Saturday, August 29, 2015

How not to make a bleach-stencil T-shirt

When a friend handed-me-down a slightly used black T-shirt, I recognized it at once as the blank canvas that I would use for my next artistic masterpiece! In the interest of spoilers, the endeavor did not turn out as I had hoped, but I learned some lessons along the way that I'd like to share with my fellow DIY-ers.

I started by removing the sleeves and creating a pretty cute (woe to me for then destroying it) black tank top (but I have enough black shirts already, so no big loss). If I learned one thing from converting this shirt into a tank top, it's: Go easy on the binding of the raw edges. Don't stretch it and use a loose, loose stitch. I ended up with kind of awkward, frilly looking arm openings because some parts were sewn too tightly while others were loose.

However, the big loss was when I tried to use a stencil to bleach the shape of a bird into the shirt. I've seen shirts decorated this way before, but wanting to be my own creative self, I didn't bother to follow any tutorials—just trusted my past experiences with bleach and hoped for the best.

Lesson 1: If there are tutorials on the internet, at least consult them before trying to go it alone.

My plan was to create a stencil and then spray bleach into it to create a lighter-colored image on the black shirt. I sketched my bird onto a piece of file folder, then cut it out with an X-acto knife. So far, so good. I placed several layers of cardboard in between the front and back of the shirt to keep the bleach from bleeding through. Also good. Then, because I was worried about the bleach bleeding past the edges of the stencil, I sprayed the back of it with spray adhesive so it would stick firmly to the shirt.

I also clipped the stencil to the cardboard-backed shirt in a few places for added stability. Worried about overspray, I then covered the edges of the stencil with a few layers of newspaper, taped down.

Then I brought the whole project into the living room where we have a hardwood floor (spraying bleach in a room with a carpet is probably a bad idea) and loaded my spray bottle with 100% chlorine bleach. I use the bottle in the bathroom to retard mildew growth in the shower, and I normally keep it full of about 50% bleach, 50% water, so I first emptied the contents into a glass jar which will come into play later in this story.

Then I began spraying. This is where I learned most of my lessons.

Lesson 2: Bleach has no respect for spray adhesive. It will peel whatever you've stuck down right back up.
Lesson 3: Go easy on the bleach! If you are impatient and soak the fabric hoping for faster results, all you will get is a disaster. This includes drips that will pool on your stencil and then find their way to unprotected areas of the shirt when you move it.
Lesson 4: Don't use thin cardboard or paper as your stencil. Even my first spray of bleach quickly soaked through the edges. If I do this again, I will first prime my cardboard with some kind of waterproof varnish.
Lesson 5: This isn't so much a lesson as just an idea that might prove beneficial next time, but... remove the stencil immediately after spraying. I left it on because I thought I might have to spray multiple coats and wouldn't want to have to replace it each time, but I think leaving it on just allowed the bleach to soak through it and get on the shirt in unwanted places. 
Lesson 6: If you were worried about overspray, you weren't worried enough. Even with all the extra protection around the edges of my stencil, I still managed to get a small haze of bleach on the shoulder of the shirt.

After I removed the stencil to discover the blurry, shapeless bird you see here, I tried not to get too disheartened and instead focused on another experiment: Dip-bleaching!

In this experiment, I dumped all of the remaining bleach from the sprayer into the jar of bleach water, then dipped the shirt into it up to the point where the failed bird would be completely covered. I left it in there for several minutes, then took it out and rinsed it.

It was hideously blotchy. My boyfriend said it looked kind of tie-dyed, but I've never been a fan of tie-dye, so it wasn't going to work for me.

In one last experiment, I dipped just the bottom hem into the bleach and left it overnight and all through the next day. Yes, I'm told you should not expose your fabric to bleach for this long, but it was pretty much as ruined as it was going to get, so why not see what happens?

It still looked tie-dyed, but it was an even more dramatic gradient than before, so, despite my reservations about wearing something so imperfect, I decided to give it a few runs around the block and see if anyone likes it.

After my miserable failure, I finally read some tutorials on the process of bleach-stenciling. Even the crafters who didn't take many precautions got better results than mine, so I'm pretty sure that the majority of my problems stemmed from not enough patience and too much bleach. But while reading through one article, I did discover a helpful tip that I hope to employ in the future.

Lesson 7: After the desired color is reached, you're supposed to dip the shirt in peroxide, which apparently halts any further chemical reactions caused by the bleach. This is only hearsay, but the person who recommended it said it prevented holes from appearing in the fabric after washing, which is apparently something that can happen to artfully bleached clothing. 

