Bleach Printing Fabric to Gussy Up a Blah Planter

I don’t know about you, but I was super inspired by Katie’s block printed upholstered stool last week.  In the after photo the stool is stationed next to a plant in a basket, which got me thinking about my own potted plant situation.

stool after with pillow and text 2

We have a large schefflera in the main part of our house.  I’ve had this plant for ages, through multiple moves, prunings, and re-pottings.  About a year ago it developed a major list, and I whacked off the entire top.  I kept the top in water and repotted the base and both are now large, full, beautiful trees (the top is potted and flourishing in my husband’s office).  The plant is in a huge plastic pot, which is convenient because there are times when we need to move it (like when I paint the walls white–soon, very soon). I wanted to keep that convenience, but also make it at least slightly less unsightly.

brown planter

Brown on brown on brown. I need less brown in my house, not more.

I love the look of plants in baskets, but this pot is huge, and I couldn’t find a woven basket nearly large enough. The ones that came even remotely close were well over $150! I decided to try my hand at making a fabric basket to conceal the pot, and to break up the monochromatic brownness of this corner of the living/dining room. I have seen a few tutorials lately for bleach printing fabric, like this one (which gave me the idea for the pattern I used) and this one, which piqued my interest. The basic idea is you draw a pattern on fabric with a bleach pen and the bleach extracts the dye from only that area, leaving the pattern lighter than the fabric.

Bleach pen

So I went in search of bleach pens. I looked everywhere in this town, even places I had no business being in, but I couldn’t find a single dang bleach pen. Luckily I found a tutorial for making your own bleach gel that was super simple. All it requires is cornstarch, bleach and water.


Instead of a squeeze bottle, which is recommended in the tutorial, I used a cake decorating tool that I had on hand (why I have this thing I can’t say. I have never decorated a cake in my life). It has a small opening, and after experimenting I found that it was fairly easy to control the flow.

The test fabric.  I only left the bleach on for about 20 minutes, which resulted in a very salmon-pink color.  Not what I was going for.

The test fabric. I only left the bleach on for about 20 minutes, which resulted in a very salmon-pink color. Not what I was going for.

My experiment also taught me that the printing would be imprecise and would bleed in the fabric a bit. I knew it wouldn’t be perfect, but I didn’t want it to look like a big mess either, so I laid out a pattern using a fabric pencil and parallel ruler that I still have from my Merchant Marine exam.

pattern drawing

Working quickly, I covered the chalk lines with the thinnest bleach lines I could manage. I worked next to an open window to cut down the fumes.

bleach on

I could see the bleach working right away as a pinkish hue spread away from the bleach gel lines.

bleach progress

bleach progress 2 hours

I waited about two hours until the bleach gel was dried and crusty. Then, being careful not to let the fabric fold on itself or touch anything, I carried it into the shower and gave it a thorough rinse in cold water.

Fabric shower

The fabric getting a cold shower.

I had to scrub at the fabric a bit to get all of the dried gel off. Once I was sure it was all off, I washed and dried the fabric, and then ironed it to get ready to sew the planter basket.

washed fabric

For the planter basket, I loosely followed this tutorial. The instructions were really clear and easy to follow, and I customized them to the size of my planter.  Because I was using lightweight cotton, I used a fairly heavy duty stabilizer: Pellon Fusible Interfacing 71-F.  After ironing on the interfacing, I sewed the short ends of the body of the basket together.  Then, working slowly and easing the fabric (and, frankly, accepting a few random pleats), I sewed the bottom circle to the basket body.  Using the same dimensions I repeated the process with some white canvas I had on hand for the lining.  The tutorial I followed calls for sewing the lining with the outer piece inside the lining, right sides facing, and then turning it through an opening in the stitching.  I knew I wanted to fold the canvas over, so I skipped that step and just top-stitched the top of the lining and outer piece.

I really like the fabric, and I’m pleased with the how the planter basket turned out.  It’s definitely an improvement over the brown plastic!

Bleach printed planter

Cromwell, aka Mr. Wonderful, approves.

Bleach printed planter

Hasta la vista yucky brown plastic.

Cromwell close up

Cromwell looks like the schmoo and I dearly love him.

The sun came out!  You can see why this plant is happy here.

The sun came out! You can see why this plant is happy here.

It’s nice to have some color and pattern in this formerly all-brown corner, and the fabric printing process was really satisfying. Have you tried bleach printing fabric? Do you have a blah planter that you’re considering beautifying? We always love to hear about your projects and ideas in the comments!

14 responses on “Bleach Printing Fabric to Gussy Up a Blah Planter

  1. Katy Gilmorek

    So I’m with Mr. Wonderful – this looks really cheerful in that corner! And I am curious about the top of the planter cover – does the fabric stretch across from side to side (to prevent Mr. Wonderful and any other so inclined critter from exploring the contents)? There is something totally inspiring about reading a whole project from beginning to end – with beautiful photos. Thanks! (And it’s interesting how, at least in the photo, the colors now are so at home with the colors you have in that room, the faded blues and pinks of the carpet and the chaise.)

    1. meramatthews

      Eagle-eyes Katy! The planter basket itself does not cover the top of the plant. I added an additional layer of fabric over the top to help conceal the cardboard that is on top of the soil. The cardboard is necessary because Mr. Wonderful sometimes does not very wonderful things. 🙂

  2. Carol Crump Bryner

    I haven’t tried this fabric bleaching, but a house cleaner I had a few years ago did it for me by spilling some kind of bleach (I suspect soft scrub with bleach in it) on my towels and bath mat. I was none too pleased, but I didn’t complain because she otherwise did a primo job of keeping the grout sparkling. But I think you made such a clever home for your plant. It’s cheerful and so very NOT brown. I love these DIY projects.

  3. Susan Glassow

    The mystery of the bleach pen print…could be one in a series revealing how the ordinary becomes a focal point for Cromwell and us. I love seeing the stages and the look of the fabric in its entirety spread out on the table. Good work.

    1. meramatthews

      Thank you, Susan! I love the idea of using ordinary household items in unordinary ways–thanks for the great idea for a series! Cromwell’s focal point is generally restricted to my lap and his dinner, so that would be a fairly short series. 🙂

  4. hoffelt23

    Mera: Everything about this project is clever — from using the cake decorating tool instead of a bleach pen, to laying out the pattern with a parallel ruler, to rinsing off the fabric in the shower (I likely would have tried to use a sink and ended up with a mess). I love the results! And an extra cheer for “gussy up” as the verb in your headline. — Mary Rothschild

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *