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Bleach T-shirt Tutorial

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Update: Since this is one of my more visited pages, I’m going post this here as well. I’ve moved to a new site so I would love it if you stopped by. Click here to check it out!

Yay tutorial time! I apologize if any of this isn’t clear, and let me know if it isn’t, I don’t have much experience writing tutorials. I’ve done a few different patterns with bleach before; with this one I decided to do a bold chevron design because I find them quite awesome at the moment.

Before we get down to the fun part, we need to cover safety. Bleach can be pretty dangerous stuff if not handled properly. First, never mix bleach and vinegar. I’ve seen some bleach tutorials that tell you to neutralize the bleach with diluted vinegar. Bleach and vinegar can make chlorine gas, which is extremely hazardous. Considering that chlorine gas is used as a weapon in war, you don’t even want to chance it.

Next, always use it in a well ventilated area or with appropriate breathing protection (a rag/handkerchief doesn’t count). The fumes irritate the lungs and eyes. If used indoors, always dilute with water to a lower concentration.

Remember to wear clothes you don’t care about ruining. Undiluted bleach works very quickly, and can cause holes on previously bleached fabrics.  Don’t touch your face or eyes when working with bleach. There may be some on your hands; as well as being an irritant, bleach is highly corrosive. If bleach does get in your eyes, flush with water for at least 15 min and seek medical attention. Wash hands throughly after handling bleach.

Okay, now that that is out of the way, on to the fun part.

Suggested Materials

Chlorine bleach (it is all the same thing, so cheap is fine.) The effectiveness of bleach goes down over time, so the newer the better.

Shirts or other cotton or 50/50 cotton/poly blend fabric. I find it better to work with the blend. Since bleach doesn’t work on synthetics, the poly helps prevent holes and keeps the fabric strong.

Spray bottles/sponges/brushes etc. These depend on the type of design you want. You can paint with the bleach directly, or sponge it over a stencil.

Access to water. A sink is best, but a large bucket will work just as well. You’ll need this to rinse the bleach off.

Duct Tape, vinyl sheets, plastic stencils. Basically anything you can use to create a pattern that won’t get destroyed by bleach.

Old clothes/apron

Paper towels/old towels/newspaper You’ll need quite a bit of this. Better to have too much than not enough I think.

Cardboard I use this on the inside of the shirt to prevent the bleach from soaking though to the back.

Get all of your materials ready. For this particular pattern, you will also need a ruler and a marking pencil.

Measure your shirt and mark it in half lengthwise and widthwise.

Mark two inches to the right and left of the lengthwise center line. I used two inches because that is how wide my tape is. I decided on 60° angles on the top half and 45° angles on the bottom half. My ruler has markings for these two angles, so that made it easier. Starting from the center, mark your 60° angle up the shirt. Then from the two inch mark, create a parallel line. Repeat on other side.

Now for the 45° angles, start the outside edge at the same two inch mark and draw a line. To measure the width, line your ruler up on the 45° line you just made and mark two inches towards the center. Draw the next 45°  line from that mark, and repeat on the other side.

Now that you have the foundation lines down, it is time to add the rest of the middle lines. Line your ruler up with your angle lines and mark two inches towards the center. (I used a tape measure to show this because the numbers on my ruler don’t show up well in pics.) Starting from that mark, draw the next line parallel to the others. Repeat all the way down.

For the lines going out from the center, mark every two inches along the horizontal center line. Double check the measurement by using the above technique to make sure the lines are two inches apart. Then use those end points as the beginning for the upper diagonal lines.

Now you are ready to tape. Put the cardboard inside of the shirt. I cut it out so that it just fit the inside of the shirt. I didn’t want bleach on the sleeves so I rolled them in plastic wrap and taped it up.

The tape is monogrammed tape from Micheal’s, which works just as well as duct tape, because I didn’t have any duct tape around at the time. I wanted the lines that met in the middle to be black, so using the lines as a guide, I covered them with tape first and went out from there.

You want to try and get the shirt as flat as possible, wrinkles can cause ‘shadows’ where there isn’t as much bleach in that area. Prepare the bleach by putting it in a spray bottle, but don’t store the bleach in the bottle, it warps and degrades the plastic. You want a spray bottle that creates a fine mist, because you can get a more even application that way. I actually did two parts bleach to one part water for this one, because I was kinda far from the sink when I was outside, so I wanted the bleaching to happen at slower pace.

Take the shirt outside and lay it down on newspaper. Spray the bleach over the shirt in a sweeping motion, making sure you spray evenly over the whole surface of the shirt. You want a good amount on there, but don’t soak the shirt. Now comes the really fun part. You never really know what color the shirt will bleach to. It depends on the chemical makeup of the dye. Blacks are fun because there are red blacks, green blacks, etc. Many do just turn brown though. I was extremely excited that this one turned out to be a red black.

Because the color change is gradual, it can be kinda hard to tell how far you want the bleaching to go. In this case I took pictures, but you can always peek at the back of the shirt to see the original color.

At this point I decided that the color was good. Take the paper towels or old towels and blot the excess bleach off the tape and the shirt. This helps to slow the bleachimg process and to prevent the bleach from dripping off the tape and making a mess.

Take the shirt to the sink and take the cardboard out. Rinse with lukewarm water. I leave the tape on at first, to make sure bleach doesn’t go where I don’t want it to. Rinse it until it doesn’t feel slimy/slippery, then peel the tape off and keep rinsing for a bit. Then you can pop it in the dryer. You’ll want to wash it before you wear it, but make sure you wash it by itself, just in case there is any bleach hanging around.

Now you have a spiffy bleached tee!

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About WheatieBee

My name is Amy, and I love all things designish and crafty. I also love unraveling sweaters, Cadbury's chocolate, and squirrels.

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