Bleach-Painted T-Shirts

I’m going to swerve radically from the norm today and actually recommend a craft project. I hate to do this, believe me, but I’ve got to get the Anti-Schadenfreude League off my back.

Also, I’m so psyched about this idea, I’ve just got to yak about it. Drum roll…


Have you tried this? If not, do so immediately. How often to you find a way to exercise your creativity that is:

1) SUPER CHEAP — You can get a shirt for a couple of bucks, so it doesn’t matter if you mess up.
2) FAST — You can do the whole thing during about an episode, or maybe an ep and a half, of Sherlock (coming to Hulu before the end of the year!)
3) HARD TO SCREW UP — Just stick to a simple line drawing
4) FUN FOR YOUR 12-YEAR-OLD SON — This ain’t no knitting or decoupage. However warily your kid, or husband, regard sissy pastimes, this lends itself to the kind of assertive imagery that men are drawn to. (Or seemed to be, last time one talked to me.)
5) EXECUTABLE WITHOUT A TRIP TO THE CRAFT STORE — You just need a bottom-grade paintbrush, chalk, a piece of cardboard, and bleach.

For an excellent tutorial on this, check out A Beautiful Mess. Now I’ll show you my attempts and add a couple of notes to A Beautiful Mess’s directions.

Here’s my first one.


I stuck with a line drawing, which turned out to be key. When I got more ambitious and tried something with some variation in the line density, it came out looking sloppy. Here it is:

And here’s the Paul Klee painting I based it on:

Where Klee’s scribbly patches have depth and almost seem to glow, mine just look like screw-ups. Also, I went too fast in several places, creating uneven lines. Finally, I got too ambitious with the design. Once you’ve painted two inches at a time for about 20 minutes, you’ll be glad you stuck with something in the 5×7″ range.

Lastly, consider what color your shirt will bleach to. My Klee shirt was blue, which bleached to pink. That didn’t thrill me. The black shirt bleached to an orangey yellow.

Below, other people’s attempts. Now get bleaching!



The next two shirts were done with a bleach pen, not a paintbrush.
Bleach_Pen_Tshirt  bleach-pen-t-shirt-2

Below, a spray bottle was used to create a hazy effect.bleach-shirt-sprayed

The childlike drawing on this one was executed perfectly. It’s goofy without being cloying.


This guy is working on a whole other level. Follow the link to see the complex layered effects he used to create this tattoo-style design.bleach-stencils


2 responses to “Bleach-Painted T-Shirts

  1. Oh man, I love bleach-painted shirts! I keep meaning to make them (maybe that’ll be something I can make my husband for Christmas).

    Something to consider when you’re bleaching black fabric – not all black fabric is dyed the same way, and may turn different colors when bleached. You can sort of see it in the examples above, where some lighten to an orangey color, while the bottom one is more greenish-looking.

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