Activity Knits & Crafts, Nerdy Knits & Crafts, Tweaks & Alterations

creative destruction: re-inventing t-shirts with scissors, paint, and thread

This summer, I took four old t-shirts and transformed them with stencils, cut outs, or both. I even altered the basic structure of two of them to get the fit I wanted. And thanks to my lovely friend, I now have pictures of myself wearing them. So if you want a DIY run down of how to cut, slash, and paint your way to a unique T, read on. (Bonus: Battlestar Galactica references ahead!)

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Stencils

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Let’s start with the least destructive activity—paint. If you read my post on nerdy crafts, you’ll notice I’m not new to stenciling. On that post I linked to the tutorial on stencilry that I use, but I’ll give you the short version here.

One of the easiest ways to make a clean stencil is to use the freezer paper method. First, pick a stencil image—in this case “So Say We All,” the “amen” of the Battlestar Galactica universe, in an appropriate font. Be sure to read the tutorial section on islands and bridges to make sure your image will work as a stencil—as you can see above, I had to add back in the “islands” in the middle of the “O” and “A” to keep the letters looking correct. Buy freezer paper, cut it to the size of paper your printer will accept, and print your stencil onto the non glossy side (some wrangling with the printer may be required). Cut out the stencil with an X-acto knife, and then with a dry iron, iron it directly onto the shirt.

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For the painting part, mix your preferred color of acrylic paint with fabric medium according to the directions on the bottle, then paint onto the stencil with a sponge or a brush. Make sure to put something between the layers of the shirt so the paint doesn’t soak through (and not cardboard, because I’ve notice the paint will stick to it—I used my X-Acto knife cutting pad). Let dry completely before removing the stencil, then follow the fabric medium directions for heat setting and washing the shirt so that the stencil will be permanent and clean.

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The process is somewhat similar if you have a permanent stencil, like this plastic alphabet one I used to make the phrase “Nothing But the Rain”—yet another BSG reference (its the phrase said by Starbuck to Captain Adama). The only difference here is being careful about getting paint everywhere when you move the stencil—I decided I didn’t care about the mess because I liked the splattered look, but you can decide for yourself.

The last option is to just trace simple shapes directly onto the stencil paper and then cut those out—that’s the easiest option, and it’s what I did on my pink shirt when I wanted to use up the last of the paint I mixed. I did a pattern of triangles to match the cut outs on the back of the shirt.

Cut Outs

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I had a strong urge to do something “destructive” to a few of the shirts I had. This pink shirt, for example, which my friend promptly dubbed the pink triangle (i thought she was referencing the Weezer song but she was not!). This shirt had been abandoned in my laundry room lost and found box for months, so it became the first guinea pig for my cut out and stenciling experiments.

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I don’t have any in-progress shots for the cut outs, but here’s what I did. First I looked at some photos and tutorials online for some inspiration—this listicle of cut outs has some great images, and photos # 5, 21 and 22 intrigued me.  I decided to do a simplified version of the triangle cut outs from photo # 22. That one unfortunately had no tutorial, so I decided to make a triangle template, trace it onto the shirt with chalk, and then cut it out with scissors. I did the stencils later with the same template.

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This mostly worked, but it was tricky to get the triangles all the same size and shape with scissors. So when I tried it on another t-shirt, I used my X-Acto knife to cut them out. Much easier! I think it works especially well for straight lines.

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I love the way that you can play with the placement of cut outs—for example, you can place them to reveal another shirt underneath and play with the contrast of colors and patterns. I think someday I’d like to attempt one of these two designs, especially the tree one.

Fit Alterations

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One of the most basic DIY t-shirt projects is also the one that requires the most patience and skill (and a sewing machine)—changing the fit and cut of a shirt. The above tank top used to be a men’s size medium crew neck tee that I found in a free pile.  The green shirt below that I stenciled on was a boy’s size large crew neck t-shirt, also from a free pile. There are many tutorials out there for doing this, but I am going to show you the easier way I know.

