Surface Design Technique: Sun Printing with Stencils

23 May 2013

Now that the sun is shining in New England and summer is nearly officially here, I'm feeling the tug of nature and the need to try a new outdoor fiber art project. Although I've experimented with sun printing and dyeing techniques, there are many variations that I haven't tried. I am especially inspired by the beautiful quilts made by Gail Ellspermann from her sun-printed fabrics using stencils.

fabric painting with sun printing gail ellspermann
Quilt by Gail Ellspermann.
Gail shared two of her techniques for fabric painting with sun printing in Quilting Arts in Stitches vol. 10. Today, I'm offering you the first technique here.

Sun Printing with Stencils by Gail Ellspermann

In this method, the fabric is painted with Pebeo Setacolor fabric paint, covered with a stencil, and sun printed. Setacolor Transparent has a property that allows it to "develop" in the sun. The process is simple and very reliable--and slightly addictive!

Note: It is important to remember that when sun printing with Setacolor, the parts of the fabric that are exposed to the sun become brighter, while the areas covered by the stencil become lighter. This result may seem counter-intuitive, as fabrics typically tend to fade in the sun rather than become brighter.


• Plastic to cover work surface
• Pebeo Setacolor Transparent fabric paint (found at art supply stores on online)
• Water
• Small plastic cup
• Plastic spoons
• PFD (prepared for dyeing) fabric
• Foam paintbrush
• Large sheet of foam board
• Stencils
• Masking tape
• Iron and ironing board
• Pebeo Setacolor Lightening Medium (optional)

Sun printing the fabric:

1. Cover your work surface with plastic.

2. Pour 1 teaspoon of the Setacolor into a plastic cup. Add ½ teaspoon of water to thin the paint, using a plastic spoon to mix them together and to remove any lumps. If you want the color of the paint to be lighter, add Setacolor Lightening Medium.

3. Place the PFD fabric on your covered work surface. Use a foam paintbrush to apply the diluted paint. The fabric should be saturated but not dripping.

4. Move the painted fabric to the foam board. Place the stencil on the fabric, gently patting it so that the stencil adheres slightly to the wet fabric. Tape the stencil at the corners to hold it in place.

fabric painting with stencils and sun printing
You can layer stencils, and sun-printing fabrics, for complex effects. Art by Gail Ellspermann.
5. Repeat the previous steps with additional fabric pieces until the foam board is covered with fabric and stencils. Move the board to a sunny spot, and leave it for one hour to fully expose the color. The hotter and brighter the day, the more intense the colors will be when they dry, and the more contrast there will be between the covered and uncovered areas of the fabric.

6. After the fabric is completely dry, remove the stencil and iron the fabric to heat-set the color.

It's fun to experiment with layering the stencils and using different paint colors to get different effects. If you've never made sun printings, now's the time to try a new surface design technique.

You will find lots of advice, tips, techniques, and gorgeous art in our in Stitches emags. Download one--or more--now.

P.S. What's your favorite outdoor surface design technique? Leave a comment below.

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ckquilter wrote
on 24 May 2013 2:38 AM

i love sun printing. we don't get that many good sun days here in the pacific northwest - but when we do - it is the perfect excuse to spend all day playing with fabric outside.

some of the variations i love are

1. using a hot colored batik (red/yellow/orange) and then painting it with just one color of paint. i prefer a dark green or brown.  because the paint is transparent, it mixes with the original colors of the fabric. with minimal effort, i get a beutiful dark green fabric with bright orange, yellow and red leaves.

2. i love sun printing on sheer fabric. especially one with a tone on tone print in white or cream. the print takes the paint differently than the base  - and i get a wonderful sunprint with a secondary print under it.

3. i love to add metallic paint to the setacolor paint. it will still sunprint with up to about 20% metallic paint added. and then i get the sparkle of gold or bronze along with the sunprint - gorgeous.

4. another fun adaptation - i tried using a large medallion on top to sunprint. works great. and then i tried it again - but with the medallion underneath the fabric. tuck the fabric down into the shape a little bit - and instead of the area where the medallion is being lighter in color  - it is darker than the background.

i then leave the fabric in place, and go over the top of the printed medallion with a bit of metalic paint - gives it a gorgeous highlight.

my sunprint plans for this summer are 1. a large 2 1/2 yard piece with life size pickets and leaves. 2.another 2 1/2 yard piece of a dark stormy sky with lightning (yarn and string make great lightning bolts). 3. as much purple and green as i can do   4. several underwater pieces. a friend gave me 2 metal cutouts of seahorses - so need to print those to continue my sea dream series.


LindaDianne wrote
on 26 May 2013 8:40 AM

I have never tried any form of fabric painting, But I am going to do the seta colour.  Hopefully I will have exciting results to share this summer.

ckquilter wrote
on 27 May 2013 11:16 PM

hi linda

remember the setacolor paint must be the transparent (not opaque) type to sunprint.

also, if easier to find, dy na flo will also sunprint - just make sure to dilute with water before using.

all of the colors can be intermixed.  so i don't buy all the colors available.

i buy the primaries, and several others (black, burnt sienna, a dark green ((i use a lot of it)) and a couple others i have found it hard to mix) and then mix the rest of my colors from them.

saves money and lets me use up what i have in a reasonable length of time.

ck quilter