The Last T Shirt Scarves...For Now

I'd like to say that I've been busy with making lots of new things for the past week or so, but it wouldn't be completely true. I've been playing hooky a bit, taking advantage of  any sunny autumn day that comes my way. It really is my favorite season, and I'm enjoying being able to be out in it this year.

Part of what I love abut the fall is tossing on a great scarf with jeans and a sweater. And this last round of T Shirt scarves falls into that category. Having used the t Shirts as-is, dyeing and tie dyeing them, my last version has involved discharge dyeing - that is removing colour from the fabric via various methods.

The simplest way to do this is with good old bleach. I'm fond of using straight bleach, especially on sturdy fabric like a quality T shirt or denim. If the fabric is more delicate, the bleach can be diluted with water. I like to paint it on with a brush. For small details I fill up a water pen with bleach.

I've read of people using a laundry bleach "pen" for doing detail work. And Sheila Greenland has had very good success  with her students, using hand cut stencils from contact paper or adhesive drawer liner and a bleach based gel kitchen cleanser.

Whatever way you do this, three things are important:

1) Ventilation - Bleach can be very dangerous. I work outside when I can, or in the kitchen with lots of windows open and a fan blowing out.  I try not to hover over the work, and have only very a small amount of bleach in a open container at any time.

2) Testing -  this bleaching technique works will all dark coloured natural fabrics - cotton, linen, silk etc. It works with most rayons that I've tried (i.e. bamboo) and even with blends - although the % of natural fibres to polyester will  affect the outcome. The unknown factors in reverse dying are what colour the bleached areas will become, how long it will take, and how much the bleach will spread. So always allow extra yardage to test techniques and timing.

3) A stop bath - I know some people just wash their bleached items in water but you really need a special stop bath chemical (Sodium Thiosulfate) that will neutralize the bleach. This is cheap, but it has to be ordered. Because I am working with small amounts of fabric, I usually use 3% peroxide which is easily available at the drugstore.  After the stop bath, you need to wash the fabric well in soapy water. Note: I've seen a lot of mixed (and scary) info about using a dilute vinegar solution as I was taught at a workshop once and have subsequently seen used in many books and videos. I don't go that route anymore!

Sample 1:
The idea for this design variation came from my husband Mark Simon, who suggested I find a way to make the tubes look like long strings of beads. Smart fellow!

Here's how I did it: I put a piece of plastic wrapped cardboard inside the T to stop bleed through and painted various widths (and spaced) vertical stripes of straight bleach on the wrong side of a black T shirt.  While painting I kept in mind the tendency of the material to stretch 50-75% when "tubed" and how that would impact on the width of the final stripes.

As expected, the bleach very quickly turned the painted areas a lovely coffee colour. This is the most common colour from black fabric, but I have also seen green and blue tints. Some blue fabrics will show red or pink when bleached. See sample 2 below. Each fabric is a surprise in this respect.

You need to watch the colour change carefully. It can go very quickly! Don't forget that bleach weakens fibres and will eat holes right through the fabric if you are not careful.

Sample 2: 

For this scarf, I cut of a bit of a blue t shirt's sleeve to test for colour. I was delighted to see the navy fabric turn burgundy then pink as the bleach took effect. To achieve the big colour blocks, I dipped the two sides of the shirt body into a shallow pool of bleach while keeping the centre dry.

Sample 3:
While at the Creativ Festival last weekend, I took a class called Removing and Replacing Colour. It featured a newish product called DeColourant and DeColourant Plus. Essentially it is a gel colour remover. The Plus part is a version of the product that replaces the fabric colour with another tint. The brochure emphasizes the pleasant citrus scent of the product. More on that later.

Although the course was poor, the product is quite interesting to use. I did some samples on cotton and linen, and on a batik print. You can see these little samples below. The best try-out I saw in the class was another student stencilling the product onto cotton velvet. I'm keeping that one up my sleeve for a coat or jacket later this winter.

For this scarf, I basically did the same process as for the black and copper number, only this time using 3 colours of DeColourant Plus. I taped the stripes with painters tape. Because that's just what I'm like.

Once the gel is dried, you have to activate the bleach action with heat. You need to hit it with really hot iron and lots of steam, for quite a while. I figure it was 'done' when the awful rotten-egg-overlaid-with-citrus smell was gone. Ugh. Then I washed the fabric, dried it and cut and stretched as usual. Very pleased with the outcome, even though it took a while and was stinky.

So that's it for the t shirt scarves for a while. It is now time for me to get sewing!  I've got a complex project in mind, so check back in a couple of days to find out about it.


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