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First, you need to start with a  clean t-shirt that is larger than you want it to be ( in this case, green shirt).  Your’e also going to need a smaller t-shirt that fits you well that will act as a template (here it’s the blue shirt).  Both need to be true t-shirts—those made from the kind of material that doesn’t unravel if you leave raw cut edges, and that’s important. It’s also a good idea that they have about the same amount of elasticity—if one is super stretchy and the other has no stretch, the end result may be a poor fit.

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Iron out any wrinkles and lay the larger shirt on a flat surface, then place the template shirt on top of it (remove cat if necessary). Line up the top seams and trace the outline of the template shirt on top.

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Pin the fabric together at the chalk edges and sew along that line using a matching color thread. After sewing, try it on once to be sure it’s not too tight, then trim the excess fabric off, and shorten the sleeves if necessary.

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If the front and back necks are different, you now need to cut out the neck. You can either eyeball it or place the template shirt inside the other shirt and use pins to trace it by feel.

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Cut out the neckline with some good sharp scissors.

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…and try on the finished product!

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Making the tank top was even easier—the front and the back of the shirt had identical necklines, and I cut out the sleeves entirely. I first used this technique years ago making my very first re-fit, cut up, stenciled tank top, which you can see below. The stencil was an homage to my very first pair of lefty scissors, which I’ve had since I was a kid and still own. That’s right—I’ve been cutting it up Lefty style since first grade.

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Let me know if you use any of these techniques to (de)construct your own t-shirts! I’d love to see the results.

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Holiday Knits & Crafts, Nerdy Knits & Crafts, Quick Knits & Crafts

Procrastiknits! Quick knitting projects to keep or gift

After my last post, you may have the impression that I am a big-intense-project kind of knitter. It’s actually the opposite! In the great debate of process knitter vs. product knitter, I often fall into the latter category. I like to have a regular supply of finished objects. And when I am slogging through a long-term-commitment pattern (like a sweater), I have to have a small project (or two) on the side just so I can finish something.

I’ve collected eight knitting projects that I have completed in the last three months, all of which take a minimum amount of yarn and less-than-average amount of time to complete. Some of them follow a specific pattern, some of them are my modifications of other patterns, and a few of them are my own original work.  I wasn’t the best at getting quality photos of everything, but you can at least get the gist of how they look. Enjoy.

Washcloths, dishtowels, pot holders

In a category that could alternately be called “small square things knit with cotton,” I made the following Christmas gifts.

Adventure Time washcloth

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For my brother, I made an Adventure Time washcloth of Finn (I was going to do Jake too, but I used up all my yellow yarn on the potholder…) I used this fingerless mitts pattern as a starting point, but obviously I changed many things. I used size 3 needles and both ribbing and garter stitch for the edging. I knit from both ends of the white yarn so that there would be no stranding on the reverse side. I honestly didn’t write down the number of stitches I cast on, it was probably 32 or 36. I had to improvise with Finn’s face, not having a skin color, but I think it still worked ok! I knit the entire thing while my mom and grandma were wrapping presents, so it went pretty quick.

Cylon dishcloth

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Clean your toaster with a toaster! For my friend Sarah, who introduced me to Battlestar Galactica, I made this Cylon dishcloth.  I love it, even though it came out a little squished because I went too small on the needles (size 2—I knit so loose usually). I followed this cylon potholder pattern but when it became clear that my gauge was too small, I added a new detail to the top. It’s hard to see, but if you look you can just make out the word FRACK. And then of course, I couldn’t resist cutting off the top corners (wish I’d thought of this at the bottom corners!) and adding some duplicate stitch in a reddish yarn to get that eerie Centurion look. These details meant that this took a bit longer than the washcloth, but because of the small size it was still a pretty quick knit.

bright yellow potholder

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This was a gift for my grandma, and while in appearance it is the most simple, it actually took about the same amount of time as the others. I noticed that my grandmother preferred hand knitted and crocheted potholders above all other kinds, but that they were getting worn out and too thin. I used this pattern for mitered hot pads because it was double the thickness. It basically requires knitting a tube on circular needles, stitching up the top in one direction and stitching up the bottom in a perpendicular direction. Worked great for me!

