Embroidery Embellishment With Liquid Bleach

Feeling artistic? Put on your art hat and create bleached fabric designs to embellish with embroidery. It’s a breeze with plain household liquid gel bleach and your choice of stencils, stamps and assorted found objects.

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The way a fabric reacts to bleach depends on its fiber content and the method that was used to dye the fibers or fabric. Natural-fiber fabrics react best. Yarns used to weave or knit fabrics such as cotton, linen and rayon, are dyed before or after spinning. Or, the finished cloth may be dyed. The color is easily removed by bleach.

Pebbles orange 212x300 Embroidery Embellishment With Liquid BleachSynthetic fibers are often dyed as the yarn is extruded from a machine and the color is permanently imbedded in the fiber. Many fabrics made from these fibers, such as nylon, polyester and acrylic, react very little or not at all to bleach.

Fabrics made of synthetic/natural blends have a range of reactions to bleach, depending largely on the percentage of natural fibers in the fiber content.

Because all fabrics react differently to bleach, it’s important to test the results on a scrap of fabric before beginning your project. For example, the coral rayon/linen blend used for some of our samples reacted immediately and the bleach completely removed the color. However, the turquoise samples, also a linen blend, reacted slowly and the color gradually changed to a gradation of shades.


Pebbles orange 212x300 Embroidery Embellishment With Liquid BleachBleach. Any product that contains bleach will remove color to some extent, but the most user-friendly product is Ultra Clorox Splash-less Gel Bleach. Its slightly thicker consistency gives you more control over it than regular bleach, yet it’s not as thick or cloudy as cleaning solutions with bleach, making it easier to see what you’re doing.

Stencils and stamps with bold motifs are ideal for creating bleached designs. You can also apply freehand designs with a round or flat synthetic paintbrush. Many household objects, such as pencil erasers, sponge rollers, toothbrushes, thread spools, rubber bands, etc. can be used to apply the bleach, creating a wide range of interesting effects.

pebbles blue 300x133 Embroidery Embellishment With Liquid BleachDesign. Any embroidery design can be combined with a bleached fabric design. It’s especially fun to look for stamps or stencils and embroidery designs that coordinate to create echoed—or shadowed—designs.

Thread. For designs where the embroidery will be stitched after the fabric is bleached, or a design where the bleached motifs won’t touch the embroidery, any threads will work. If the bleach will be in contact with the thread, use polyester or other synthetic threads that aren’t affected by the bleach; test a sample first.


  • Work on a surface that won’t be damaged by the bleach or cover the work surface with a plastic drop cloth.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area.
  • Wear rubber gloves when creating designs with objects like rubber bands that will require your hands to be in contact with the bleach.
  • Cover your clothes to protect from splatters or wear old clothes.
  • To apply the bleach to a stamp, use a small flat paintbrush and brush the gel evenly over the stamp surface. Immediately apply the stamp to the fabric, pressing firmly in place. Repeat each time you apply the stamp.
  • To use a stencil, apply temporary stencil adhesive to the opening edges of the stencil to make them firmly adhere to the fabric; this prevents the gel from bleeding under the edge.
  • To use objects like pencil erasers, spool ends, etc., use the paintbrush to coat the surface with an even coat of gel; apply to the fabric immediately.
  • When using fabrics that react slowly to bleach, you will notice a gradation of color that changes the longer the bleach penetrates the fibers.
  • Stop the progression at any shade by immersing the fabric in water.


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Allover Design

Allover designs. Create a bleached background of repeating motifs using a background stencil, stamps or the objects of your choice. Embroider the bleached fabric with a motif that can be easily repeated. Use this fabric for any part of a garment, such as a pocket, bodice or sleeve, or for home décor applications like the front panel of a pillow.

Border designs. Embroider the border design of your choice, then use bleached designs to embellish the fabric around the design.

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Shadowed Design

Echoed or shadowed designs. Select coordinating stamps and embroidery designs. Refer to the embroidery design composition and stamp the fabric with bleach in a similar design. Embroider the design on top of but offset from the bleached design.




This article was first published in Mar/Apr 2005 issue.

Don’t miss out! Find more great projects and ideas in our newest issue, available on newsstands and at shopsewitall.com!

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