It's not too hard to get a free t-shirt or sweatshirt, but it's a little bit harder to get one that you actually want to wear in public. But sometimes that sweatshirt is SO soft and warm, you just can't bring yourself to get rid of it.
With this tutorial, a few simple alterations will make that free shirt into something you'll actually wear!
Step 1: Materials
- Sweatshirt (or T-shirt)
- Sewing Machine
- Paper with desired shirt design
- Washable glue stick
- Acrylic Craft paint
- Foam Brush
Step 2: Cut Off Sweatshirt Collar
The first thing to go is the tight sweatshirt neckline!
Using your scissors, carefully cut off the collar of the sweatshirt right below the stitching as shown in the pictures. Cut all around the collar until it is completely removed.
Once the collar is detached from the shirt, cut carefully along the stitching on the collar until it is completely removed.
Step 3: Re-pin the Collar Piece to the Shirt
Unfold the collar piece. In order to space the collar well when reattaching it, you need to mark the collar and the neckline of the sweatshirt in eight even sections.
With the collar folded in half, mark the two folds with pins. Line up those two pins and mark the newly folded edges with pins. Keep folding and marking the folds with pins until you have marked eight even sections. Make sure to see the pictures for clarification.
You will complete the same process with the neckline of the sweatshirt. Place your first two pins at the center back and center front of the neckline on the shirt. Lining up those pins, mark the folds with pins and continue folding and marking with pins until you have marked eight even sections around the neckline.
Now you have eight pins on the collar and eight pins on the neckline. With the right side of the collar fabric facing the inside of the sweatshirt, line each pin up and pin the collar to the neckline at a corresponding pin. The collar will be slightly smaller than the neckline, causing some bunching up of the neckline fabric. We will remedy this in the sewing step.
Step 4: Sew the Collar to the Neckline
First, you will sew a 1/4 inch seam along the edge of the collar and neckline. Stretch the collar fabric as you go so that it lays flat with the neckline fabric. Once you have sewn all the way around, make sure the pins are removed.
Fold the collar fabric up to meet the shirt, as shown in the picture. Fold the fabric again so that it covers the first line of stitching. If it does not quite cover the stitching, lessen the amount of your first fold so that the second fold covers the stitch line. Secure with a pin. Repeat this process all the way around the collar.
Starting at the back of the collar, sew all the way around the collar about 1/16 of an inch from the edge of the fold, as pictured. Note that this is not the free edge, but the edge that touches the sweatshirt. It is important to try to keep the same distance from the fold all the way around the collar, so don't be afraid to sew really slowly for accuracy.
Trim any hanging threads and you have a much more flattering neckline! On to the rest of the sweatshirt upgrade!
Step 5: Choose an Image for Your Sweatshirt and Cut It Out
This step is INCREDIBLY customizable. Your design can be hand drawn or printed, words or pictures, simple or complicated. Once you choose your design, you will use scissors to cut out all of the black area of the design. Everything you want actually painted on the shirt will need to be cut out. Any internal pieces of the design will need to be saved and labeled as to where they go.
Obviously, if you have the machine to do it, you could cut this design on a Cricut or Silhouette machine.
Step 6: Glue Down Stencil and Paint Design
Once your design is cut out, use a washable glue stick to glue it to the shirt. This allows the stencil to stay in place for painting, but is easy to remove and any residual glue washes out of the shirt with the first wash. Don't forget to glue in any internal pieces of the design.
Once glued, use acrylic craft paint and a foam brush to carefully paint in your design. Depending on the thickness of your shirt, you may need to insert a plastic bag or piece of cardboard in between the front and back layers of the shirt to keep the paint from bleeding through. Be careful not to load the brush with too much paint to keep it from seeping under the edges of your paper stencil. Try to sponge on the paint vertically instead of brushing from side to side to avoid pushing paint under the edges of your stencil. The paint may soak into different sections of the sweatshirt differently, so watch it as it dries and add more paint to fill in your design as needed.
Once your paint begins to dry, and you are satisfied with the design, carefully peel away the paper. Painted designs can be added to the design after the stencil is removed. And...you're done!
NOTE: Many people suggest using a fabric medium when painting with acrylic paint. I have not ever had trouble with the paint fading or being excessively stiff and I have painted many shirts using this technique and have never used a fabric medium with my paint. The paint will feel a little scratchy when first painted, but will soften after the first wash.
Step 7: Extra Examples
Here are just a few examples of other shirts I have painted using this method. Some of them took longer than others, but all of them have now been washed dozens of times and still look great, feel soft and have retained their original detail.