Guess that’s why they call it the blues…
Sun prints, or cyanotype to give them their proper name, are a beautiful way to capture botanical finds on paper or fabric. Delicately precise imprints of leaves look stunning against the inky blue indigo colour that’s created. The process dates back to 1842 when scientist Sir John Herschel developed the idea as a way of instantly reproducing his notes and diagrams. But it was botanist Anna Atkins, born in 1799, who was the first person to produce a book with photographic images which she created using this method.
After seeing some fantastic projects on Pinterest, I’d been dying to give this a try, and after a bit of rootling around on Google, I found a source for the kit I would need. Cyanotype works by applying two chemicals to the surface of the paper or fabric to make it light sensitive. I couldn’t find ready mixed ones, so I ordered two powders from an excellent website www.artvango.co.uk. They arrived the next day. As well as these items, I needed some distilled water, which I found at a local hardware store for under £2.
I got to work straight away. You need to do the first part of this in a dimly lit place, so I chose our little utility room with the lights off. I wanted to print fabric rather than paper, so I picked out a length of natural linen from my stash. Natural fibres work best. I put on my Hannibal Lecter mask (this is important as the powders are toxic), gloves, apron and set to work making the brew. Once I’d mixed the powders with the distilled water, following the instructions that came with them, I ended up with a brackish brown witches potion, which I tipped into an old bowl. I added the fabric, moving it around until is was soaked through evenly. I am a messy worker and I really regretted not getting my things more organised before I started. I later found out that any drips and splashes don’t come out of carpets – not good when you’re trying to sell your house 🙁
Creating a design
I put the fabric to dry in a dark place (under the stairs in my case, but again, make sure you cover the area with newspaper or sheets as the drips and splashes are stubborn and won’t shift easily, if at all). Meanwhile, I had foraged in the garden to find some ferns, my favourites. I pressed them overnight under some heavy books so there were no kinks or creases in the leaves ensuring that I would get a crisp design.
Now comes the really fun part. Place the fabric on a board. Work quickly, as you don’t want to start exposing it to the light for too long until your decoration is ready. Arrange the leaves on the fabric, and then pop a sheet of glass on top. I used the glass from an old picture frame. Position the board outside in direct sunlight and leave for about an hour.
The fabric turns a gorgeous inky indigo, and the parts covered by the leaves are white. It’s just magical. My design smudged on the right because I was impatient and lifted one of the ferns half way through. Lesson learned! Now you just need to rinse the fabric thoroughly until the water runs clear. Dry it away from direct sunlight.
Ready to rock ‘n’ roll!
I finished with a beautiful piece of original fabric, just the right size for a cushion or a bag. The downsides? It’s messy and fiddly, but I am so happy with the results.