Summer Craft: Sun Printing on Fabric
One of our favorite summer crafts is making sun prints. In a previous post, we showed how to make sun prints with a kit that comes with photo sensitive 4 x 4 inch paper. The sun turns the paper blue and objects you lay on top of the paper become silhouettes like these.
On our beach trip this year, we thought we’d try printing on fabric after recently discovering that you can buy 8 oz. bottles of sunlight-activated dyes called Inkodye. You spread it across fabric to make a sun print any size you like. I bought a bottle of black. (It comes in a range of colors.)
My friend Sara and I and the kids collected bits of plants and shells and seaweed on the beach, keeping in mind how the shape may translate into a silhouette.
You don’t want a large shell or else it will just look like a big blob of white. Best to look for items with interesting edges or long narrow shapes.
We used scissors to cut a couple of the tops of the sea grass being careful not to trod on the protected dunes.
…and steering clear of the small but fierce sand crab.
To prepare the fabric for printing, we used baking sheets lined with saran wrap in case the chemicals soaked through the fabric.
Inside the cotton shirts, we slid a piece of cardboard, again to keep the chemicals from touching the back of the shirts.
Then, we tried out different designs to see what would look nice as silhouettes.
When we were satisfied, we took the trays and the Inkodye, a plastic tub, and a sponge down to the basement to prepare them. You have to work in a dark space to keep the dye from darkening too soon. In the basement with very faint light, we poured some of the Inkodye into a tub and with a sponge, soaked some up and pressed it onto the fabric into a large rectangle, while wearing protective rubber gloves. Then, we placed the items on the rectangle. (Also, the smell is horrendous – toxic we’re sure. This step is probably best left to adults.)
We used a clear cutting board to lay over the tray to keep the objects from blowing away in the sea breezes. Bear in mind that the tray did not touch the fabric or chemicals. Then, we carried the tray outside for the sun exposure.
Sara and her fiance Aaron watched closely to see the color change, a little unsure at first if the process would work.
It took about 30 minutes on a slightly overcast day for the color to darken to the point that we felt the print was done. Lifting up a corner of one of the objects, we could see that it was still the color of shirt underneath, and around it, the shirt had turned a dark reddish-purple. (With more time, the color would become even darker, until becoming completely black.)
The next step was to rinse the fabric in water to stop the light sensitivity in the dye.
But, we made a big mistake with the first shirt – we laid it on one of the chairs outside to dry.
And, within about 15 minutes, the entire block of dye turned pitch black. In spite of some online instructions that say that water alone will stop the dye, it’s just not true.
So, I consulted the Inkodye website again, and on the second try, after leaving the shirt out for the same 30-40 minutes…
We took the shirt inside and ran it in a hot wash with detergent – for two cycles. That was a better method for sure.
We tried it on canvas and watercolor paper too and it worked just as well. We left the canvas sun print out for the longest exposure and you can see how richly colored it became.
Sara is going to frame the canvas panel as a souvenir of this year’s beach trip. I’m sure there are countless other things you can do when you venture into fabric sun printing. I look forward to trying some fabric sun prints here at home too.