Five summers ago I took a job as “Art Lady” for a summer camp in central Ohio. Mayhem ensued. I walked out of that place with scrapes, scars, and the worst case of pinkeye the optomologist had seen in years, BUT it was also at camp that I met friend-for-life Rachel C.
Rachel has many talents, one of them being the ability to bleach beautiful designs into cloth. I remember from living with Bethany that we both liked cleaning with Bleach (she blames her upbringing, I blame the foodservice industry). So Rachel’s talents are incredibly useful. When I bleach a favorite shirt Rachel can take it from ruined to lovely by integrating the spot into an allover design.
You may be thinking that the idea is not so novel – “draw a design with bleach, got it.” But what separates Rachel’s work is the big-ness and boldness of her designs. They wrap around the shirt, extend onto the sleeves, and blur the line between positive and negative space. The artistry is in the design, and I hope her work inspires you to give it a try. Below is my interview with the artist. Tomorrow I’ll post her directions (with photos!).
1. How did you come to be the “bleach guru”?
I really think it’s the wisdom of the ages passed on to me by my ancestors. Years of study…only the finest bleach from the spring of Etheria. I jest. Clearly I’ve been watching too much She-Ra on YouTube. In all honesty, I think it’s just my relentlessness when it comes to customizing my clothing. I enjoy how bold bleached designs are!
2. What was your first bleached project?
A pair of denim jeans. I bleached them in Sept 1999. My mom was going to donate them to the thrift store and I pulled them out of the pile and freehanded flowers and covered the legs with geometric designs, quotes, the name of my favorite Swedish pop group, y’know the basics of a teenage mind. I eventually added flared panels and created all in all the wildest item of clothing I’ve ever owned. They were very very loud pants…not one shred of subtlety.
3. Where do you get the inspiration for your designs?
I have a fascination with Polynesian culture, and a subcategory of that interest is the tattooing practice of sheathing the body in geometric and nature-inspired motifs. Traditionally the tattoos can symbolize the wearer’s life story, their lineage and standing within their family or community, as well as other aspects I freely admit I do not know yet. I gravitate to the idea of telling one’s story through outer adornment, and have taken this philosophy to heart with my use of symbols and natural images. I love the outdoors and think my humanity is nurtured by a connection to nature. More concretely, I borrow the stylized unfurling koru fern (see below) from Maori culture, given my great enjoyment of its symbolism of peace and growth.
4. What mistakes have you made along the way?
I’ve made the mistake of bleaching delicate cotton blend fabrics and not applying bleach neutralizing agent afterwards, because apparently the fabric just gets chewed up by the bleach over time. I’ve also erred in using watery bleach paint (mixing bleach powder with liquid bleach) and having it bleed all over pre-drawn washable design lines. Super blurry, highly annoying.
5. What is your favorite bleached project?
For years I wore a lined denim jacket that I emblazoned with a bleached replica of the cover from one of my favorite childhood books “Amy and the Cloud Basket” (see below). The cover stuck in my mind because it is one of the only books where the protagonist looked like me. Apparently the book may be something of a collector’s item now since it was published in 1975 by a small feminist book collective in California called Lollipop Power Press. It’s selling on Amazon.com for more than $200.00. That’s bank!