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Ask the sun to help you. Using a blueprint process, you can decorate aprons, T-shirts.

Ask the sun to help you Like invisible brushstrokes, the sun's rays sweep across specially treated fabric, creating silhouettes of objects resting on the cloth. A mixture of two chemicals gives the fabric the same photographic qualities as blueprint paper. Exposed to light and developed in water, the cloth turns a rich blue; where objects have blocked the sun's rays, the cloth remains a contrasting white--or whatever color the original fabric was.

Since blueprinted fabric is soft and pliable, designs--on T-shirts or aprons, for example--become wearable art. Or try the technique on place mats, quilts, banners, and scarves. Fabric must be made of natural fibers such as cotton, linen, or silk; polyester blends don't work.

Our projects hint at some of the things you can use to create the blueprinted images. For the aprons above left, we used items you'd find in any kitchen or tool box. Leaves, pieces of wire screen, plastic magnetic letters, flowers, ferns, even a tennis racket can be captured on cloth. Flat objects, such as knife blades, create sharpest contrasts; thicker, rounded objects, such as hammers, produce shaded designs.

The T-shirts on this page show a more personal touch by using children's drawings transferred onto clear acetate using an indelible marker or a photocopying machine. You could also start with drawings, uncluttered photographs, or pictures from a book or magazine--as long as they have a high contrast. Photocopying techniques are explained on page 127.

Chemicals that capture light--mix

and use with caution!

Called a cyanotype print, this blueprint technique starts with two chemicals--ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide--which you can order through a chemical supply company (for a source, see page 127). You can also find them in blueprinting kits at some craft stores.

Children can help arrange the objects on the fabrics, but only an adult should handle the chemicals. Although the chemicals are not classified as toxic, ferric ammonium citrate is considered an irritant if the powder comes in contact with the skin; potassium ferricyanide is classified as harmful. Treat both compounds with respect; read precautions carefully, as you would any potentially dangerous household chemical or garden spray.

If working with hazardous chemicals sounds too intimidating, you can buy chemically treated T-shirts or cotton fabric. We list a source on page 127.

If you mix your own chemicals (don't use metal mixing tools), store them in lightproof plastic (not metal) storage bottles with plastic lids.

You also need a plastic drop-cloth, newspaper, rubber gloves, a disposable mask, goggles, plastic measuring spoons and mixing containers, a 2-inch-wide paintbrush, pins (or clear tape), a piece of flat corrugated cardboard or foam-core art board slightly larger than the fabric you'll be working on (make sure cardboard fits through any doors between your working area and outdoors), and TSP for cleaning the spots.

Mixing the blueprint solution

Since chemicals are sensitive to light, mix and apply them in a room with a relatively low light level. (A garage with closed doors makes a good workplace.)

Before you mix the chemicals, cover your work surface with the plastic drop-cloth and a layer of newspaper. Wear rubber gloves, a disposable mask, and goggles when handling the chemicals. To become familiar with the process, mix small amounts first, then make larger batches after a successful trial exposure.

To treat an area roughly the size of two aprons, start by pouring 1 cup hot tap water into a larger measuring cup. Stir in 4 tablespoons ferric ammonium citrate until crystals dissolve. Transfer the solution to a storage bottle and label it with the name of the solution and the amount.

After cleaning and drying the cup and measuring spoons, mix 1 cup hot water with 2-1/4 tablespoons potassium ferricyanide. Label the mixture. When ready to use, mix the two solutions together.

One professional maker of blueprint fabrics mixes his chemicals in bulk, combining both compounds in one mixture rather than mixing them separately. He mixes 1 pound ferric ammonium citrate with 1 gallon hot tap water, stirs until crystals are dissolved, then adds 1/2 pound potassium ferricyanide. He says chemicals last several months if stored in a lightproof plastic container in a cool spot.

Treating and drying the fabric

First wash and dry your fabric to remove any sizing. Iron the fabric smooth.

Secure the fabric to the plastic- and newspaper-covered work surface with pins. Working rapidly, brush on the chemical solution so it covers the fabric's front (we used about 1 cup per apron). The fabric should now be a light chartreuse green.