After this, I went ahead and tried the whole thing on another black shirt.

Although I painted a lot more varnish on my stencil, I still, in my folly of thinking that was enough, neglected to remove the stencil immediately after spraying, resulting in yet another blurred outline.

This time I tried to make the flaws seem more deliberate, by lightly spraying the area around the bird with bleach.

That resulted in an even bigger mess than before, because the spray pattern was so uneven. This is the shirt after a second go-round with bleach. Not impressive.

Lesson 8: If using a spray bottle to color your shirt, either expect crazily blotchy results. Next time I'll use a more predictable spraying tool like an airbrush.

I also painted over the bird with glue because I planned on using black ink to dial back the excessively bleached spots.

Spraying/painting over some areas with waterproof black calligraphy ink seemed to help some, but not enough... and then the ink all washed out when I rinsed it, even after applying heat.

Lesson 8: Calligraphy ink – even the waterproof kind – is no substitute for fabric paint / dye.

In the end, I think the biggest lesson I've learned is that bleach dyeing is not the technique for me... but given some more free T-shirts, I'll probably stubbornly try it again!

What about you? Have you had luck using bleach to create graphics on fabric? What worked for you?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Mustard & Ketchup

As you might recall, this shirt has a built-in necklace. However, the necklace is removable, so I decided I could have a little fun with the shirt by accessorizing it with something else. Enter my new red glass-beaded necklace. I bought it for a dollar at Rugged Wearhouse because I am tired of cheap plastic jewelry, so I jumped at the chance to acquire cheap jewelry made of something a little more durable, even if it's a little rough around the edges. I also got one in green, but the muted red was a much better match for the muted yellow sweater.

As I thought about it, I realized I had just created a common condiment pairing with my outfit! And that just made me more excited to wear it than ever!

I also wore my trusty burgundy floral-toed shoes (because they were a perfect match for the necklace), similar dark red earrings, and 3 gold rings on my fingers. Hmmm, something about this shirt must inspire me to wear first-knuckle rings!

I say! Is that a life-size ketchup conduit!?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Same vest, just less

I used to be vehemently opposed to vests. With my thermoregulation problems, I always found them way impractical (why would I want to heat up my frequently overheated core and leave my icy extremities unprotected!?). But in the past few years, I have come to understand that the right vest can be ideal for many purposes.

Leverage the power of the vest!

Use it to cover up a skimpy or strapless top for the office in the summer—without adding sleeves that have the potential to make you too hot. Or use it any time of year to add a little punch to an otherwise boring solid-colored top. Mind you, the vest for the above purposes is lightweight, airy, and has an open front. A pullover vest or a very conservative button-up that completely covers your torso would defeat the purpose. 

As it turns out, there's one more kind of vest that's completely worthless as well: the too-large formal-style vest.

I got this satin purple one in the same eBay haul that brought me the sequined camisoleRenaissance shirt, and green-and-red tank top. This not-so beauty is the last vestige (get it!?) of that lot that I haven't worn or resold. Every time I tried it on, I thought "ugh, that looks so terrible! Maybe next outfit," yet I refused to just let it go for good, because vests can be so useful (see above)!

Finally I realized I was never going to wear it in its natural state (about 3 sizes too big despite being labeled a small, awkwardly short, and embarrassingly reminiscent of trends gone by), so I'd better get cracking and make it into something I would wear.

I folded the front edges under, right at the point on the bottom edge, and right where the collar began at the top.

Then it occurred to me to lop off and save all the buttons—nice to have in my stash!

I pinned assiduously, because this slippery fabric was just an accident waiting to happen!

Then I ironed it just to be safe!

I sewed up the front seams, then, because there was a rather large flap of excess fabric on the underside, which I worried would constantly be showing its face, I hand-stitched it to the lining at the top to help keep it folded under.

This picture shows the fronts bottom edges after they were all finished.

Then I wore it! I paired it with a bright pink dress. I added a gold-tone necklace, gold earrings, gold hair clips, and  neutral shoes, so the more colorful dress and vest could take center stage.

Is there something on your lens, or am I just dreamy?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Where mermaids sing

I must admit, I depend on new clothes for inspiration. I've been blogging up a storm all summer because I had so many new outfits to work my way through, but now that I've cleared my backlog and run out of DIYs, I'm less excited about posting my OOTD's.

Today's outfit finally got me out of my slump! I've had both of the major elements – the flowy, sequin-dotted aqua top and the asymmetrical-hem green skirt – for years, and the skirt, at least, I've worn the dickens out of. Yet as long as these two garments have been sharing closet space, I've never once noticed how cool they would look together. The similar flowy drapes, the similar green colors... they were made for each other!

