Monday, October 27, 2008

Fabulous, Dahling!

The middle school kids I'm preparing to teach get to choose from a variety of interesting classes they might want to take during their "intersession" week, with everything from surfing (in water, not on the Web) to chocolate, belly dancing to basketball, quilting (I could use that one myself!), and of course my class, "Resisting Dyeing". The organizers of each class make a short presentation to try to entice the kids to take that class.

As part of my own sales pitch to them, my daughter and I wanted to show off a "final product" that could be achieved with the discharge dyeing technique. So she grabbed a pair of her newest, nicest, darkest blue jeans (moms everywhere cringe in unison at the thought), my binder of stencils, and off she went.

She taped down the stencils into her design, then used a stenciling sponge to daub on the Soft Scrub with Bleach. She did the whole design, and then let it sit overnight. Imagine our disappointment when the design came out to be visible only in a few places!

We then redid the whole design with more Soft Scrub and the stencils.

We put a bit extra Soft Scrub on places that we wanted to be extra white, such as on the eye and back fin of the seahorse below. Notice the slight brownish tint on the fin of the fish. The Soft Scrub turns faintly brown where the bleach is reacting with the dye. I found that the Soft Scrub was "done" when it had turned uniformly pale yellowish brown over the whole design.

Again, the design came out much too faint (I think the bleach had become "exhausted" by the high amount of dye in the very dark jeans), but at least it was visible.

I then did the design a third time freehand with the squirt bottle directly onto the jeans, putting on a very thick layer (imagine drawing with white glue--it's about the same consistency). Here I've just started doing that with the fish at the top of the design:

This time the design came out in the desired brightness, with subtle shading effects where the bleach had been thicker and thinner.

Here is my daughter's finished pair of jeans:

Fabulous, Dahling!

P.S. Certain members of my audience have become more, shall we say, vociferous in their demands to see more pooch pictures in my blog. Two such members were adamant enough that they were willing to pose for more pictures to make it happen...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ooh, That Waxy Buildup!

I'm still preparing for my class for middle school kids. I usually sign up to do these things if it's something that I'll learn from, as well as something my students will learn from. In this case, I've designed the class intentionally so that I'll teach the kids some things I've never done myself! It forces me to try new things and gives me inspiration. The discharge dyeing was one of those crafts I'd never done before, but I'm planning to teach it, so I had to try it out (I still have more experimenting with that to do, too!).

The next topic for the class is batik. That's on purpose. When I first got the dyeing bug five years ago, thanks to my daughter's 6th birthday party, I went a little crazy with exploring the color-on-fabric medium and Dharma's catalog full of textile arts goodies. Among other things, I got a pound of batik wax and some tjanting tools for applying the wax, planning to try out doing batik. Five years later, the stuff was still sitting unopened in a drawer, so drastic measures were required, such as teaching it to kids!

I found a lot of information on batik on the web. For example, Paula Burch has an excellent discussion on batik on her extensive hand dyeing website. I also have a book called "Tie Dye To Die For & Batik You Can't Resist!" with good information, among others.

Getting Started

I melted the batik wax in its foil tin inside an old (that is, sacrificed to the cause) frying pan that was full of boiling water. I kept the stove burner on a low setting, but I found that the water had to be at a bubbling boil for the wax to get hot enough. If the wax is too cool, it beads up on the surface of the fabric. It has to penetrate the fabric thoroughly to resist the dyes properly.

Using the tjanting really takes some practice. I was just making a sampler on a bandana, not a work of art, so it didn't matter much if I got drips all over, but if I were to get serious about batik I'd need to work on my tjanting skills--for about a year! The hard part is to tilt the tool up just enough to stop its dripping from the tip, but not so much that the wax dribbles out the filling hole on the top and runs down your arm. Yikes.

Here is my pan of boiling water. The batik wax is on the left with the tjanting in it. Notice the frothy, bubbly water in the frying pan--that's what it looks like with lots of wax dripped into it by a tjanting amateur. "Bubbling like a witch's brew in a cauldron" would be a good way to describe what I found to be the right temperature.

I taped my bandana taut to a jelly roll pan (that's a cookie sheet with 1-inch high sides) so my working area would not touch the metal (a handy version of a silk painter's frame). That was useful because I don't have many empty flat surfaces in my house, so I could just stack this on top of everything else to be near the stove (works better than just dumping everything else on the floor!). I did have to keep shifting and re-taping the bandana to get at all of the bandana's area, though.

