Introduction: Bleach Stencil Shirt

About: I'm all about Making and Mental Health. Reach out if you need a chat .

Isn't it odd how things come together?

I was trailing behind my wife in a clothes shop, not really paying attention (yes, I'm one of those husbands), idly running future plans through my head - planning activities for the next Cub camp, wondering what to do for my next instructable, and wondering why all the shirts on sale were pastel or white (I hate white shirts!).

Suddenly, my eye fell on one particular shelf, and something went click - I was looking right at my next project, and knew exactly how to do it!

This is how I went from that moment to a nice new shirt to wear at camp...

Step 1: Needful Things

The thing my eye fell on whilst shopping was a plain black t-shirt, for only £1.80!

I also used ...

... masking tape.

... a baking tray (any flat piece of metal will do)

... domestic bleach in a small spray bottle (I used one that came in a set of bottles small enough to take on a flight - make sure you label it as hazardous).

... a bucket of water.

... scrap cardboard.

... a sharp knife.

I also used a laser cutter to cut out my stencil, but you can use whatever cutting device you prefer.

Step 2: Making the Stencil

I wanted a Batman logo, as my Cub leader title is "Mang the Bat", so I drew one up in Inkscape and transferred it to my laser cutter.

Whatever design you use, keep it relatively simple - this is not a technique for fine details (check out the difference between the ears on the stencil and the ears on the final image).

I stuck a strip of masking tape on the bottom of the tray and cut out the shape at just 20% power.

I peeled the outer, disposable parts off first, which left a small tag (easily trimmed off with a sharp knife), and then prepared the shirt.

(A word of warning - lasering your stencil will damage whatever is under the tape. Make sure you put it away quietly in the kitchen drawer before your wife notices that you've accidentally branded her baking tray!)

Step 3: Prepare the Shirt

I didn't want the bleach to go through to the back of the shirt, so I put a piece of scrap card inside the shirt.

(It turns out that large pizza boxes take a medium in t-shirts...)

I peeled the stencil off the baking tray and stuck it onto the shirt, positioning it by eye and pressing it down firmly.

Step 4: Bleaching

I took everything outside at this point, partly to save getting bleach on anything else, but mainly to avoid the cat helping.

(Note - I had mixed the bleach 50:50 with tap water first, purely because other people bleaching shirts had done the same.)

I misted bleach onto the shirt, wetting a diagonal line across the shirt. The colour began to change within a few seconds, and I left it to "develop" until I liked the colour, at which point I plunged the shirt into the bucket and quickly rinsed the shirt to stop the bleach. The stencil came off as I rinsed, and revealed a promising sign...

Note: many sprays are made cheaply, so don't have properly-circular holes in the nozzle - when I was test-spraying on card, I discovered that the spray I used actually sprayed in a large crescent. Bear that in mind if you are aiming to bleach a small patch

Step 5: Rinse.

I wasn't convinced that the bucket-rinse got rid of all the bleach, so I threw the shirt into the washing machine by itself, and ran it through a rinse cycle. You could, of course, simply replace the water in the bucket several times, or rinse it in the sink, but I'm lazy.

It looked so good as it came out...

Unfortunately, the shirt is non-tumble-dry, so I had to hang it up and wait to wear it...

Step 6: Wear!

Once it was dry, that was done - thanks to Conker-X for the portrait shots, I've never been able to do decent selfies, not even when Neptune the cat comes to help.

I have seriously impressed myself with this project - relatively simple, but textiles are usually outside my comfort zone as a maker. I am so impressed with the result, though, that I'm now going to buy a bunch more plain shirts...