But when I tried them together, I found their respective lengths made me look dumpy. It was then that I had my most brilliant idea. In all the years that I've owned this shirt, it has never occurred to me to find out how it would look if I let out the gathers at each side. So I tried it. As it turns out, the shirt is remarkably long when its sides aren't bunched up, and if I bunch up just one side, I get a nice long asymmetrical hem.

The magic of angled hems

Lately, I have been all about asymmetrical hems. They make any shirt a little more distinctive...rather like the half-tuck, but less overdone. I've also found that bunching up one side of the hem but not the other is a great way to turn an overly short and tight minidress into a top for a slightly more casual look.

In today's outfit, the asymmetrical hem mirrors the hem on the skirt (score 1 for repeating elements!) and helps diminish the body-shortening effect of wearing a long shirt with a midi skirt. Of course, the sky-high platform heels don't hurt either.

The shoes are also green, so I've got a nice monochrome thing going on. The watery dye pattern on the shirt and the colors reminded me of a still, algae-filled inlet where mermaids sit on barnacled rocks at night and sing. But I didn't feel like calling out my theme quite so obviously as to wear my mermaid necklace, so I went with a pair of silver earrings which feature, if you only look closely, seahorses!

Since water was the name of the game, I put my hair in a herringbone braid (some people call it a fishtail braid). You'll have to pardon my disheveled appearance—I wasn't able to take a photo until the end of the day when time and the sequins on my shirt had pulled most of the hair out of it).

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Gypsy sweetheart

The last time I wore this skirt (not too long ago), I went the dark and mysterious route with lots of black. Today, I'm turning the tables and trying to exude light and innocence.

Check it: pastel ruffly blouse and pale glittery sandals...can I pause for just a moment and say how glad I am that I bought these sandals? When I found them in the store last summer, I was debating between these and a similar black pair. Although I wasn't certain these would go with very much, I bought them because I already had black sandals. As it turns out, Style Tip Pastel rainbow glitter doubles as an unexpected neutral! So I've been able to wear these shoes with a number of outfits...though my favorite pairing is with pink.

Back on subject, though: what else is usually pink? Hearts! I decided to amp up they cutesy in this outfit by wearing all my heart-themed jewelry. From my necklace to my earrings to the jangly charm bracelet that is amazingly impractical for working at a keyboard, they are all chock-full of hearts!

As far as hair is concerned, nothing says sweetness like a braid crown (except maybe a soft cascade of glossy ringlets, which we've already established I will never achieve). Feast your eyes, and do it quickly, because the second-hardest thing to do with my hair is to keep it up on top of my head with only a few well hidden bobby pins.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


 The fashion world has been overrun the past couple years with what I might call, at risk of being culturally clueless, "ethnic" prints—basically a lot of geometric shapes and colorful patterns that look like they could have been loom-woven (although in our world of fast fashion, they are pretty much always printed instead). It's not really my thing (I generally prefer organic shapes and simple color schemes), but you know what is my thing? Trying anything once!

I had my chance to do just that when a friend donated me this maxi dress with a multicolored chevron pattern. Fortunately, I'd already decided to dip my toes in the waters by purchasing a number of geometric metallic necklaces from eBay. At a price of around 95¢ a piece, I wasn't risking much, even if I never took a shine to them. I broke out the biggest of those guns for this outfit—the in-your-face, gleaming silver necklace with tons of dangling strips. There are many necklaces out there with a similar metal fringe, but I was really drawn to this one because the fringe dangles from a perfectly straight bar and forms a V at the bottom, thus mimicking the chevrons in the dress! 

I added silver hoop earrings (because they're perfect circles, of course) which had a crisscross design carved into them, reflecting a smaller grid on the necklace pieces, and silver bobby pins to hold back my bangs, because they resembled the dangling strips on the necklace. Style Tip Repeating shapes or elements in your clothing and jewelry can tie your outfit together and create a more intentional look.

When all the jewelry had been carefully selected, I took advantage of the riot of colors in the dress and chose a pair of colorful sandals to go along with it. 
In spite of my original trepidations about the wearability of the dress, I was pretty excited about the outfit. I felt like it was a fun way to bring the weekend a little early. And my opinions after trying the geometric trend? 1) At least I got to give it a go before it goes away, and 2) As long as I get to indulge my desire to make everything thematic, even a style that's not my style can be pretty fun!