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Creating custom t-shirts
with your students is a rewarding experience and a great way to wrap up
the year. Take the opportunity to say something special about each student
or commemorate the "graduation" from your grade level. Maybe your
class had a theme or a project that they were very involved in throughout
the year - these can also work towards great designs. Whether each student
creates a unique shirt or you decide on a universal pattern for the group,
you're assured an afternoon of fun and a group of satisfied artists when
it's all over.
Most inks and paints are somewhat translucent, so unless you can really
make a case for those pretty blue shirts, white is really the way to go.
Wal-Mart may seem the obvious choice for rounding up 25 or 30 cheap shirts,
but always look for the freebies. Call "screen printers"
in your area and ask if they have an overstock, or anything they can donate.
If not, see if they would be willing to re-sell the shirts to you at cost.
The direct wholesale cost for shirts can be as low as $2, so it's worth
your dollar to check around. You can also order the shirts direct from
manufacturers, but be prepared to wait a minimum of a week for them to
ship. Keep in mind, too, that one size is often considered to fit all.
While there are professional inks available that work very
well, there are many reasons for not using them, including fumes, flammability,
general lawsuit-type health hazards. Instead, visit your local craft store.
They will be able to recommend the best brands and hopefully can explain
the "life expectancy" of the product, both on the shirt and
for the leftover on the shelf. It may seem like common sense, but be sure
to buy the product most appropriate for your task. If you're sponge painting,
you don't want paint with a roller ball built into a bottle. A tip to
keep in mind when you're finished and the paint has dried, is to put a
clean sheet of paper over the painted areas, and iron over the paper to
set the paint.
You may need dye instead of paint depending on the process you use to
make the shirts. If you are tie-dyeing or batiking, you will need a good
fabric dye. Again, visit your local craft store or fabric store, and be
sure to explain to them exactly what you want to accomplish. They will
be able to recommend certain brands as well as which spray bottles can
work best for the job, etc.
While a number of your students may have painted t-shirts before, tie-dye
can be a real mess, so most kids have probably never had the opportunity
to try it! If you're feeling daring, gather up some rubber gloves, rubber
bands, and fabric dyes, and get ready to dive right in. Rather than try
to list all the instructions here, you can find complete instructions
If you really want to get into the different types of dying, Dharma
Trading offers some wonderful products as well.
Without the Wax
Traditionally, batiking does use wax when laying out the design. For our
purposes though, get out your white school glue, paint brushes and fabric
dye in various colors (Rit¨ works great.) Paint a design on the t-shirt
with the glue, keeping in mind that the design will be reversed out -
the glue part will be the color of the shirt Be sure to put it on thick
enough to cover the cloth well, or plan to apply two coats, then let the
glue dry. Mix the various colors of dye in spray bottles, and spray the
areas you want colored. If you only want the front of your shirt colored,
put a thickness of rags or cardboard between the two layers of fabric,
to keep the ink from soaking though to the back. Be sure to saturate the
colored areas well, then let the dye set overnight. The next day, soak
the shirt in cold water to loosen the glue, then machine wash with detergent
and hot water to set the color, tumble dry.
Heat applied transfers may sound like cheating when compared to the possible
mess with tie-dying, but it could be an easy way to create a single design
to be applied to all shirts equally. Many ink-jet printers allow this
option, and with some, it is as easy as using a different type of paper.
Because of the many different flavors of printers, consult your printer's
instructions. Then, to draw your design, use a graphics program which
will allow you to flip the finished design into a mirror image before
printing. Remember designs need not be "full front". Smaller
pocket-sized ones might do nicely to identify your class and use less
Deciding what process to use may prove difficult, as there are so many
great options. Check out the list here, and be sure to read the comments
below from our T2T forum for some great tips to keep in mind...
Sponge Painting - using pop-up sponges
that you can cut with scissors simplifies this project, or you can buy
sponges already cut into shapes
Block Painting - stamps carved from
everything from wood to potatoes work well for dipping in paint, then
pressing to transfer the paint
Crayon Iron Transfers - students color
on iron-on transfers, then adhere by ironing (design will be backwards!)
Magic Markers - signatures & quotes
Writing Paint - use bottles with roller
Stenciling - make your own stencils
with heavy paper or plastic
I have a very small class of
2nd Graders at a private school. I would love to tie-dye t-shirts with
them as an end of the year project. The kids wear uniforms so I thought
I'd cut holes in large garbage bags for them to wear over their clothes.
-Cassie in Mississippi
My kid's kindergarten class
had sponge stamps in a variety of patterns that represented their studies.
Each child was able to add what they liked best. They were really cute
and kids had a great memento of their first year. -Sharon
I helped in a kindergarten
classroom one fall, and each child had a turn to make a tshirt. I took
them back to a table where they could pick four colors of fabric paint
(the kind that comes in bottles, such as ColorPoint) Then they went to
town!! When doing this, it is extremely important that each child wears
a good smock and is very closely supervised since this paint is permanent!!
While working at a preschool
one summer, we took sponges shaped as various sea life, (fish, starfish,
boats) and painted the shirts in various colors. You can also use the
tube paint for shirts to put rhinestones for eyes. -SJohns731
I have a shirt from when I
worked in K that has each child's handprint in different colors (on a
white shirt) with their name written above it. It has my name on the left
hand side (where a pocket would be) It's the cutest thing. It was my 12
year old's class and I still have it. -Linda
Just went on field trip with
high schoolers to the zoo. The little kids had matching t-shirts and it
looked as though they had used sponges to paint on animal shapes. They
had allowed the adults they had with them to also wear them. Adorable.
You can also use fabric crayons
directly on fabric...young kids don't always understand their their design
will be reversed when it is transferred from paper to fabric. Just color
directly and then put an old piece of cloth between the iron and the shirt.
I've done this many times with no problems! -Dawn
In Northern Nevada each elementary
school picks an "Oceans Week" and that is all they do they whole
week. One teacher had students bring in white t-shirts and then she got
ocean shape sponges (octopi? shells, waves, sea horses, etc.) and they
sponge painted them with ordinary (outside) housepaint. These shirts have
been washed a zillion times and are handed down to younger sibling who
are still wearing them. They only drawback is it is imperative to have
2-4 adults helping with this project. -Brbidondon