Creating a Happy, Colorful, Handmade Home & life on the shores of lake superior

October 5, 2017

How to Bleach and Overdye Hungarian Embroideries

How to Bleach and Overdye Hungarian Embroideries

My Mom is downsizing and I've been helping her make some difficult decisions.  Among them: what to do with all of the Hungarian embroideries?  I was lucky enough to receive an absolutely GORGEOUS, massive, all white embroidery, handmade by a relative in Hungary, as a wedding present.  I immediately framed it before anyone laid their grubby paws on it, but some of the embroideries in my Mom's collection aren't really frame-worthy.  Some are really bright colors that just don't suit her decor, while others have some stains or damage (because they were used - which is a GOOD thing!).  There are a few she really treasures but the colors are too bold, so I decided to try some experimenting.

Could I bleach and/or dye her Hungarian embroideries?

This will be an ongoing experiment, but I started with two that weren't so special.  Some of the thread in the oval one had run after being laundered and the round one had some tears, so I figured I had nothing to lose.  Here they are "before":  

How to Bleach and Overdye Hungarian Embroideries

To bleach them, I followed instructions I found online for bleaching fabric: I started with a one part bleach to four parts water concoction but, when the color wouldn't lift like I wanted, added a little more bleach (wearing rubber gloves and working in a bucket in my laundry room).  I kept checking on them every 10 minutes and eventually let them soak a few hours before removing and neutralizing the bleach with a 50/50 water/hydrogen peroxide mix.  Afterwards, I gently hand washed and line dried them.

Here's what the embroideries looked like, freshly bleached:

How to Bleach and Overdye Hungarian Embroideries
How to Bleach and Overdye Hungarian Embroideries

Interestingly, different embroidery threads have different colorfastness.  The long piece bleached so beautifully.  It's such a pretty color palette of soft muted hues - my Mom barely let me photograph the "after" - she wanted to take it home immediately.

How to Bleach and Overdye Hungarian Embroideries
How to Bleach and Overdye Hungarian Embroideries

So that one's a success! 

Although we both think it looks so much better, neither of us were smitten with the round one yet, so I decided to overdye it.  I didn't want to purchase a new powdered dye until I had a better idea of how the threads would take the color, so I just used the same Blueberry Procion dye I used for my DIY ice dyed pillows.  I let the embroidery soak in the soda ash fixative required for this brand of dye and then wrung it out before letting it soak overnight in a concentrated dye solution.  The next morning, I rinsed until the water ran clear and hand laundered.

The result is a very deep, inky embroidery but you can still faintly see some variation where the deeper colors stuck around.  I like the overdyed look - this inky blue looks dramatic!  But I think I want to experiment with some different colors.

How to Bleach and Overdye Hungarian Embroideries
How to Bleach and Overdye Hungarian Embroideries

In one part of the design, the pattern had torn from use and wear, so I tried trimming it out with manicure scissors but it took forever, so I really need to sit down on a cold, rainy day and tidy that up some more.  For now I'm going to pretend the ragged look is intentional because, combined with the deep hue, it's got a Halloween-y sort of vibe.

How to Bleach and Overdye Hungarian Embroideries

Currently the house reeks like bleach because I'm still experimenting but, a word of caution: I tried to bleach a very worn, very long table runner and was so excited, envisioning a pretty pastel version but the color wouldn't lift from the red (my least favorite color in the world).  So I let it soak overnight and, when I was convinced it wouldn't lift anymore, removed it from the bleach - only to have it disintegrate in my hands!

Whoops. 

I got over confident.  I should have done the 10 minute intervals.  I knew bleach can eat away fabric but I was just so stubborn.  I hate red.  So, lesson learned: keep an eye on the bleach bath! 

I just wanted to share this little experiment with you.  I'll keep you posted because we're going to be trying some more bleaching/dyeing experiments and also - hopefully - re-purposing some of these table doilies into items we'll use and love.  Even the one I ruined, I hope to turn into some kind of appliqued design.

Wish me luck...

P.S. If you're curious, you can read more about Hungarian embroidery in this post.
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10 comments

  1. Wow, very pretty. I love this, thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks so much! I decided to start sharing more of my DIY experiments and not just the finished projects where everything went smoothly. I want to share more of those random little projects I do!

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  2. What a fabulous idea! I too love the over-dyed effect. Nice!

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    1. Thanks! I'm excited to keep experiments with some different dyes. It's interesting to see how they interact with the dye leftover in the thread... Hopefully I don't ruin any more, haha.

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  3. Love the overdye effect. Have you tried it without the bleaching? Bleach is very hard on fabrics and will weaken the fibres a lot. I do a lot of dyeing and have overdyed lots of vintage napkins. There are colour removers that are safer than bleach such as Tintex that are safer than bleach https://www.tintex.ca/products/color-remover but what I have discovered that if you dyeing a dark colour, you get interesting effects when you dye over colours like red etc.

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    1. I have dyed other things without bleaching and sometimes the layered colours end up murky or brown. Dyeing is always a fun risk, you can never fully predict the outcome. I was hoping to lift as much colour as possible in the hopes of opening options for lighter dye colours too. I would have like to do a bright aqua and that wouldn't have gone over the reds well. An ongoing experiment! I will try your suggestion for tintex because bleach needs a super light hand for application. I'd love something a little less risk. I had known Rit made a dye remover but couldn't find any locally and decided to use what I had. Thanks for the recommendation!

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  4. Wow, these look lovely! I'd love to try making these at home, thanks for the idea!

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    1. Thanks! I'll share an update as I keep experimenting.

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  5. Very creative, Tanya. I admire your courage. Bleach can be wicked and unpredictable. One time I started with a plaid and ended up with lace when the bleach ate one of the colours. Interesting, but not quite what I was expecting!

    Perhaps you could remove some of the embroidery threads first? Fellow red hater here, hehe.

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    1. This was my first experiment with bleach and lesson learned lol! I think dye and bleach have that in common: you never quite know what will happen. Your experiment sounded quite unpredictable, interesting...
      Happy to hear someone else hate red, blech. I like your idea to remove some threads!! I'll have to give that a go too. Thanks!

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