Look around your house and garage. Maybe even something as boring as a gasket can make a beautiful design in fabric. Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? And maybe a gasket is a silly example, but how about the grill from a barbeque? Maybe some feathers, leaves, shafts of wheat, or even a design made with masking tape.
Pretty much anything will do, although the results are better if the object is flat and will hold still for 10-15 minutes. So, for example, a live halibut, although flat, probably wouldn't be a good choice for this kind of art. But, back to our other examples - suppose you took 1/2" wide masking tape and made a plaid type of design with it, and could then turn that into the blue and white of a fabric design. It's all very possible, and has been done for hundreds of years, thanks to Sir John Herschel. You see, Sir John was an English mathematician, astronomer, chemist, experimental photographer and inventor.
He was also the father of 12 children and the son of Sir William Herschel, the famous astronomer. In short, he was a brilliant, busy guy. And maybe as a method of entertaining one of his many children, he discovered that by soaking paper or cloth with the right chemicals, and then exposing it to the sun, he could create permanent images in a beautiful assortment of blue colors - thus the cyanotype, more commonly known as a blueprint, was born. This was back in 1842, and quickly one of his neighbors used this new process to create art prints.
It didn't take long for fabric artists to create fabric art using the same process, which we know as sunprints. Sunprints are easy to make, and you don't even need to be a chemist to make one. And, you don't need to store any chemicals. It is easy to find pre-treated fabric to make your sunprint, yet the process is basically the same, and your result can look modern, or take on an antique look The pre-treated fabric should come in special packaging that prevents it from being exposed to the light. Developing the "picture" on a sunprint is basically the same as developing a photograph - one of the old fashioned kind, that is. Digital photography doesn't count.
Simply choose some ordinary things with interesting outlines - flowers, leaves, lace, or even paper clips - and arrange them in an interesting design on the pre-treated fabric. If you can place a piece of glass on top of your design, it will make the images sharper. If the glass wobbles around, leave it off. Once everything is set, you take your creation out into the sun and place it in direct sunlight.
The length of time needed will vary according to the direction of the sun and the temperature. But 5-10 minutes on a warm, sunny day or 15-30 minutes on cooler days should be enough to make a good sunprint. Once the blueprint has been exposed, remove the objects, rinse the fabric and then lay it flat to dry (out of the sun). After the fabric is dry, it is ready to use. And how do you use it? If you have created an overall design, you could cut the fabric up and use it in patches for your quilt.
Possibly you created a design with leaves and flowers that will make its own quilt block, and you can make a nature quilt. When my son was in third grade, his class made sunprints and each one of the children got to take theirs home as a treasure. I didn't think of it at the time, but each of those could have been a block in a quilt presented to the teacher at the end of the school year. Your quilt group could make a quilt with each quilter contributing her sunprint block. Sashing between the blocks, and an interesting border are enough to make a great quilt - maybe even something for a charity auction.
Sunprints are so fun and easy, every quilter should make at least one, even if it turns into nothing more than a simple wall hanging in a bathroom.
Penny Halgren is a quilter of more than 26 years who shares her quilting experiences with children and senior citizens alike. Her site at http://www.TheQuiltingCoach.com provides information for people of all ages who would like to learn how to quilt.