Kitty toys

Pinky and the Brain

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Ok, I’ve already posted about the first pirate mouse I made for my own kitty, which is pictured above on the right. But I’ve made three more as gifts, so I’m going to show you what variations on the orignal pattern I have come up with. The first is the “improved” pirate mouse on the left, which has fully pink ears, a pink tail, and is stuffed with a sock as opposed to batting. The weight of the sock is better and doesn’t bounce too much. I think it looks like the “pinky” to my original “brain” version above. Sewing the little bits on is by far the most time consuming part of the whole thing. Here are the other variants:

blue fuzzy

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I wanted to see what the pattern would look like with a super fuzzy yarn for the body and a contrasting yarn for everything else. The answer is this little guy, who reminds me of nothing so much as a muppet mouse. This mouse went to Leah, who is notoriously picky with her kitty toys, but she seems to have taken to it quite well:

Gryffindor lion mouse

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I made this one as a gift for a couchsurfing host during a research trip. She had two adorable cats, brothers, named Harry and Neville. I decided that as a thank you gift I would make her a Harry Potter pirate mouse in the gryffindor colors of scarlet and gold. (Don’t ask why I had this yarn with me on a trip, I just did!) I also added a mane and a shaggy tail end by adding some crochet loops, using more or less this technique. I forgot to add a nose or whiskers but it didn’t bother Mr. Potter one bit:

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Wrist things

[both of the following are my original patterns, so please respect this and do not use them for profit or republish them without my written permission!]

knitted bangle bracelet

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I’m sure there are many tutorials for making this kind of bracelet out there, but as since this bracelet was just for me, I decided to wing it. I love the results. I used a plastic ring that originally held a scarf on a rack at a store, if that makes sense…I just swatched until I figured out how many stitches it would take to cover the bracelet without being too tight or too lose, knitted for the appropriate length, and stitched it onto the ring. I used kitchener stitch to connect the two ends together, but since I chose a color changing yarn, the seam is still obvious (see smaller photo). I love how this shows off a tiny leftover remnant of an amazing yarn so well.

Madonna Mountain wristcuff

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This is more of a true pattern that I came up with over Christmas. It’s a small version of the Madonna Mountain located in San Luis Obispo, complete with the big white “M” on the face. I made this for my friend Phil specifically, because he has a clothing company in that town and makes t-shirts with unique line drawings of the local scenery. 

I wish I had written down the details for this pattern! I came up with it while playing board games with my family, and it just kind of flowed. I believe I cast on 32 stitches in green, and then after the ribbing I started decreasing the green on one stitch per side, and adding the dark blue at the same rate, knitting from both sides of the dark blue yarn so as not to have stranding in the back. Then I did the mountain in duplicate stitch using white yarn. I originally intended this to be a drink cozy, but he immediately wanted it to be a wrist cuff and I was not about to argue with a guy who sells apparel for a living.

Hat and collar

the ugly urchin

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I named this hat poorly because I ended up liking it way more than I thought I would. I used the urchin hat pattern from Knitty with size 9 needles. I wanted a new hat for myself that was quick and easy and could use up some crappy thickish acrylic yarn I had lying around. Much to my surprise, this short row hat looked lovely even in this kind of yarn. I recommend plenty of stitch markers for the short rows, because not losing track of where you are is key for these kinds of patterns. The shape of this hat is a bit hard to capture in photos, but it is beret like without being too much of a beret if that makes sense. I wear it a lot when my hair isn’t quite dry, as in the picture below.

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not quite blue collar

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The aquamarine yarn from my custom sweater is back again! Since I had leftovers, I went looking for a way to use them up and found this lovely peter pan collar pattern. This was probably the fastest project of the whole bunch!

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My only real modification was more of an accident, which you can kind of see above: my button for the back is off center. I made the collar the same length of the pattern one at first, but I decided that I needed it to be a bit longer. Laziness won out and I only extended one side. It doesn’t show from the front, however. I have another collar in a different color as well, but since that is one gift I haven’t given yet, I’m not going to post it yet so it can remain a surprise for the recipient.