft and it frays, so I couldn’t make a very large flower,” McFeely said. “So I decided I had to do something to the fabric.”
A vegetarian, McFeely, 57, wanted to create a product she could use on fabric that was organic and natural.
“You need to put something in your fabric so that it stays there,” McFeely said. “It has to be safe so that if you iron it you don’t get the off-gasses. So it’s not like you can use glue and water to stiffen it because it’s toxic. So I had to find something green.”
McFeely began researching old glue recipes that have been used in the past and found a chemist to work with from her Nevada County German-American Hiking club.
After a couple months of trial and error, McFeely said she came up with a product that makes fabric more like paper.
She began to manufacture the product in Watonsville, and on Labor Day 2012, launched “Terial Magic,” a liquid stabilizer that gives fabric a firmer hand for holding shapes and fold for fabric art projects.
Applied through a spray bottle, the chemical compound has become the best-selling product in McFeely’s Nevada City company, Terial Arts.
“I got Terial from material. I really like material arts but I didn’t want to compete for that name,” McFeely said. “My name’s is Terry, and everybody thinks I named it because of my name, but it was just a coincidence.”
Born and raised in Yuba City, McFeely originally went to school to be an engineer, but said she always wanted to be a fashion designer. While in school she met her husband and the couple got married and had a child.
While living in Sausalito, McFeely said she scratched her itch for fashion by starting a bag company, selling tapestry handbags and backpacks she designed on her own.
“But I didn’t know enough about the whole retail world to be successful,” McFeely said. “So when my manufacturer went under, I dissolved the business.”
McFeely would eventually go back to school to be a fashion designer, studying at American River College in Sacramento. There she says she learned more about marketing and the whole business of manufacturing and selling. In 1999, McFeely and her husband sold their house in Sausalito and moved to Nevada County.
McFeely, who works out of her Nevada City home located on a hill overlooking Scotts Flat Lake, said Terial Arts’ first year of business was slow. But after contracting TD Back Office to handle logistics, and working with distributor E.E. Schenck, Co., things changed.
“Our big break came in Houston last year at the annual quilt market,” McFeely said.
“I gave machine companies swatches of fabric to embroider, to cut, to do these different things thinking they should do what I do, and a couple of them picked it up, and that’s when the sales really started.”
Terial Arts currently deals with nine distributors throughout the United States and Canada, who then go out and sell her products to local shops, stores, and machine companies around the country.
Recently, Terial Arts has been raking in the dough selling anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 bottles a month.
“We’ve been sold out every month we get it in stock,” McFeely said.
“It’s not going to happen this month because I’ve got a back order coming in, so we’re finally going to be able to stay on top of it. But for five months we have not been able to keep it in stock because the sales are so great we can’t keep up with it. So it’s really catching on, and I think it’s just the beginning, we haven’t plateaued yet.”
E.E. Schenck Notions Manager Jim Vanderkolk said that Terial Arts has grown fast within the last year due to the different ways Terial Magic can be used.
“We weren’t that sure of it when she first brought it in,” Vanderkolk said. “But over the years it’s developed and grown, and now it’s being used in all sorts of different parts of our industry. Over the last year, sewing machine dealers who do cutwork, and embroidery work found that (putting) her spray onto fabrics made the cutting of fabric much easier for the cutter.”
Sugar Pine Quilt Shop was the very first local store to sell Terial Arts’ products. Store owner Bonnie Bechtol said Terial Magic has been a hit with her customers.
“Everybody loves it and are always experimenting with new ways to use it,” Bechtol said. “A lot of them like to make the fabric flowers that Terry has designed patterns for, and also there’s a new group in the quilting community that’s using it as applique, applying a piece of fabric to other fabric. Her product makes it so you can do that more easily and effectively and get a prettier result.”
Terial Arts Textile Specialist Naomi Cabral moved to Nevada County from Emeryville in May, and said McFeely’s company is an innovative business with a lot of potential.
“There’s so much possibility for this company and that’s what I love about it,” Cabral, 37, said. “Moving from the Bay Area to a smaller town, I wasn’t sure I was going to find something great like this, but I just met Terry right away and I was just blown away.
“Compared to companies I’ve worked for in the Bay Area, she’s really up there in innovation and potential of blowing up in a big way.”
While McFeely is content with the success her company has recently had, she wants to double her monthly sales within the next year, and go into more international distributors in Europe.
But despite the company’s future global implications, McFeely said Nevada County will always be where the company’s roots are.
“I’m not sure I could have done this in the Bay Area where I was,” McFeely said. “Coming here I’ve just met so many nice, supportive people. I’ve met so many incredibly talented people here that are willing to work and help people, and I didn’t find that in the Bay Area.”
For more information, visit Terialarts.com.
To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.