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January 2017

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dye vat

Project Disaster! Bleach-rot!

Bleach manufacturers don't like to acknowledge the fact that bleach can damage the integrity of some natural fibers, but it's true. Whenever you apply bleach to a garment, either to bleach it out white or to remove dye or stains, or to create discharge shibori or other effects, you need to use a stop-action chemical after your process. (Some brand names are Bleach-Stop and Anti-Chlor.)

For our last mainstage show, our designer sent some beautiful lightweight discharge-printed Italian cotton fabric that she purchased in the garment district in NYC, from which we made a fin de siecle shirtwaist for a supporting actress. The manufacturers clearly did not employ any stop-action process on their yardage after the discharge effects were created because...

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...after 3 launderings during tech, our fabric flat-out disintegrated!

Here's a closer look:

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What did we do? (After consoling the draper with a pile of tissues and chocolate, of course.) Make a new blouse in a day from the extant pattern and the closest approximation to the fabric we could find locally. This wound up being a quilting cotton printed with a white floral design on a rust-colored ground, which i then put through a gold dyebath so the whites would turn gold. You can see below, it's nothing much like the original at all, but we had to make the best of what we could get immediately.

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Doesn't household vinegar also stop the process?
Vinegar solution is often listed as a household or "folk" method of stopping the action of bleach but, if you are using chlorine (hypochloride) bleach, is actually extremely dangerous. Vinegar reacts with chlorine bleach to give off chlorine gas, which is very hazardous/toxic/poisonous. (I know, there's a TON of sites online that claim vinegar as a neutralizer is ok, but that's a good example of how misinformation spreads online like wildfire, i guess.)

Paula Burch is a good source of reliable dyeing info (i send my dye class students links to her FAQ all the time!) and she addresses various bleach-stop methods here:


Very cool. I'm glad I asked. Thanks for the link!
I'm glad you asked, too, since i didn't mention it in the post! I used to use vinegar as a bleach stop myself before i started teaching a dye class and had to look up every little thing and verify it before telling students "This is how to do x and y and z" so i was shocked to find it was toxic.

I also worked at one shop where the dyer used baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) which might work--Anti Chlor is sodium bisulfate, so they might react the same way. I'll have to email my chemist-buddies and find out. I think it's interesting that Paula recommends 3% hydrogen peroxide as a bleach-stop if you need it right-this-minute (as you so often do, in theatre). I wonder why that works, since peroxide itself bleaches protein-based fibers. Another question for my chemist pals i guess.
Also, while I'm thinking of it, could you email me at auroraceleste(at)gmail.com? I have a question about your school that I'd like to ask off-LJ.
Ohhhh I'd be so miffed if that happened LOL Especially if it was due to the manufacturer. Oh heck I'd be miffed if *I* did it.
The manufacturers clearly did not employ any stop-action process on their yardage after the discharge effects were created

So it came from the fabric manufacturer like that? If so, is there a way to figure out if this will be a problem w/yardage (pref. before making it into something as lovely as that blouse)? Do you just pre-wash everything suspect in Bleach-Stop?
Yes, it arrived like that. Yardage printed with discharge process has a distinct appearance to it, and i think that pre-washing suspect yardage is the only thing you can do. In this case, we couldn't even contact the manufacturer about it, because it came from some miniscule Italian mill. (Well, i guess we could have, but language barrier/cost makes that of questionable usefulness.) I did try laundering the remaining yardage in Bleach-Stop, but it was too late. The fibers had been already rotted beyond repair and it disintegrated anyway. :(
Poor Draper!

I didn't realise natural fiber fabric yardage might have residual chemicals in it. Good thing to know!