DIY tutorial: hand-painted clothing

Believe it or not, I’ve been doing this since high school and I learned this one from my cousins – we used to decorate cheap t-shirts for ourselves when our bank accounts were non-existent. Now, this skill comes in handy for making custom clothing for your friends, especially for wedding-related events!

For my friend Katie’s bachelorette, we decided on going with a denim theme for one of the nights out, and while all of us bridesmaids purchased varying degrees of obnoxious cropped denim vests, we wanted the bride to have a quality piece of denim to wear (and hopefully re-wear on the wedding day). Obviously I volunteered to handle it!

So here’s what you’ll need: 

  • A print-out of your design or text (design on your computer and print to size on 8.5×11 or 11×17 paper – whatever fits your clothing item)
  • White eyeliner pencil – I like the traditional cheap $0.99 pencils from Wet and Wild or one of those drugstore brands, not the creamy kohl types that work great on eyes but not as great on paper
  • A very dull regular pencil – trust me, do not sharpen
  • Tape
  • Fabric paint – you can find at any craft store, I’ve used a lot of Tulip brand
  • Paint brushes – varying small sizes, and I prefer ones that are stiffer with a tapered edge. Might as well get an assorted pack and figure out your personal favorite!
  • Patience. 

Step 1: Design your artwork and print in black ink. I ended up going with “Bride” for the main text and then her future married name and wedding date in smaller text for the bottom of the jacket. You’ll need multiple print-outs for multiple areas on the clothing, so I had to do 2.

Step 2: Once your design is printed on a piece of paper, flip that paper over and use your white eyeliner pencil to scribble all over the back of the paper where your design is. I usually put the paper on a window so I can see exactly where the design is and then heavily scribble with the eyeliner behind all of the black.

Step 3: Flip the paper back over so your design is facing you, and tape the paper down to your piece of clothing exactly where you want it. Try not to press on the design or lean on it so you don’t transfer the white eyeliner onto the clothing… yet. Tape at all the corners so it’s secure.

Step 4: Take your dull regular pencil and start tracing over the entire design with it, carefully outlining the text as best you can. Press as hard as possible without going through the paper, especially at the edges of the design. I’ve tried to use thicker papers for my print-out so that the pencil is less likely to break through, and it’s helped. Your goal is to transfer the white eyeliner onto the clothing just where your design is. So be precise and press hard at the edges!

Step 5: Once you’ve traced over the entire design, remove the paper. You should find that underneath, you now have a faint white outline of your design on the clothing. It should look like this:

Apparently I pressed really hard on that “r”.

Step 6: Start painting! Now you just need to work slowly and have patience. I like the tapered edge brushes that are stiffer since they let you work with more precision. Sometimes if your white eyeliner didn’t transfer perfectly, you’re going to have to just look back at your design paper and improvise. I usually do at least 2-3 coats of paint to make the letters pop. I don’t wait long between the first and second coats typically but anything 3+ I’d let it dry for a bit between. Once you have a few coats on it’ll be bright white and look like this:


Step 7: I never used to do this when I was younger but since this project was a gift, I wanted to make sure it lasted. I followed the instructions on the back of the fabric paint bottle and when the paint was dry, I used an iron to set the paint (putting a piece of clothing between the paint and the iron so I wouldn’t mess anything up). This will make sure your paint doesn’t flake off.

And you’re done! Personally, I’d rather receive or wear a hand-painted piece of clothing over something done with vinyl from a Cricut machine. Something just seems more special about it to me. So give it a try someday, your friends will thank you!

The bride wore it all weekend!

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