Magical Summer SunPrinting on Fabric

When spring has sprung it is so lush with green that I just need to do something creative with it! Yes, Eco printing is a favourite of mine but sometimes you just need to keep it super simple. (just ask my new knee) The best thing is you can pretty well use anything… Let me explain.

My Favourite Dye/Paint – Dye-Na-Flow

I’m never quite sure what to call this since it is not exactly either. It goes on like paint but feels more like dye when done. I use basic primary colours and mix the colours that I want.

So what is Sunprinting? Well, listen closely; it is a way to print, a method which seems quite magical without the use of a photosensitive emulsion. What that means; the paint I am using is not really sensitive to the sun like what photographic paper would be (I remember the work in the darkroom photography class in college)

In this process the way the paint ‘moves’ as it dries makes the finished print look like a silhouette. The variations in the paint, contact to fabric and details can make for amazingly intricate designs. A kind person explained to me that ‘osmosis’ is the magic behind the colourful paint moving to another area as it dries.

What to use:

Since the shapes of your objects is what makes the prints, look for foliage (or any interesting objects) that is quite flat. The closer they lie on the surface – the more precise the print it makes. Every year the ferns come up and I am excited to use them in some way as they will later wither in the heat of summer. Look closely at ferns and see such amazing detail edges. There are no rules, even things like grasses give interesting shapes.

Prepping the Fabric:

Since Dye-Na-Flow will print on natural and manufactured fabrics, you can use pretty well any. I have noticed that thicker cotton fabrics tend to have less contrast in their prints, probably since they are so absorbent. It my tests I have loved the way that the polyester (blouse weight) prints.

Wet the fabric by dipping in or by spraying with water. I mostly work outside so having it wet also helps it from flying away. Using a plastic sheet to protect the surface of a table is a good idea. I like using large trays for ease of movement.

The amount of paint and coverage is totally up to you, as that will add complexity to the final print design. I like variation so I mix colours; wet-on-wet, letting them bleed together. If it’s really hot keep the fabric wet until all the stuff is placed.

Make sure the plant matter is as flat as possible. It often seems Mother Nature decides to throw me some wind so I use some small pebbles to keep the leaves in place. Sprinkling salt on will also effect the way the paint dries; creating some quite speckled areas, but I have yet to try it.

Wow, look at that detail sunprinting on fabric gives! As the uncovered areas dry they draw the wet paint from under the foliage making it lighter in colour so making sure it is not too dry to start is key.. Ferns are especially flat and large so they are my favourite.

When it is dry; (often very quick in hot summer) the sun is really not needed, remove the green matter. It can often be used again. Areas where the leaves are not completely flat the edges will be more soft and blurry, but that often adds charm to the designs.

Don’t Limit Yorself:

I decided that I wanted even more variation so after printing one time and ironing (to set the paint) I added more paint and ‘sunprinted’ again; then they become less obvious silhouette prints.

Once those leaves are removed they now overlap the previous prints. My mind is just going crazy with ideas…

When you are out for a walk… look at all the plants around you even Honeysuckle blooms! The dark use of blue/purple is dramatic on this polyester fabric…

It would make the most lovely unique cushion. Imagine even using these in a custom quilt.

Weeds have some of the most amazing blooms; intricate details that are perfect to sunprint.

This cotton print has a smoky look due to the use of black. I try to not use too much black as it is somewhat lifeless, try to mix your dark colours…

Oh that sawtooth edge! Sunprinting is such a magical secret…

Paint/Dye, sunprinting on fabric – ferns equal design perfection.

Chaos or organized; leave a bit to chance, it may reward you.

Sunprinting on fabric looks like air-brushed art (using plants as masks with spraying) but couldn’t be easier. Surface design can get even more unique and ‘easy’. Open the endless possibilities – look around and imagine.

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  1. Another great inspiration from my favourite creatrix! Could glass be used to hold the leaves, etc, flat? Would slow drying time for sure, but would it work?
    BTW, Barb, thanks to you, my garden is full of cement cast rhubarb leaves and all who see them think they are amazing! I just wish my eco-print silk scarves looked more like yours, though!!
    It’s always a treat to see your ideas pop into my inbox. Keep them coming. Thank you!!

    1. I had thought of using the glass but that will not allow the drying. Maybe a window screen that is a slight bit off the surface, or like a frying splatter screen; air still gets to circulate. Great minds think alike. Glad you have so many stepping stones, just as I am cooking rhubarb jam and have the leaves waiting in a bucket of water. Now, just to get my knee to agree1

      1. Yes, window screen would work perfectly, and I have some still in frames in the shed!
        Last summer I made lots of big bowl-shaped leaf castings to use as birdbaths and planters…SO much fun! Thanks again for your amazing inspirations!

    1. I have found that the Dye-Na-Flow has great staying power especially on the polyester. I saw no changes when this went through a whole rigorous load
      kimono painted

  2. Emily said (and asked) everything I wanted to say (and ask!). Took the words right out of my mouth…

    I get a lovely little jolt of pleasure/anticipation when I see I have a post from you in my inbox. So many lovely ideas, so well explained.

    Thank you!

  3. I welcome your ideas to my inbox I have been wanting to do something like that for a long time — and frame it for my living room. Can that be done without the colors running?

    1. Once the Dye=Na=Flow dries and is ironed it is permanent. If it going to be art is could also be coated with a clear medium to be water repellant. I can see some amazing art!

  4. These are amazing! I want to try this on some less successful eco prints. The failed prints might become a pretty background detail on a lovely piece.

  5. Just smashing, elegant, fab!!! There is also a product that is actual photo sensitive dye called Inkodye by Lumi. I got it on clearance at Joann several years ago and it works by developing what’s exposed to the sun so under the leaves and ferns would stay the original shirt color. Reminder to self to experiment with my stuff and your suggestions. Thanx

    1. Yes! I read that but working with light sensitive stuff reminded me of when I used to work in a dark room developing black & white photography. It was quite complicated! I like that this Dye-Na-Flow is so versatile! Enjoy whichever you use!

  6. Hi Barb, what beautiful results! Thanks for sharing the process and the Dye-Na-Flow paint product. I wonder if spraying any paint to top would have a different affect(s)? – thanks!

    1. Spraying paint on top would just act like a typical silhouette. I like doing this multiple times and moving the foliage. If you keep an eye out for interesting shapes the could also be added, no rule that it has to be plant material. I imagine some lace or string & yarn?! Oooooh the possibilities!

  7. I’m having such fun going through your various posts. I love your creativity. I want to paint on a plain colored valance in my art room. The current color is sort of a yellow ochre polyester. I would like to attempt to bleach the valance before trying your technique with ferns. Would bleached (and initially dried) fabric react the same to the paint in sunlight? Thanks in advance for your ideas.

    1. Oh bleaching! Polyester will not bleach and it will actually change colour and fall apart. If you beached and neutralized cotton properly it probably would sun dye. Thrifted curtains (cotton panels) and sheets make for cheap sources of fabric. Also consider the method of removing colour without bleach

    1. I have not done tests but in my brain I would think that speed of drying would have an effect. It would be great if I didn’t have to be outside in the sun and often wind too! I’ll have to test, let me know if you do…