Has anyone came up with a satisfactory method for doing this. I have tried using standard household bleach and the Rit bleach, but the material always ends up brittle if I leave it immersed long enough to make a real difference.
At a pro hairdressers shop you can buy lighterner that is used for hair coloring. This stuff comes in different strengths and is not as harsh as bleach. Some of it also has conditioner which really helps on stuff like BEP.
I recently re-discovered a great series of articles in American Angler from 1994-95 where the author (a chemist, no less) covers just about every aspect of dying and bleaching fly tying materials. I thought I had lost these issues but was pleased to find I hadn't.
I don't have the magazines in front of me just now, but one issue focuses on bleaching materials and describes a method of bleaching protein-based materials that avoids the damage that can result from using household bleaches and is alot more effective than using peroxide-based solutions for some materials.
If you like, I can get you the information regarding the article or, if you can wait a bit, I can see about reproducing it on the board as there would probably be alot of interest in the method. (I have to check with Chris as I think the author's and publisher's permissions would be needed to reproduce the article verbatim.)
On a recent trip to Kamloops I was lucky to get in on dying some materials and I was glad that I did. It's really cool how you can create your own colors by mixing dyes.I'd like to get more involed with this aspect as I have way toooooo many Roosters ....
Bleaching feathers and fur - Iron & Peroxide Method
Well, I dug out the article and having some time on my hands last weekend, and the inclination, I re-read the piece on bleaching materials, then did enough shopping to locate the ingredients the author calls for to do the bleaching process so I could give it a go. Other than one slip up, the process went well. Here, in short, are the basics:
Synthrapol (available through quilters' supply stores, or Woolite works well too)
Green Light Iron & Soil Acidifier (4.6% Chelated Iron content - get it at Lowe's)
Distilled Water (a couple of gallons should do it)
Ascorbic Acid (Vitamen C, ground to a fine powder)
20 Volume Hydrogen Peroxide (I got it at Sally's Beauty Supply in Olympia)
Stainless Steel or Corning Ware Pan (I used a 10" by 7", 5" deep corning ware casserole dish)
Set of Long Tweezers or similar tool
An eye dropper
A 6 inch stainless steel strainer
(I was bleaching about 30 individual blue-eared pheasant rump hackles - larger batches probably require proportionally larger solution. There is no need for heat... bleaching at room temperature is fine)
 Assuming you start with hackle that has already been processed/cleaned, begin by thoroughly mixing:
1.5 oz of Green Light Iron & Soil Acidifier
1 quart of distilled water
1 teaspoon of Synthrapol or Woolite
Place the hackle in the above solution, making sure that it is well soaked using the tweezers to hold it in the solution. After the hackle is soaked, let it sit for an hour and a half. Remove the hackle, rinsing it with distilled water, and dispose of the solution
 After rinsing your bleaching dish (using tap water is ok), mix a second solution, same formula as above but substitute 1 teaspoon of the ascorbic acid crystals for the Synthapol. Stir it well to make sure the ascorbic acid is completely dissolved. Again, soak the hackle in this second solution, this time for an hour. Remove and rinse the hackle with distilled water and discard the solution.
 Mix 1 pint of 20 Volume hydrogen peroxide with 1/2 teaspoon of Synthrapol then place the hackle in this mixture. Measure about an eighth of a cup of the ammonia into a cup, fill your eye dropper with the ammonia, then add it a drop at a time to the hydrogen peroxide/Sythrapol solution while gently stirring the hackle. (Remember to do this phase in a well vented space!) After the solution just begins to foam, stop adding the ammonia but keep with the gentle stirring of the hackle. You will see the solution begin to color to a tan tint as the reaction that removes the materials' pigment progresses. After about 15 to 20 minutes, remove the hackle from the solution, rinse again, and lay it out to dry.
With the blue-eared pheasant hackle I did, the end result was coloring that ranged from a very slight tan tint to a slightly deeper tan. I then used Kool Aid & vinegar to dye the dried, bleached hackle to the colors I wanted (deep orange, scarlet and sky blue for this batch). A note about the Kool Aid, there will be a residual odor after dying but it can be removed by sealing the materials in a tupperware container along with an open box of bicarbonate of soda (Arm & Hammer, etc) for about 24 hours.
The bleaching is a three-step process and takes about 3 hours to complete. The results are impressive compared with the other methods I have used though... faster than hydrogen peroxide alone and much safer than household bleach. I believe the treatment with the iron solution frees up the molecules that make up the hackle pigmentation making it more susceptible to bleaching with the peroxide.
The mishap I mentioned occured when I tried using the author's suggestion of applying a RIT "rust remover" to try to get the tan shading out of the hackle after the initial bleaching. Luckily I only did that part with a couple of "test" hackles because the RIT ate the material. After that experience, I just decided to dye the tan-tinted material as is.
Let me know how this method works for you if you try it...