Create beautiful designs using a light-sensitive solution, your favourite foliage and a good dose of British sunshine!
What is cyanotype?
Cyanotype is a photographic process that produces lovely cyan-blue prints by combining two different chemicals – potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate.
It works by placing objects, such as leaves and flowers, on to the treated surface and exposing it to UV light. The area directly under the objects will remain white, while the rest of the surface turns blue.
Don’t be put off by the thought of using chemicals, the process isn’t complicated, although you will need to wear protective gloves and a dust mask.
You can buy a cyanotype sensitizer set for £16.95 from Art Van Go – mention Woman’s Weekly and they will include the gloves and mask too (01438 814 946; artvango.co.uk).
If you prefer not to use the chemicals, you can buy pre-treated papers and fabrics: Sunography paper, £11.49 for six 5 x 7in sheets; Sunography fabric squares, £11.49 for six 6 x 6in pieces at the London Graphic Centre (020 7759 4500; londongraphics.co.uk).
TIP You can play around with different object, but ones that lie completely flat will work best, as the sun can’t get underneath them
You will need
✤ Cyanotype kit – potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate (sensitizers A and B)
✤ Distilled water
✤ Rubber gloves
✤ Two smaller disposable bowls
✤ Large disposable plastic bowl
✤ Old spoon
✤ Cushion covers (or cotton fabric) – we used Gurli and Vigdis 50 x 50cm cushion covers, £2 and £6 each, Ikea (ikea.co.uk).
✤ Cushion pads
✤ Leaves, flowers, feathers or other flat objects
✤ Large piece of glass (or clear plastic) and backing board (both from a picture frame)
✤ Bulldog clips
✤ Bin liners
✤ Coat hanger with clips
✤ Strong tape
Note: If you are dying fabric or cushion covers, remember to wash and dry them before you start.
Preparing your work area
You will need to work in a semi-dark room while creating your light-sensitive fabric. Don’t worry about trying to work in complete darkness, you could work at night using the light from the window or a dim lamp.
Think ahead to where you plan to hang your dyed fabric for drying – a dark cupboard works well, but create enough space and cover any items it might touch, as well as the area underneath.
Cover your work surface with newspaper or plastic, and lay two bin liners and the coat hanger to one side or on the floor.
To make the cushion cover
1. Wearing rubber gloves and the dust mask, mix up sensitizer A with some distilled water (the kit will say exactly how much you will need) in a small bowl. Do the same with sensitizer B in the other small bowl.
Then pour both solutions into the large bowl.
The liquid will be a dark reddy-brown colour.
2. Submerge a cushion cover into the liquid, swish it around so that it’s completely covered. Wring it out as much as possible and then place it flat on one of the bin liners.
3. Repeat the process for the other cushion covers – the kit should be enough to make three, possibly four, covers. Any leftover solution can be painted on to watercolour paper (see ‘Blueprint Picture’, top left) or stored in a lightproof container for later use.
4. Place the cushion covers on top of each other and use the coat hanger to clip them together. Place a bin liner over them, so the covers are sandwiched in between, tape up the sides securely and then tape
up to the hook of the hanger, so that it’s poking out of the top.
Hang it in a cupboard, or an airing cupboard, for at least 24 hours.
5. If you have a spare cushion cover, play around with your flowers, leaves, feathers or whatever you fancy to decide on your final composition. Take out the backing board from a picture frame, lay the treated cushion cover on it (don’t worry if it hasn’t dried completely).
Arrange the foliage on the cushion, then place the piece of glass (or plastic) from the frame on top and carefully carry it outdoors.
6. Place it on the ground, making sure not to move anything, then stand back and watch. Depending on how sunny it is, the fabric will start to develop into a deep blue almost instantly – working on a clear sunny day gives the best results.
You can still work on a cloudy day, it just takes longer for the dye to change colour.
7. Once you’re happy with the depth of colour, lift the glass and remove the foliage to unveil the design. Turn the cushion over and expose the back until it is the same depth of blue.
8. Rinse your cushion cover in cold running water to remove excess dye, then hang up to dry – ideally not in the sun! Once it has completely dried, give it a press and insert the cushion pad.
TIP You don’t have to use glass, but it helps keep flat items in place and prevents them from blowing away.
Simply paint a thin layer of the light-sensitive solution on to thick paper, such as watercolour paper. Leave to dry by storing it in a box overnight.
Lay feathers on it, then place a piece of glass on top and expose it to the sun. Hold the paper under running water so the excess ink is washed away, then hang it up to dry.
Finally, place the blueprint in a frame and stand back and admire your handiwork!