Saturday, October 10, 2009

"How to make a dinosaur applique shirt"

That's the phrase I Googled in various forms the week before Julia's birthday. I had been thinking about what the kids were going to wear to the day we celebrated October birthdays in our house and being on a tight budget, making something was the obvious choice.

I considered freezer paper stencils but the cost of the supplies, though not all that high, was higher than the cost of some thread a little fabric and some fusible interfacing. I came across Jessie's post about applique and she was kind enough to direct me to this site which does a great job of walking you through the process of applique and what supplies you need.

It does SUCH a great job that there isn't a need for me to go through all the steps again, but I wanted to talk a bit about the things I learned along the way.

First step. Go to Walmart.
In their craft section is a rack of fabrics that are trendy, cute, and don't overwhelm a person like the fabric store can. I grabbed a few squares (they wrap 18x21 inch pieces of fabric around cardboard squares and sell them for $1 a piece) and then headed off to find plain t-shirts.

It helps to have a general idea of what kind of dinosaur you want to make - I knew Julia's would be a long neck and Sam's would be a T-Rex. Once I scoped out the shirt selection it was easier to narrow down which fabric I would use. The swirls in Julia's fabric reminded me of the texture I imagine dinosaurs might have had. I positioned the pattern over the material so one of the dots would look like an eye....but I'm getting ahead of myself....

Back to the craft section....Look for the fusible webbing
Like the tutorial says, buy the lite kind. UNLESS you are not going to stitch the edges of the shirt. I did NOT need to buy anything to keep the needle moving - that wasn't ever a problem for me. I bought the smallest package of lite webbing for $1.97. I will be able to make at least 4 more shirts with the leftovers.

Pick out thread.
Unless you are an experienced seamstress I would stick to a thread color that matches the background color of the fabric you picked out. When in doubt get a darker color. Be sure to purchase a standard thread (avoid heavy duty thread). I know this from experience.

As much as I hated to wash a brand new shirt, the fusible webbing directions (and my mom) said that I should. Don't forget to wash the fabric pieces too! When they are dry you will need to iron everything flat again. While you are prewashing you can get started on the next step.

Draw a pattern.
Again I turned to Google for examples of dinosaurs. "dinosaur stencils" was the biggest help. It also helped to look at online stores that sell applique shirts for inspiration. If I hadn't done that I probably would have positioned Sam's T-Rex at the bottom edge of the shirt when in reality, it looks better up a little bit don't you think?

The simpler the better is important when designing your pattern. I tried to think of what a cartoon dinosaur would look like so the bulk of the dinosaur was a big as possible. Why is this? So more of the cute material can be used and the stitching is easier.

I drew my dinosaurs on heavy card stock and then confirmed that the scale was correct for the size T-shirts I was using. The tail on Julia's long neck wraps around the back of her shirt, but I drew it on a separate piece of paper and then taped it to the body before I cut out the pattern.

Fuse the webbing to the wrong side of the material for 2 seconds with your iron set to silk.
The directions for using fusible webbing are very easy to understand from the few steps on the package.

Then tape the pattern on the right side of the fabric
This isn't rocket science.
I used circles of painters tape that held it well enough.

Cut out the dinosaur following the edge of your paper
(but not actually cutting the paper). It's important to use very sharp scissors for this step - ones that haven't ever cut paper. I don't own sewing scissors, but had an unopened package of kid's scissors that worked like a charm.

Remove the cardstock pattern and the paper part of the fusible webbing.

Slide your T-shirt onto your ironing board and lay flat. Position the dinosaur onto the shirt and iron the fabric/interfacing onto the shirt. (again on Silk setting) I was horrified when I lifted the iron after the first section of Julia's shirt to discover that I had an iron print on fabric, but I just ironed the whole shirt and nobody knew that the shirt was a touch brighter to begin with. Disaster averted!

If you are going to stitch the edge of your design I suggest practicing on an old T-shirt first to get the feel of feeding such a stretchy fabric through the machine. It also helps determine how wide of a zig-zag stitch you want.

Start stitching in an inconspicuous spot on the shirt
Keep feeding the fabric through. This is a get the feel for it kind of step that I can't describe in words. You just have to go for it! In general you want the needle to go into the T-shirt material as close to the edge of the cute fabric as possible. One stitch in the fabric, one in the T-shirt and so on and so forth....

I have not sewn anything in years and very much consider myself a beginner. The only frustrating part of the whole thing for me was when the first brown thread I tried messed up the tension on the machine. Lesson learned.

And as I told a friend recently, the little imperfections give it character!

If you prefer to add character with embellishments instead, add buttons or give felt a try.
I love the teeth on Sam's shirt (made* with white felt). If I could do it again, I would have made the mouth wider so more of the blue fabric showed through. Sam agreed with me saying, "Mom, how come his mouth isn't open really wide?"

*I didn't use fusible webbing on the teeth. They were placed under the fabric when it was time to iron the material onto the shirt. On it's own, that isn't enough to hold the heavier 'material' onto the shirt, but once it was stitched in place it was strong enough.

Try on your little dinosaur lover and away you go!
Or in my case, put on Julia for 5 minutes and then promptly remove it because she was about to eat spaghetti. :)

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Anonymous October 10, 2009 at 7:23 PM  

Thanks for a great step-by-step! I did this earlier this summer for my kiddos, but neglected the fusible webbing step. Big oops!
Great project for dressing up plain old (cheap!!) t-shirts. Plus it's waaaay cheaper than buying them off of Etsy (which I do love, by the way).
My next project? Appliqued layered flowers for my daughter's t-shirts!

Alyssa October 10, 2009 at 7:51 PM  

I'm so glad to have had this lesson verbally and now written down so I can reference it if needed. I bought fusible interfacing at Walmart yesterday, just hoping it's light enough. I guess I'll just have to give it a try and see if it works. Thanks!

Ethan, Zach, and Emma's Mom October 10, 2009 at 8:10 PM  

Fun project! I think it would work with a pattern, too, like Transformers with my boys, and just cut out the shapes. We may have to do this as a family project!

Anonymous October 10, 2009 at 9:35 PM  

Cute stuff! Love it! :) Thanks for the directions. Just catching up on you...your page looks great! I love it :)

Melissa October 10, 2009 at 11:01 PM  

You really did a fabulous job on these shirts for the kids. The tutorial was really helpful and I look forward to reading about more DIY projects in the future.

Diane October 11, 2009 at 12:38 AM  

Thank you for sharing how you made such cute designs. I'm going to give this a try soon.

Anonymous October 11, 2009 at 7:53 PM  

Those are so cute! Thanks for sharing. Perhaps I'll be brave one day and try to make 'em too.

Custom T-shirts October 12, 2009 at 5:56 AM  

What a nice blog you have..thanks for all this information

Anonymous October 14, 2009 at 9:04 PM  

Unbelievable! I love the shirts. Look so professional. :)

Anonymous October 16, 2009 at 11:59 PM  

Check out my site there is a suprise for you!!!

Lindsay October 18, 2009 at 9:53 PM  

I've been having such a fun time sewing appliques for my kiddos, too! It's aweosme making a custom shirt out of a cheap plain shirt - and something you know they like and you actually like, too! Great tips! Is think the fusable webbing is also called "Wonder Under" least that's one type of the double-sided stuff. :-)

Andria November 22, 2009 at 11:40 PM  

These are adorable! I ahve been wondering exactly how to applique for some time. Thanks for the very thorough directions!! Just what I was looking for. And happy {belated} birthday to your two sweeties!

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