Here is my bandana with the wax applied. In the lower right corner I tried using a metal cookie cutter to apply the wax. That's supposed to be a frog. Near that is a big dark area where I painted wax on with a paintbrush between lines I had already done with the tjanting. I wanted to have a big area to test out the crackle effect.

I wadded up the corner of the bandana to crack that big area of wax and the surrounding areas (though all of the wax got somewhat cracked due to my generally-rough handling).

Other Resists

Because getting rid of the wax is such a pain, many people have tried out using other resists instead of the wax. They have various limitations, though, such as not producing the characteristic cracked effect found in real batik. At some point, while I was making glycerin soaps with my kids, it occurred to me that the soap itself might make a good resist that could then just wash right out at the end. The melting temperature and viscosity is similar to that of wax.

I melted some of the glycerin soap in the same frying pan full of water with my batik wax. That's the small handled pot in the picture above. I applied the soap to the upper right corner of my bandana with a second tjanting.

The glycerin soap is shinier and less yellow than the wax.


I used direct application for the dyes--I'm a big fan of immediate gratification! I gently soaked the bandana in a small bucket of soda ash solution, separate from my usual soaking bucket, because I didn't want to contaminate all my mixed-up soda ash solution with the water-soluble soap. Then I painted or squirted on dyes that I had around from recent tie-dyeing (same Procion dyes anyhow). One advantage of batik direct application is that I used less dye than I would have to tie-dye the same bandana. I let it sit overnight.

Resisting Resists

Next came the not-so-fun part, removing the resists. The soap, as expected, came right out in the cold-water rinse I always do for tie-dyes (to remove the soda ash and the worst of the excess dye). Then I tried various things to get rid of the wax. I tried bending it to remove the big chunks and drips. That helped a little. Scraping with a dull table knife was hopeless.

Then I tried boiling in water. Unfortunately I didn't have a multi-gallon pot (as Paula suggests) that I was willing to sacrifice to the cause. The wax and the soap might be food-safe, but there is still a lot of excess dye in the bandana. The pot I used was small, and the water immediately became dark blue with excess dye (and the bandana stuck out of the water in places, too). So if I wanted to change the water multiple times rather than boil blue dye onto my nice white batik lines, I had to do something about the wax. It was a mess. I scraped some off with a cold spoon, which helped some but was ridiculously tedious. I tried a fine strainer, which simply clogged. I tried paper towels in a coarse strainer, and the water poured past the paper towel (not held in well enough). I hate to think how much wax is now clogging my kitchen pipes!

I finally had done enough rinsing and wax removal that I wasn't concerned with dye redepositing. I went out to the garden, got a few rocks, and plopped them in to boil with my bandana and hold it down under the surface. I then let the water cool, and I scraped enough wax off the surface to get my bandana out.

I hand-washed the bandana with Synthrapol, let it dry, and here it is.

Since I was just making a sampler, I didn't worry about the age of the mixed dyes, so they look a bit more faded than an experienced Procion dyer would expect. The purple especially didn't hold its color--it was the oldest mixed dye. I've found that greens particularly, then purples and blues, lose their color strength the fastest (the New Emerald Green here was fresh). I've learned to make up fresh batches of dyes when I'm doing something where the color and brightness is important.

Here's the corner where I used the soap as the resist. Soap didn't get the really sharp, crisp edges wax gets, but it does get some cracking. I think it would have been helpful to have the soap a little hotter than the wax, though, so it could have penetrated a little better.

For my class, given that we won't have much time and there is very little budget, I'll show my students the difference between the wax and the soap, and then we'll use the soap. The soap has the advantage that it's easy to get in any craft store, and they can melt it using a microwave (repeatedly, but it does work). Then they can take their work home to wash it, and I won't have to worry about their parents calling me to complain about clogged drains!

And in my case, I still have a lot of wax to clean off the stove, the oven below it, the floor, the sink, the pans... I'd hate to lose my crafts-in-the-kitchen privileges. I'm getting close to that, though, since I still have my sewing machine on the kitchen table while I work sporadically on that jeans circle quilt. Eeek!

Dang Dog!

My little publicity hound somehow sensed I was going to take blog pictures tonight. I had just laid the white sheet and the bandana down on the floor and had gone into the other room to get my camera. In that short time, she went and found a squeaky toy and started cavorting with it in the middle of my photo setup!

My daughter tried to help distract Lacey while I set up again (but Lacey had no intention of letting go of the toy).

She only gets away with it because she's cute...

