With the recent custom fabric tutorials and workshops on etsy,
I thought I'd write a tutorial on a bleach stencilling method I learned in 1989 in a Theater Fabric Modification seminar at San Francisco State University. (when I was majoring in costume design at the time)
There are some very good tutorials already on the web for the bleach stencil method:
Those are good resources and you should read them for general tips.
All of the above are using the familiar type of pictorial stencils. The method I will share is using lace or a doily as your stencil, to make a patterned design fabric rather than a pictorial design. This was used in the costume shop to simulate brocade. Theatrical costumes are seen from a distance, not in closeups like film, so there is a long tradition of making cheap fabrics look like expensive ones, and it only has to pass from a distance. But the technique is a cool one for adapting to craft usage.
Before you get started, some Do's and Don't's:
DO wear old clothes that you won't mind if they get bleached
DO wear safety glasses- the bleach mist might go in your eye, and as they said in Ghostbusters: "that would be bad".
DO this process in the shower or the garage, or outdoors.
DON'T do it in any room with carpet, upholstery, curtains, etc.
DO use basic cheap chlorine bleach
DON'T use color-safe bleach
DO test a small piece of your fabric with some bleach solution before you start, so you will know what color you will get when it lightens.
DO use about 3 parts bleach to one part water.
DO use a good spray bottle that gives an even, fine mist with no drips and blobs.
DO use a dark colored fabric which is 100% cotton or at least a 50% cotton/50% poly blend. It doesn't have to be only T-shirts, you can do this technique on corduroy, denim, cotton velveteen, etc.
Here are the materials I am working with
I have a piece of black percale sheet, a poly-cotton blend, and a piece of heavy thick cotton lace to use as my stencil. This was a recycled thrift shop blouse.
You should choose a piece of lace which is thick, like a doily. Thin laces will just soak through. If you can find a vintage 1960's plastic lace tablecloth or placemat, those are ideal. Other thrift store finds like crocheted shawls can be used too- anything with an openwork pattern that is thick enough.
1. Lay the lace on top of your dry fabric, with a safe surface underneath. I'm using my washing machine lid, you can also use a large piece of tinfoil, or just do this process in the shower.
2. Spray an even mist of bleach onto the fabric. Don't saturate the lace, you just want a light mist.
3. Immediately remove the lace and set it aside or hang it up to dry.
This is the fabric immediately after the lace has been removed- the bleach has just begun to remove some of the dye.
4. let the dark fabric set a few minutes as the bleach continues to lighten it.
5. When the desired color is reached, quickly rinse the fabric in a bucket of water. Do not let it sit in the water. The bleach will be rinsed into the water and if you let it sit, the whole item will bleach evenly and lose the pattern.
6. Empty out the bucket and repeat a few times with clean water. Do quick rinses, swish the fabric around a few times and then change the water.
7. Now run the fabric through the dryer. This is my final result after it's dry:
8. you can also rinse and dry your lace to reuse it later. If your lace piece is small, you can do several areas at a time, one after another to make a repeating pattern. However, feel the lace periodically to make sure it's not getting saturated.
Another way to use bleach in making your own custom fabrics is the great Clorox Bleach Gel Pen.
For my example I am just drawing some simple spiral designs on my black sheet.
Let the gel sit for 1-3 minutes until the desired color is reached.
Then do the rinsing process from steps 5 and 6 above.
Then run it through the dryer.
Here is my final result:
These are just some quick samples of what can be done with household bleach. There's always an element of unpredictability and imperfection with this method, but I like that and it looks more earthy and handmade, like batik or mudcloth. It's not always possible to bleach a dark fabric into a pure white design. That much bleach would possible eat holes in the fabric. You are more likely to acheive a lighter shade of your starting color. For example here bleaching black fabric, I get a greyish brown. If you were bleaching a forest green cotton, you might end up with a light greenish yellow. So always experiment with a small piece first and don't use this method on very expensive fabrics. I find that when I use cheap materials, my creativity is liberated because I'm not afraid of ruining them! Most of all, have fun and be safe.