Shibori, if you’re not familiar with it, is that white and indigo-dyed technique that is super popular right now. Here’s a tutorial with some good examples, and although I’m not sure if this is technically shibori, I love this quilt version. If you don’t want to mess around with indigo dyes (though I do, someday), bleaching denim is an easy way to achieve a faux shibori look. The other day I tried out a couple of ways to bleach denim, with great success. There is definitely some imprecision and unpredictability in the results, but the outcome is really fun.
First, you need denim. The cheapest way to get denim fabric is by salvaging old jeans, but those probably won’t give you enough unseamed yardage for something like a large pillow. So you can either buy new denim fabric, or go to the thrift store and look for big, ugly denim sack dresses and skirts. This was highly successful for me–they were even half off. For this project, I used denim from two skirts and a giant dress.
Second, you need bleach. If you have some bleach that’s been sitting around for a while, it may work for this project, but it does lose strength over time, so it may not. Bleach is so cheap, though, that I recommend you just buy a new jug. I decided I wanted to try drawing designs, but I didn’t have a bleach pen, so I tried making my own, using this method. It didn’t work very well for me. Although my gel was really thick at first, by the next day it was super watery, and it just didn’t bleach that well. I came across this pin recommending the use of Soft Scrub bleach in squeeze bottles as a gel pen substitute, but by that point I’d already gone out and bought a Clorox bleach pen, so I didn’t try it.
Other tools I used for this project:
Rubber gloves – To protect your hands
Safety goggles – Bleach in your eyes is a bad idea, friends
Ventilation – Do this near a window, or even better, outdoors
Disposable plastic containers
Hydrogen peroxide or sodium thiosulfate – Sodium thiosulfate is the gold standard for neutralizing bleach, but I used a bottle of hydrogen peroxide as a bleach neutralizer, per these instructions
Before you grab your big pieces of fabric and start bleaching, cut swatches and experiment. Since every fabric is different, you need to figure out how long to leave your denim in the bleach. For the darkest denim, the bleach pen had very little effect, but it worked well on the other denims, so I was glad I knew this. Cut a bunch of swatches and throw them in a little container of bleach, then set a timer. Check on them every 5 minutes to see how they’re progressing. If your bleach is old and weak, you may need to leave the swatches in overnight (consider buying new bleach). If your bleach works too fast dilute it with water. If you’re using one, try out the bleach pen, too. After you have an idea of how long you’ll need to bleach your fabric, start experimenting with different designs on the swatches. In the swatches below, I tried folding, scrunching, dipping, painting, and dripping bleach, then I picked my favorite effects to do on larger pieces.
For a scrunched effect:
In addition to the above supplies, you’ll also need rubber bands in various sizes. Scrunch up your fabric in random bunches and bind with rubber bands. Keep folding and scrunching until the whole thing is a ball. Make sure that your rubber bands are nice and tight. Throw the ball into a bucket of bleach (I did a 1:2 dilution of bleach for 15 minutes), then take out the fabric, and rinse it well while removing the rubber bands. Wear gloves and eye protection while you do this–it’s all too easy for a rubber band to snap bleach into your eyes. If you’re happy with the effect, neutralize the bleach, rinse and dry your fabric. If you want more bleaching, you can re-bind your denim and bleach it further, or brush on a little bit of bleach from a bleach pen in areas you want to make lighter. I ended up doing that in a couple of areas that had a brown tone, and it worked really well.
For a dipped effect:
In addition to the above supplies, you’ll also need large binder clips and a paint brush. Fold the fabric in half, and lower the center, where it’s folded, into a bucket of bleach. I used a 1:2 dilution of bleach to water, and let it sit for a couple of hours. If you want, you can tilt the bucket around to get bleach on more areas of the fabric. I ended with some bleach spots and splotches, so I also brushed some of the bleach into other areas. Once you’re happy with the color, rinse well, neutralize the bleach, then rinse and dry your fabric.
For a lined pattern:
In addition to the above supplies, you’ll also need chalk or a fabric pencil, a ruler, and cardboard or cardstock. Draw your design with the chalk or pencil, then trace over it with the bleach pen. For this chevron design, I cut out a cardboard triangle and used that as a template for the lines. Some of my lines turned out a little blobby and not entirely straight, and I definitely could have been a lot more careful when drawing on the bleach, but don’t expect perfection. I left my bleach on for 30 minutes. Rinse, neutralize the bleach, and rinse and dry your fabric.
I’m going to make my bleached denim into throw pillows, but you could make yours into a dress or skirt, floor cushions, tote bags, pouches, a rug, a quilt, or even upholster a piece of furniture. Or use the above bleach effects on a ready-made piece of clothing, no sewing required.