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How to Bleach or Overdye Fabrics

Create uniquely colored prints by bleaching or overdyeing fabrics (or doing both). You'll be delighted with the results.

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Choosing to bleach, overdye, or combine bleaching and overdyeing fabrics in your stash will magically add a beautiful assortment of hues and values to your collection without buying more yardage. This chart shows examples of what happens when you use one or both of these fabric-transforming techniques.

If you want your fabric to mimic a gently aged patina, try bleaching and/or overdyeing it. The processes will transform a print, giving it a distressed look or mellowing it out.

This chart shows examples of what happens when you use one or both of these fabric-transforming techniques.


Bleaching Steps

    To bleach fabric, use Rit Color Remover. It doesn't contain chlorine so won’t deteriorate your fabrics. It can be found in the laundry section of your grocery store or with fabric dye at your crafts store. It won’t remove the print entirely, but reduces the color in the fabric, giving it a faded antique look.

1. Soak your fabric in hot water.

2. Put enough hot water in your sink to allow the amount of fabric you’re dyeing to move freely. (For faster color removal, add water to a stainless-steel or enamel pot and heat the water on the stove.)

3. Add Rit Color Remover to the hot water; stir to dissolve. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for how much powder to use, or use just part of the powder so color removal will be slower and you can experiment more easily with how much color you actually want to remove from your fabric.

4. Add your wet fabric to the bleach solution and stir, making sure the solution covers all the fabric. Wearing rubber gloves, check the fabric periodically until you see if it’s lost enough color for the look you’re trying to achieve.

5. Rinse the fabric thoroughly in warm water, then in cold water. (If your fabric doesn’t seem bleached enough, return it to the bleach solution and repeat the process.) Squeeze out rinse water and hang fabric to dry.

6. To soften the look of bleached fabrics, overdye them with tan dye (see steps below).


Overdyeing Steps

    Though a bath of brewed tea has long been touted as the way to age yard goods, the tannic acid in tea may cause fibers to deteriorate over time. Using a commercial tan dye, either power or liquid, to overdye your fabric is a better choice.

1. Soak your fabric in hot water.

2. If you desire an even tone, put enough hot water in a plastic bucket, stainless-steel or enamel pot, or stainless-steel sink to allow the amount of fabric you’re dyeing to move freely. (For smaller items, use a glass jar that has a lid.) If you want a mottled, splotchy look, use a container that doesn't allow free movement.

3. Dissolve powdered or liquid tan dye in the hot water according to manufacturer's instructions.

4. Immerse wet fabric in dye bath. For an even tone, stir constantly. For a mottled, splotchy look, don’t stir. Steep as long as desired. The longer the fabric is in the dye bath, the darker it will be.

5. Rinse the fabric thoroughly in warm water, then in cold water until the water runs clear. Squeeze out rinse water and hang fabric to dry.