Painting tee shirts can be a great medium for something creative, but actually usable/wearable. Stencils are great for this, but sometimes it can be finicky to cut out the inside of a stencil using a Stanley knife.
Here is an easy tutorial on how to stencil by simply cutting around the outside, allowing you to avoid difficult cutting techniques. The paint will go around the stencil, leaving an unpainted relief as the main motif. I did this one as a gift for my friend who loves cycling.
DIY TUTORIAL: Painted Mottled Bicycle Tee-shirt
Tools and Materials:
- Plain Tee shirt
- Fabric paint (colours of your choice)
Before we start: Basically this is just painting onto a tee shirt with a stencil. Normally, stencils involve you painting within an outline, but this one involves using the stencil as a silhouette and painting around the outside.
This Tutorial can be summed up in 3 simple steps:
- Design a stencil and cut around the outside
- Using dabbing strokes, paint around the stencil
- Peel of the stencil leaving an unpainted relief of your image behind
In case you want better instruction I’ve written out what I did in more detail:
1. Prepare your shirt
– As always, pre-wash your cotton shirt. This is very important for a) any shrinkage b) any shirt dye running and c) new t-shirts have a light dirt-repelling coating which will prevent your paint sticking properly
– Iron it, lay it flat with newspaper inside and underneath the shirt (to prevent any bleeding through to the back)
– I used tape to secure the shirt to the newspaper, to prevent the fabric moving/stretching when painting. If you have a large embroidery hoop, this is very effective at keeping the fabric taut (but avoid overstretching)
2. Design a stencil and draw it on paper
– pick a design that has a lot of connected lines so that your stencil will stay in one piece (for example, if you draw a lower case ‘i’, the dot is separate and will have to be lined up separately, whereas this bicycle is one piece)
– try to use thick lines (I’d recommend at least 4mm in width), otherwise the relief effect will be less pronounced
– when Googling references images, searching for illustrations/cartoons rather than photos. This will make it simpler to convert into a hand-drawn stencil
– you can use normal paper, otherwise slightly glossy card can be more durable (note that thicker card will be harder to cut)
3. Cut it out with scissors
– Cut around the image (a lot of stencils involve you cutting the inside out, but here, we want to keep the inside)
4. Stick it to the tee shirt
– Use hairspray or a gluestick to lightly stick the stencil to the tee shirt. This will hold the stencil in place and be easily washed out (but avoid too much glue/hairspray!)
5. Using dabbing strokes, paint around the stencil
– You can use any brushstroke you want, but due to the a) stretchy t-shirt fabric and b) the viscose consistency of fabric paint, I find dabbing the easiest technique, and also allows you to slowly build up colours in layers
– If you used a paper stencil, the dabbing technique will also allow to minimise the amount of paint on the stencil itself. Avoid thick paint strokes in case it bleeds through the paper (once some paint from your first layer has dried onto the stencil, it will be more resistant to bleeding)
6. Peel of the stencil leaving an unpainted relief of your image behind
7. Iron to seal the paint, and you are done!
– VERY IMPORTANT STEP! Follow the instructions on your specific paint
Since this one was a present, I decided to write her name on the side for personalisation.
All in all, a very doable and visually striking result (If I do say so myself), despite the simplicity. Most fabric paints survive washing machines, but for longevity I’ll often wash them inside out (after all, this is your own unique creation!) Enjoy xx