Inventing ghostwork

This week I’ve been inventing ghostwork. At least, I think I’ve been inventing it – apologies to anyone who got there first.

So, what is it? Regular readers will know that I’ve been obsessing over whitework recently, and have been playing around making whitework samples. I decided to turn the thing on its head and to start with a coloured fabric, then reduce it back to plain white as much as possible. I took a piece of African batik (purchased as part of a range of fabrics from the excellent African Fabric Shop) and cut a small piece. I then tried to remove most of the colour from it using DeColourant spray. This had very little effect, so then I tried DeColourant* paste. This still wasn’t working particularly well, even after prolonged steam ironing, so I put some household bleach into a plastic tray and immersed the piece of batik for well over 24 hours. After this time the dark areas of fabric were still dark, but the bright green had faded to either white or a pale pink. I then free-machine embroidered all over it using off-white Madeira rayon thread. The effect is to produce a ghostly image of the batik, much dispelled by the bleach and the white embroidery. The photograph shows, on the left hand side, a piece of the original batik, and in most of the picture on the right hand side, the bleached out ghostwork version. I’m really rather taken with it.Bleached out batik - whitework

I also tried bleaching another piece of African batik cotton which I’d covered with coloured embroidery. I immersed this in pure bleach for about three days and I have to tell you that the DMC embroidery cotton holds its colour really well even in the face of this attack on it. Some of the colours turned a bit paler, but that’s it. Very impressive performance. The background fabric was definitely fading after three days in the bleach, though. So, not wholly successful if the whole point was to remove colour. Well, I then rinsed it out and decided to put it through a washing machine cycle with a lot of towels. Then I was going to photograph it and show it on this blogpost as an illustration of how well DMC cottons hold their colour. However, I proceeded to unload the washing machine and then to hang the towels up, but there was no sign of the little experimental piece of cotton. Where oh where has it gone? I examined the washing machine drum, but the piece of cotton seems to have just disappeared. This is truly weird. Although, it could be akin to the sock conundrum which you’re probably familiar with. When you pair the clean socks, there’s almost always one left over. Where is its mate? Gone to join the other spare socks in some forgotten corner of the universe, perhaps.

* DeColourant spray and paste: I’ve not had outstanding results with these products. I think if you’re expecting them to remove colour completely you’re probably in for a disappointment. However, I have not used them a great deal, and others may have had more success. Has anybody tried them? Have you got any helpful comments/tips/suggestions about their use? There’s a similar Jacquard product that I’ve not tried. These pastes/sprays are pretty expensive, offputtingly so for the casual experimenter. Household bleach, on the other hand, is cheap.

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