Stretched Quilt with cyanotypes by Elaine Luther, 2024

Stretched Quilt with cyanotypes by Elaine Luther, Copyright 2024 (10″ x 10″)

You know I love turning things blue. I’ve been printing photograms for a while. Photograms are where you make a cyanotype or Solar Fast print using objects to block the light from getting to the treated paper or fabric. Now, at last, I’m printing photographs. To make the photographic prints look their best, you need to up the contrast some and invert the photo, digitally. Make it look like a photo negative, basically.

I work with a wonderful graphic designer and she created a whole bunch of negatives for me, using photos that my husband took. He’s a talented photographer and lets me use his photos. The typewriter photo is from a set up I created and he photographed. It’s a super long piece of paper that extends out from the typewriter.

On the left side is a cyanotype of vintage recipe cards, typed by hand, of course.  And can you believe that hashtag fabric?  I have one more small piece of it, which luckily has a bit of selvedge with the name of the manufacturer, so I can track down more.  The fabric above the photo is some of my own shibori dyed fabric.

The photo at the very top of this post shows some test layouts.

I made this piece as a first demonstration of the process – of using photos and documents in fabric works. I’ve been interested in getting photos on fabric for years and have tried so many methods. What’s great about cyanotype and Solar Fast?

They’re permanent, they don’t change the feel of the fabric, and I like the way that transforming a photo, or an object, or even recipe cards, into just two colors, which are not their original colors, changes how we experience it. It takes it out of time, takes it out of the present, or out of the past, and we slow down and look. Much of my art is trying to get people to slow down and look, maybe think about a thing.

This one isn’t very narrative, but it hints at domestic labor, with the recipe cards. Those are from my collection of vintage recipe cards, I never use the originals, only copies. Using them for cyanotype prints doesn’t damage them – there’s an intermediate step where I make a transparency of them.

Rinsing Cyanotypes

After exposing the photograph and photographic negative, the next step is rinsing. Here’s a photo from my studio of rinsing out two new cyanotypes, these are photograms of vintage doilies.

Two pieces of fabric in a rinse bath, cyanotypes by Elaine Luther

Two photograms on fabric, prints of doilies, by Elaine Luther, Copyright 2024.

This is the exciting moment where you get to see, did it work? Does it look the way I expected? Now I’m working on a stretched quilt like the one above, but larger, so I needed a larger central image.

Which is Better, Cyanotype or Solar Fast?

They’re both excellent. Here’s a chart from Jacquard, the company that invented Solar Fast, and also sells cyanotype chemicals and pre-treated fabrics.

Cyanotype vs. Solar Fast by Jacquard

Cyanotype vs. Solar Fast Chart by Jacquard

There’s an older version of this information from Jacquard, no longer on their website, that goes into much more details. This link is on someone else’s site and will take you directly to the pdf: Jacquard Cyanotype vs. Solar Fast.

In brief, the differences are:

  • With Solar Fast you treat the fabric or paper and print immediately. Cyanotypes (for the most part), you treat the paper or fabric and allow it to try before printing.
  • Solar Fast comes in 14 colors; cyanotypes only in blue (more if you “tone” them post printing).
  • Solar Fast is more wash-fast.
  • Cyanotypes are less expensive to make, assuming you’re treating the paper or fabric yourself.

Look at that, I’m supposed to be showing you what I’ve made in the studio lately and I slip into teaching mode!

Here’s a cyanotype on paper, miniature mounted on a thin wood panel:

Cyanotype print on paper, mounted on painted panel. Copyright Elaine Luther 2024.

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