I have always been a sucker for fabric. And lately, I've been a big sucker for nature printing - making impressions from natural materials. Earlier in September at the annual Nature Printing Society workshop, I learned about a kind of fabric that makes it easy.
It's called Blueprints on Fabric, and you can get it in squares or yardage from Dharma Trading. It's a cotton fabric that's been treated with a light sensitive emulsion, and it comes in several colorways: dark green/light green, blue/white, blue/turquoise, dark green/golden yellow, and blue/magenta. It's easy to use, and I'm going to give you a quick tutorial right here - and show you samples of all the different colorways!
1. Select your fabric and your objects. The fabric looks weirdly gray when you pull it out of the package; don't worry. The color will shift when it's exposed to light. The areas that are covered will be the lighter, brighter color; the areas that are exposed to light will be the darker color. What you get are silhouettes, so objects with interesting shapes work best.
You can also use objects with semi-translucent areas - it's not predictable, but you can get some shading or color variations. Objects that lie flat against the fabric work best.
Pressed leaves, cut shells, feathers and lace all work well. Prepare a board slightly larger than the fabric you're working with. One made from thick foam core works well - you can easily move it and you can stick pins in it if you need to secure lightweight leaves.
2. Experiment with your design. You'll want to have it figured out before you open up the fabric. Unless you have a darkroom, you'll need to work fast.
3. Arrange your materials on your fabric. Any time you have the material out of its package, you need to be careful about light exposure. UV light is what develops the emulsion in the fabric, so you'll want to work with it as dark a room as possible. When I can't get the room really dark, I work under heavy black trash bags.
4. Make sure the objects aren't going to shift as you move them. Heavier things like cut shells should be ok. Leaves and feathers can be secured with straight pins (as can the corners of the fabrics), or can be secured under a piece of glass or acrylic. Just make sure that the acrylic isn't treated to resist UV.
5. Now take it outside and expose it to sunlight for 10 minutes. High, direct sun works best. If it's overcast (or if you live in the Pacific Northwest, like I do), then leave it out for a bit longer. If sun is in short supply, you can also expose the fabric under a grow light.
6. After the time's up, move the board inside and move the objects off quickly. You'll know it's done because you'll have crisp lines where the objects were.
7. Rinse out the emulsion. This stops the developing. Keep running it under the water until the colors look true.
8. Dry the fabric - ironing works well. Just don't let the iron rest too long in any one spot; you can end up with iron marks on the fabric.
And you're done! You can see the faint line where the acrylic was - if it covers the entire cloth, you won't get that line. This fabric also spent a fair bit of time in a well-lit room during the photo shoot. Because of this, it developed slightly in process, so the colors aren't as bright as they would be otherwise. Even so, it still gives you an idea of what the blue/purple colorway looks like.
Here's a sample of the green/gold with ferns.
And the blue/white with feathers.
Once you start playing with the fabric, the possibilities are endless. This is made using an image I printed on acetate.