Discharge printing “removing areas of colour from dyed natural fabrics”

One of things about textile printing is that is sometimes nice to create an absence of colour. You can obviously bleach fabric and get some interesting effects.

For this project I used a product called Discharge Paste. Not a nice name, and it is white and gloopy. But it is a great product. It  gives quite good control, doesn’t risk burning holes in your garments and is safe to use indoors. This is not a product for spraying on, but works well with a paintbrush or can be piped on. I used both techniques.

Large jar of discharge paste for bleaching fabric
Discharge paste

Because it is a bleach it does irritate the skin. Even little flecks of it can sting if you get it on your face or neck. It also dried out my fingers so use rubber gloves. Also this is a smelly process so work in a well ventilated room as the smell is not pleasant. In order to apply it nice and evenly I found these small bottles with a screw lid and nozzle make applying the paste quite easy, although it does produce quite a thick line that takes a long time to dry.

small bottle for discharge paste textile printing
Small plastic bottle with nozzle

I tested the effect on three pieces of coloured silk – navy, turquoise (used for my Burda blouse) and green. These were bought as coloured silk, but of course this works really well on fabric you have dyed yourself and you could dye say cream fabric brown, then use the discharge paste to reveal the cream again.

My first sample was the navy blue lightweight silk I have been using for lining my squiggle suit. I used a small nozelled container to draw on the fabric. Then it has to dry. Even using a hair dryer to hurry it up this sample took three hours to dry. Once dry it is ironed and where the paste has been applied the colour comes away. It is a great effect – you don’t actually know what colour is going to come out as it depends on what colours are in the dye originally applied to the fabric. I wish I had had time to make my squiggle lining like this as it is so nice. When ironed the dried paste gives off an unpleasant smell.

navy silk with discharge paste
Discharge effect on navy silk

My second sample used a piece of turquoise stretch silk. After the sample had dried I ironed it with a hot iron and found the colour revealed was yellowy. I then pressed the fabric some more and the colour eventually went much whiter. The yellowy bits are where the paste spread around a bit during drying. So for a nice crisp effect leave the fabric to dry undisturbed. There is also a bit of purple on there from the sample being stored with the blue piece, above.

bleaching with discharge paste
Discharge paste on turquoise silk

On the green silk I got a nice effect, again quite a yellowy one. Perhaps with more heat from the iron this could go white too, but I quite liked the yellow here. The discharge paste stuck to the newspaper so you can see that on this sample. Once the sample have been ironed to reveal the colour (or colours) you are happy with then wash the fabric.

green silk discharge paste
Discharge paste on green silk

On a thicker piece of silk I got a subtle effect – the three or four shades of blue is rather pretty. I could build this up by using more paste.

discharge paste on navy silk
Thicker navy silk

Overall this is definitely an interesting technique and I plan to use it for my final Mary Ward Centre project. It might also creep into my SWAP.

7 Responses

  1. oooh! love the thicker navy silk sample… xxx

  2. The effect reminds of batik but the method sounds easier.

    P.S. “Discharge Paste” is the perfect name for Diary of a Wimpy Kid’s brother’s new band once he gets kicked out of Loded Diper!

  3. Sorry- nothing to add- just giggly over ‘discharge paste’……cuz I’m that bad of a person. I kind of just want a bottle on an obvious shelf to inspire conversation.

  4. A big fan of distressing, the bottom darkest silk looks rad man!

  5. […] mentioned that I wanted to do another version of this dress. And, having experimented with the discharge paste I couldn’t wait for the […]

  6. That navy piece is awesome. Have you done any black? I love discharging black because you never know what colors went into making the black dye and it is always a surprise what comes out. I have had blacks go to turquoise, greys and beiges, purples, etc., great fun!

    • I did some black in the class room and got pink one time, and orange the next! Between us we got a rainbow out of black.

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