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Ink Your Fashion » Using stencils and fabric ink to pimp out your clothing

There's a trend I'm seeing that begs to be brought down. I find it irritating to be expected to pay $18 for a skate t-shirt. The industry seems to be upping the ante by offering "polo" and "dress"style shirts (avec sk8 logo) and expecting us to pay close to $50. After thinking this over, I decided - no way!

The part that annoyed me most was the fact that I like both of these styles, but wouldn't pay $50 for a plain-jane version let alone one adorned with my favorite sk8 logo. As I perused various catalogs, I began to realize that these shirts were simply garden-variety shirts with a sk8 logo on ‘em. So why can't I (and you) do that ourselves? We can.

A multi-colored sk8 logo on a t-shirt might require some actual skills to reproduce, but if you just want to slather a "Zero Skull" or "Bones Vato Rat" across a shirt... stick with me.

Any woman can easily show you how to find a quality shirt for next to nothing. My wife has honed my skills to the point where I can always find a suitable shirt for around five bucks. Add to that some fabric-ink and you're just a few steps from recreating that $50 shirt you saw in a catalog.

Before i go into detail, I will freely admit I have no artistic talent - none. You won't need any either.

Supply List

  1. Your design/logo (or whatever) on a white sheet of paper
  2. Ironing board
  3. Iron
  4. Fabric pen
  5. Fabric ink
  6. A suitable shirt
  7. Daylight and a window
  8. Alcoholic beverage

Find a design:
Start by finding a simple design you'd like to replicate (start simple, then get more complex once you get the hang of this). An outline like a skull or any sort of single-color line-art. you'll need to get your desired design onto a sheet of paper. I prefer using the web to find logos. Any of the image search engines will do nicely. Once you've appropriated an image, use any photo editing software to re-size the logo to fit the area, of the shirt, you want to cover.

Try putting a large logo across the back of your shirt, maybe a medium one on the shoulder or a small one on the sleeve or collar. Be creative, but try to think things out before you have a shirt littered with logos... a look that doesn't quite hit the mark.

Get your supplies:
Any arts& crafts type store will have what you need. I don't frequent places like this, but bite the bullet and go in. You'll have to dodge plump women buying yarn for sweaters they'll never finish knitting and spacey morons who are feeding their beading habit. Grin and bear it. You're looking for the shirt and ink isle. There you will find a lot of products for putting designs on fabric (shirts).

I've tried "ink jet transfer paper" and found the result fairly disappointing. Nothing comes out vibrant enough. Besides, what sort of technology has been ever-present in printer ink that suddenly it can be transfered to fabric with an iron?

I bought a Heat Transfer Pen, the allegation being that you draw on a sheet of paper and then transfer it to fabric with a hot iron. I also picked up a bottle of Fabric Ink - unscrew the cap and use the bottle's tip as an applicator. Between these two products, I got great results.

You'll need an iron as this is what transfers the design from paper to shirt. You don't need an ironing board - it just makes it a bit easier. Lay a folded towel on a table - the idea being that you don't want to louse up the table.

When selecting a shirt, I decided I would use black ink to make my design. With that in mind I bought a light colored shirt, so the design would stand out more. Just try to get some contrast between your shirt and the ink. A black skull on a dark brown shirt won't show up well, unless you are going for the subtle look.

Make sure you wash and dry any shirt first. Often the first washing will remove any chemical coatings and the dryer will shrink it. Hardened ink will not adapt well to being shrunk. In fact, you should probably line-dry your shirts after washing the inked product.

Getting Started

Print out and resize your design, then plug in your iron and set it to the hottest no-steam setting. While it warms you'll need to trace your logo on the back of the paper. Huh? If you don't re-trace it on the back side, it will get transfered to your shirt backwards. Go hold a magazine up to a mirror if you are still confused. Words are backwards... get it? Cool.

A note on printing out your template...
Since you will be using an iron to transfer your design, be careful of printing with laser printers. The ink is heat-fused onto the paper and will come off when ironed. Best to use an ink-jet printer.

Check the iron... make sure your house isn't on fire. Tracing the design is best done against a window. This lets you see the design through the paper as you trace it. I used the Heat Transfer Pen to get the outline. I was hoping I could just use this and be done, but it kind of sucked.

Once the design is traced, you'll have a template that you can use to apply real ink. Read the instructions that come with your pen (or wing it). I put the inked side against the shirt, held it place with one hand and slowly moved the iron across the paper. I don't care what the directions say about ironing - you CAN burn the paper and your shirt if you do it too long. 20 seconds did the trick for me.

Set the iron aside and slowly peel the paper from the shirt. You should see a faint outline of your intended design. Now, use the bottled ink to trace over the faint outline. The harder you press or the more ink used and the darker the design.

Fabric Painting Techniques

  1. Choose fabrics that are machine or hand washable. For best results, use 50/50 cotton/polyester blends. Always remember to prewash your fabric and do not use fabric softener or a dryer sheet.
  2. Squeeze out a small amount onto a paper towel to begin paint flow.
  3. Always hold the applicator tip against the fabric.
  4. Test paint in a hidden area to ensure compatibility with fabric.
  5. Hold the paint bottle in your hand like a pencil.
  6. Tap bottle firmly, tip downward, on hard surface. Flush out bottle by squeezing out a small amount of paint, and wiping tip clean.
  7. For raised linework, hold the bottle at an angle to the fabric, allowing more paint to escape. For flat linework, hold bottle straight up and down, allowing less paint to escape. Practice your linework on preprinted paper towels.

Once you've gone over the design with the bottled ink, just let it dry over night and you're good to go. Have a drink.

Now go skate!
Each time you see some kid wearing one of those expensive pre-made shirts, be sure to laugh at him/her as you roll by in your &7 sk8 creation. You can likely make 5 or 6 shirts for $50 plus shipping.

Never underestimate the joy of being creative and making something for the sake of being different. There are enough followers in this world - Skate, create and procreate.

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