A cyanotype is a photographic process that produces a cyan blue print. The print can easily be made on a large variety of materials, so I wanted to see what would happen when experimenting with fabric.
- It worked! The process wasn't that much different than if you were to use paper, so if you've ever tried that method, you're a step ahead of the game. The best way to come by the chemicals needed for the process is to purchase a kit from Photographers' Formulary. Don't be intimidated—the process is very simple—it just takes a little time and you'll need access to a dark place like a closet or basement.
The best way to explain the process is to say that the parts of the fabric that are directly under the objects will remain white, while the rest of the area turns blue. Simple, clean, super cool. Consider this while choosing the items you want to make prints of. The flatter, the better!
What You Need
- Cyanotype kit (Potassium ferricyanide + Ferric ammonium citrate)
- Large disposable cup or plastic bowl
- 1 yard of 100% cotton fabric
- Leafs, plants, or other flat objects
- Rubber gloves
- Hydrogen peroxide (optional)
- Large sink
- Staple gun
- Large sheet of glass + cardboard or backing board (I used the glass from a large framed art print)
- Large binder clips (optional)
You'll need a semi-dark space to work in while creating your light sensitive fabric like a closet or basement.
When choosing props to lay out on your fabric, try to select items that are the same thickness throughout so your glass can lay as flat as possible.
You don't necessarily have to use glass. It helps keep flat, lightweight items in place but if you decide to use larger items like action figures or stones that will keep the fabric from blowing around in the wind you should be solid.
1. Measure out a piece of fabric that is just a few inches larger than the glass sheet you'll be working with.
2. Retreat to your dimly lit work area (I was in my basement with the lights off, working with the light from the windows). Don't worry about working in complete darkness because the chemicals aren't that light sensitive. Crumple up your fabric and stuff it into a disposable cup.
3. Put your rubber gloves on and mix equal parts of sensitizer A, and sensitizer B together in a different disposable container.
4. Pour the mixed sensitizer solution over top of your fabric. Push the fabric around in the cup to make sure the solution covers all areas of the fabric. Let it soak for a minute or two, then remove the fabric and inspect it to be sure the solution has covered the entire area.
5. Hang the fabric to dry in a completely dark space (like a closet) overnight.
Do not move on to step 6 until your fabric has time to dry completely and you are ready to make your print.
6. If you are borrowing glass from a framed picture, remove the glass and backing board and clean it so that it's free of dust or streaks.
7. Lay out your cardboard or backing board in a shaded room (or room that doesn't have a lot of direct sunlight) and play around with what you think you might want your design to look like. Once you find the design you like, snap a quick photo of it so you can reference it when you're ready to bring out your light sensitive fabric.
8. After you've decided on your design, bring the light sensitive fabric out from it's dark hiding spot and place it on the backing board. Don't worry about taping it down in place or anything like that just yet.
Reference the photo you snapped of the arrangement and get to work putting everything in place on top of the fabric. If you are working in a semi-bright room try not to take more than 5 minutes to arrange everything— you don't want to expose too much of your fabric before you get everything in place. If you are in a dim room, you should be fine for 8-10 minutes. After you've arranged everything, lay the clean sheet of glass on top.
If you have them, binder clips are great to use to hold your backing board + fabric + glass sandwich in place— just clamp two or four around the outer edges. If not, just hold every as tight as you can while you walk it outside.
9. Take your bundle outside and set it in direct sunlight. Your exposure time will vary anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the intensity of the sun, thickness of your fabric, and sensitivity of the fabric. I tried this five different times and the sweet spot seemed to be around 1 hour. Remember to set your timer so you don't forget about it!
Note: The pros recommend doing tests, but it can be difficult to test this process if you are using organic materials like leaves and flowers because they often won't survive more than one sun + chemical bath. If you want to try a test, use a large piece of cardboard (black foam core would be best) and lay it over the glass so that just a very small area (apx 1/4 of the glass surface) is showing. Let the sun hit that part of the fabric for fifteen minutes, then move the cardboard so that 1/2 of the surface is showing. Let the sun expose both areas for another fifteen minutes. Repeat until you have 4 test areas. The darkest will be the hour long exposure, the lightest will be a fifteen minute exposure.
10. After your timer goes off, bring the bundle inside and remove the glass, props, and fabric.
11. Put your rubber gloves on and immediately rinse the fabric in cool water in the sink. Rinse until you no longer see green running off the fabric.
For an even deeper blue finish, fill the sink with a few inches of water and add about two tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide. Swirl the fabric around a few times then wring out and hang to dry.
Do not hang in the sun to dry.
This is the result of the test from above, the fern was completely flat and is exposed beautifully, while the round, thin stems from the flowers allowed sunlight to get under them and didn't expose all that well.
This is the result of using one large palm leaf.
This is a super cheap flat pile door mat I painted sensitizer on and exposed fern leaves. I had visions of a dreamy, unique rug —but it just ended up really crusty and gross.
One really cool thing you can do with your fabric is to recover the seat pad of a chair. Just unscrew the seat pad from the chair, grab a staple gun and your good to go!
If you want, you can add another layer of white fabric, foam, or batting, then position the seat cover over the most unique part of the cyanotype fabric.
Staple around the edges of the seat cover.
Cut off all excess fabric (save the cool pieces for button covers or gift wrap!).
Attach the seat cover back to the chair and marvel at the very cool, one-of-a-kind artwork you've created!
This process worked so well, I can't wait to experiment with even more props. Pillows, quilts, clothing, and wall hangings are just a few possibilities that can be made using this amazing art form.
Try it out and share your successes with us!
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