If you plan to color an item with two sides--a T-shirt, for example--dip it in the chemical solution, gently wring out, and hang it up to drip dry (or lay it on paper towels over newspaper).

If you want only part of the fabric covered, such as in the top T-shirt on page 124, place a piece of newsprint-wrapped cardboard between fabric layers to prevent the solution from leaking through.

To give the blueprinted area a distinct, hard-edged shape, you can make a stencil of dark-colored contact paper, pressing it firmly onto the fabric. We also had success painting designs using gutta, a water-soluble resist used in silk painting.

Either mask should confine the solution to the painted area; if some liquid leaks underneath following the fabric fibers, clean streaks off after exposure; use a TSP solution (see next page).

Let fabric dry overnight in complete darkness, putting a "keep out" sign on the door, if needed, to discourage intruders. Be sure to put the drop-cloth and newspaper under the area where the fabric will hang; otherwise, drips can color the floor with spots of bright blue. (You can dry small pieces of fabric with a hair dryer.)

Since you have to work fairly quickly once you remove the treated fabric from its darkened quarters, plan your design while the fabric is drying. Store dried fabric, if needed, in a black plastic bag. To check to see that the bag is really opaque, take it outdoors and hold it up to the light.

Preparing and exposing

the "object art" designs

Plan to work in the middle of the day. In the winter months, the best time is between 11 and 2; in summer, 10 to 3 is good. The day shouldn't be too windy or humid. Exposure itself takes 10 to 15 minutes, depending on time of year.

Once you're ready to print, bring the dried fabric back into the dim room and stretch it out on the cardboard so it lies flat and fairly wrinkle-free (hold it in position with pins).

Arrange objects on the fabric (secure lightweight ones with pins), then take the cardboard outside for exposure, laying it flat on the ground. In winter, prop the cardboard on small blocks so it faces the sun more directly. If you're blueprinting both sides of an object, flip it over after 15 minutes to expose the other side.

When the fabric is exposed, it turns dark gray. The blue emerges as you dip the fabric repeatedly in a plastic tub (or bucket) of cold water. The oxygen in the water developes and fixes the blue. Continue rinsing and changing water until the water is clear. Let fabric dry, then iron.

Now's the time to remove any random blue spots or runs with a solution of 1/2 teaspoon TSP in 1 cup water. Dip a rag in the solution and rub the spot; wash in mild liquid soap, then rinse.

For general upkeep, wash fabric by hand in cold water using a mild liquid soap without phosphates or bleaches.

Using acetate art:

the procedure is different

To transfer any drawings or photographs onto acetate, you can trace the original art onto clear acetate with a heavy black felt marker. Or transfer the art by using a photocopying machine and acetate specially designed for this use; photocopying centers charge about 65 cents for an 8- by 10-inch sheet.

We found that most photocopied art is not opaque enough to block the sun completely, producing a light blue image rather than a white one. To correct this, we made identical acetate images, then taped them together. The double layer was sufficient to block the light.

To hold the acetate flat and in position during exposure, place a larger piece of clear glass on top. Exposure time and developing technique are the same as for three-dimensional objects.

The acetate technique yields a negative image once the fabric has been developed. If you want a positive image, you'll have to take your drawing or photograph to a photostat or lithograph service and have a negative print made. You can then copy this onto acetate.

Mail-order supplies

Many chemical distributors sell ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide. To find a source, look in the yellow pages under Chemicals.

If you can't find a local supplier, write to Bryant Laboratory Inc., 1101 Fifth St., Berkeley 94710. Sold by the pound, the compounds cost $15.50 for ferric ammonium citrate and $10.75 for potassium ferricyanide. If you want to learn more about the properties of these compounds, you can ask the laboratory for a material safety data sheet.

To order fabric or T-shirts already treated with blueprint chemicals, write to Blueprints-Printables, 1504 Industrial Way, #7, Belmont, Calif. 94002. Two yards of 54-inch-wide cotton sheeting cost $19.50. The firm also sells T-shirts with a 10-inch-diameter circle of preapplied chemical on the front in small, medium, and large in both child ($11) and adult ($12) sizes.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Nov 1, 1989
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