I'm thinking next time maybe I should batik the dog. But I'll have to use the soap instead of the wax. Wouldn't want any waxy buildup on that fluffy white fur!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Discharging the Dog

After doing the discharge dyeing experiment I described in my lab report, I knew the Safeway cleanser was useless for discharge dyeing, so I didn't bother going further with that one--I guess I'll have to use it for cleaning my sink! Instead, I played with using stencils and sponge stamps with the Soft Scrub With Bleach cleanser, as well as with freehand squirting on other colors. Here I have taped the stencil onto a jeans sample and then dabbed the Soft Scrub on the stencil:

I used the flower stencil (the pink one in the picture above), and then went back and added extra Soft Scrub to the center flower motifs so they would appear brighter (more bleached) than the stems and leaves. Here you can see the results from making the layer of Soft Scrub thicker in some areas.

In the next sample, I used the stenciling sponge to stamp on some circles, and the centers got a very thin layer of Soft Scrub, while the outer edges got a thick layer. The outer edges are much more bleached than the centers. Here they are wet:

Then rinsed and dried:

This picture and the previous one show how you might use the thickness of the Soft Scrub to create subtle shading in your discharge dyeing pieces.

Note the yellowish tint in the circles in the upper sample with the red stitching. This was a pair of jeans that had been sewn together, then treated (probably stonewashed and over-dyed). If you look near the red stitching, you can see that the bleached parts near the red stitching are pale blue, not yellowish, because the seams of the jeans did not get the over-dyeing treatment like the rest of the pants.

Here is a sample of part of a mesh polo shirt that had been previously tie-dyed and loved and worn until it fell apart. In this case, the turquoise dye bleached to nearly white, but the fuchsia dye merely bleached to pink. My daughter did this one.

Here's an old tie-dyed sock (also loved and worn out) with greens and turquoise. Note that the greens didn't bleach to white. They kept a yellow-brown tinge (no, that's not just the ground-in dirt). My daughter did this one too.

This bandana had been previously dyed with turquoise and yellow-green. I was sloppy stenciling this one, and you can see white spots where I left the Soft Scrub a little too thick.

I also did a sample on a piece of plaid synthetic knit, and left it overnight. The result? Only the very faintest amount of fading, and I think that I may just be seeing some of the Soft Scrub grit that hasn't washed out completely.

I had better luck stenciling on an old towel that I use to catch the drips underneath my tie-dye pieces. Since I use these towels over and over, they get quite a medley of dye colors, so they have a nice medley of colors in the discharged area. I was pretty happy with this effect.

One of my loyal readers complained that he hadn't seen nearly enough dog pictures in my blog lately (yeah, that lab report really could have used a few Lacey pictures to liven it up!). My kids came to the rescue and created a couple of discharge-dyed bib/capes for Lacey. This dog will cheerfully put up with just about anything if there are treats involved! Here she is:

Lacey has officially discharged her duty (for now).

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Art, Science, and Cleaning Liquid

I've started doing some experimentation with discharge dyeing. That's "experimentation" as in "lab experiments".

I'm playing with discharge dyeing because I'm preparing to teach it to a bunch of middle school kids, and I haven't done discharge dyeing before. These kids are currently learning about the process of scientific inquiry and writing lab experiment reports. Their curriculum integrates that scientific method into several of their classes, and I'm going to integrate it into an art class too. I'm hoping they'll have fun doing the dyeing, so I won't make them write an actual report! In the meantime, it's time to brush up on doing lab reports myself (it's been quite a while!), and they can read mine. Here goes...

Lab Report

Title: Discharge Dyeing Using Liquid Cleanser with Bleach

Table of Contents
Introduction………………………….………………………………………………………page 1
Methods……………………..…………………………………………………………… 2
Materials……………………..…………….……………………………………… 3
Variables……………………..…………….……………………………………… 4
Procedures……………………..…………….………………..…………………… 5
Data & Observations……………………..…………….………………………………..… 6
Analysis……………………..…………….……………………………………..………… 7
Conclusion……………………..…………….………………………………..…………… 8
Works Cited……………………..…………….…………………………………………… 9

Background & Purpose

Discharge dyeing is the process of stripping out color that is already in the fabric (bleaching it) for artistic effect. Sometimes discharge dyeing happens by accident, such as when a cleanser with bleach in it was spilled on my favorite electric blue bathmat. It took me a while to realize how it got those bright pink spots on it, since bleaching doesn't always make the fabric white--often other colors result, depending on the dyes that were used. Here is a good example of accidental discharge dyeing.

