Sunlight in the early morning and pre-dusk is especially magical to me. I’m enchanted by the intensity of the light and how it plays off the greenery of the trees and plants at these times. This visual variety of shades and contrasts of light and dark inspired a botanical panel that will remind me of the lush greens of summer all year long.
I wanted to try discharge dyeing again for my panel, since I appreciate the additional transformation a bleaching process offers to a piece. Years back, my attempt on a small project was unsuccessful. I had not selected a truly bleachable yarn. Bast fibers such as cotton and linen are ideal for this process, but I had used a mercerized cotton that did not bleach at all or left just a ghost of an image. This time, I decided to use one yarn that bleaches and another that does not, but creates a pattern within the bleached elements. A lot of sampling with Zoom Loom squares led to some unexpected results. Some yarns I thought would not bleach actually did and vice versa. I finally found the perfect combo with a weft yarn of solid green cotton and a warp of multi-colored green made with a blend of cotton, linen, and vicose. The cotton weft yarn did not bleach but faded slightly—a surprise to me since it did not appear to be mercerized. What I love most about this process is the magical surprise left behind when something is taken away.
Now I could move on to the panel design details. I chose a 2/2 twill for its simplicity. In keeping with the garden inspiration, I selected leaves for a bold bleached design element. Every part of this process was educational and so satisfying. Okay, it was downright fun! As with many projects, I began plotting out future endeavors in the midst of the current one. The ideas just kept coming and I want to explore more handwoven pieces, new weave structures, and a variety of graphic elements.
I hope this piece will inspire others to give this process a try. Some friendly advice—sample, sample, sample. And most of all—enjoy the process!
Finished Size: 12-1/2″ x 61″
- Warp: Lang Yarns Linello, color 1066.0017 (40% linen, 32% cotton, 28% viscose; 280m/306 yds per ball), worsted weight, 744 yards needed.
- Weft: Venne Bio 8/2 Katoen, color Fern Green (100% organic cotton; 650 m/710 yds per cone), 455 yards needed.
- 4+ shaft loom with at least 18″ weaving width and at least 4 treadles—I used a Wolf Pup 8.10
- 8 dent reed
- graph paper
- garden leaves or other shapes for the bleach design
- double-sided tape
- medium-weight flexible clear vinyl for stencil—I used a sheet approximately 18″ x 37″. You can find this vinyl on rolls at fabric stores in home décor section.
- permanent marker
- X-acto knife
- nail polish remover (optional, for cleaning marker lines off stencil)
- bleach—splash-less is particularly easy to use
- plastic bottle with pointed squeeze top
- T-pins or quilting pins
- pinnable surface to fit under design area, approximately 18″ x 36″—I used hard foam; cardboard or blocking mats would also work.
- stiff flat artist brush
- rubber gloves
- eye protection
- protective table covering
- protective apron
Number of Warp Ends: 248
Warp Length: 3 yds (includes loom waste, take-up, and shrinkage)
Width in Reed: 15-1/2″
I wound my chain two ends at a time. For sleying, follow this table:
The final thread on both the right and the left are floating selvedges, sleyed through the reed but not threaded through heddles. When you thread the heddles and reach the left selvedge, you won’t get a full repeat of the threading pattern.
- Weave a 2-1/2″ hem in plain weave.
- Hemstitch or otherwise secure the bottom of your weaving.
- Weave twill pattern for approximately 68″.
- Weave 2-1/2″ in plain weave for hem, securing top edge with hemstitching.
- Hand-wash and machine-dry the panel. Press and measure the final piece before bleaching.
Botanical design and application
- On graph paper, mark out the dimensions of the twill area to explore design options. I used a grid with 1/2″ squares and worked at a scale of 1/3 the real size. For my design process, I gathered a variety of real leaves from the garden to play with, selecting those with fairly simple lines. I chose a redbud branch and positioned it on the graph paper with some double-sided tape, then drew around the leaves. Since the original tracing on the graph paper was too oversized for the actual panel, I made a few adjustments until I was happy with the proportions.
- Enlarge the small grid to the final size so you can make the vinyl stencil. I created a larger grid, at 100% size, with 1-1/2″ squares. Or take the small grid to your local copy shop and have it enlarged to the final size, on multiple sheets, and assemble the sheets with tape.
- Place the vinyl sheet over the full-size grid and trace the design with a permanent marker. It’s helpful to reference the small-scale grid for accurate lines and placement.
- Mark the bottom (twill) edge and right selvedge on the vinyl so you can position it on the panel for bleaching.
- Carefully cut out the stencil design with an X-acto knife. Cut outside the marker lines so the ink doesn’t transfer to your woven fabric. For extra security, clean the stencil with nail polish remover before bleaching.
With limited bleach gel available at stores, I opted for the DIY version that I actually preferred. Be sure to follow bleach safety guidelines.
DIY Bleach Gel
1/3 cup cold water
1-1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1-1/2 tablespoon bleach
- Mix cold water and cornstarch in a small saucepan.
- Heat over medium to high heat, stirring continuously, until it thickens.
- After the cornstarch mixture has cooled, transfer to a plastic container not intended for reuse with food. Gradually mix in bleach and stir until fully combined.
- Pour bleach gel into a plastic squeeze bottle with pointed cap. (I found a set of three bottles at the local craft supply store.) Cut just the tip off the cap, so you can direct a small stream of gel onto the woven fabric. Keep remaining gel in the pan or transfer to a small bowl.
- In a well-ventilated space, preferably outdoors, lay out the woven panel on a protective cloth or plastic. Slide the foam under the design area.
- Square up the panel—selvedges should be straight, with top and bottom edges at 90-degree angles. Place the vinyl stencil on top, using the marks for the twill edge and right selvedge to position. Pin the stencil in place.
Wearing gloves and eye protection, work about 5″ at a time as follows:
- Outline the edges of a leaf, pressing down the stencil to avoid distorting the fabric. Squeeze out a line of bleach gel about 1/8″ inside the stencil edge.
- With a stiff, flat artist brush, blend the gel in toward the center. Repeat again a bit closer to the stencil edge. Outline the rest of the leaf.
- Brush gel from the pan or bowl inside the leaf. I worked my brush strokes in the warp and weft direction. The goal is to really work the gel into the fabric—it will pucker a bit but will settle down and will not affect the final piece. It may be necessary to add a bit more bleach to the gel as you work, to maintain the full bleaching capacity of the gel. Be careful to keep the consistency fairly thick, so gel doesn’t bleed under the stencil. If you can’t complete the bleach painting in one sitting, you may need to make a second batch of bleach gel.
Repeat these steps to fill in the entire stencil design with bleach gel.
Allow the bleach gel to dry.
Rinse out the panel in a sink, working the bleach out of the design.
Rinse the fabric in a diluted vinegar solution—this stops the bleach from eating away at the fabric over time. I used a solution with 6 parts water to 1 part vinegar.
Wash the panel by hand and machine-dry. Press if needed.
- Trim warp ends just outside the finishing stitches.
- At the bottom, fold the plain weave portion where it meets the twill and press. Fold under 1/2″ again and press. Hand-stitch the hem using the warp yarn.
At the top, fold the plain weave portion where it meets the twill and press. Fold under 1/4″ and press. Position around your hanging rod of choice and hand-stitch the top hem.