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By Michelle Powellfreelance writer

Children can easily create a unique piece of clothing using fabric paints

The T-shirt is an iconic symbol of late 20th-century clothing. Its simple shape makes it easy, quick and cheap to produce, the large areas of flat fabric are ideal for all kinds of decoration, and the cotton fabric is hard-wearing, easily washable, soft and comfortable to wear. It’s easy to see why the T-shirt is a firm fashion favourite with all ages and with advertisers and promoters the world over. These same reasons make T-shirt design and decoration an ideal activity that the children will easily understand and thoroughly enjoy.

Plain white T-shirts are a cheap resource and can be purchased economically in high street stores. Be sure to choose sizes that will fit the children taking part, as the joy and much of the impetus of this activity is for them to proudly wear their finished creations. It also helps the evaluation process: Was my design fit for purpose? Has it had the desired effect? (Alternatively, children could bring in their own.)

The focus of these activities is on designing and transferring a motif using fabric paints. Both activities will require more than one session and some preparation, as detailed in the ‘Getting started’ below.

Getting started

  • Fabric paints are available in many forms, but most commonly as a ready-to-use paint in a jar, a pen or a tube of liner-type paste. I would recommend using the jars of paint as they give far better coverage and are the most economical. Pens are really only useful for adding details. Liner pastes are very difficult to get good results from, are extremely slow to dry and are therefore very messy.
  • All fabric paints, by their very nature, will permanently stain other clothing. Make sure that the children wear old clothing as well as aprons. Just covering up best clothes with an old shirt will not suffice, as the paint will seep through several layers of fabric. Some paints may also temporarily stain skin.
  • The fabric paint will also seep through from the front of the T-shirt to the back, so line the T-shirt with a sheet of thick card – corrugated packing card is ideal. Cut the lining card slightly wider than the T-shirt so that it is held taut for painting.
  • A fun idea is to cut the lining card into a T-shirt shape. The sleeve extensions will stop the T-shirt twisting around the card, and it is a nice way to display the work in progress.
  • When the lesson ends or painting is complete, place a coat hanger inside the T-shirt and peg it to the card so that it can be easily hung up. Most fabric paints take at least 12 hours to dry so don’t stack or fold the T-shirts for some time.
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