If you're looking for something fun and creative, too? Then, consider blueprinting, an alternative photographic process. But you won't be creating an image for the construction or engineering industries. Instead, you'll learn how to use the sun to transform a design into a work of art on fabric. You may wish to design a scarf, t-shirt, or any other garment or fashion accessory. You can also make an art print to frame and display. Kids would also love to do this easy and fun activity.
The blueprinting process, or cyanotype, was invented in 1842 by an English astronomer, Sir John Herschel. But it wasn't until the industrial revolution that the process was used widely by architects, builders, and engineers to create drawings. A blueprint used to contain white lines on a blue background. Today the standard blueprint process contains blue lines on a white background.
Preparing to Make Blueprints
Blueprinting on fabric begins with saturating the fabric with a solution of two chemicals--ammonium ferric citrate and potassium ferricyanide (water soluble iron salts). These two chemicals react to UV light producing the compound Prussian blue. You can also choose to work with pretreated fabric in which case you won't need to mix any chemicals. The treated fabric is safe to use. All you'll need are gloves and perhaps an apron or old clothes and a drop cloth to keep things from being stained. If you work the chemicals in powder form, wear a mask.
It is best to use a natural fiber, such as 100% cotton, rayon, or silk. If you use a fabric of cotton and polyester blend, the blue will not be as vivid and may fade with time. Also, before you begin your project, wash the fabric to remove sizing and conditioners, which would interfere with the chemical reaction.
Follow these four easy steps to create your blueprint on fabric:
- Create a design
- Expose treated fabric to the sun
- Rinse fabric
- Dry fabric
Create a design
Select objects to place on your fabric. Some ideas include dried flowers, leaves, ribbons, feathers, or stencil shapes. Place objects on a flat surface in the sun to determine if the objects create unattractive shadows. If so, find flatter objects.
Arrange objects on the fabric in different ways until you are satisfied with the design.
You may also draw or stamp images on a "write on" transparency sheet, or print a photo negative on an overhead transparency sheet using an inkjet printer. But first you'll need to use photo imaging software to change a scanned or digital photo into a negative. Then, place the transparency on the fabric. You can also take your image to a copy shop and have them print your image on a transparency.
Expose treated fabric to the sun or artificial UV light
During the summer in the Northern Hemisphere, the best time of day to print your fabric is around noon when the sun is overhead and the sky is clear. At this time, the UV light is most intense and the angle of the sun will help print a crisp picture. If the sun is low in the sky, you'll need to prop up your treated fabric so that it will be perpendicular to the sun. In this way, you can avoid shadows and a fuzzy picture. Also, select a place that is wind-free; any movement will produce a fuzzy picture.
When you are ready to begin, place a large piece of plywood or foam board on a table and take the treated fabric out of the lightproof bag. You should be indoors away from the UV light source when you do this. Place the fabric on the board and add the transparency or the objects that will create a design to the fabric. Try to do this quickly. Although you will have a few minutes, the treated fabric will start to change color slowly.
Put a piece of glass or acrylic (non-UV coated) on top of the design. This will help maintain close contact between the design and the treated fabric, and movement will be prevented. As a result, light won't be able to expose the covered area that will result in the design. You may also choose to pin the objects to the treated fabric. Note that shadows of the pins will appear on the design. If the acrylic or glass is not at least as large as the fabric, lines will print.
Rinse the fabric
After 5-15 minutes (depending upon the time of day and year) when your fabric turns dark green, bring the fabric inside and rinse it in a tub of water. Keep rinsing until the water is clear. The non-exposed chemicals will rinse out, creating the image background. If you use white fabric, you'll see the print appear white and blue. If you use fuchsia fabric, the print will be purple and fuchsia. Yellow fabric will produce a green and yellow print. And turquoise will produce a blue-green and turquoise print. If the objects are opaque, the fabric they cover will not change after rinsing. If the objects are transparent or translucent, light will get through, expose those areas to the sun and produce the print.
Dry the fabric
After thoroughly rinsing the fabric, hang it to dry inside, lay it flat on a towel, or place it in a dryer inside out. If you print on silk, roll the silk to remove excess moisture and then lay it flat on the towel or hang to dry.
Care of Your Blueprint
When you need to wash the fabric, always select a non- phosphate liquid soap such as Woolite or Dove. It is better to hand wash than machine wash. If you use a detergent with phosphate, your print will fade or contain yellow or brown blotches. If you leave your fabric to dry outside, it will fade over time. If you want to have the fabric dry cleaned, take a swatch to the cleaners for testing.
View more blueprints
Blueprints on Fabric
Hewitt, Barbara. Blueprints on Fabric: Innovative Uses for Cyanotype. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press, 1995.