Bleach Stencil T-shirt: Make It!

My finished t-shirt

I love a creative craft that doesn’t involve dressing up a toaster or roll of toilet paper.  Finding ideas can be a challenge, but years ago I discovered Craft: transforming traditional crafts.  At the time it was a quarterly print magazine, now it’s online only.  It’s not the stuff you’ll see at the typical holiday craft bazaar and there’s something for everyone, from techies to tree huggers.

This project was featured in their print magazine February 2008 and it’s a kick.  It can be personalized in a million different ways and applied to anything made of fabric.  The original project is “Bleach Shirt Stencil” but I can see this for any piece of clothing, a bedspread, cloth grocery totes—you name it.  My niece Erin, 11 and nephew Jonathan, 14 and I made t-shirts together last summer.

Erin adds a little fabric paint and voila!

 It’s very easy and requires the following supplies: dark colored cotton t-shirt, spray bottle, bleach, gloves, safety goggles, piece of cardboard, pen, paper, scissors, sink, water and optional spray adhesive.

 The first step is to decide on what your stencil will be, draw it on paper and carefully cut it out.  Craft’s instructions suggested avoiding a lot of detail, but Jonathan’s stencil was small with fine cuts in the flaming skull and it still worked out perfectly—which I attribute to using spray adhesive to attach the tiny stencil to the t-shirt.

 The second step is to cut a piece of cardboard to fit inside the t-shirt so that the fabric lies flat, and then place the stencil where you want it.  Put the shirt in a sunny location outside on a still day (wind will interfere with the spray).  Fill a sink or bucket with several gallons of clean water to rinse the shirt right after it bleaches.

Jonathan in safety gear

Fill a clean spray bottle with a solution of ½ water and ½ bleach (you don’t need but a few ounces total) and while wearing gloves and goggles, spray (with a fine mist) around the stencil.  Instantly the color will bleach out around the stencil.  This won’t take more than a minute, after which you’ll want to quickly rinse the shirt until it no longer smells of bleach.  Leaving the bleach on too long will weaken and disintegrate the fabric.  Peel off the stencil (if you used the spray adhesive) and let the shirt dry.

Jonathan's completed "Bane of Fire" shirt

 Jonathan used a black shirt for “Bane of Fire”, and the bleached area faded brown.  Erin’s pig shirt was green and the bleached area turned out off-white, while my bat shirt bleached to peach from navy blue.  Erin and I continued to embellish our shirts with fabric paint—Erin adding features for her pig and the word “Oink”; I added a few simple outlines to my bat.  If using fabric paint, let dry for a week before washing.  We were all thrilled with how our shirts turned out. 

I’ll be doing this project again, this time using actual leaves and twigs from the garden for botanical stencils.

Check out: Craft: transforming traditional crafts http://craftzine.com/

Erin adds words and details to her shirt

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About Colleen Miko

Colleen Miko is a certified professional horticulturist with 20 years experience in landscape design who has designed award winning gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show as well as HGTV’s “Landscaper’s Challenge”. Colleen is freelance garden writer and speaker.
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2 Responses to Bleach Stencil T-shirt: Make It!

  1. Cool project! That’s total personalization. I can’t imagine Erin with the Bane of Fire shirt, nor Jonathan with the green piggy. Yours looks like it’d be perfect for Halloween. I wish I had a cool Aunt Colleen when I was growing up. These two are lucky to have you!

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