Make a favorite memory into a summer shirt.
Summer shirts, photo prints, and crisp cottons are all good things. This is my attempt at combining those good things and while it isn't quite where I want it yet, I've learned a lot and want to share the process with you. Cyanotypes are photo prints made by using a two chemical combination (ammonium iron(III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide) to coat paper or fabric and then exposing it to the sun. The end result is an image that is cyan blue. Here we go...
First, get to know your sensitizer set! Read all of the directions and even go online to the other tools available on the website. You can use the Jacquard Sensitizer set to print on fabric or paper and you can use objects or photo negatives to create prints. I chose to do a photo print on fabric. The Jacquard website has a "blue print" generator and I found this tool very helpful in choosing an image to recreate. You can mix bottles A and B with water at this time. It is best to mix them at least 24 hours before you are going to print, but do not combine them for the sensitizer solution until you are ready to use the mixture.
Once you have chosen a photo to print you will need to create a digital negative of the image. I read about this process online and decided to follow a Youtube video by Jason Leath. I had my husband use a photo editing program on his computer to make the negative for me. There are a variety of free basic editing programs available online just as well as there are a variety of tutorials for creating digital negatives for cyanotype photo printing. I used what I was most comfortable with and I advise you to do some research of your own to see if something else might work better for you. Follow the link below to see the tutorial I used. The photo image in this step is the photo that I chose to use.
Okay, you have a saved file of your photo negative, good. Put that aside for a minute and focus on your shirt pattern. I used the DIY Ella S. Crop Top pattern and tutorial from Sew Be It Studio. The pattern is free, available in several sizes, and can be printed out on regular 8.5x11 sheets. Yes! You may choose this pattern or any pattern that you like. The important thing to be aware of is, the size of the pattern piece(s) will determine how large you need to print your negative. I chose to cut my pattern pieces and then print them. So my photo negative was sized according to the measurements of the back panel of the Ella Crop Top. I photographed some things out of order do to a little "craft fail" so just pretend all the pieces in the image are white. The pattern and tutorial for the top can be found here:
Alright, back to your digital negative. The negative needs to be printed on transparency sheets. You can have this done at a print shop or you can do it yourself. I used a color printer since the negative tutorial I followed advised that adding orange would help to block more light and create greater level of contrast. If you are planning to print a large image and you are printing your own negative, you might want to use an online poster generator. I used Rasterbator. You can choose how many sheets wide and tall you would like the final image to be. **If you use this method, you must tape the sheets together carefully so that the image matches up and if you choose to create an overlap in the printed image, it will affect the final blue print. I used the overlap option thinking that it would make my sheets easier to match up, it did, but it also created lines in my final print because more light was blocked along the overlap.** I would encourage you to check how your image fits over your fabric at this point. You won't be able to check this as easily after the fabric has been coated.
Now that you have the fabric, a printed negative, and a little knowledge about the process, it's time to prep the fabric. This must be done in a dimly lit room. Find a spot, I used my bathroom because I could control the light in that room. I put on rubber gloves, mixed equal parts of solutions A and B in a glass measuring cup, and poured the mix into a glass bowl I had placed in the sink. I dunked the fabric panel in the bowl and made sure it was completely saturated. Then I transferred the wet fabric to a closet where I had placed a tarp. It took 2 days to dry and made a horrible mess on the floor. When I took the fabric outside to print I could see that the coverage was absolutely uneven. I went ahead and printed this piece, but there were very noticeable flaws in my print and I think a lot of that is due to the uneven coverage. **I do not recommend this method of coating fabric. I used this piece, but cut it down (you'll notice in the photos). I cut more fabric and used a different prep method once I realized my mistake.**
Let's talk about my second attempt at coating fabric. I used a paint brush to cover the fabric. I mixed less of the solution (still in a glass measuring cup), wore gloves, and placed the fabric flat in my bathtub. I then moved the fabric to some cardboard I had put down. I brought a fan into the room and draped some of the pieces so they could hang without really touching (this seems to cause less pooling of chemicals than laying the fabric flat on the cardboard). **I have not yet had time to test the large pieces that I prepped this way. I did expose samples that were prepped with the paint brush method and this is what I would recommend.**
Once the fabric is dry, you can expose the print. Find a sunny place to do this. I went outside and put down a tarp. I stored my dry fabric in an opaque black trash bag so that it would not be exposed to light too early. I found two large pieces of picture frame glass in my garage. I cleaned the glass and moved it near the tarp. At this point I took the bag of fabric and my photo negative out to the tarp. I quickly placed the fabric flat on the tarp, lined up the photo negative the way I had decided on earlier, and the placed the glass over the fabric and negative. Then I left it in the sun for an hour or so. **It doesn't need to be exposed for that long; 30 minutes should be fine.**
Once the fabric has been exposed it needs to be rinsed. The directions say to do this in a cold water bath for 5 minutes. This will allow the process to finish and the blue will deepen. You can also add diluted hydrogen peroxide to speed up the process. The first time I did this, I was outside. I decided just to use the hose because it was there. **Don't. Just don't. The hose did not remove enough of the sensitizer from the fabric and once it dried in the sun, there was yellowing. This is when I panicked. Let me take this opportunity to point out the uneven color and the lines going through the photo. You can't see the yellowing in this photo, but it was there.**
It is worth it to do things right and follow directions. The photo in this step is a cold water bath with a bit of hydrogen peroxide. These are sample pieces that I "painted" with the cyanotype liquid and let hang to air dry. These pieces were exposed to the sun the same was as the previous fabric, but only for 20 minutes. I also ran the shirt fabric through the is bath and the yellowing, along with more sensitizer, was removed.
This is how the sample pieces looked after they dried. The top piece was made using the photo negative and the lower piece was covered with a piece of decorative packing tape (the tape is clear with a black lace print). These turned out much better than my first effort and give you a better idea of the possibilities of cyanotype photo printing.
Once the fabric is dry and pressed (use a cool iron on the printed piece), follow the directions for your shirt pattern and finish assembling. For me this involved sewing the side seams of the shirt and interfacing, then attaching the interfacing to the shirt by way of the arms and neck, trimming the seam, flipping it over, sewing the shoulders closed, and finishing the hem. It is very important to press darts if your shirt has them. You'll be able to see that the darts in my shirt could have used some more pressing. **Be sure to pin the interfacing to the shirt the right way; right side to right side. I did not do this the first time and I had to re-pin everything.**
Flip everything right side out and press, press, press! You should have a shirt now. The Ella S. Crop Top is a boxy style, high-low shirt. I enjoy the simplicity of it and the way it dips down in the back. In this last photo I've included the samples and a piece of fabric that the chemicals dribbled on. I am familiar with examples of cyanotype printing using photos and objects, but I think this process could be explored further and possibly used to create tie dye effects, ombre, and gradient paintings. I plan to do some more exploration with cyanotype printing, but for now, enjoy your shirt.