Bleach Stenciling - Tutorial

Today it was a gorgeous sunny day here and I decided to test some bleach stenciling for future projects.  This turned out to be a lot of fun, incredibly fast and easy, and had some fabulous results.  This is something most any fiber crafter can do with common household projects and a little ingenuity.

-Fabrics of choice
-cardboard letter stencils
-2 to 1 bleach solution in spray bottle
-spray baste
-paper towels
-running water and soap

I started with a random selection of fabrics to test.  I used 1 fabric that was a hand dyed batik, and several prints of various tone and scale.  All fabrics had been pre-washed.  I also used a small utility spray bottle and made a solution of about 2 parts bleach 1 part water.  I set the nozzle to the spray setting.

I cut the fabrics 6 inches tall and various widths.  I chose 6 inches as my stencils are 3 inches tall - I wanted to have a bit of a surrounding area to cut down or sew as I may desire.

Spraying back of stencils
I chose a few simple words to start - imagine, be alive, create, and joy.  I sprayed a very light amount of spray baste on the back of my precut cardboard stencils and set them on my fabrics.  Then, I set them outside and sprayed them with my bleach solution.  I sprayed the stenciled area heavily and randomly around the edges.  I personally set them on a bare wood handrail on my back porch and set coffee cups on the corners to keep them from blowing away.  Then I let the bleach do its work.

Due in part to my very strong bleach solution it worked very fast.  The bleach had the biggest impact on the batik fabric - hand dyed fabric has already been treated to accept color changes and the bleach impacts the dyes used very quickly.  The prnted fabrics took a bit more time and had a larger variety of effects based on the prints and the chemicals used in the original print process.

Once I decided a fabric was to the color I wanted it is very simple to deactivate the bleach.  I carefully peeled off the stencils - trying to keep them intact for a later use - and then washed them under running warm water.  Using a bar of soap, I just quickly scrubbed over the fabric and rinsed clean.  I squeezed them as dry as possible then draped them for a while over my shower bar.  An air dry and hot iron later and it was ready to go!

A couple of points of interest - bleach is very bad for the skin.  I would either use gloves (which I did not) or wash your hands well after every contact and then use lotion (which I did).  When washing the bleach out dont be shy about using a nail brush if you like.  I used a bar of soap because that was convenient, and it works well at getting things off me.  If you prefer you can run the finished pieces thru a wash cycle of the washing machine - just don't add it to a load of darks!

Your cardboard stencils wont last forever.  Mine started to peel apart after 3-5 uses.  You could make some out of template plastic.  Or watch for cardboard ones to go on sale in the office dept of the store.  i plan to collect them on sale in various fonts.

Finally - I watched the bleaching process closely.  As bleach is corrosive I would not recommend this on delicate or vintage cottons.  I would also not bleach for more than an hour or so - bleach can and will 'eat' cotton eventually.  You do not want to wind up with a piece of fabric that is brittle and cannot be used in a quilt!

Some fabrics will not accept the bleach at all.  Good for color fastness in projects - bad for this project!  I believe there are pre-treatments you can do to overcome that, but for the purposes of my project I elected not to look into that.  Here you can see a fabric that did not bleach out at all.  I was really hoping it would!

Stencils stuck to the fabric
A light print with heavy contrast doesnt do well - you can't even tell there was bleach added
This is a fun one - black does not bleach to white, it bleaches to a muddy orange!  I love that when you use a tone on tone print the painted print will stay and add a whole new dimension to the bleached out sections.

5 minutes
10 minutes
15 minutes
Washed and ironed - love how the orange kind of glows and the printed floral stayed on
I was unsure how the dark green would do, it seemed to take forever to bleach out.  However, once I say it going i loved how the leaf print stayed a grey item thru the fabric.
15 minutes

20 minutes

25 minutes

Ready to use!

I love this rich blue fabric.  Its fascinating how it bleached out to a grey.  the large print with contrast muddied up the words a bit - something to keep in mind.

10 minutes
15 minutes

20 minutes

Ironed and completed.  A large print like this will show - make sure thats what you want
Now I have several pieces I will have to put into projects - and lots of ideas for more!  Thinking about a project using a favorite word or phrase in several languages.   Adding words to a few ongoing projects.  The possibilities!
This is the hand dyed fabric - a bright burgundy.  I love how this came out

So much possibility!


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