Want a Fun, Hands-on, Creative Science Experiment? Try Sun Print Fabric

By Blog Editor Susan Wells

I took a package of Sun Sensitive Fabric into Mrs. Vernon’s 3rd grade class this week. Mrs. Vernon is a teacher who loves science and hands-on learning. She knows how to integrate science into her lesson plans and encourages me to bring in some fun science activities to share with her class throughout the year. I hope she knows this is what I love about my job.

With all the rainy, cloudy weather in the Denver area this spring, it has taken us weeks of trying to schedule a time between all of the other lessons she must get in before the end of the year and the rain drops.

We finally had a window this week. And by window, I mean a few hours before the rain clouds came in. Again.

Sun Print Fabric is treated with a special light sensitive solution, then dried and sealed in a light-proof bag. When exposed to the sun, the fabric will change color. It works just like Sun Sensitive Paper. Place some flat items on top of the fabric, lay it in the sunlight for 5-10 minutes, rinse and you have an original work of art.

This was my first time doing this activity with a group. Each student received an 8.5″ 8.5″ inch fabric square. The packets of 20 come in either all blue or multiple colors. We did the multi-colored and I highly recommend it. The fabric colors before being exposed to the sun are different than the finished product. The kids had a hard time picking colors, because the squares were different shades of green and brown. Not exciting, especially if you are a 3rd grader.

One girl said “Don’t you have any other choices?” I promised her it would be cool in the end, and she told me I was right.

Once they laid it out in the sun and then rinsed them, the fabric turned purple, pink, yellow, green and blue. It was exciting to watch prints and colors come to life in the cold water.

I worked in groups of five at a time. The kids laid out their designs on the floor. When they were ready, I let them choose a piece of fabric. The fabric will not process in florescent light, so it is safe to lay out inside. Once it hits the sunlight, there is no going back. When designing their creation, I told the kids to think of it like a blueprint on fabric. Whatever you lay down will block the sun and protect the fabric from the sunlight. The exposed fabric will react to the light. The students also liked how some shapes casted shadows, creating a 3D look in their design.

The creativity was overflowing. It was fun to watch each group get more creative and more experimental with their fabric squares. While Mrs. Vernon picked flowers and leaves outside, the students searched around the classroom for shapes and objects. My favorites were a pair of scissors and the peace charm off a bracelet.

Sun Print Fabric is a little more expensive than the more popular Sun Sensitive Paper, but the extra investment is worth it. The fabric has a larger space in which to create a masterpiece, it is more durable and it isn’t something that will just get thrown away, like prints on Sun Paper. Mrs. Vernon’s students are planning to make theirs into pillows, bandanas, backpack patches, framed art and more.

Helpful Tips and Tricks

  • It is helpful to do this activity with three adults – one setting up designs, one outside and one at the sink. It is most helpful to have an adult to double check the rinsing and squeeze out all water.
  • Pin fabric squares to a piece of cardboard for stability.
  • Keep everything on top pinned down. We had a few disasters at first, because the wind blew everything off the square as the students carried their boards outside. Have the kids pin all light items. Just be aware of potential shadows from push pins. A non-UV blocking piece of glass will also work well.
  • Use only flat items. The more 3D an item is, the less of an impact it will have. We used paper letters, geometric shapes, leaves (leaves with different shapes and edges work best), necklaces, plastic animals (lay down, don’t stand up), jacks, flowers, ribbons, buttons, beads and anything else the students could find.
  • Don’t move anything or cast shadows onto the fabric once it is in the sunlight.
  • Do this activity in the middle of the day when the sun is overhead and shadows are at a minimum.
  • You can do this on a cloudy day (I tried it the day before). The fabric will need to sit out longer, more like 20-25 minutes to allow for full processing.
  • The fabric isn’t going to change much in the sunlight. You can carefully look under one of your shapes to see if the fabric is working. The real color change won’t come until you rinse it in the sink.
  • Rinse completely until the water runs clear. Squeeze out all extra water. We noticed the water ran clear, but when we squeezed the water out, there was still some dye left in the fabric.
  • Wash your hands after rinsing or it may stain skin.
  • We used a laundry drying rack to hang the wet fabric on.
  • This project is certified non-hazardous but eating the fabric isn’t a great idea. It tastes terrible.
3 replies
  1. Julia Yow
    Julia Yow says:

    Doing a school auction project with sun print fabric. We need to cut our own squares. Can fabric be exposed to a red light in a dark room?

    • Susan Wells
      Susan Wells says:

      The red light should be fine, but I would try it with one square before taking all of them out at once. Sunlight is what alters the fabric. We set up inside under fluorescents and did not see a change until it went into the direct sunlight. It definitely doesn’t hurt to be careful and keep it completely out of sunlight or direct light until ready to use.


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