one woman's view into a world of creativity

Kappa Key Shirt

Inspired by a lovely Sister’s idea that we should have more sorority t-shirts, and that we could make our own, I decided to try my hand at a t-shirt design of my own.  I planned to make a stencil and use spraypaint.   Here’s how I did it:

  1. Begin with a solid color t-shirt.  I found a cheap one at Walmart with a nice cut to it, but I know craft stores sell cheap t-shirts in a variety of colors, at about $4 each, for craft purposes.
  2. Then I got a piece of newspaper, folded in half, and sketched half of a heart* on it with sharpie.  I cut it out and unfolded the shape for a symmetrical heart.  I double-checked that this heart was small enough to fit on the back of my shirt, and trimmed accordingly.
    *I wanted a heart for my design, but a circle or any shape will do.  This step is simply to make sure what you design will fit in the space you want it.
  3. Then I laid this heart pattern onto a large piece of posterboard and traced around it with a pencil.  I set the newspaper heart aside after this, for I no longer needed it.
  4. Sketch your design within the confines of your shape.  Do this in pencil so you can erase mistakes.  I settled on several skeleton keys within the heart.
  5. When you’re satisfied with your design, outline it with pen.  This makes it more final, as well as easier to see. 
  6. Use a hobby exacto-blade set to cut along your lines.  I cut out all of the negative spaces, careful not to cut the keys from the frame.  The spaces I cut out will be spraypainted, while the design I don’t cut out will prevent spraypaint from hitting the shirt, and will appear the color of the shirt underneath.
    After this point you should move to a well-ventilated area, preferably outside.
  7. When the design is completely cut out, turn it over and make little tape tubes (for two-sided stickiness) and place them in narrow spots of the design.  In my case this was along the keys.  This is to make sure they stay down in the spraying process.  The more tape you use, the more finished your design looks.  The less tape you use, the more spraypaint gets under the stencil edges and blurs your design.  The force of the spraypaint air can lift up the stencil, and tape prevents this.
  8. Then turn the stencil back over and place it where you want it on the shirt.  Press down firmly, especially where tape is.
  9. Cover any exposed areas of the shirt that you don’t want paint on with newspaper or something to protect it.  Spraypaint vapors can unintentionally gather on the shirt where you don’t want it, even where you think you didn’t spray.
  10. When everything’s ready, shake your spraypaint and test it somewhere to the side.  This prevents unexpected “spitting” of the paint.  When you have an even spray, go ahead and spraypaint your design stencil.  Work in quick, short spritzes at a fair distance from the shirt for a light, even coverage.  I kept my can 1-2 feet away most of the time.
  11. Once you’ve deemed the paint thick enough with even coverage, step away and let the paint dry.  Overnight is best.
  12. After a substantial dry time, come back to your shirt and gently remove the stencil.
  13. Clean up the edges of the stencil with a small brush.  A fine paintbrush or a toothbrush works.  I worked along the edges of my design and around the keys to brush away traces of spraypaint that made it where I didn’t want it.  This fine layer brushed away very easily. 
  14. Viola!  The design is complete!

When I was finished with the design on the back I turned the shirt around and repeated the process with a smaller design of a single key.  But this time the design was inverted, so the key is white.

I’ve created a spraypaint t-shirt stencil design before and it’s held up very well.  The shirt has been through many washings and held up.  However that shirt was of a somewhat different cotton material, so I’m not sure how well this design will withstand the test of time.  I admit I fear the spraypaint wants to rub off.  I’m not sure whether to throw it in the wash and remove the loose paint or just start wearing the shirt for hopes of maximizing it’s life.  I’ll just have to find out.

The design sketched out and outlined in pen with a few sections cut out.

The exacto blade hobby set I used to cut out the design.

The stencil cut out and ready to go.

The final spraypainted design on the back of my shirt.

 The skeleton key design on the front of the shirt, over the heart.


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