Thursday, February 19, 2015


Sunprinting is a bit of a misnomer for this technique. It gives the impression that the fabric paint is somehow reacting to the sun. It’s not. It is actually the high ambient temperature that is important. I do sunprinting in my conservatory on hot summer days and shadows from the struts in the roof fall across my fabric, but have no detrimental effect. The fact that I am indoors with no breath of wind also means that I can use very delicate leaves and flowers in the process and they won’t be blown away. You could do this in the sauna if you really wanted!

The first thing I do is to collect cow parsley leaves and any other plant that takes my fancy as soon as they appear in spring. Then I place them all between layers of newspaper, put a big old pile of books on top and press them. This gives me a big stash of shapes and patterns ready to use when the sun comes out.

You will need...
  • Plastic sheeting to cover the table.
  • Up to three colours of paint. (notes about paint below)
  • Three jars or trays.
  • Three brushes or sponges.  I use sponge brushes.
  • Spray bottle with water.
  • White cotton fabric.
  • Dishwasher salt or other grainy salt.
  • Stencils, pressed leaves etc (more about this below)
  • A hot day!

The way I do the sunprinting is as follows...
  • I lay out a flat sheet of plastic on my table. It should not have any creases or wrinkles in it as this will affect the end product.
  • Choose the paints, I never use more than three colours, and dilute them with water until they are really watery. I use shallow trays for this, but jars will do.
  • I cut/tear pieces of white cotton poplin that are about 85cm x 50cm (34” x 20”) max. Lay the fabric out on the plastic and spray it with water so that it is damp, but not soaking.
  • Now we’re working against the clock to finish before the fabric starts to dry. Paint the fabric quickly, making sure that the different colours merge into each other.
  • When the fabric is covered in colour place the leaves etc all over, making sure that they adhere completely to the wet fabric. This will only work if the leaves lie completely flat against the fabric.
  • Now leave the fabric to dry. Do not be tempted to lift up the leaves and peak!
  • When it is completely dry peel and brush off the leaves and Voila!

This technique works because everything tends towards equilibrium! The fabric constantly tries to stay equally wet all over, but the exposed parts dry first so they draw the wet paint from the covered parts until there is none left there, leaving the covered area white.

This piece has had dish washer salt sprinkled over it after the placement of the leaves. The salt draws the wet paint and absorbs it, leaving these lovely marks. Always put the salt on last as it will prevent your other items lying flat against the fabric.
This piece had a commercial stencil placed on it and salt sprinkled around the edge. You can easily make your own stencils from 125 micron heavy duty plastic sheeting. I get mine from the DIY store.
This piece was made by swiping the paint on in a crosswise tartan pattern and then concertina folding the fabric roughly in one direction and leaving it until it was about half dry. At this point I concertina folded the fabric in the other direction and left it until it was completely dry. None of this was done with any accuracy. The concertina folds give the fabric hills and valleys and the wet paint is drawn into the valleys by gravity.

These pieces were left to dry in a loosely crumpled state. The first piece also has salt sprinkled on it.


You can use any item to leave a mark on the fabric. It will always work provided it will sit flat on the fabric until it is dry. Home made stencils made from heavy duty plastic can be used over and over again, paper stencils may only work once.


You can use paints that are specially designed for sunprinting such as Pebeo Setacolour Light fabric paint. These are fluid, high pigment paints, but may still need watering down. They leave the fabric surprisingly soft.
If you want to experiment, but don’t want to spend lots of money on new paints then you can use watered down Jacquard Textile Colors or any similar make of paint. Transparent colours work best. I have also successfully used watered down acrylic paints. The last two pieces shown in this post were made with ordinary, inexpensive acrylic paints. Acrylics will have a slight stiffening affect on the fabric, which the fabric paints do not. The high pigment fluid acrylic paints are ideal for this technique. 

My two favourite books on the subject. 


  1. Thank you for this! I live in Central AB which, while plenty sunny in the summer is also often very breezy...never thought I could do this indoors in my sunny south-facing back room, maybe even at this time of year. Will have to give this a try!

    1. Good luck Margaret. Don't forget it does need to be quite hot in that back room of yours. Let me know how you get on.

  2. Very interesting and useful post! I also never thought that can do it inside. Thank you!

  3. I really like the combination with salt!

    1. Try it with different types of salt. The varying grain sizes will give different effects - fine table salt is much more subtle, coarse dishwasher salt is more distinct.

  4. Hi Nicole and many thanks for your well described way of how to sun print. I have used this technique in two of my quilts last year. The theme Under the Surface with my quilt "Roots" and Space with my quilt "Spaced Bottles". As masks I used paper and the paint used was Dye-na-Flow a thinned out acrylic paint which I think works very well. You described some more sun printing techniques that I have not tried yet. I will when I come down to Greece again (March - April), more sun there than here.
    Once again, Thank you!

  5. Not a great deal of sun here at the moment either, however, when it does eventually get warm enough I am planning on doing some more experimenting. So look out for another post in the summer.