Sun Printing

Achievable Textile Art

There is a lot of debate about what makes art, particularly in the textile area. Often the answer revolves around the idea that art occurs when you follow your own creativity, step outside that which is more commonly ‘crafted’ and manipulate materials and media in a way that is original and expresses your individual voice. This series by Cecile Whatman of Unique Stitching will explore a range of techniques and skills that allow you to achieve this. Join Cecile on Facebook at or at

Using Transparent or Semi Transparent Fabric Paints

Creating or altering fabric with paints allows you to tailor your feature fabrics or backgrounds to exactly what you want for your project. It is also incredibly quick, easy and fun.

Paints come in many forms. Different brands will be described and marketed in different ways and it can be confusing to know which product is optimal for which technique. The reality is that most of them are interchangeable and there is no single product that has a single use. What can be the greatest separation between types of paints is viscosity and transparency. Some paints, like Lumiere, Golden and Liquitex are thick and generally opaque. Some paints like Dye Na Flow and Pebeo Seteo Transparent are very liquid or runny and generally more transparent. It is these more liquid paints I want to show you this month.

I will show you two techniques: creating a colourwash background and sun/salt printing.

The Materials you require for this session are:

  • White homespun or fabric you want to alter. I am using homespun, but you can paint any fabric.
  • Three or four transparent paints. I am using Dye Na Flow in Sun Yellow, Bright Orange, Brilliant Red, Hot Fuchsia and Burnt Umber.
  • Stencil or other objects for sun printing. Anything that can lie flat will work.
  • Coarse household salt or salt flakes.
  • A foam brush. I use a 2 to 3 inch one, but use what ever you have to hand
  • A disposable plastic bowl, reuseable tray or paint surface, water in a bucket or a spray bottle.


The stencil I used is “Branches”, a twelve inch mask by The Crafter’s Workshop.


Work somewhere with enough space to spread out your fabric a bit and that you can clean paint off. If you don’t have a dedicated space, put some plastic on your kitchen or laundry bench to protect the surface.

Cover your workspace with a plastic drop sheet or work somewhere that can get paint on it. The backyard lawn works just as well as a wet studio.


Cut your fabric into the size you want to work on and submerge it in tap water. Wet thoroughly and wring out. Working on wet fabric slightly dilutes the paint and allows the colours to blend into each other via osmosis. If your fabric dries out or your paint is not moving as much as you would like it to, you can squirt more water onto the fabric with a spray bottle or add water to your paint. It is good if you can spread your fabric out smoothly, but scrunches and folds add interest, so work in the space available to you.

1. Colourwash Fabric

Pour a small amount of your first paint colour into a plastic bowl. All transparent paints can be diluted with water, so you can soften the colours by adding water. Great if you want to work in pastels.


Using the foam brush, randomly apply the first colour across sections of your wet fabric.

Continue adding small amounts of different paints. You don’t need to cover the whole area as the water in the fabric will carry the paint across. Paint over the top with some colours to add depth and blending. In this piece I used orange, yellow, red and pink. All four were diluted by using a wet brush so the colour is soft.

Hang the wet fabric to dry and then iron to heat set the paint. Your fabric is now ready to use.

2. Sun Printing and Salt Splatter

Start by wetting and wringing out the fabric and painting the surface is the same way as the first exercise. In this case, I have used Yellow and Burnt Umber.

Place your stencil or other objects on the wet painted surface and press down to make sure the objects are in firm contact with the wet paint.

Sprinkle salt onto the wet surface. Salt is a carrier of paint and dye, it sucks it up, removing colour from the fabric surface. This gives you a star burst effect. Add as much or as little as you like.


Leave the painted fabric to dry completely. Placing the fabric in the sun will speed up the process but the good news is that ‘sun printing’ can actually be done without the sun. This sample was done in pouring rain and black skies.

Once dry, remove the stencil or other objects and shake off the dried salt. Iron to heat set the paint.

Here is the finished fabric and some detail.

Detail of the salt effect


Detail of the ‘sun print’


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2 thoughts on “Sun Printing”

  1. Can you please tell me is there salt on the stencil ? Is this how the colour is removed through the stencil? In your photos it looks so clear that I cannot see grains of salt.
    I use the salt method with my silk painting for this effect but am confused over the stencil bit.
    Also you say use any object so how is the colour removed from beneath the object?

    1. The salt is giving the starburst effect around the tree pattern. There is no salt on the stencil – as it would not work through the stencil. The stencil is only giving the tree outline, the salt gives the starburst effects on the other areas of the fabric


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