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Make It : Cyanotype Tutorial

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Today's spring-inspired guest post hails from Yellow Owl Workshop.

Adapted from her new bookChristine Schmidt brilliantly demonstrates how to harness the power of sunlight in a cyanotype scarf project:

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A comprehensive, original guide to all things print with techniques such as stamping, relief, stencil, sun, and image transfer printing.

1 A comprehensive, original guide to all things print with techniques such as stamping, relief, stencil, sun, and image transfer printing.

The book includes many cyanotype projects such as:

2 The book includes many cyanotype projects such as:

Photogram sewing box

3 Photogram sewing box

Constellation scarf

4 Constellation scarf

Freehand corkboard

5 Freehand corkboard

"I could tell you I adore the bright daffodils peeking through the black soil, sloughing off heavy sweaters and eating asparagus anything, but I really love spring for three things: Whoppers Robins Egg malt balls, the excuse to start happy hour before sundown, and cyanotype printing. Cyanotypes or “sun prints” take advantage of the increasing daylight hours because they use sunshine as your printmaking buddy.

Cyanotype printing is essentially printing with shadows. We use black paint to create dark letter shapes that block the sunlight from hitting the scarf. Letters we paint will appear as white on the scarf because the blue sensitizer cannot turn blue because of the letter shadow. Exposure times will vary according to geographical location, season, and time of day, usually from eight to 30 minutes. I exposed this in San Francisco on March 16 for 15 minutes on an overcast day. Fabric samples are really cheap if you want to test exposure for a certain hue of blue, but I usually just wait about 15 minutes and enjoy the result.

Unlike traditional print photography development, there is no need for a real “darkroom.” The cyanotype sensitizer is not nearly as light sensitive, so any room lit ONLY with regular lightbulbs (not fluorescent or CFL bulbs!) will be fine. We call this the “dim room.” You will also need a “light room.” This is an outdoor space large enough for the fabric to lay flat outside without intruding shadows. If you are a city dweller, be prepared to guard your “light room” from canines, humans, and other objects that could cast dark shadows over your project on the sidewalk. Physically and metaphorically! Best to expose when the sun is high in the sky (fewer shadows) with no rain or fog because moisture stops exposure.  Overcast skies may increase exposure times but will still get the job done!

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Lay acetate on a clean work surface. Use drafting tape to secure edges of acetate if it is rolling up.

1 Lay acetate on a clean work surface. Use drafting tape to secure edges of acetate if it is rolling up.

Dip brush in black acrylic paint, and paint on letters or design of your choosing. This will be your film positive.

2 Dip brush in black acrylic paint, and paint on letters or design of your choosing. This will be your film positive.

3

Remove wrinkles from scarf with sensitizer with a DRY (no steam) iron on the “silk” setting.

4 Remove wrinkles from scarf with sensitizer with a DRY (no steam) iron on the “silk” setting.

Place fabric on work surface and lay scarf with sensitizer flat on center of fabric. Lay film positive, paint facing up over scarf.

5 Place fabric on work surface and lay scarf with sensitizer flat on center of fabric. Lay film positive, paint facing up over scarf.

Locate an a painted portion of film positive and slide a straight pin through the acetate, scarf, and fabric and then back though the acetate.

6 Locate an a painted portion of film positive and slide a straight pin through the acetate, scarf, and fabric and then back though the acetate.

7

Walk to a flat sunlit area and unroll contact printer with film positive and scarf facing up. Use soup cans to weigh contact printer down.

8 Walk to a flat sunlit area and unroll contact printer with film positive and scarf facing up. Use soup cans to weigh contact printer down.

Rinse scarf in washbasin with cool running water until the water runs clear.

9 Rinse scarf in washbasin with cool running water until the water runs clear.

Lay scarf flat until dry. Iron if desired.

10 Lay scarf flat until dry. Iron if desired.

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Karly looking good!

12 Karly looking good!

Dustin

13 Dustin

Dallas can't help but smile as she sports her new headscarf.

14 Dallas can't help but smile as she sports her new headscarf.

But I get to go home with a new sash.

15 But I get to go home with a new sash.

Or choker!

16 Or choker!

(For full instructions and extra tips, click here.)

All right! With one of my rites of spring complete, I have to run by the big drugstore for some pastel candy and then I'm off for a drink to complete my post-winter, pre-summer trifecta. Unfortunately one winter staple, the heavy sweaters, have to remain unstowed. Because of the bizarrely frigid summers of San Francisco, I know I will have to pull out my heavy knit sweaters in July. At least then I can give my threads a fresh look with my spring scarf!"

Thanks so much, Chris! Psst...Athena and Silke made some beautiful sun-printed pillows in their "Bringing Nature to Light" story in this month's issue of Living. Great minds think alike, no?

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