A TECHNIQUE DRIVEN Blog dedicated to mastery of surface design techniques. First we dye, overdye, paint, stitch, resist, tie, fold, silk screen, stamp, thermofax, batik, bejewel, stretch, shrink, sprinkle, Smooch, fuse, slice, dice, AND then we set it on fire using a variety of heat tools.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sunprinting Indoors by Sue A

Greenhouse/Sunroom, AKA the Wet Studio
I usually paint and print outdoors, but here in NE PA,  the number of good days and hours in those days ideal for sunprinting are limited. If I need something different from what I have in stock, I am stuck having to wait till warm weather.  This post is modified from one that I did when I didn't have "just the right" fabrics for a project I was working on one Winter.

With my degree is in floriculture, and having owned a couple greenhouse businesses, I just happen to have a germination chamber for starting seeds indoors in the sunroom/greenhouse on the back of our home.  It has shelves with fluorescent lights, that light and warm whatever is placed on the shelf. I thought this would be perfect to try for indoor printing... The photo, upper right, shows the greenhouse as it looked back in 2007... the germination chamber is on the right side of the photo next to the furnace.

Fabric smoothed onto paint board

The process begins as with outdoor sunprinting... Smoothing the wet fabric onto a paint board... The color you see is what was left from a previous piece of fabric. It is dry and doesn't transfer to the new fabric even though it shows through the white fabric in the photo.

Thinned textile paint brushed on wet fabric.

Thinned textile paint is brushed onto the wet fabric.

Patting down a Fern

 Leaves are placed over the wet paint and patted tight to the fabric surface...  Once the leaves were added, Sea salt was sprinkled between the leaves...

Board with painted fabric placed under lights

When everything was added to the fabric, it was placed under the lights.  For best results, the board with the fabric needs to be quite close to the lights to take full advantage of the warming of the bulbs to speed drying.  The day I did this, the temp of my room was quite cool (upper 40's... we just kept it warm enough for the plants I overwinter in there), so drying was slower that I wanted. Being an impatient person, I ended up placing the board on the floor near the heat outlet of the furnace to speed things up. The furnace is one where the heat blows out of the bottom, so I placed the board on the floor so it got a gentle warm breeze from it. (Too direct a blast of air would blow things off the fabric.) It worked great! The fluorescent lights work best when the air temperature is in the 70's or higher like a day I would sunprint outdoors. That way, the temperature under the lights is even warmer for faster drying.  If you have the room and the patience, successful prints can be made indoors even without additional lights or the moving warm air of  a furnace. A warm temperature and low humidity is enough to do the job, it just takes much longer for the fabric to dry.
Dried fabric with leaves still on

This picture, left, shows the salt pulling the paint into neat patterns between the leaves.

First fern removed

Here is the dry fabric, photo right, showing the result after the fern  and salt was removed.  If they are removed before completely “crispy” dry, leaves can be reused (I put them back in the newspapers).  If too dry, the ferns tend to break apart. Also, if thicker paint is used, the ferns or leaves can also stick on the fabric when things are dry. If this happens, I will spritz the leaves with water to soften them. Just don't get things too wet.
Finished fabrics

After all the leaves, etc. are removed, and the salt brushed off (or scraped off using a wide putty knife if it is stuck tight), the fabric needs to be heat set. I usually begin by ironing on the back side of the fabric, then the painted side, using a pressing cloth over it. If the fabric is stiff from salt dissolving and drying on it, carefully rinse it in clear water to remove the salt after heat setting. Lay the fabric flat on a clean towel to dry after letting excess water drip off (wringing out the water can cause abrasions or cracking to the paint on the fabric surface). The photo, left, shows two pieces I did during this session.  I needed these  to continue with a work in progress that I called my “puzzle” while it was in progress.  I used various Ferns and other lacy, delicate leaves along with butterfly shapes cut from thin foam for the sunprints.

This is piece in progress that prompted the winter sunprinting session.  I started construction with the border, then worked from one corner to the other (in a totally non-quilt-police-approved method... lots of little fused quilt sandwiches satin stitched together). The outer border and inner border, around the large sunprint, are pieces of my painted fabrics and various ivories stitched with black thread to resemble stained glass. It covered my whole 3′x4′ cutting table as I worked on it, using many sunprints from various painting sessions the previous summer in addition to the new ones.

The "Puzzle" became "Stained Glass and Ferns"

This is the finished quilt. By doing the sunprints in the winter, I was able to finish the piece just the way I saw it in my head. "Stained Glass and Ferns" has traveled to many shows, including International Quilt Festival in Houston.

Even though it is usually referred to as sunprinting, you can see the sun is Not needed when using paints... Placing the fabric in the sun is the most efficient way to dry it, but if you have the patience and time, you can print any time of year.  I still do most of my printing in the summer, since I don't have much indoor space for laying out the boards of fabric for drying (my greenhouse is now home to two large dogs, who shed way too much for working with fabric there any more... I'd have dog hair prints along with the leaf prints (grin). I also don't have the patience to wait hours and  hours for the fabric to dry and the prints to form... 

Go ahead and play!! See what you come up with!


  1. Thanks, Sue. Your finished quilt looks simply fabulous. I want to try something like this technique, using variable drying rates, but with MX dyes. I know the dye stops working when the fabric is dry. Just not sure how detailed the images could be.

  2. Thanks! I haven't tried using dyes. Not sure what would happen...


Although this blog is no longer active, we will get your comments so please feel free to share them.