Bleaching Fabrics

fabric bleaching
Bleaching fabrics like quilting cottons is something I’ve wanted to try for a while. This seems like a natural progression for someone obsessed with fabric like I am, and apparently the crafting world at large is thinking the same thing, because there are some fabulous books currently out and soon to be out that can easily walk you through all you need to know to do this (more on that in a minute).
On Sunday, I decided to try bleach discharge. I pulled out a dozen or so fabrics, in a range of shades from dark to light, some blues and greens, some pinks and reds, to see how the different colors would react. I set up shop in the backyard with an empty plastic bin, and mixed a simple solution of 4 quarts water with 4 cups bleach. I added the fabric into the solution in three different batches (not sure this was entirely necessary, but I did), then set the timer for 5 minute increments. (Note I did not add soap in the solution, the bubbles could be from stirring.)
fabric bleaching
I have to say it didn’t seem to alter the fabric at all for most of the time it was in the solution (although I’m sure it was), but when I did start to see a change in the fabric colors it happened fast, so my advice is to keep your eyes on it. This batch came out about 15 minutes later, I left the next fabrics in for the same amount of time. Then I ran them all through a wash cycle to remove the bleach, then pressed them out.
Here’s the results-
fabric bleaching
fabric bleaching
All of these are quilting cottons, with the exception of the linen Lotta Jansdotter on the bottom right of the last photo. Some fabrics changed quite a bit, some not so much. But fun, right? The most interesting changes are when the dye washes away and brings out some undertone in the original color that didn’t show up as much in the original. I think I’d like to play with this some more, adjusting the times the fabrics are in the solution, etc.
fabric bleaching
I started a new pillow, pairing one of the bleached pieces with its original (an Amy Butler print). This is very cool stuff. I am really excited that Malka’s book is due out in November. If its anything like her blog and beautiful fabrics, it will only inspire me further. And Amy’s book came last week, which sort of sent me off on this tangent to begin with, but more on that tomorrow. I’m going to try to blog every day this week, to get me back in the habit, plus I just have lots to talk about.
Oh! And today I have a interview up over at The Progressive Pioneer
(thank you Amy!).
Have a great day!

  • Erin | house on hill road

    August 31, 2009 at 7:59 am

    so flipping fantastic. i have wanted to do this for a long time, but am a scaredy cat when it comes to bleaching. is it really as easy as putting it in the tub and then watching and washing? if so, i’m adding bleach to the grocery list.
    and i know what you mean about amy’s book. i am suffering from inspiration overload.

  • jen j-m

    August 31, 2009 at 8:02 am

    oh, this makes me want to try it too! the results are great.
    and – i can’t wait to see that pillow finished.

  • blair/wisecraft

    August 31, 2009 at 8:04 am

    Thanks Erin. Do it outside, in a plastic bin, with something to stir it
    with, and a timer. Then when you’re happy with what’s happening, take them
    out and run them through the wash to remove all the bleach. Easy!

  • mommycoddle

    August 31, 2009 at 9:09 am

    this is so fun, blair. Several months ago, I badly stained one of my fave linen dishtowels. It was either throw it out, or bleach it. I dropped it in a bucket of bleach water for a few hours and it completely died the color from green to a great shade of blue. But I have never thought to use the method to get subtle changes in my fabrics!
    I love the beginnings of that pillow, with the original and its faded out version. Lovely.

  • h

    August 31, 2009 at 10:06 am

    What worries me about bleaching fabric is that the fabric will wear out too quickly. Will you let us know how your lovely pillow wears?

  • Tamara

    August 31, 2009 at 10:28 am

    Wow! That is so interesting. What a great way to get coordinating fabrics.

  • brandy

    August 31, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Wow! Very cool!!

  • Annette Standrod

    August 31, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Disharge Dying is awesome! I majored in art in college and we did this in my Fiber class. very cool. The best is with 100% cotton black fabric. Use bleach and maybe a little water in a spray bottle and spray over a stencil or object(marbles) layed on the fabric. Or draw with a bleach pen. Just be sure to rinse bleached fabric with water and soak in vinegar for a few minutes to stop the action of the bleach. I used all my sample pieces and made a quilt and pillow out of it.

  • Lisa Clarke

    August 31, 2009 at 11:43 am

    This is fabulous! I’ve done a lot of tub dying, but very little bleaching, and now that I see it, you’re right, it really does seem like such a natural progression. And using the two versions together like that is perfection!
    Thanks for the heads-up on Malka’s book. I’m such a big fan of her flickr photostream, I had to add the book to my wishlist.

