Sun Print Napkins

Sun-Print Napkins

Combining the beauty of nature, the magic of photography, and the softness of textiles to create these sun-print napkins makes for a true blue weekend project.

Sun Print Napkin Tutorial

Since I first heard about cyanotype printing, or sun printing, I knew that I had to try it.  The process involves applying a solution of potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate to any natural porous material such as paper or cloth. When exposed to the sun, the treated area turns a deep cyan blue color. Traditionally Cyanotpe printing was used by engineers to make large scale, inexpensive copies of their work, which is where the term “blueprints” comes from.

Sun Print Napkins

Today blueprints are made using current printing technology and the photographic process of cyanotype printing is an art form. There are many different pre-treated papers sold as Sun Printing Kits and the fabric can be purchased as yardage. I didn’t want to choose my printing medium so I bought a chemical kit that can be used to treat both fabric and paper.  The first set of the instructions describe how to apply the chemicals to the fabric, however, skip to the last part of the instructions to see the printing process if you have purchased pre-treated material.

Cyanotype Printing Sun Print Napkins


Photographers Formulary Cyanotype Printing KitMake it!

1. Read the Photographer’s Formulary instructions. Now read them again. It’s best to have a clear idea of how this process works and have all of your materials ready so that you are prepared for using the chemicals. There are precautions listed about skin contact so make sure you wear gloves and be careful as this can get messy.

Photographer's Formulary Sun Printing

2. Mix solution A and Solution B as described in the instructions. Pour the mixed solution into the plastic bucket and add your pre-washed and dried napkins. Ensure the chemicals soak through the fabric, then gently wring out the excess. This is the messy part; wash everything really well when finished. You, your bucket, and any spills should be cleaned with a large amount of warm water.

3. Hang the napkins to dry on a drying rack set up in a dark room with a plastic tub or drop cloth below to catch the drips. Here’s a tip: hang the napkins with clothespins not by draping them over the bars. In my final project the bars left a mark.

4. Once your napkins are dry, you can begin the printing process. My fabric was dry and ready on a cloudy day so I wanted to wait for the sun. I ended up getting busy so they stayed in the dark room for 4 days before I got to printing. It didn’t affect the print at all, so that’s a good sign.

First, lay out your design. Choose plant material that will lie fairly flat for the strongest prints, as round items will cast a shadow and won’t have sharp edges. Experiment with some inexpensive fabric to see what results you like. I used a variety of dried plants that I have in storage.  These were given to me by the master of preserving ornamental plants (click the link to find out more on that process).

Dried Flower Stems and Seed Pods

Lay the design on your fabric and cover with a piece of glass. Use the glass from a large framed photo, making sure it gets a good cleaning.  Bonus, your photo glass will go back up on the wall nice and clean!

Cyanotype Printing on fabric

Leave the print in the sun for 20 minutes. Do Not Touch It. I know, I know, you want to check and see what’s happening. I checked and it messed up the print strength. Just leave it alone. 20 minutes, that’s it!

5. After 20 minutes, remove the glass and plants and wash the print really well in warm water for 5 minutes.  Washing too long can dilute the print; washing too little can leave chemicals on the fabric that will expose over time.

Hang the fabric to dry (again).  I did this in the dark again, not on the sunny clothesline as shown.  I hung them on the clothesline afterward to take some photos.

Cyanotype Printing on fabric

As per the instructions, you can now use and wash your napkins. I have yet to try this but when I do, I will use phosphate-free detergent, hang to dry and iron them a lot to hopefully heat-set the dye. I will not store them in the sun, but in a dark drawer. But I will use them and enjoy them. I hope that you will make some to use and enjoy too! You might also like these Sun Print Cards I made using the same cyanotype method.

Sun Prints

Thanks for visiting weekend project #51.  Next week will be the project that completes a full year of weekend projects! Check them all out by clicking the tab at the top of the page.

Cyanotype Print Napkins

Sun Printed Napkins

About the Author : Stephanie Rose

A city girl who learned to garden and it changed everything. Author, artist, Master Gardener. Better living through plants.

View all posts by Stephanie Rose

  1. Betta Buildings
    Betta BuildingsSeptember 19,12

    These look very pretty and unique!

  2. Heather Head
    Heather HeadSeptember 20,12

    Love it! Couple questions:

    In the pictures, it looks like the image of the plants is blue with a white background at one point, but the finished product shows blue background, white image. Why is this?

    Also, how dark does the “dark room” have to be? Are we talking a literal photography darkroom, or just a moderately dark room with the curtains closed, or something in between?

    I love the result–so beautiful! Thanks!

