Saturday, August 29, 2009

Applique Shirt Tutorial

We had a birthday party tonight for two sweet girls from church. I decided to make them little applique t-shirts. I'm sure all of the other boxes and bags on the present table held fun, educational toys that will entertain them for hours, but I know that as a mom I can only handle so many toys, and they often get buried in piles of more and more toys in the playroom.
So I made the birthday sisters little monogram applique t-shirts with matching hairclips. Just like this one that I made for Anna Jane:

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I wanted to make little matching skirts for party girls Charlotte and Delaney, but I lacked both the time and the extra fabric (and now that I think about it, I probably lacked the energy as well).

While I was making Anna Jane's, I took a couple of pics to show you how to make them as well. They are a great birthday gift, a perfect project for scraps, and an adorable way to fancy up a white t-shirt. The first shirt that I made like this was for Anna Jane to wear to school on her 4th birthday. It had a big four on the front and I made little pants with ruffles out of the same material.

I start with a white tee...usually from Target or Wal*Mart. I love ones with a little gathering at the neck or puff in the sleeves for girls. For boys I often can only find tees with pockets. The pockets can be carefully removed with a seam ripper. The little holes left from the threads will fill in when washed.

The basic instructions are just to cut out a letter (or shape, or number) and stitch it to the front of the shirt. Here are some specifics that will make it easy and pretty.

I print out a letter from the computer. When I want to use a pic (like a cupcake or fish), I often find clip art to trace. My printer was out of ink the other day, so I just traced it off of the screen.

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I use this Steam a Seam 2...but as this photo shows, you can only use it if you can read and understand French.

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Nah, there are directions in English...not sure why I snapped the pic on the French side. This comes in a big home away from home, Knit One, Smock Two sells it by the yard. Not sure how other shops sell it. But I wouldn't dare buy it anywhere else.

I then stick the letter onto a window BACKWARDS and put a square of the Steam a Seam 2 on top of it. Trace the backwards letter onto the Steam a Seam 2, which has paper protecting both sides of the magic sticky stuff. The directions on the package will tell you to trace on the wrong side of the paper, but I can never tell the difference. I'm pretty sure that I have traced on both the wrong and the right sides and it has always worked out.

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Next, peel the paper backing off the Steam a Seam 2 (the side that you did not write on) and stick it to the wrong side of the fabric. This time it does matter which side you use.

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Cut out the fabric and the Steam a Seam 2 at the same time, following the lines of the letter that you traced. I usually cut the fabric and Steam a Seam 2 down a bit so that it's easier to handle. You will find that even though it's a little sticky, it will not stay in place if you do not cut carefully and make sure that it's not slipping.

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Then peel the other layer of protective paper off and prepare to stick!

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Because the stickiness isn't at it's toughest until you add heat with an iron, you can stick and restick until you have the applique exactly where you want it.

Now run over it with an iron and you are ready to stitch it down. I have used three different stitches for this in the past. Quickest and easiest is to just use a straight stitch a little to the inside of the edge of your design. When washed, the tiny edges will fray, which gives it a cute effect. I especially like this edge on tees for little boys.

You can also use a zig zag or a satin stitch, which I used on this shirt. And a very important hint...put some sort of stabilizer under the shirt when using the satin stitch. It keeps the soft cotton from bunching and puckering. I just used plain printer paper under Delaney's shirt.

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I did not use anything to stabilize the fabric underneath Charlotte's shirt.

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Sorry, sweet Charlotte. I do take consolation in the fact that at two years old, you are certainly growing like a weed and will only be able to wear the shirt for a few weeks at best! And as they say at K1S2, kids are moving targets, so no one will have a chance to notice my mistake!

Here is another great applique sample, for Jason and Alison's big boy, Baker.

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And the most popular applique outfits to date...

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unc him

I'm not sure why there is no photo of Henry in his Tarheel turtleneck, but rest assured they all had one!

The possibilities are endless for these cute applique tops. You can also use several different fabrics for different parts of a design, such as a cupcake or car. Please try this project! It's great for beginner sewers!


  1. I do this on sun hats for lots of friends - I also like hand stitching with embroidery floss to make it a little more homemade. I'm working on a tutorial for birthday hats with the same idea (check out my blog with A's birthday pics for an idea - the one where she is screaming bloody murder). I want to craft with you!

  2. I am looking at this burp cloth right now! I used it just this morning to wipe up spit-up. As for the onesie, Baker wore it many times with friends commenting on it each and every time. I gave credit where it was due ;).

  3. We made the blog! What fun!! :-) The girls LOVE their shirts (and I do to)! They couldn't possibly fit any better. They are looking forward to wearing them to school next week. And, by the way, I never in a million years would have noticed a flaw in Charlotte's shirt. Also, while those Carolina clothes are adorable, I think you might want to invest in some blue and orange ones too. ;-)

  4. I definately need to hire you to make some stuff for the grandbabies. The ideas you have are great and so creative.

  5. The UNC clothes are awesome! We all need to go to a game.

  6. I made shirts using the same technique for my kids for disneyland. I cut out the sillouette of mickey's head on some fun patterned fabric. I went around them with puffy paint. On my daughters I made a bow from ribbon and sewed it on the top. Super fun!!

  7. This is the same technique I use and agree with you about the stabilizer on the back, it's a must. your projects turned out so cute.

  8. Thanks so much for the tutorial. Im definately going to try it.

  9. I am so excited to get started! Does it require a sewing machine?

  10. Anonymous,
    You do not have to have a sewing machine to applique cute clothes. See Emily's comment above regarding hand stitching. Whatever tools you have, put them to good use. You have what you really need, which is a desire to sew!! If you have any questions or want any more/specific tutorials, let me know!!

  11. These are sooo super cute! I have a sewing machine, but not much experience sewing, but I am going to attempt anyway! Thanks for the inspiration!

  12. Did you just tear away the paper from the backing when you were done? I think I'm a tad confused on this part! Thanks! :)