Fabric Art Tips for Removing Color

decolourant fabric art
One of my deColourant experiments, applied with
a stencil.

cate pratoWhen I think of mark making in fabric art and design, I immediately think of adding or applying color to paper, fabric, or canvas.

But there are ways to make marks and draw patterns by removing color (also known as discharging). It's a great technique for creating your own designs on dark fabric and altering commercial fabrics for your fabric art.

Bleach is one way, and when bleach gel pens came on the market, it wasn't just fastidious launderers who snapped them up. Artists loved the way the pen-style applicator could help you control the flow of the discharge agent. You could write on black fabric and it would show up like magic.

But bleach is toxic. And hard to control.

So when a little product called deColourant came on the market, it made color removing easier and safer. A ready-to-use discharge paste, deColourant can be used on dyed natural fibers or paper. It works by removing the dyed color so the natural undyed color of the fabric or paper is exposed. DeColourant Plus removes the color in the same manner as deCoulourant, only it replaces the color removed with another.

fabric art comparison times
Comparison of results for different ironing times,
from Maria Elkins'
Quilting Arts article.

Best of all, the Material Data Safety Sheet that comes with the product states that the active ingredient, sodium hydroxymethanesulfinate, is not a carcinogen and has a low level of toxicity. It has a light, pleasant scent. Nevertheless, as when working with all similar materials, use it in a well-ventilated area.

You can apply deColourant with a paintbrush, sponge, stamp, or squeeze applicator. It can go directly on the fabric or paper or be applied through a stencil, spray bottle, or screen.

Once applied to the fabric, deColourant can air dry or can be dried with a heat gun or hair dryer. After it has dried completely, apply heat with an iron.

I must admit, the first time I tried it I was a little taken aback at the sparseness of the directions, which are basically: apply, dry, heat, and wash. Could it really be that simple?

discharge technique for fabric art
Kumo Shibori fabric art made with
discharge technique by Judy Perez,
using Rit Color Remover.

Yes and no. Yes, that's all you have to do, but I noticed that the results vary based on time, material (type or fabric or paper), etc. As I am not very scientific in my approach to anything, let alone art supplies, I kind of winged it and was able to achieve some good results.

But I was very pleased last weekend to open my December/January issue of Quilting Arts Magazine and see that fiber artist Maria Elkins and a team of three other artists has done the research for me.

Through their methodical experimentation they discovered several helpful hints. For example, the time it takes the deColourant to work varies from 10 seconds to 5 minutes, but differs depending on the amount of deColourant, whether you use it with steam or dry heat, and the fabric. Longer exposure to heat can also create a halo effect around the mark you've made.

Another discovery was that waiting 24 hours before washing out the deColourant after heat was applied yielded more vibrant results.

The same issue of Quilting Arts has an article by Judy Coates Perez on removing color with a non-bleach Rit®product and another on resist painting by Jeannie Palmer Moore that uses a tin can, kite string, and white cotton fabric pieces.

What I love so much about altering fabric with these fabric art techniques is that it gives you a nearly endless supply of creative textiles to use in your art. And every time I open a copy of Quilting Arts Magazine, there is great information by the best fiber artists showing me exactly what to do.


P.S. Have you ever used a discharge technique on fabric or paper? What were your results? Any tips to share?

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Blog, Fabric Art

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