How to Sun Print Fabric
May 4, 2023
I was asked recently about a quilt-as-you-go technique (which is now in our Vol 14 No 5 – May 2023 Online Quilt Magazine issue), and rather than just using some regular fabric, I decided to give sun printing another go. This post is a quick guide to how to sun print fabric, and will hopefully give you some ideas and inspiration to try it yourself.
It’s super easy to do, and really fun too. (This is a great activity to do with kids as well – I tried this with mine years ago when they were little, and they sun printed their names on fabric, which we then turned into little quilts for them.) Beware though – it’s proving to be a bit addictive now, and I keep finding things that would be good to use for more sun prints…
How to Sun Print Fabric
You will need:
Sun sensitive fabric dye (you should be able to find this at your craft shop or online) It’s not expensive, and comes as a liquid in a bottle.
Plain white fabric
We used baking paper and metal cookie trays to put our painted fabric on to dry
We also used some clear Perspex sheets to hold the leaves in place (optional)
Leaves or stencils of your choice.
This way of dyeing fabric is fun!
Read the instructions on your sun dye bottle, but this is a really simple process that anyone can do without any fancy equipment.
So how do you sun print fabric? Basically you paint the dye onto your fabric, then lay a stencil of some kind on top. As your fabric is left to dry in the bright sunlight, the parts covered by the stencil fade, which gives some really great effects. You can use a regular plastic stencil, or design and cut one out of paper, or you can use found objects (like leaves) to great effect.
As it threatened rain outside the day we did this, we did this indoors in a bright sunny window instead.
We placed our fabric on baking paper and then on upside down cookie sheets, just to protect our table.
Our sun print dye was able to be watered down by half, so we did this too.
Paint the dye onto your fabric. (OK – it does go a lot quicker with a decent sized brush. I used Miss 17’s good paintbrush for this, but now have a much bigger pastry brush for next time!) From my experience so far, a little dye seems to go quite a long way.
When your fabric is painted with the sun dye, lay your stencils on top as shown.
We used some maidenhair fern leaves from our garden as our stencils.
You may like to use a plastic stencil, or cut some from paper (like I did the kids’ names) – these work well.
This is more of a tip, but we found the soft leaves started to curl up in the sun, which meant that they weren’t blocking the sun, which would affect the end result. I wanted as much of the full leaf shape as I could get.
We put flat clear sheets of Perspex on top to hold the leaves flat. This was a bit of an experiment, but actually worked really well.
This flattened the leaves quite effectively, and didn’t stop the sun from making the print, however it did slow down the drying of the fabric in the sun.
Normally, you would leave it in the sun until the fabric was all dry, but as this was taking too long (OK – so I got impatient after a couple of hours!), we removed the Perspex and leaves while the middle was still fairly damp.
Had we left it to dry completely, there would have been a more even coverage of dye in the middle of the blocks, but we quite liked this watery blotchy effect in the middle, and so we’re chalking it up to a happy accident.
A tip for next time – (if you have the time) – maybe press and dry your leaves first, so they will stay flat. This would be a good step to try, as you will have more control over the leaf / flower stencils then. If they’re dry, they won’t want to curl up in the sun heat, and you could leave off the perspex sheet then. Just don’t do it in a windy spot!
Our three sun printed fabric blocks with the Perspex and stencils removed.
Still wet in the middle as you can see.
We took these out of the sun and left them to air dry fully.
When the blocks are dry, iron well with a hot iron, as per the directions on your sun dye bottle.
Then wash in warm water.
(We expected to see a little dye running, but there was nothing. After a good rinse in the water, the water was still clear.)
And hang up to dry.
Give them a press then, and get busy making something with them! (Like our QAYG runner!!) 🙂
I’m all set to get some thicker cotton canvas next, and have a think about sun printing some more fabric to re-upholster my kitchen chairs with. I’ve been collecting stencils and ideas, and I’m still deciding on what colour I want. Watch this space!!
Hope you can have some fun with this too.
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