Dye Discharge

One of the things Randy Darwall and Brian Murphy did in their workshop was to demonstrate dye discharge. They bought a piece of drab-looking (sorry!) brown wool (?) fabric in the local shop. They might have scrunched it a little, but Randy sprayed it with undiluted (?) bleach in a spray bottle. And voilà it became an attractive piece of cloth. I've always wanted to do this, but couldn't think of what to use to experiment.

One of my favorite pieces of clothes, a dark blue cotton double-knit cardigan, has been looking tired, out of shape and I've started to loose the buttons, so I finally bit the bullet and tried it. I chose this afternoon because it was sunny, dry, with gale-force winds, and I just hung the cardi behind a garden chair and sprayed away.

I chose a spray bottle with fine mist, so the discharge occurred in areas rather than in spots. I don't know if this prevented splotches, or made the pattern less interesting. I was disappointed the discharged area came out almost purple/pink rather than white-ish, and the purple/pink are almost all the same regardless of whether I sprayed just once or several times. In short, the whole garment looks not as exciting as I had imagined.

You can see in the lower back I tried to discharge more than other parts. I wonder if I should have sprayed, then let the area dry, then sprayed some more, instead of spraying continuously in one area. I have other blotches, and some areas where I must have touched while my rubber gloves had residual bleach.

I am thinking of having another go, either with some more bleach, or with dye, with this one. I'm also looking at what other old pieces of clothing I have with which I can experiment; there's a bright red cotton turtle neck whose neck is looking tired and horrified in the laundry basket just now.


  1. Meg,
    If you wanted to add some more distinct lines as design interest, you can use the "lotion type" kitchen /bathroom cleaners with bleach added.

  2. Thank you for that, Valerie. I'll probably give the red top a go sometime.

  3. Maybe something a little more powerful, like thiox, or another one of the reductive discharge chemicals, would work better. You'd think bleach would take the color out of cotton, but some dyes don't discharge well with bleach.

  4. You're now taking me to areas I know absolutely nothing about, you understand, Connie. But obviously bleach isn't strong enough for this one, as you say, so I need to experiment some more.

    The thing I discovered is that this cardi is double knit, and the discharge hardly went all the way through one layer, so even though the garment isn't reversible, I can try another discharge experiment on the inside, which is still near the original, wonderfully dark navy blue, too. Yummy.

  5. I think it rather looks like you walked through the woods and collected dappled sunlight on your clothing and brought it back with you. I rather like the effect.

  6. Oh, an artist and a poet, Cate!! I found four buttons that came off of either this or similar cardis, so this now has the required number, and since it's been cooler in the evenings, I've not discharged any more on this side, but I still plan to with a brush or a squeeze bottle on the other side.


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