(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 9, 2007. We hope you enjoy it as we count down to Christmas.)
This project will cost very little, and be a lovely gift from a gardener…or to a gardener. We will be Discharge Printing a denim vest with botanical material. A Discharge Print is one where, in this case, plant material is placed on a garment, and a bleaching agent is sprayed or brushed on it, leaving the areas under the plant material free from the bleach.
I bought this denim vest in the local thrift store for $1.50, but a sweatshirt, jacket, or skirt will work just as well. Any material that chlorine bleach will react with is fine to use. I just like denim personally.
Plastic sheet or garbage bags
Bucket or container for holding water
Thrift shop denim vest
Various flowers and leaves from your garden
Paper towels for wiping up
First of all, wear something so old that you don’t care if you get bleach on it. I can assure you that if you do not, some favorite item will be splashed, and bleach spotted. Do not ignore this step. The odds of splashing bleach go up in the same ratio as how much you like what you’re wearing. I speak from personal experience.
I test my garment with a drop of bleach in a hidden area before I get started. It gives me a frame of reference as to how fast the bleach will start to work. Some fabrics will discharge out almost instantly, and other fabrics seem totally immune to bleach. It makes no difference if it’s cotton or polyester, or a blend. Each fabric will react differently, and there are some that just won’t bleach regardless of how long you leave it.
Now, go to your garden and collect some flowers or leaves. Flat, daisy type flowers work well, as opposed to dense, multi-petaled flowers that do not have a distinctive silhouette. Deeply cut tree leaves such as maple, oak, or locust are good choices also. For this project, I just grabbed some nearby weeds, which happened to be Bidens, Goldenrod, and Queen Anne's Lace foliage, along with several other roadside fall wildings. Ferns, grasses, and many weeds work nicely, as well as morning glory vines. Try to stay away from the flowers like roses or peonies, unless they are the more open type of flowers. Tulips and iris are nice, but you should pull the petals off and arange them in a flatter shape. You don't have to use award winning orchids to make a pretty Discharge Print, but you can if you wish.
When you have your botanicals selected, go to your work area…outdoors is best if there is no wind, or a garage, porch, or shed. Lay plastic down where you will be working. Make sure you put down enough for two of whatever it is you will be discharge printing. This step is important. I also cut a piece for the inside of the vest to keep the bleach from bleeding through to the back side. If you discharge anything made of thin material like a tee-shirt, this is advised also. You'll need to dampen each side well, and bleed-through will ruin your design.
Pour your bleach in the spray bottle, wipe it off with a paper towel, and set it nearby.
Put a couple of gallons of water in your bucket or container, and add a cup of vinegar. This will be for stopping the bleaching process when you are done. The vinegar neutralizes the bleach.
Lay your item on one piece of your plastic and smooth out wrinkles. You can then place your flowers and leaves on the fabric in a pleasing pattern. Keep in mind that underneath the plant material, it will stay the same color as the original fabric. The rest will bleach to a much lighter shade.
Prepare plant material for the back side, and have it ready by your second plastic piece. You’ll want to be able to work quickly when we turn the vest over.
Now comes the bleach part. Spray bleach over the entire item in an even mist. Spray with the nozzle set to a mist, as opposed to a hard spray. The bleach needs to fall down on the garment without pushing the plant material around. You shouldn’t have to soak it, but dampen it well. The bleaching process will start, but you don’t have time to sit and admire it. Quickly pick the plant material off, and flip the garment over on to the dry plastic piece……NOW you understand why a second piece is needed!
Work quickly, placing your plant material on the fabric. You’ll want to keep both sides relatively the same tone, so both sides need to bleach as close to the same time as possible.
Spray the back side, and the process should start. I then remove my flowers, pick up my garment, and carefully spray bleach on side seams and shoulders. This is to eliminate any dark edges where bleach spray may not reach. I even folded the collar of this vest back and sprayed behind it. If you choose to do this, be careful not to spray the developing botanical print. This process can take between three and ten minutes. Use your own judgement about how long to leave it. The vinegar wash will stop the process.
When you are satisfied with your pattern, and want to halt the bleaching process, dunk it into the vinegar water and cover it completely. Don’t be alarmed if an orange color comes out in the water. This is a normal chemical reaction, and it won't explode. I usually let mine soak in this mixture while I’m cleaning up my mess. That’s about five minutes.
Rinse in laundry sink, or with the garden hose, then launder by it’s self.
You have now successfully created a Discharge Print
Many artists use this process for various projects. By being creative, and using your imagination, you can use discharge prints in many different situations. Colored tee-shirts are nice, and fabric handbags. Just make sure whatever you intend to discharge can be washed. If you really feel artistic, you can highlight areas with fabric paints, beads, metallic crayons, or other embellishments. The sky's the limit!