Learn to Bleach-Stencil Denim

Make a fashion statement and give new life to an old pair of jeans by creating an exciting design with bleach and a stencil.

| Summer 2019

Photo by Allison Sarkesian

Bleaching designs onto blue jeans is a fast, rewarding craft project. If you use a purchased stencil, you can have a finished product in about an hour (including laundering time). Crafters who prefer one-of-a-kind designs may want to set aside another hour or two for cutting a custom stencil. (See below for instructions on how to make your own stencil.)

The best jeans to use for a bleaching project are 100 percent cotton. Unfortunately for this project (but fortunately for their wearers), most women’s jeans include a healthy percentage of bleach-resistant spandex or other synthetic fiber. Look for clothing (jean shirts and jackets are great candidates for this project) with at least 95 percent cotton fiber content. You can test fabric by applying a drop or two of bleach on an inside seam to see what happens. If you don’t see results within a few minutes, the garment won't work for bleaching. Men’s jeans are often 100 percent cotton, and a better option for a bleaching project.

Invest in a good spray bottle that delivers a fine spray. Cheap spray bottles tend to produce droplets that’ll disfigure your pattern, causing circular spots that are whiter and more obvious than the rest of the bleached design. Even with a quality bottle, it’s a good idea to hold a paper towel under the nozzle to catch drops. I also recommend doing some test sprays on old jeans you don’t care about, so you get a feel for using the spray bottle. Lastly, wear old clothes while spraying bleach so you don’t ruin a favorite garment.

Materials & Supplies

  • Blue jeans, at least 95 percent cotton
  • Cardboard or thick catalogs
  • Stencil
  • Painter’s tape or masking tape
  • Bleach
  • Spray bottle
  • Paper towels

Step 1: Lay the jeans out on a work surface. Slide a piece of cardboard into the pant leg, under the area you’ll be spraying; this prevents the bleach from soaking through to the other side of the leg. Smooth the leg flat.

Photo by Rebecca Martin



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