Ear to the Ground: The Insider Dirt to Gardening in Upstate NY

Bleached botanical stencils

by cathym on September 15, 2020

by Cathy Monrad

Create a one-of-a-kind fashion statement using some bleach, water, and plant material. A new shirt, old dress, or thrift store find can be transformed within a few minutes. A few notes before beginning:

  • Good ventilation is key; making this project outside is best.
  • Choose a day with no wind to avoid bleach splatter and prevent foliage from moving.
  • Wear safety glasses to protect your eyes, and old clothes in case a breeze pops up.
  • If children want to help, they can safely lay plant material onto clothing, but I recommend adults perform the bleach spraying step.

Materials & Tools
– Clean shirt or other garment; if new, wash before starting project
– 3–4 pieces of cardboard; 1–2 to place inside garment and 2 for flattening foliage
– Clean, empty spray bottle with adjustable nozzle
– Bleach
– Water
– Foliage of your choice (I used rose of Sharon cuttings; foliage with large leaves work best)
– A few small rocks to use as weights
– Safety glasses 

  1. Arrange foliage on one piece of cardboard with leaves and/or flowers. Place second piece of cardboard over foliage. Lay heavy items such as books or bricks on top to flatten plant material for a couple of hours.
  2. Mix a 50/50 ratio of bleach and water in spray bottle.
  3. Place remaining cardboard inside garment.
  4. Place flattened foliage in desired collage pattern on garment. Weight any leaves or flowers down with small rocks as needed.
  5. From about 3-4 feet above your project, slowly and lightly spray bleach mixture onto garment—oversaturating the fabric will cause bleach mixture to seep under the foliage. The bleach mixture will begin to change the fabric color within 30 seconds. Wait a full 5 minutes to determine if you need to respray an area. 
  6. Once you’ve achieved the desired look, carefully remove the rocks and foliage from the garment. 
  7. Let fabric dry completely. Remove cardboard from the inside and rinse garment thoroughly with cold water before washing per manufacturer’s instructions.
Foliage laid out on shirt
Rocks placed stategically to hold down leaves; bleach mixture sprayed lightly over shirt is just beginning to change fabric color
Rocks and foliage removed after desired look achieved

Cathy Monrad is the graphic designer and garden crafter for Upstate Gardeners’ Journal.

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