A Truly Bizarre Way to 'Clean Up' Your Home Designs

Bleach Pen T-ShirtWhen I saw bleach-pen art on a craft blog, I knew I had to try it. I mean, who hasn’t suffered through a bleaching disaster that you wished you could turn into a happy accident? In the ‘70s, my older sisters would splash the stuff on their indigo Levis and create a cool effect that went great with their tie-dye shirts. The idea that you can tame the terrifying bleach monster and use its force for good is irresistible.

But could the cleaning agent do more than just make my T-shirts look like I was attacked by a hippie ghost?

The answer is yes. In fact, I took some unused cloth napkins and turned them into little works of art that I think would be equally at home on the wall or the dining room table.


The first thing I had to do was get the bleach pens. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I had to stand in the laundry supplies aisle for way longer than your average Joe, confused by the different options. So just in case you’re also suffering through some sleepless-baby-mom-fog, let me explain: To try this yourself, you need a bleach pen for white fabric. It’s OK. The pen doesn’t know you’re going to do something else with it.

I was supposed to put wax paper inside the shirt so the bleach didn’t bleed through, but I didn't have any handy, so I came up with a replacement and ... well, looky here! Maybe I'm trying a T-shirt on an old robot lady?

Bleach Pen 1

I did scour the web for folk art patterns and found some I liked.  But, come on. Who am I kidding? I wound up just drawing some freakin’ flowers instead. Though I am thinking I could do a big exotic bird, or a heart on the belly of a maternity shirt, or a peace sign … for now, I just wanted to see how it worked.

Bleach Pen 2

Then I turned my attention to these poor, forgotten colorful cloth napkins that I got for like $3.99 at Marshalls and used once. They have a little problem with wrinkles (which is, I suppose, why they were at Marshalls in the first place). I was stymied for inspiration, paging through various line-art permutations on Google Images, when I came across an old favorite: Alexander Calder, a line-drawing genius whose circus video fascinated me when I was a kid.

The dog:

Bleach Pen 3

The pig, from the above drawing (it was supposed to be a wolf, but oh well):

bleach pen 4

The elephant (sad that it doesn’t show up well -- his swirly trunk made him my fave!):

bleach pen 5

The horse (possibly my new favorite for the color and the energy):

Bleach Pen 6

The original blogger said she just left the bleach on 'til it looked the way she wanted it to, which was maddening. What did that mean? I didn’t see anything happening, so I took note of the time and put everything aside. About an hour-and-a-half later, I peeked in and went, “Ooh! Ooh, it’s cool!” and threw everything into a hot washing machine.

Dried ‘em. Ironed ‘em. Et voila, my Calder-inspired menagerie. I am thinking I could stretch them onto frames, Modge Podge them to a wall, or stitch them into a lap-quilt. If only they weren't so wrinkle-prone!

Bleach Pen 7

bleach pen 8

How do you like my bleach pen art? Would you try it yourself?

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