There are many ways to do discharge dyeing. The methods and chemicals used depend on what type of fabric you want to alter. For example, common chlorine bleach works well on cotton, but it will deteriorate wool or silk fibers. For silk or wool, sodium hydrosulfite or thiourea dioxide can be used instead.

In addition, you can use different methods to achieve different bleaching or lightening effects. For example, to lighten an entire piece of cotton fabric, you might dip it in a dilute solution of chlorine bleach and water. However, to create stenciled effects, it might be helpful to have a thicker bleaching compound. The web page "DISCHARGE DYEING WITH COMET GEL" suggests using Comet Liquid Gel or Soft Scrub with Bleach for discharge dyeing with stencils.

Since I am planning to do stenciling with discharge dyeing, I decided to investigate how well the Soft Scrub with Bleach worked. The store had that and Safeway Liquid Cleanser with Bleach (on sale), so I got both.

My research question asks whether there is a difference between using different brands of liquid cleanser with bleach (Soft Scrub and Safeway) and how it is affected by time on the fabric. I selected my research question because I was curious as to which bleaching compound would work better and what time period was needed.

Hypothesis & Prediction

The hypothesis is that there is a slight difference in the performance of the two cleaning fluids for discharge dyeing, because store-brand products usually do not completely duplicate the national-brand products they are emulating (occasionally they are better). Typically the store-brand products are cheaper and may be made from cheaper materials. Because this is a non-standard use for the cleaning fluids, either may be the better performer for this purpose.

I predict that the outcome of my experiment will be that both products work for my purpose of discharge dyeing because both contain bleach. I predict that there may be a slight variation in the shades achieved with the two products. The null hypothesis is that there is no difference in the shades achieved with the two products.

  • Soft Scrub with Bleach cleaning liquid (24 oz.)
  • Safeway Cleaning Liquid with Bleach (24 oz)
  • Denim fabric scraps (denim scraps from my jeans circle quilt) in various shades
  • Two small applicator squeeze bottles
  • Permanent marker (blue or black) that will show up on the darkest and lightest denim scraps
  • Warm water for washing off the liquid cleansers (running water in a sink)
  • Old toothbrush or scrub brush for scrubbing liquid cleanser off of denim scraps as needed
  • Goggles and plastic gloves

  • variable – something that can vary (or change) each time an experiment is done
  • controlled variables – the variables that you "control" or keep the same during all of your experiment. Controlling is also called standardizing.
  • manipulated variable – the variable that you are intentionally changing so that you can make comparisons between different situations, objects, or conditions. Also called the independent variable and is graphed on the x-axis.
The manipulated variables in my experiment were the brand of liquid cleanser, the time the cleanser spent on the fabric, and the shade of denim fabric.
  • responding variable – the variable that is changing due to differences in the manipulated variable. It is the variable you are measuring and recording as the outcome of the experiment. Also called the dependent variable and is graphed on the y-axis.
  • Since my experiment samples made up a 2-dimensional matrix with denim shade on one axis and time on the other axis, I essentially had multiple experiments. I controlled for denim shade against cleanser brand in one experiment, and I controlled for time against cleanser brand in the other experiment.
  • My manipulated variables were the brand of liquid cleanser on the sample, the time it was allowed to sit on the sample before being washed off, and the original shade of the denim.
  • My responding variable(results) was the whiteness/brightness (visibility) of the discharge-dyed area (the bleached mark on the fabric).
  1. Put on gloves and goggles.
  2. Put some Soft Scrub cleanser into squeeze bottle (about half full) and mark the bottle as "A" with the permanent marker.
  3. Put some Safeway cleanser into squeeze bottle (about half full) and mark the bottle as "B" with the permanent marker.
  4. Prepare samples of the clean denim fabric scraps. Cut samples to sizes at least 2 inches by 6 inches. Cut four samples of each fabric shade (that is, cut 4 samples from each pair of jeans so you have multiple matching samples for each shade of denim).
  5. Use the permanent marker to label each sample with a time (in minutes): 10, 15, 25, and 60 or Overnight (Note: for some shades I did not have enough for all four samples, so I made fewer samples).
  6. Lay out all the samples on a table. You will have a matrix of samples with time in one direction and denim shade in the other direction.
  7. Using the "A" (Soft Scrub) squeeze bottle, write an "A" on one end of each sample.
  8. Using the "B" (Safeway) squeeze bottle, write a "B" on the other end of each sample.
  9. Start the timer.
  10. At the end of each interval (10, 15, 25, and 60 minutes or Overnight), wash out the samples for that time period under running warm water. Use the toothbrush or scrub brush if needed to get the cleanser grit out of the sample.
  11. Set the samples out to dry.
  12. Lay out all the dry samples and look at the quality of the discharge-dyed letters (A, B) on the samples. Are they hard or easy to see? Are the edges of the letters sharp or blurry? What colors are the letters (white, blue, pale blue, yellow, and so on)?
  13. Write down observations for each sample based on the key chart below.

