how to applique a t-shirt

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Before opening chirp & bloom, I'd never appliqued on knit before. I really wanted something to go with my patchwork skirts, though, so I decided to give it a whirl. There was definitely some trial and error involved. While waiting for my pristine new t-shirts from American Apparel to arrive, I experimented on some old t-shirts from the rag bag. It was worth it, because I figured out only one stabilizer out of the many out there was suitable and I got lots of practice pivoting around tight corners & curves..

Here is what you will need to applique a t-shirt:
-2 copies of your motif (with pieces numbered if it's complicated)
-fabric scraps for the motif
-Heat N Bond Lite iron on adhesive
-fiberglass ironing sheet (or you can get away with an ordinary press cloth too)
-Sulky Tear-Easy stabilizer
-thread- shiny embroidery thread if desired
-sewing machine
-Pellon Easy Knit fusible interfacing

I recommend pinning a copy of your motif to your garment first to double check it for placement and scale. Try it on. Look in the mirror. I was way off on my original idea for the scale and wound up increasing it quite a bit to look intentionally oversized.
Apply some Heat N Bond Lite to the wrong side of your fabric scraps. The "lite" version is plenty strong enough for the t-shirt and most other things. Peel off the backing. Using one of your copies as a pattern, cut your motif out of your adhesive-backed fabric scraps. I decided to do a batch of shirts at once, so layered up two at a time to save on some cutting time.
Using the other copy of your motif as a key, lay your pieces on the right side of the t-shirt. Iron on using a hot iron and a press cloth so you don't scorch your shirt. I love my fiberglass ironing sheet for this.
Once your motif is adhered to the shirt, you need to pin a square of stabilizer to the back side before stitching. Stabilizer is absolutely necessary especially on knits and lightweight fabrics. It is a non woven material a lot like interfacing that you put behind your motif while machine stitching around it's edges or adding stitched details. If you don't use it, your stitches and fabric will bunch up. The first one I tried was very stiff and too difficult to tear off. You want to be able to tear it completely off the back when you're done so yo don't wind up with a boardy patch-like feeling to your motif. Then I read somewhere that the self-adhesive type was the way to go with knits. Nope- when I tried it, it was so sticky, I couldn't get it all off. The one that worked best for the t-shirts was Sulky Tear-Easy. It is lightweight and very tearable. It gave enough support just pinned on at 4 corners behind my motif.

Now you're ready to do the applique stitching. There are a lot of different machine stitches that will work. I like a blanket stitch because it looks hand-done. I like zig-zag too. Satin stitch (zig-zag with a short stitch length) looks like what a factory would do. And there's always plain straight stitching if you want is to look clean & simple. There are many choices of thread too- shiny, regular, variegated. Always experiment on a scrap first. Pivoting around curves an corners is tricky (only pivot with needle down), so practicing first is key. While you're stitching, be careful not to catch more than just the outside layer of the shirt in the stitching. Machines with a free arm are great for this, but I don't have that, so I have to be careful and smush my fabric around just so.
While sewing, I leave a decent length of thread at the start & stop. I don't like to just trim them off because I'm afraid the stitches will unravel. I use a sewing needle and sew all the ends through to the back and knot them with the other loose threads before trimming them off. It's an extra step that a factory wouldn't do, but it makes a more durable piece.
And of course all that stabilizer needs to come off. Inside the motifs, I get a rip started with a seam ripper, then yank. Hold your stitches down on the table and yank away from your fingers with a flick of the wrist- like the waxing lady at the salon does.
Almost done... as a finishing touch, iron on to the back side of the work a piece of Pellon Easy-Knit interfacing with the grain matched up to the grain of the shirt. Trim it to shape first so there is not too much excess around the edges, but the whole back side of the motif is covered. This will protect the stitches that you so painstakingly knotted off and make it nice and smooth next to the skin, especially for kids.
If this tutorial helped you, please send me a picture of your results!

1 comment:

Dolly Traicoff said...

Thank you so much. I found your blog just in time. I'm about to sew several t-shirts for my young granddaughter and all kids love designs on their shirts. Now I can sew them with confidence, thanks to you!

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