Sunday, May 12, 2013

Designing with Bleach: Tardis Silhouette

Combining my love of simple afternoon projects, iconic imagery, and practical application, I bring you the newest addition to my wardrobe!  I've been spending a lot of time browsing the web lately admiring the many creative items Whovians have made to show their love of Dr. Who.  Although many pay homage to specific Doctors, my favorite icon of the show is by far the TARDIS.  One search of "TARDIS" on Etsy will bring you endless pages of items, many of which depict the TARDIS spinning through outerspace.  The beauty of these galactic images inspired me to create a "starfield" of bleach spatter, unique and somewhat out of my own control (which, honestly, feels appropriate to time and space travel).  Although I chose to create a TARDIS silhouette for my shirt, this technique could be used to highlight any shape you choose.

Items I used to create my shirt include:
  • Bleach
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Water
  • An Old Toothbrush
  • Plastic Sheet (stencil-making material)
  • Exacto Knife
  • Waxed Paper
  • Rubber Glove

I started by buying a shirt I liked the shape and color of.  I could have picked something cheaper, but I believe if you're going to make something to wear, make sure the base product fits you in a way you're a fan of.  I could make the coolest shirt in the world, but if I don't like how it makes me feel about my body shape, I won't wear it (learned this the hard way, with many DIY shirts clogging up drawers to prove it).

Once I had my canvas, I enlisted J to help me create the stencil.  He is infinitely more skilled and safe with an Exacto blade than I am.  I printed him a good black and white of the TARDIS design I wanted on cardstock.  He blacked in the areas we didn't want cut into details and began patiently cutting out tiny TARDIS windows.

Once he had a cardstock template, he taped it to a piece of plastic sheet we purchased at a local art store and did the entire process all over again.  We decided to leave the majority of the box intact, only cutting out the outer outline and the window details.  This helped immensely when it came time to apply the bleach.  While he did the hard part, I collected supplies and prepped my shirt.

As you can see in the above photo, I layered two sheets of waxed paper and adjusted them to fill the width of the shirt.  I taped them together and slipped them between the front and back layers of the material.  This way, the bleach I was about to apply to the front of the shirt wouldn't bleed through to the back.  Once J had the plastic TARDIS created, we applied it to the shirt using double sided tape to seal down the edges.  We didn't want any bleach creeping underneath the silhouette.

I took the whole process outside and, wearing a rubber glove on my "bleach hand" flicked bleach at the shirt using an old toothbrush.  When I started, my technique wasn't that great, as you can see by the large blotches on the shirt.  I quickly learned that to create a fine starfield, I had to flick the bleach off the toothbrush a time or two before flicking it onto the shirt.  Too much bleach = giant stars.  This is what it looked like before I removed the stencil:

Unfortunately I don't have process shots of the next several steps because it all moved pretty fast.  I pulled the stencil off the shirt and removed the waxed paper from inside.  Then I ran the shirt under the bathtub faucet to rinse the bleach out, which only took about 1-2 minutes.  While I was going through the bleaching/rinsing process, J mixed up a solution of 1 part hydrogen peroxide to 10 parts water.  I wrung out the shirt in the tub, took it back outside, and poured the hydrogen peroxide mixture over the entire bleach pattern to deactivate the bleach. 

I then wrung it out again and brought it back inside to the washing machine.  I washed it on the hottest setting with regular detergent and dried it in the dryer on the permanent press setting (which in my dryer is ridiculously hot anyway).  The result was exactly what I wanted!  The TARDIS appeared to be flying through a busy and unpredictable starfield!

Overall I'm tremendously pleased with this project.  It took very little time and was scientifically entertaining.  I could give you a time frame on how long I left on the bleach, but to be honest, it happened so fast that I didn't wait to rinse it.  The depth of field for the spatters is due to the fact that some of them were left on for the entire time I worked on the shirt and others were only there for a handful of moments before I rinsed them out.  I was able to tell the process was working nearly immediately, which helped me decide what areas needed more bleach.

I'd love to see other versions of this idea from our readers.  J has already begun planning a shirt of his own using what we've learned and building on it, and the plastic we used was sturdy enough that we now have a reusable TARDIS stencil (which you know will turn up in future projects).  Who knows, maybe next time I'll get more detailed and buy a bleach pen!


  1. You know, my birthday is coming...

  2. Looks nice! I might try to do this sometime. I've also heard that you can make the starfield part with a spray bottle.