Monday, June 18, 2012


Heliography (in French, héliographie) is the photographic process invented by Joseph Nic'ephore Ni'ece around 1822, which he used to make the earliest known permanent photograph from nature.
Some time ago I promised a tutorial on sun printing fabrics and at long last I have it complete!  This method of sun printing requires very few supplies and a nice sunny day.  This technique will offer you a very subtle print that can be used as is printed or enhanced by paint or ink.  Along with the fabric technique I will show you some results on other substrates like painted book pages, canvas, and plaster paper.   Each application was the same but with very differing results.

Sun Printing (various printing techniques which use sunlight as a developing or fixative agent) or Heliographic Art is a process where a wet medium is applied to damp fabric, in this case we are using strong coffee, while still wet, objects like stencils, cutouts, natural elements, etc. are placed on the wet fabric.  It is then placed in full sunlight.  As the fabric dries the outlines of the objects are transferred onto the fabric surface, in an essence, the sun is photographing the outline of the image onto the substrate.  There are two methods of this fabric process, printing and painting, in this tutorial I will show you the printing method.

*100 % cotton fabric, white will give you a more crisp visible print - A blend of cotton and synthetic (containing at least 50% cotton) will give you good results but the colors will be less vibrant and the design not as resistant to washing.  I used a 100% cotton medium weight off white muslin, I wanted more of a tone on tone subtle print for the project I have in mind.
*Spray Bottle
*2 Tablespoons Instant Coffee
*1 Cup hot water
*2 teaspoons alum OR 2 Tablespoons Vinegar
*Nature Finds - Leaves, flowers, grasses, feathers, etc.
*Small pebbles to use as weights
*Sturdy cardboard or piece of wood covered with a plastic trash bag or wax paper - tape down trash bag or wax paper so it does not slide or lift in the printing process.  This will provide you with a smooth waterproof surface for the wet material to "stick" to which is needed for this process.  I use the back of some old corrugated weather proof signs compliments of Handy Hubby.
*Bowl of water
* A sunny but still day, wind is not your friend for this printing process ;c)

*Machine wash your fabric to remove sizing, dry in dryer, once dry iron smooth.
*Gather nature printing supplies:  leaves, petals, flowers, grasses, twigs, stones, feathers, etc.
*Mix 1 cup hot water with 2 Tablespoons instant coffee and 2 teaspoons alum OR 2 Tablespoons Vinegar, once thoroughly mixed pour into spray bottle.
*Dip fabric into a bowl of water, wring out, smooth onto wax paper covered cardboard, wet material will "stick" to the waterproof surface.
*Place your nature finds in a pleasing arrangement on your damp fabric
*Spray with coffee mixture pressings nature items down as they become wet
*Place the board/cardboard which includes your finished piece in full sun - printing time can take as little as 15 minutes up to 1 hour, to check process gently lift the edge of nature item and check the strength of the print underneath.  I usually set a timer and check mine in 30 minutes but generally I have found the complete printing/drying process to be about an hour.
*Before placing nature items on damp fabric surface, spritz lightly with coffee mixture
*Place your nature finds in a pleasing arrangement on your coffee damp fabric
*Spray coffee mixture over nature finds, pressing them down as they become wet
*Place the board/cardboard which included your finished piece in full sun to print/dry as described above.
 *Once print has reached the desired effect you want, remove the nature elements.
*Heat set the fabric by ironing for 2 to 3 minutes on the "cotton" setting of a hot dry iron.

NOTE:  light weight or even thicker foliage might need to be weighted down with pebbles to get a good outline and to prevent being swept away by a rouge puff of wind. 
*Once dry and heat set, the fabric should be treated like any piece of cotton, heat set with iron, rinse fabric lightly, put in clothes dryer at hottest setting, ans if desired once dry iron as an additional heat set. It is machine washable (without bleach!) and can be dry cleaned.

*Leaves on 100% cotton off white muslin:
*Leaves on 100% cotton fabric with a tone on tone bark like print:
*Fern and Dried Grass on 100% cotton off white muslin:
*Feathers on 100% cotton off white muslin:
Your fabric is now ready for use in your artwork!

If the sun is not reliable there are other printing options:
*  Heat lamps, like the ones used in restaurants to keep food warm work well (this needs to be watched very carefully as they get EXTREMELY hot!) 
* A UV light such as the kind used to grow indoor plants will work.
* Also, if weather is not cooperating you can place the fabric in front of a large window until completely dry, although the results are faster if the piece can be placed in direct sunlight.

SEMI-USELESS TIP:  Now you might or might not need this tip but just in case you might want to make sure your dog is put away, your cat is not lurking nearby, and there are no scampering squirrels in the vicinity to disrupt your printing process but just in case...

While your back is turned your cat might be stalking a scampering squirrel.  Your dog might just see the cat and the squirrel and decided to give a yapping chase that might accidentally just take place in the path of drying projects.  You glance back just in time to witness the commotion.  A scared scampering squirrel is making a leap for higher ground only higher ground happens to be your cardboard on the edge of a small table and is not so solid after all.  It tips and flips flinging your half baked project onto one very startled cat who is hunchbacked and hissing at yapping dog while you gape in astonishment and wonder if you are living in a Tom and Jerry cartoon.   I am just saying, it can happen!  This explains why you don't see some of the results featured in the photos...only at the Quill!

*Leaf Print on Acrylic Painted Dictionary Page:
*Leaf Print on Plaster Paper:
*Leaf Print on Primed Canvas:
SECOND SEMI-USELESS TIP:  If you receive a phone call that requires you to leave during the printing process you might want to scrap the project, baked on plant matter is a bear to scrape off of a primed canvas...again...I am just could at the Quill!

THIRD SEMI-USELESS TIP:  If by chance while you are called away one very small rain cloud in an otherwise brilliant blue sky might scud by and spit on your canvas!  Those spots you see were not on purpose.  Seriously, I drove up to find it sprinkling ONLY over my project!  

Now, say you really, really, really want those spots, not a problem:  While your project is wet sprinkle table salt over it for fine spots or rock salt for bigger spots.  When dry simply brush salt off and spots will remain.  OR after project has thoroughly dried but before heat setting, flick water onto surface to make coffee bleed, allow to dry again, then heat set.

I hope you enjoy trying this tutorial to make your own unique fabrics to enhance your artwork! 


The Feathered Nest said...

I just LOVE this Sandy!!!! What a wonderful idea...the results are so beautiful to me! I especially love your useless tips!!! You crack me up ~ hugs and love, Dawn

Anonymous said...! This is awesome, Sandy! I can't wait to try this with our kids:)

How does one preserve the print during washing? Do you recommend heating setting it with an iron before washing?

Vee said...

Oh you have me giggling! Only raining on your project? That's a riot! I do like this look a lot. I have some muslin somewhere and I have strong coffee, too. I'm going to try it one day when I know the sun will be hot. Wednesday and Thursday from what I hear.

Vicki said...

Thanks for sharing, Sandy!

bobbie said...

GREAT tutorial!! And the useless tips sound SO much like they would happen in my world ~ but now I'm forewarned!!

Julia - "Vintage with Laces" said...

Thank you for the great tutorial, Sandy! I will try that for sure, maybe even today.
Your useless tips made me giggle but I find them quite useful. I haven't seen any squirrels here but our new outdoor kitty might decide to go after a butterfly or bird. So I better watch what is going on outside while the fabric is drying. I love the rain stains on your canvas.

Vickie said...

Love this project, Sandy! I can see some great collages in the future - I love the leaf project with the dark edges and the salt/rain spots. I think that's my favorite. I also like the tone-on-tone with the leaf print. Anxious to see what you do with these babies!

Karen B. said...

Oh my ... Sandy! I love, love , love this tutorial!!! It is amazing and something I will try very soon. Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us here in blogland.

hugs and love
Karen B. ~ Todolwen

Ruth Kelly said...


Elizabeth Johnson said...

I love this project, but I miss your music.

EllenaElizabeth said...

Great results. Looks like you had a ball with all the techniques. Thanks for sharing.

Laura Ingalls Gunn said...

This is lovely. I could create this in no time with my desert sun. :)

Yesterday as I prayed and read my bible I lingered in the Psalms and Ephesians. Three words were mine. Victory in Jesus. Amen. It was a sweet reminder that this trial is temporary. Victory in Jesus.

Thank you so very much for your friendship and loving support.

Carole said...

A beautiful tutorial Sandy, thanks so much.

Shopgirl said...

What a lovely art project...Thank you for sharing. Hugs, mary

Laura Kirste Campbell said...

You make me laugh with your "semi-useless tips"! LOL! What a delight you are!

Thank you for this VERY inspiring collection of techniques! I'm jazzed to try some of these!!

Debbie Aristone said...

Dear Sandy
I loved your tutorial on sun dyeing with coffee. It reminds me of Rust dyeing in cloth.
I did not see your note on the copying of any of your posts before I copied it to my email. Can I ask for you permission after the fact?
I would use it for personal use only.
I wait for your response.
Debbie, Ontario Canada

tesuque said...

My sun prints were pretty, but when I rinsed them in water days after heat-setting, only a slight coffee stain remained. Lost all of the designs created by objects.

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