Fabric Bleach Technique

The bleach technique is used on designs with a dye background, and is an alternative to painting the background around the motifs (called blotching). The bleach removes areas of colour from a dye ground, making it possible to apply a new colour to these areas, or to leave them white. This technique is particularly effective when light or bright colours will be used on darker grounds.

Step-by-step guide to designing with bleach

1 Mix the dye and paint the ground. Save any leftover dye for touch-ups.

2 Transfer the design to the fabric using transfer paper.

3 If there are fineline outlines in the design, draw them on the ground with special waterproof textile marker.

4 Decide on the colour distribution so you can determine which motifs to bleach out. On motifs where the dye colours can be painted on top of the background colour, it is not necessary to bleach them out. For example, orange, red, or green can usually be painted over a yellow ground without changing them in any significant way. Most colours painted on the beige ground, however, will be slightly muted but still will be look fine. If you are uncertain about whether to bleach an area or not, test colours first. You may also want to bleach out all motifs first and decide on the colours later.

5 A toothpick is best for applying bleach to a small areas; use a cotton swab or something similar for larger areas. You may also apply bleach with an old brush (Never use a good new brush, as the bleach will eat away the bristles.) If using a toothpick, start by applying several drops of bleach in the center of the area you are working on, then push the drops toward the edges of the area, trying not to touch or go beyond the outlines of the motif with the bleach. However, if the bleach does go over the outline, the affected area can be touched up with matching colour later. Waterproof marker lines should not bleach out. If this happens, change to fresh line and touch up the bleached-out lines by carefully drawing them over.

6 Leave the bleach on the motif for about a minute, then carefully blot it up with a tissue. The type of the fabric and the choice of  background colour actually determine how long you should leave the bleach ‘to work’. Usually darker colours need more time to bleach out completely. The lighter the ground colour, the faster the bleach will work. To do it as you want, you will need a bit of practice or experience.

7 Let it bleached areas dry well before reapplying colour, or the new colour will be eaten away by residue of bleach (which could be an interesting effect if you want it).

Bleach can be used on designs painted in dyes to obtain different special effects. Use your imagination to create other effects with bleach.

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