  • blair/wisecraft

    August 31, 2009 at 11:45 am

    I will keep you updated. I think we’re okay, these fabrics can handle a
    short time in a bleach bath with no problematic fiber deterioration. That’s
    one thing I remember from my textile chemistry class in college.

  • Elizabeth

    August 31, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    Hi — fantastic befores and afters. I have a question I’ve been wanting to ask for a while but I’m worried it’s too stupid. I do a little patchwork (used to do more) and want to start again and am so inspired by the idea of the different ways of using a log cabin block. Besides the fantastic colors I think one of the things that makes your blocks so cool is that all the strips aren’t the same width. Stupid question now: is there a way that you strip peice this or do you have to plan each block and cut each “log” to width and length before piecing? I used to make lots of baby quilts (before I had my own baby and ceased to have any time to shower, let alone sew) and I loved the randomness of having a bag of lights and a bag of darks all in 2 inch strips and just winging through the blocks. Any advice? Thank you so much and best of luck in your back to work/back to school month!

  • Erin

    August 31, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    I’m a new reader and have to comment to tell you how fantastic this idea is! I would never have thought of it. I love the idea of mixing the original fabric with the bleached version in the same project . . . what a great concept! Looks stunning!

  • blair/wisecraft

    August 31, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Thanks Elizabeth. I’m almost embarrassed to admit I don’t measure a single
    thing when I do log cabin quilt blocks. I start with a center square around
    1 1/2″-2″ square, and just start piecing from there. I don’t precut strips,
    and when I grab a fabric I want to make a strip of, I just slice one off
    with my rotary cutter, sometimes I measure the width roughly, but not all
    the time. Its very fun for me to do it this way. Just square off your
    finished block to the dimensions you need it to be. Hope that helps.

  • Maribeth

    August 31, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    I can’t imagine what may be waiting for me in my stash if I give this a try. Thanks.

  • Dag

    August 31, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    wow, this is so cool! — just today i was looking at some fabric in a store – disappointed, because the right side was too intense for my taste! – Can’t wait to see the finished pillow!

  • Maya Matthew

    August 31, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    I’m a fan of bleach discharge. Your fabrics look great and that pillow is so autumn

  • willy-nilly

    September 1, 2009 at 8:22 am

    I wanted to do this for the value quilt along, but I’m too lazy. I’ll link over here for ideas!

  • featherbed

    September 1, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    beautiful!! I was just thinking about doing this yesterday now I’m so inspired! I was toying with the idea of bleaching an entire finished quilt….scary….have you ever done that?

  • blair/wisecraft

    September 1, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    no, I have never done an entire quilt. Sounds more easily done in a washing
    machine than my method though. Maybe you could test some spots with a bleach
    pen to see if you like the effect.

  • Deven

    September 1, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Oh, Wow! I love the fabric combination in that pillow! I would never have even thought of bleaching! Which is why I’m so glad there are so many talented fiber artists out there to write books & blogs. ;-D

  • malka

    September 1, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    The fabrics look great.
    I don’t know why this is, but I’ve found that Amy Butler’s and Denyse Schmidt’s fabrics discharge really well.

  • caron

    September 1, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Isn’t discharging fun!?
    Have you tried discharging with solids? The results are sometimes dramatic (blues, blacks, dark greens), and sometimes subtler, almost velvet looking (reds, oranges).
    I always rinse my discharge fabric in a vinegar solution before washing. The vinegar neutralizes and therefore stops the bleaching action. Just washing may not cut it.

  • blair/wisecraft

    September 1, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    that’s good to know. I was surprised at a couple of Anna Maria Horner’s
    prints, which didn’t do much at all.

  • blair/wisecraft

    September 1, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    good to know, thanks for the tip.

  • Isabelle

    September 1, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    I love the way the bleach can give perfectly toning fabrics to make something. By bleaching, you can have a range of many different tones – it would look brilliant.

  • lisa

    September 2, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    I loved seeing this. I liked most of the fabric better after. I’ve been wanting to try this since I saw an article in Martha Stewart Living. There was another process used as well, but I can’t remember it. Bleaching was the one that I remember. And the vinegar is a great tip!

  • amisha

    September 3, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    this is such a cool idea. i really like the pairing of the bleached fabric with the original, too… so subtle yet effective. i would have been too scared to try this without reading this post, too, so thank you 🙂

  • tamara

    September 4, 2009 at 11:02 am

    WOW. fantastic. I didn’t know about this trick before. Thanks for posting about it. I am going to try that for my next quilting project!

  • the Inadvertent Farmer

    September 4, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Ohhh my, you are a brave soul, I have many of those fabrics and I don’t know if I would have the guts. I think my color lovin’ soul would faint! Great job, Kim

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