Data & Observations

Without very sophisticated equipment, determining the amount of bleaching is fairly subjective, so I have made up a qualitative scale (key table) by which the bleaching can be judged.

Here are the results for the various samples, according to the key given above. Click on the following table to enlarge it:

Here is a bar graph of the results, where each group of bars represents all shades bleached for a specific period of time. Click on the graph to enlarge it:

Here are photos of the bleached, rinsed, and dried samples, arranged by denim shade (dark, medium, and stonewashed). "A" is bleaching from the Soft Scrub cleanser. A "B" should appear on the right-hand side of each sample, but it appears only faintly in two of the samples ("dark 60 minutes" and medium overnight, "BO").

Dark denim at 10, 15, 25, and 60 minutes:

Medium denim at 10, 15, and 25 minutes and overnight:

Stonewashed denim at 10 and 25 minutes (15 minutes not shown):

As listed in the results table, the "B" (Safeway brand cleanser) is not visible at all in most of the samples, and is only very faint in the two where it appears at all.

I observed that the Soft Scrub cleanser turned yellowish or orange around the edges as it bleached the dyes below it, probably from reacting with the dyes. It also became just a little less shiny than it was when it was applied. The Safeway brand cleanser remained bright white and shiny just as it was when it was applied. For the overnight samples, both cleansers became slightly dried out and less shiny.

In this experiment, I compared the bleaching effects of two different brands of liquid cleansers with bleach. I compared them across various soaking times. I also compared them across three different shades of denim.

I used an advanced set of equipment, my eyes, to collect the data (the responding variable), and quantified my results using the qualitative scale above.

The data does not support either the hypothesis or the null hypothesis. The null hypothesis was that the results would be the same for both brands of liquid cleanser, and that was clearly not the case, since the performance was very different between the two brands (and the Safeway brand barely bleached the denim at all). The hypothesis predicted a slight difference in performance between the two brands. Because the Safeway brand barely bleached the denim at all, while the Soft Scrub worked as expected (bleached the denim visibly in 10 minutes, and more with increasing time), I maintain that there is a significant, not slight, difference in bleaching performance between the two brands.

My personal prediction about the outcome of the experiment was surprisingly incorrect. I had expected the Safeway brand cleanser to produce results only slightly different from the results of the Soft Scrub cleanser, since both purported to contain bleach, which is the ingredient of interest. Instead, the Safeway cleanser had almost completely failed to bleach the denim, while the Soft Scrub cleanser had bleached the denim as expected. As expected, the Soft Scrub had produced more bleaching effect (whiteness) over greater time periods. For what little bleaching it did produce, the Safeway brand cleanser had also produced more bleaching for longer times, as expected.

Keeping the bleaching times precise was a challenge because I was participating in other activities at the same time and did not have a timer handy (just a wall clock). However, given the imprecise nature of quantifying the results, a minute or two, plus or minus, does not seem to affect the precision of the results. Also, I had originally intended to do a set of samples at five minutes. This became a ten-minute sample set because I missed the five-minute rinse time.

If I were to repeat the experiment again in order to do it more carefully or accurately, I would use one or more kitchen timers so I could time my experiment more carefully. I would also prepare somewhat smaller and more uniformly-shaped samples, and more of them so I could get a more complete data set.

For a future experiment, I would try using the Soft Scrub cleanser with additional types of fabrics beyond denim, such as with wools, synthetics, and so on, and with different colors and dyes, such as over-dyed jeans, printed synthetic fabrics, tie-dyed t-shirts, and so on.


"DISCHARGE DYEING WITH COMET GEL" Purrfection Artistic Wearables. Dana Marie Design Co. 5 October 2008.

"DISCHARGE DYEING". 5 October 2008

Vintage Threads(blog). "Discharge Dyeing Tutorial". 5 May 2008, accessed 5 October 2008.

Hewitt, Paula. The Beauty of Life (blog). "Discharge dyeing: husbands and bleach don’t mix". 20 January 2008, accessed 5 October 2008.

"Discharge Dyeing FAQ". 5 October 2008.

Grace, Twila. Twila's Threads (blog). "Dye Discharge Results". 23 September 2007, accessed 5 October 2008.