I've had several friends ask me how to do this so I'm writing this tutorial for them. :)
This medium is very "organic" in that it's going to do what it's to do once the bleach is on the fabric. Bubbles will cause odd little blips. The bleach might bleed a bit. The scraping of the tip applicator can cause the gel to thin in some areas of your design. If you prefer crisp, even, perfect designs, this might not be the best medium for you.
1. Gather all your materials. Once the bleach hits the fabric, your clock is ticking. It is not advisable to go looking for something that is buried in your craft room while in the middle of this process!
2. Work area is well ventilated. You are working with bleach which will give off fumes. Open a window or turn on a fan for air movement.
3. Change into clothing that you can get "dirty". By this I mean, put on the old ratty, paint spattered t-shirt and shorts. Wearing clothing that you care about while working with the bleach is only asking for Mr. Murphy to come looking for you.
4. Make sure you have enough bleach gel to do your project. This is not a process that you can stop and pick up again later. Once you start, you work to the finish. (I've been able to do the fronts of 4 shirts with this technique if that helps.)
5. Make sure both your kitchen sink (or bath tub if need be) and washer are not full of stuff! You will need both of these towards the end of this process and you won't be able to deal with emptying them.
- solid colored, medium weight t-shirt, gently worn is fine
- bleach gel pen (costs about $2.50 at WalMart)
- freezer paper (wax paper can be substituted, see details below)
- chalk fabric marker - preferably high contrast color
- your chosen design to be bleached - MAKE SURE IT'S SIMPLE LINES FOR YOUR FIRST SHIRT!
Prep the t-shirt for bleaching by laying it out flat on your craft area. Place a piece of freezer paper that is slightly larger than your design on the inside of your shirt making sure it covers the area to be bleached plus a little more. Place the paper shiny side up. This side is wax covered which will help keep the bleach from damaging the underside of the shirt.
Now, with an iron set to the appropriate setting for the t-shirt (NO steam!), iron the area to be bleached to secure the waxed side of the freezer paper to the underside of your fabric.
Draw your design onto your fabric using the fabric marker. (My design is based off of some Mehndi tattoos that I love.) I started with my pink chalk marker as my 5 yr old had wandered off with my white one. Grrr...
Can't draw free hand designs? Do a Google Image search for a design that you like. Print out your design and then trace your design on your shirt using tracing paper which is used like old school carbon paper . I like looking at coloring sheets online because they have simple lines and can easily be made more elaborate by adding in shading or more details.
Shake your gel pen well. Working left to right for a right handed person (opposite for lefties!), begin tracing your design with your gel. It takes practice to get an even line of gel coming out so don't get upset if your first bleached tee isn't perfect!
Bubbles will occur in your gel. Breathe! It's not the end of the world or shirt! ;)
Set your timer for 5-15 minutes and allow the gel to do its thing. The longer you leave the gel the whiter your design will be.
Detail shot of how the gel can bubble and run together as well as bleed on the fabric.
CAUTION! Be very careful with your first couple of t-shirts. If you use different brands of shirts, they will most likely all bleach differently meaning that they may take more/less time to get the desired result. Leaving the bleach on too long on a lighter weight cotton shirt could cause the bleach to eat through the fabric!
When the timer goes off, carefully carry the shirt by holding the bleached area as flat as possible to the sink/tub. With cool water, rinse the bleach off of the shirt. Don't worry about the water pooling in the sink or tub. At that point, it won't affect the design or shirt.
If your shirt folds over on itself while you are rinsing and another part touches the gel, it can affect that area of the shirt. Be careful! Having an extra set of hands close by might be useful with your first attempts at doing this.
Wash and dry the shirt according to the label on the shirt. Now you have an awesome bleached tee! Also, give your hands a good wash after placing the shirt in the washer. The bleach is going to dry out your hands. A good lotion is also helpful at this point.
1. I can't find freezer paper around here!
Use the wax paper instead only you won't be able to iron it to the shirt as I did.
2. I want my design to come out super white. What do I do?
Allow the bleach more time to do its thing. Just understand that this stuff can eat the fabric of the shirt as well as the freezer paper if left on too long. Keep an eye on it!
3. I'm really worried about the bleach spreading to the back of my shirt.
Find yourself a piece of clean cardboard box i.e. don't use pizza boxes that have oil on them. Cover the cardboard with either wax or freezer paper by taping the edges down on the underside of the cardboard. Slide this piece into the area of the shirt to be bleached.