The Shirt off My Back

I kind of love fleur-de-lis.

I think I can trace it back to reading The Once and Future King back in grade school. I just remember reading about Guinevere, pining away for Sir Lancelot and embroidering fleur-de-lis in the lining of the helmet he left behind… <sigh> I loved that story. Still do.

But anyway, my lingering love for this motif led me to want to make the above t-shirt. I used just a few simple tools, not a fancy screen-printing kit or special materials, to make it.

If you’d like to find out  how to make a shirt like this (and/or see the back), please continue reading. Hope you’re all having a nice summer!

You will need:

  • 1 t-shirt in a size that fits you: (I have eyes like a hawk when it comes to plain t-shirts being on sale; If a certain style of t-shirt fits me, and it’s a good price, I buy one in every color I like. Then I’ll have them on hand when the crafting bug bites me)
  • A motif of choice: This could be a stencil, a rubber stamp, a drawing you’ve made, a picture from the internet, etc etc; I do recommend keeping the image simple, and staying away from really intricate details; In my case, I had a fleur-de-lis rubber stamp, and I just photocopied the picture on the back of the rubber stamp, increasing it to the size I wanted for my t-shirt;
  • Some fabric paint: Here I used a glittery silver color from Tulip brand
  • Recycled printer paper
  • Scissors
  • Tape: drafting tape would work; Just something that won’t rip the fabric of your t-shirt (or leave any icky adhesive residue) when you pull it away; I think I may have actually used Scotch tape because I am lazy and a scrounger; If you’re afraid your tape will stick to your t-shirt too much, try to stick it to some other non-special fabric a few times first (jeans work really well for this) to diminish the stickiness a little before attaching to your t-shirt
  • Scrap corrugated cardboard: This will need to fit inside your t-shirt without stretching it TOO much; Amazon.com will often send rectangular pieces of cardboard with your order for example, and this size tends to work well; The sides of old boxes will work also if you don’t have anything pre-cut;
  • Newspaper to cover your crafting area
  • Optional: a paint brush

1) If you have not already washed your t-shirt, please do this before you begin. This will remove any sizing – or other surface material – from the t-shirt that could get in the way of your paint sticking where you want it to. This step also insures that the t-shirt gets any shrinking out of its system before you spend any creative time on it

2) Choose your motif and prepare your template; I photocopied my image in the size I wanted onto some scrap computer paper, and cut out the parts I wanted to to show as “painted” onto my t-shirt; I then cut around the outside of my stencil, leaving enough room to tape the stencil down securely on all sides;

Note: As you can see in the main picture from this post, my t-shirt pattern was kind of “graffiti-style,” so I wasn’t too fussy about cutting a perfect rectangle around my template; I actually wanted an irregular shape in this case

3) Cover your work area with newspaper. Then, put your corrugated cardboard scrap into your t-shirt, under the place where you plan to paint; This is just to provide a flat surface to work on, and to prevent your paint from bleeding through the top layer of your fabric onto the bottom layer; It’s best if the size of cardboard scrap you use stretches your t-shirt out just slightly, as it will keep the fabric taut while you work

4) Place your template down on the front of your t-shirt, and make sure it’s not crooked,or too far over to one side, or too close to the top or the bottom of your t-shirt; Make sure it’s exactly as you want it before you secure it in place; Carefully tape the template down, making sure that the paper is flush with the fabric of the t-shirt; You don’t want gaps; You aren’t using fancy materials here, so you will just have to be extra careful that your paper template/stencil does not move; This is where having the fabric taut around a piece of cardboard will really help

5) Start painting! You could potentially use a paintbrush or stencil brush here, but I just put the fabric paint right on my finger and dabbed it in the places I wanted it within the bounds of the stencil; Try to use up and down “pouncing” motions rather than “smearing” ones, and try to move the fabric of the t-shirt as little as possible, in order to keep your stencil lines neat. I recommend starting in the center of the larger cut out shapes, and working your way towards the edges, corners, or finer details of your design; Try to get as little paint on the paper as you can. The more paint on the paper, the more warped your stencil will become, and the less exact your image will be

Note: If you smudge a little, don’t worry. If you are going for a “graffiti” look like the t-shirt here, it will just look like part of the design

6) Lift the edges of your stencil periodically (and carefully!) to make sure that you have transferred as much of the image as you want onto the t-shirt; I also traced the  outline of my template messily onto the t-shirt, and then splattered, smudged, and smeared more paint onto various spots with my fingers, until I was happy with the level of coverage

7) Once you are satisfied with your image, carefully peel the tape and the stencil away from your t-shirt, holding the fabric taught as you do so; Now let your paint dry according to the paint directions; When in doubt, overnight is always a safe bet

As you can see, I decided to leave the back of my t-shirt basically design-free, except for the little detail on the upper right shoulder; That was another, smaller stencil image; See a close-up below

Closer-up detail. Apologies for the cat fur all over things…

Once the front of your shirt is dry, you can repeat the above process to put detail on the back of the shirt; Let this side dry too, and then you can wash the t-shirt in the washing machine and wear

Note: Even though this shirt was made with glitter paint, I have washed it without problems MANY times in the washing machine. I might have lost a little glitter here and there, but it really didn’t get all over the rest of my laundry, and really most of it stayed on the shirt as you can see

Anyway, I hope you guys have enjoyed this tutorial, and that you’re well on your way to making your own custom t-shirts! My favorite part of this project was that there are hardly any extra supplies needed besides what you already have on hand. Yay thrift! Happy crafting!

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2 Responses to “The Shirt off My Back”


  1. 1 brian June 10, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    how did you cure the ink used on this t shirt?

    • 2 fiddlerontheblog June 11, 2010 at 8:24 am

      Hi Brian,

      Thank you for visiting the blog! I have to admit I didn’t do anything special to cure the design on the shirt. All I used was glittery silver Tulip brand fabric paint, applied by hand. I let it dry, then I washed the shirt. I figure that if the paint fades over time, it’ll just look “distressed.” I hope that helps! If not, please let me know. Thanks again for looking!


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