Introduction: Not Your Mother's Tie Dye: How to Sunpaint

About: I am a maker of badges and quilts and other stuff. I mostly make what amuses me or what I need. I love challenges and I love to upcycle whenever I can.

Sunpainting using Peboe setacolour sun paints is a fun way to decorate fabric. 

Discovered in the South Seas, the technique involves painting the fabric and then covering it with plant material and other objects.  Once dry the objects leave behind a lovely impression. This is a natural process.  No matter how hard you try it will not be the same twice.  Doing the same thing in the same way leads to different results.  Go with it. 

Some more examples of my sunpaintings are available on my blog.  HereHere

Step 1: Materials

  • sunpaint  Pebeo has manufactured a specific sun paint in the past.  It has also been available from Klutz books in a kit.
  • Paint brushes
  • Cups or cans for diluting  (I now use recycled deli dishes with lids so that I can store my dilute paint.)
  • Plant Material*
Not Shown
  • washed, damp 100 % cotton fabric
  • Plastic bigger than the fabric you are dying.  (Old shower curtain, vinyl table cloth, plastic garbage bag...)
  • water
* a note about plant material. All of the materials I use in my sunpainting come from my own yard.  They are from pruning, weeding or my cutting garden.

This should be an Earth friendly activity.  Do not pick leaves and flowers from public lands.  Be particularly careful that you are not collected threatened or endangered species.  It is best to use common weed species (dandelion, garlic mustard, bush honeysuckle)  It is also good to use trimmings and other yard waste.  Be very careful that you do not grab poison ivy or the like.  Florists are often willing to donate the waste leaves and scraps that end up in their waste bins.  Please do not strip trees or bushes of their leaves.  If you are doing this with a group, make sure you control where they are getting the leaves or provide them.

Step 2: Mixing the Paint

The paint needs to be diluted before you can use it.  I am quite sure there are directions on the bottle and that they say to use a very precise 2:1 ratio of water to paint.  If you've ready any of my previous Instructables you know by now you should read and follow all package directions to insure proper and safe usage of the materials. 

OK.  Now, don't worry about all that.  Poor a blob out into the cup.  It is thick.  This paint is stupid expensive.  By the time you precisely measure it you've left enough paint in the measuring spoon to paint six more shirts.  That is a waste.  Eyeball it.  Trust me.  It will work without measuring. 

If you really truly have to measure to insure proper control of the color and paint in the final product (good luck with that!) then use a balance and weigh it out in the cup you are using for dilution.  Otherwise, get over it and wing it. 

Add water.  Eyeball it.  You want to add roughly twice as much water as paint.  But don't stress over it.  You don't want to fill the cup up with water.   You don't want to have the paint too thick.  You are aiming for a nice runny brightly colored easy to splash and drip paint. 
iSunday best when sun painting.  Think about how you are going to protect the fancy duds of all the kids  you are working with.  It WILL stain.  It won't come out.  You can try IMMEDIATELY flushing the fabric with cold water.  That will help but not much.

Step 3: Fabric

For the purposes of this Instructable, I've used a small square of cotton sheeting.  This works great on t-shirts.

Wash or rinse the fabric very well. 

Squeeze out as much of the water as you can. 

Spread the fabric out on a piece of plastic that is slightly larger that the fabric. 

Ideally you want to work on a smooth surface.  That isn't always practical.  Don't worry about it.  It will be fine.  The lumps will only give your project more character. 

Spilled paint will stain concrete and blacktop.  Think about that before you set up your painting stations.  Some Principals are not happy to have blue paint on the front walk.  Don't ask.  Just trust me!

Step 4: Painting the Fabric

Brush, paint, drip, splash the paint onto the surface of the fabric.

Just like in kindergarden, cover the WHOLE thing.  You can't see an impression if there isn't any paint. 

You want the fabric wet with paint but not completely soaked.  The wetter it is the longer it will take to dry.

Colors will intensify as the paint dries.  If your paint is very light, you may want to add more to the mix.  If it is very bright or too thick to spread add water.

The paint will move around.  It doesn't stay where you put it.  You can plan out pretty precise rows and designs.  Just be prepared for them to not be there when you come back.

Be careful with the paint.  It WILL stain.  Sidewalks too!  Really.  It happens. 

Step 5: Placing Your Plants

Arrange you plant material on the surface of your fabric.  Gently press it down.

Leaves work best if you place them with the thick ribs facing up. 

If you are working in full sun, your fabric can start to dry too quickly.  Use a spray bottle of water to keep it damp. 

Step 6: Watching the Paint Dry

Or not. 

Leave it in the full sun.  Let it dry.  Thin fabric like this can dry in 10 - 20 minutes.  A t-shirt may take an hour or two.  It all depends on how warm it is, whether you are in direct sunlight, how wet your fabric was to start and how much paint you added.

DO NOT be tempted to pick up your plants and peak.  It will blur the lines. 

Step 7: Now You Can Look

Once the fabric is completely dry to the touch, remove the plants and objects. 

Dispose of properly or save for re-use. 

Admire your sunpaint.

Remember, they NEVER work exactly as you plan.  Celebrate the uniqueness. 

If you have a real distaste of a t-shirt then look for my instructable on making a ruffle scarf out of it!

Step 8: Heat Set Your Fabric.

The fabric paints must be heat set.  Here is one of those Follow the manufacturer's directions rules.  Really.  Do what the package says. 

I iron mine.  On cotton setting.  A lot.  Then I wash them with a color catcher and Iron them again. 

It is addiction.  You can make a LOT

It looks like tie dye from a distance.  Looking closely you can see the sunpainted designs.  Much cooler!