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DIY Botanical Decor: How to Bleach-Dye Fabric at Home

Apr 22, 2016

by Peaches Freund

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Have you ever accidentally splashed bleach on your clothes and grumbled as your red shirt suddenly turned white? Sadly, this happens to the best of us. Sometimes it’s a spot and sometimes it’s a splatter, but no matter what, it’s an opportunity to get creative! Let’s turn the color-altering properties of bleach into a tool for homemade textile design.

In this technique, we’ll use a bit of bleach and some clippings from the garden to create one-of-a-kind fabric for any purpose under the sun. Want to see how it’s done? Let’s go!

You will need:

  • Bleach* – a fresh bottle will work best
  • Fabric – choose natural fibers like cotton, silk, and linen; if you purchase fabric by the yard, wash it first (at least twice!) to remove any excess dye
  • Foliage – especially flat, non-rigid leaves
  • Rubber gloves
  • Spray bottle
  • Double-stick tape
  • Scissors, needle and thread (or sewing machine, depending on your final project)

*Safety first: While this project is very easy, it is not for small children. Bleach is a chemical substance and should be kept out of reach of little ones until your treated fabric has been thoroughly washed.

Step 1: To ensure that the leaves will lie flat on your fabric, press them inside a heavy book overnight. (This won’t be necessary for all foliage, but it’s helpful for leaves that are curled.)

Step 2: Once your leaves are flat, apply small pieces of double-sided tape to the backs.

Step 3: Flip the leaves over and adhere them to the fabric, tape side down.

Step 4: In a well-ventilated area, fill the spray bottle with bleach and lightly mist the entire surface of the fabric. Aim for light, even coverage: Over-saturation will create less distinct leaf forms, and in some cases, may burn a hole through the fabric. Light and breezy is best!

Step 5: After five to ten minutes, you’ll start to see the effects of the bleach. Leave the foliage in place until the desired outcome has been achieved (up to an hour, depending on the strength of your bleach and fabric substrate), but peek underneath periodically. When things look good, rinse thoroughly with water, and wash and dry as usual.

Step 6: A quick ironing job will smooth out the fabric and show off your handiwork.

This bleached botanical technique looks terrific on pillows, tablecloths or napkins, or even as a way to breathe new life into old clothes. Wouldn’t that vintage concert tee look extra fierce with a plume of reverse-bleached ferns running across the front?

All photographs by Aunt Peaches.

What will you make?

 

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