Making a cyanotype quilt – from the garden

Jackie Van Fossen, a very experienced quilt maker, shows how she incorporates cyanotypes, or blueprints on fabric, made from plants, into your quilts. Yes, a cyanotype quilt!

Writer / Jaqueline Van Fossen

quilt of cyanotypeA quilt is a three layered fabric construction consisting of the top or design layer and backing with a batt of cotton or wool or polyester sandwiched between the two outer layers. Quilts were originally made to create heavy bed blankets. The early pieces were made from worn out clothing and fabric scraps left over from making clothing. Inner batting layers were carded wool or raw cotton. Some “crazy” quilts were made from finer fabrics, silk, taffeta, velvet and extensively embroidered using the well practiced skills of the time. The embroidery often told a “story” of the maker, encompassing names of the makers parents, husband and children, dates of births, marriages or deaths; the fabrics were those of garments from weddings, funerals, christenings. These were quilts in the traditional sense.

In recent times, quilts have become works of art – beyond the realm of practical household textiles. These decorative works are displayed in homes as well as commissioned for public spaces. Quilt making in the late 20th and now early 21st century has grown far past the notion of home making and into the realm of the fine arts.

cyanotypes on fabric for quiltingBlueprinting or cyanotypes on fabric is one of many ways to produce individual complex cloth or personally decorated cloth to incorporate into a quilt.

The choices for design elements to “print” with cyanotype onto cloth, is limited only by your own imagination.

My personal preference for printing is the local native plant life of the area near my home including my garden trees and flowers. I camp on the prairies and mountains of Alberta, Canada and take along my fabric and pick bits of the local plant life to print, and so return home with numerous samples to incorporate into my quilts.

Other design elements to print are computer-generated images onto overhead plastic (transparencies) including the printed word and photo negatives. Handprints and footprints work very well, as well as any two-dimensional objects, materials from the hardware and building supplies. As I said, choices for design elements are limited only by your imagination.

How to make the cyanotype prints

Use already sensitized cloth. To find out how to do this, read the Cyanotype Process article or buy the cloth ready sensitized.

  • In a darkened room cut the fabric to the size of your choice
  • Pin fabric slightly stretched to a foam board
  • Lay your design elements onto the fabric and pin to the fabric. For plants, lay a sheet of glass (not Plexiglas) over the leaves to flatten them
  • Move the fabric-covered board into the sunlight
  • Wait for 10 to 15 minutes; the greenish colored fabric will turn blue
  • Take the fabric-covered board back into the darkened room and
    remove the design elements and fabric
  • Put on your rubber gloves and rinse the fabric thoroughly in two to four rinses of cold water
  • Roll fabric in a towel to squeeze out the water and hang fabric in a darkened area to dry
  • Press with a dry iron

Making the quilt

Sew the fabric pieces together to form a pleasing pattern in a rectangular shape. You might use commercial fabric between the “blocks” to separate them into an interesting pattern. Any quilting book with block settings will give you ideas for settings.

You may even cut up the cyan printed blocks further and incorporate other fabrics to make an interesting pattern. Press each seam carefully so they lay flat. This will be your quilt top.

  • Lay the backing fabric face down.
  • Lay the batting onto the backing fabric.
  • Lay the quilt top face up onto the batting. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) of backing and batting showing at each edge.
  • Pin or hand baste the three layers together.

Sew the layers together on your sewing machine or by hand stitching. Start at the centre and work toward the edges making sure the front and back are smoothed down and no wrinkles or tucks are sewn into the back. You have several choices of designs to use to do this “quilting”. You can follow the lines of stitching where the blocks were originally sewn together – called stitching “in the ditch”. You can stitch randomly in a circular motion – called “free-motion” quilting or stitch across the blocks on the diagonal, in stripes or diamond patterns, or you can stitch around the printed designs in each block.

Whichever method you choose should complement the designs in the blocks. This technique is used to hold the three layers together so the stitching should be not too close together nor too far apart with stitching distances a minimum of about 2.5 cm to a maximum of about 15 cm.

Cyanotype quiltTo finish the edges cut a strip of coordinating cloth about 7 cm wide and long enough to go around the whole quilt. This might mean joining pieces at this step. Do so with a bias join. Fold the strip in half and with the unfinished edges aligned with the outside edge of the quilt, stitch onto the top with a.5 cm seam.

Mitre the corners by sewing to the end of the strip at the first corner, lift the presser foot and needle up on your machine, pull the binding fabric up to form a 90 degree angle and move the excess fabric upwards at the corner. Drop the needle so that it goes into the fabric almost at the same point that it was lifted out with the excess fabric moved out of the way and to the top edge of the quilt. When you turn the binding over to the back of the quilt, this will make a very nice finished corner. Join the ends with a bias seam.

With scissors or a rotary cutter, trim the quilt back to the binding unfinished edge.

Fold the strip over to the back of the quilt and pin along the edges to cover the machine stitching. Hand stitch to the back of the quilt using invisible stitches.

Sign your name onto the front with your machine or make a label to attach to the back with your name and date and title of the piece.

The example in the photo was made from fabrics printed from my garden plants. The piecing design was developed from a weaving by Anni Albers, a well-known weaver from the Bauhaus movement who moved to the US in the early 1930’s with her husband, the color specialist, Joseph Albers. The commercial fabric is called millennium and the piece was made in 2000.

I teach this technique to quiltmakers and I am amazed in each class at the creativity of my students.

Jackie, a painter at heart, has been working in the fibre and design field for a number of years. She is a member of the Edmonton Needlecraft Guild and the Edmonton Weavers Guild to offset her specialty of quilting. Her passion is working with design and colour especially colour application of fabric painting, dying, printing, shibori and other surface techniques. Her work has evolved into a collage of multi-media works including felting, embroidery, paper making, quilting, weaving and surface embellishment. Jackie has studied with such well known fibre artists as Nancy Crow, Yvonne Porcella, Bill Morton, Pam Godderis and Mary Sustrik. Her work has been exhibited in a number of venues throughout Western Canada and has won numerous awards. You can contact Jackie on

Recommended reading - Learn more about Cyanotypes
Blueprint to cyanotypes the book by Malin Fabbri
Buy directly from the author

Blueprint to cyanotypes - Exploring a historical alternative photographic process

by Malin Fabbri and Gary Fabbri

9 of 10   Rated 9,46 - based on 182 votes

All you need to get started with cyanotypes, full of information, tips and samples from artists. An excellent beginners' guide to cyanotypes!
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Cyanotype Notes - Document your cyanotype process
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Cyanotype notes – Document your cyanotype process

50 pre-defined pages for you to document your cyanotype process.
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Yearly wall planner in A0, A1 and A2 size, featuring 60 beautiful cyanotypes.

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