Wet Cyanotype Fabric Printing

Wet cyanotype fabric by Lesley Riley

Have you ever tried cyanotype printing?

Fabric printing techniques have always fascinated me as they are so diverse. In Quilting Arts April/May 2019 Lesley Riley shares some of her tips and tricks for wet cyanotype printing—a new trend in the fabric art world. Read on for an overview of Lesley’s printing set up.

Cyanotype is a simple process that has been used for over 150 years.

It is a contact printing process that also goes by the name sun printing and blueprints. Wet cyanotype—commonly called wetcyan—is a relative newcomer to the world of cyanotype printing, appearing on Instagram feeds in the spring of 2017. Cyanotype is the straight-laced parent of the more adventurous, rule-breaking, serendipitous, and dare I say naughty, wet-cyan child. Yep, that’s me.

“Unconforming” • 8" x 10" | Photos by Hornick Rivlin Studio
“Unconforming” • 8″ x 10″ | Photos by Hornick Rivlin Studio

This process uses two powdered chemicals: green ferric ammonium citrate and red crystal potassium ferricyanide. Potassium ferricyanide is light sensitive on its own and the purpose of the ferric ammonium citrate is to speed up the exposure process and darken the end color (blue ferric ferrocyanide), which is permanently bound to the fabric. It is light sensitive until exposure, so all preparations must be done in the dark. I like to leave the science and chemicals to the pros and concentrate on the art, so I work with a prepackaged kit. The methods I share here work for me, my end goals, and intentions for wet-cyan prints. It is a jumping off point for you to do your own explorations. The process is very easy and you really cannot go wrong, so dive into the joy of wet-cyan printing.

Cyanotype Fabric swatch by Lesley Riley

What can I print on?

The quick answer is any natural fiber or surface like paper, fabric, unfinished wood, stone, leather—with “natural” being the key word. The cyanotype solution does not bond well with synthetic fabrics or man-made materials.

A smooth, tight-weave fabric will give the best print definition, but don’t let that stop you from investigating other types of cloth. Printed and patterned fabrics can make for interesting wet-cyan prints because the cyanotype solution is transparent and once the fabric is exposed and rinsed, the blue will visually mix with the base color(s) in the fabric.

Cyanotype Fabric swatch by Lesley Riley

How dark is dark?

When I was first starting out I could not find any definitive answer as to how dark it should be when you mix and apply the solution to your desired surface. You’re all set if you have a darkroom and a safelight … but I don’t, do you? I always wait until nighttime to prep my fabric. Before I turn out the lights, I protect my work surface and cover the floor or table with plastic sheeting for a drying area. When it’s time to mix the solution, I turn on an incandescent lamp across the room and cover it with fabric to subdue the light. Fluorescent light emits some UV rays similar to the sun which risks exposing the solution.

Lesley Riley with the host of “Quilting Arts TV”, Susan Brubaker Knapp
Lesley Riley with the host of “Quilting Arts TV”, Susan Brubaker Knapp

Lesley Riley has a rich history of quilting, mixed-media art making, writing, publishing, teaching, and inspiring artists worldwide. Her current work is inspired by her move to a Maryland mountaintop and explores her love of nature and the potential of leaves to demand a closer look, to go beyond the obvious, to draw you in, and tell a story.

Visit her Instagram to see more of her work.

Want to learn more about Lesley’s process for fabric printing with wet-cyan?

Grab a copy of Quilting Arts April/May 2019 to read her full procedure and a complete list of materials. Catch Lesley and her wet-cyan process on “Quilting Arts TV” series 2300 too!

Explore more fabric printing inspiration!

Leave a Reply