Source: Martha Stewart Living, June 2006
Over the years, cotton fabrics fade, assuming a muted appearance reminiscent of watercolors. If you love the look of softly faded fabrics but wish you didn't have to wait for the sun and countless washings to do their work, try our method for lightening colored cloth in minutes. Use curtains, bedding, or table linens you own, or purchase new material. Just make sure the items are 100 percent cotton, because even small amounts of polyester will prevent the fabric from fading. We chose primarily floral prints, which take on a lovely vintage sensibility, but most bright cotton cloths will work. Avoid pastel and pale hues, as these may fade to white.
From there, it's simple: Soften bold patterns by soaking the material in a bleach solution in a tub. You can also introduce a subtle new shade by submerging the bleached cloth in water tinted with fabric dye, a process called overdyeing. Watching the colors change is fun -- it happens before your eyes. As in nature, the results aren't always predictable. Red might emerge pink or orange; blue may lighten to robin's egg or lavender. So experiment, and prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
How To Fade and Overdye Fabrics
Wash and dry the cloth before treating it. If possible, cut swatches and test them at different intervals. To get the same shade as your favorite swatch, wet the swatch, then monitor the material in the bleaching or dyeing solution, removing it when it matches the swatch. Change the solution in each bin before you start a new project.
Fading Fabrics How-To
Overdyeing Fabrics How-To