  3. Stevie
    StevieSeptember 20,12

    Hi Heather,

    The colour changing is the photographic process of cyanotype printing (blue prints or sun prints). The chemical that is applied to the napkin actually looks khaki coloured when dry. When you wash the fabric after it has been exposed to the sun, any area that is covered by an object (in this case plant materials) is not exposed. The unexposed areas remain the fabric colour (white in this case) and the exposed areas turn brilliant blue. Cool right?

    The dark room I used was my furnace room with no windows as it was quite dark. I also did some sun print cards and let those dry in my hall closet. I’m not sure if “drapes closed” is dark enough, but it doesn’t have to be intensely dark like a true dark room.

  4. diypassion
    diypassionSeptember 27,12

    These are stunning. I love them.

  5. Geri Nolan
    Geri NolanOctober 1,12

    In answer to Heather’s pondering… I am a photographer who uses historic photo processes in my art making and teach Cyanotype printing in workshops.
    Cyanotype printing is the process of sunlight imprinting an outline ( and varying degrees of detail ) by light passing through these objects onto photo-sensitized material; when objects are opaque (or solid) such as on the stem, no light can pass through it and so in the final image you will see white.
    In areas where there may be some transparency, like in the petals of a flowers, or places where the materials are thinner perhaps, you will see some shades of blue as partial details of the object.
    The blue is created by light leaving it’s impression around and through the objects as it gets exposed in the sunlight.
    So you start out with the creation of an image that you see as a positive but the light reverses it in the print. Think of the image as it exposes in sunlight like as if it were a film negative. You need the sun (or light) to produce the opposite result of what you see.
    Cyanotypes will fade if washed regularly. If possible do not use soap and if you do use soap, no alkaline in the soap.
    You only need to have dim lighting for both the coating of fabric or paper materials and for working int o0 create the images. I will put brown paper rolls over windows, towels, or sheets.
    As long as it is not direct light of any kind.
    I use pieces of close cell foam to lay out the fabric and to create my piece, and then I will sandwich it between to pieces of plate glass to keep the materials in firm contact with the cotton
    The chemicals are mildly toxic, in powder form or as stock liquid solution, so wear gloves, glasses and an apron. After the final Cyanotype print is washed it is safe to handle, although I am not certain I’d use them as napkins because they will get moist from your mouth … and if they are not washed completely you are exposing yourself to residue chemicals.
    Pretty to look at, but not for consumption!
    Better to make place mats or table cloths!

    • Stevie
      StevieOctober 1,12

      Thanks for your feedback, Geri. It’s wonderful to get the feedback of an expert. Great suggestion to wash the napkins thoroughly. I have now washed them a few times and I’m convinced the chemicals are off them, yet the colour remains strong. The phosphate free soap seems to be a good trick. I also ironed them quite a bit to set the dye, which may have helped. I admit I haven’t been using them a lot, they are too darn pretty! I have been considering making them into pillow covers so I can really enjoy them.

      All the feedback you passed on is also addressed in the instructions provided by Photographer’s Formulary so I feel well prepared. Thanks for visiting!

  6. Nicole Scott
    Nicole ScottOctober 1,12

    I love this idea! Yay that Huff picked it up too! I want to try it, The blue colour after the reaction is just stunning! You know I’m thinking pillows right?

    • Stevie
      StevieOctober 1,12

      Thanks Nicole!

    • Stevie
      StevieOctober 1,12

      Nicole – I just said this in another comment but wanted to tell you too: I think I may make these napkins into pillows. The colour of so rich and vibrant – I just love it!

  7. Marianne
    MarianneOctober 2,12

    I have seen kits for these but have never had the time to do this so ready to now, Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Sonnie Croft
    Sonnie CroftOctober 2,12

    Wow! As a dedicated gardener and maker of many crafts – anything that looks fun…anything “artsy-fartsey” as my husband says…I love this project idea. I’m so glad to find this website! I’m sure I’ll find many fun and interesting projects to try. Thanks so much !! Maybe Winter won’t seem so long now.
    Sonnie Croft

  9. Sandi Crabtree
    Sandi CrabtreeOctober 3,12

    Just beautiful and so unique, great directions we’re going to try it! Thanks for sharing. Just love your site too.

  10. Kate
    KateOctober 24,12

    These are wonderful! How many napkins were you able to make with this amount of mix?

  11. Brenda
    BrendaMay 28,14

    You had some beautiful dried things that I would love to have . Where on earth did you find them?


  12. carrie brock
    carrie brockSeptember 5,14

    i notice you posted this a few years ago. have you since washed these? how did they stand up to the washing machine? thanks!

  13. Heater Wire Element
    Heater Wire ElementOctober 6,14

    Hi there Dear, are you really visiting this website
    on a regular basis, if so then you will absolutely obtain fastidious know-how.

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