If you’re Rhinebeck-bound, we would love to see youย at Jill Draper’s studio in Kingston on Saturday night–details here.

Passionate Bleaching

Dear Ann,
Running out of time on my way out the door to London. Mustn’t waste time with gibblegabble. Must convey the essence of my weekend of bleaching denim. (Doesn’t everybody bleach up a batch of denim yarn when they’re spozed to be packing for two weeks away from home?) Pictures say it all, but I will say some of it anyway. Gibblegabble is my destiny.
Safety Advisory: Use extreme care if you have children, pets, or whine-prone husbands with highly sensitive noses. Bleach is toxic and stinky. You would be, too, if you took the dye right out of fabric.
1. Random pieces of Failed Denim Projects, prewashed and dried.
2. Clorox bleach. I prefer the splashless version. It stays where you put it.
3. Kids’ paint brush, seems to be natural hair of some kind.
4. Small glass jar.
Method 1: Painting (Note: This Version Is For The Timid)
Place dry denim swatch in dry kitchen sink. Put a bit of bleach in the jar.
Dab the brush into the bleach, which you have very slightly diluted with less than half the volume of water.
Paint onto the surface of the knitting. Do not saturate the fabric. Just keep dabbing.
This is what you get after waiting a minute or two.
Here’s what you get if you lose patience with the dabbing and you pour a little bit right onto the denim, soaking through. Pale blue, although it will turn white if you wait a bit.
Method 2: Dumping (Note: This Version Is More Fun)
Pour the bleach onto the denim fabric in an approximation of stripes. This is how it will look after just a minute.
After another minute.
This is how it looks on the wrong side, because the bleach has soaked clear through.
It started to look kind of greenish.
Time to put it in the washing machine. As you can see, this is a lame-o U.S. toploading washing machine. I washed it on hot with a small amount of detergent. If I were using a European washing machine that heats its own water, I would have used a very moderate warm temperature because I would have been worried about the hot water leaching out more of the blue dye and depositing it on the white stripes, creating pale blue spots where white was intended. This is not a worry with a lame-o U.S. machine; even on the hot setting I can stick my hand in the water, no problem. I rinsed twice in cold water.
Look how crisply white the stripes came out. (Green apple to show utter lack of green in bleached stripes.)
Next comes the unravelling part. If you sewed in your ends, now would be the time for a little cussing, as you learn how nice and tightly denim ends get shrunk into the fabric. But see how nice the yarn is.
Seriously, SEE HOW NICE the yarn is. It’s very soft and not stinky at all.
Here’s how it looked knitted up. I striped it with the yarn that had been painted lightly, to mellow out the space-dyed effect.
There is a wide world of kitchen-sink bleaching methods. For example, there is the Ann HB Patented Baggie Method, the Cristina Oxyclean Wash It 800 Times Method, and the Belinda Dippity-Dye Method. These are all good methods, or you can make up your own.
Or you can just knit up the yarn the way it comes in the ball, like a normal person.
Now I’m off to London.
Love, Kay




  1. Just a couple of bleaching notes from what I learned in my Fiber Arts classes in college:
    -to stop the bleaching action you can use diluted hydrogen peroxide (like the kind you get at the drug store
    -tie-dying techniques work equally well in reverse (when removing dye)–just make sure the “ties” you use don’t bleed any color (unless that’s an effect you want)
    -Gel formula kitchen cleaners that contain bleach go on silky smooth and when mixed with bleach containing abrasives (like Comet) can create great concentrated bleached out areas.
    -Avoid mixing with anything containing ammonia.
    Glad you’re having fun bleaching!

  2. Since we’re in an advice dispensing vibe here, I will add that having a baby who will spit up on your denim handknit 800 times (that’s a one to one correspondence between burps and washes) really helps speed along the process.

  3. Are you knitting some Denim People thing to wear in the punk clubs in London?
    Have fun!

  4. Bon Voyage, dear Kayye! I will miss you so!

  5. Who wants to be normal, eh?
    Stunning dear, just stunning. Are you bringing some of that with you? And do you want to go to a Punk Club?
    x x x x

  6. Kay, bring denim to London! I am finding my denim to knit in your honour, but I doubt I will bleach it… but maybe. Hmm.

  7. Now that is a cool fun experiment. Have a great trip to London.

  8. That looks like great fun! Have a wonderful trip ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Wonderful bleaching tutorial! You will be posting from London won’t you? I am really hoping for some shots of the Rowanettes at Liberty’s – hey hey hey – how about a side trip to the Colinette outlet?

  10. Shut up about going to London. I’m jealous, and I’m not even the jealous sort. Grudgingly I say, “Have a good time.” Blah. ๐Ÿ˜€

  11. Now, that’s not something I would ever have thought to do! I’ve barely got my mind wrapped around the concept of over-dyeing bad colors–and I haven’t actually tried it–bleaching perfectly good yarn? I just . . . never would have thought of that . . . Looks great, though!

  12. Sounds to me like something I’d be totally afraid to do, rather like steeking—-I’m very afraid.
    Travel safely.

  13. bon voyage, kay! ref: bleaching: would non-chlorine bleach have any effect on dyed cotton?
    “harnessing the incredible power of oxygen”!

  14. Is this portending ‘Mason-Dixon Bleaching’ as a sequel? Safe travels!

  15. That’s just so cool! Did I mention that I managed to purchase the last 9 balls of Sirdar denim from my supplier and so that probably means some denim stripping party (the yarn, not me) soon?!

  16. As a bleaching neophyte, may I ask a heretical question – does all this bleaching weaken the yarn?

  17. What’s the latest on the perfect handknit? I found a deal on Cascade 220 in the sale section of discountyarnsale.com

  18. I hate to be contrary, but I don’t think that diluted hydrogen peroxide would stop the bleaching action (comment from Valerie) – mainly because hydrogen peroxide is a form of bleach. Unless the hydrogen peroxide were so diluted that it comprised a lot more water than hydrogen peroxide – in which case it would be the water that would stop the bleaching action, rather than the hydrogen peroxide.

  19. I meant to add that I might be wrong – I’ve never tried to stop bleaching with hydrogen peroxide – I’d just recommend testing it on something unimportant first.

  20. Dear Kay – since I consider you the Queen of Denim, I must ask, does any of the denim yarn stain your fingers? I was gifted some stash from a friend who no longer can knit. In it was some lovely Classic Elite denim yarn. it’s very nice, but after a brief gauge swatch, my fingers were purple! Should I knit with latex gloves on??

  21. >>In response to what Katie said: Peroxide WILL stop the bleaching action, as will sodium bisulfite (known as Anti-Chlor..available through dye providers like Pro-Chem) and a few other things. After using these, you rinse them and any remaining bleach out in the wash, but if you skip this step the bleach can continue to eat away at the fabric even after a wash. There’s a good article on dye discharge methods (basically bleaching) here:http://www.pburch.net/dyeing/FAQ/dark.shtml if you’re interested.

  22. Thanks, Valerie!

  23. Kay, are you sure your use of the apple is for color perspective and not to prove what a great mother you are by keeping fresh fruit in the house?


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