Cyanotype Printing

Dee Kruger introduced us to the magic of cyanotype printing for our April program. Some of her examples are shown above. Do you recognize her bobbin lace bobbins?

You may not be familiar with the term cyanotype, but most of us can relate to a blueprint. Before scientist John Herschel discovered the chemical solution for cyanotype in 1842, architects and builders had no way to duplicate their diagrams. The use of cyanotype printing allowed them to make a copy showing the diagram in white with a cyan blue background. They soon became known as blueprints.

Herschel’s friend, Anna Atkins, was a botanist. She recognized the potential of the cyanotype process for making images of the plants she collected. Anna Atkins is now recognized as a pioneer in this early form of photography.

So how does cyanotype, sometimes referred to as solar printing, work? The chemical solution is applied to a surface and allowed to dry away from any UV light. Next, objects are placed on the treated surface and secured with a sheet of clear glass or pins. When exposed to the sun’s rays or a UV lamp, the chemicals in the exposed areas oxidize and turn blue. After fully oxidizing, the objects can be removed to see the magic! Finally a rinse with cold water or a soap containing no phosphate will wash out all remaining chemicals.

There are so many ways this printing technique can be used. In one of the examples above, Dee made a transparency of her grandparents’ photos, and printed their images on fabric. The sepia appearance was achieved by soaking the fabric in tea. A different look is achieved by printing on a colored background like the pink bag. Dee also printed on wood to make a sign.

So how does one get started making cyanotype prints? There are many books and on-line resources available. Even if you aren’t a chemist and don’t fancy mixing up your own solution of ferric ammonium citrate, potassium ferricyanide, and water, other options are available. A quick internet search for cyanotype supplies will help you find pretreated fabric and paper, bottles of the chemicals, and anything else you’ll need. Just be sure to observe all the safety precautions!

Spring and summer’s bright sunlight would be the perfect time to experiment with solar printing. What will you make?

Cyanotype printed rocks?

Thanks, Dee, for your inspiring program. You have helped us expand our knowledge of ways we can incorporate solar printing into our fiber arts.

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