Graphic Applique Shirts

Graphic applique is a great way to customize your shirt when you want a little more freedom and have a sewing machine handy.  This is probably a project geared towards those with some sewing experience!

Here is a set of appliqued shirts I made featuring some of my family’s favorite characters:

photo (8)

Material List:

  • fabric assortment
  • base T-shirt
  • double-sided fusible web (like Wonder Under or Heat N’ Bond)
  • Freezer paper
  • pencil and ballpoint
  • good scissors
  • iron and ironing board
  • sewing machine with a zig-zag stitch option
  • thread

Pick a shirt color that compliments your design.  Get together a palette of fabric.  Here is the shirt I am using (it is a size 4T shirt, for purposes of your scale), and colors matching the image I am working from (seen on the computer monitor).

photo 1 (9)

Center a piece of freezer paper over your shirt, and draw out your design.  You can enlarge the image on your computer and trace as well if needed.  Then, label each area by the intended fabric color.

I neglected to photograph this step on my gonzo project, so here is the paper laid out on a T-shirt for my Mad-hatter shirt.


There are now two ways to proceed, depending on the complexity of your design and the amount of “mirror images” involved.  If you want to keep you original design/pattern, use additional freezer paper to trace each piece separately.  Having the original design in one place will help you with your layout as well, but once you have more experience with the method you may want to try and cut the pieces from your original drawing.

Here are the shapes traced onto the paper, with my pattern in the background:

photo 2 (8)

Carefully cut out the components of your pattern and separate into groups by color.

Here are all the pieces laid out:

photo 3 (6)

Now, fuse one side of your web (according to package directions) to the wrong side of the fabrics needed.

photo 4 (5)

You now can either trace the reverse image onto the paper backing of the fusible web, or iron the freezer paper directly on the correct side.  For Gonzo I traced.  For all my other shirts I found it was easier to just apply the freezer paper to the right side, then remove after cutting around the pattern.

Here are my fabric pieces with the pattern pieces traced out, in reverse, on the paper side of the fusible web:

photo 5 (2)

Here are my fabric pieces all cut out:

photo 1 (10)

The reverse side paper needs to be removed, creating your fusible applique pieces.  Carefully arrange your pieces onto your T-shirt into your graphic image.  I started by laying them out:

photo 2 (9)

Iron them down, and you are almost there!

photo 1 (11)

The next step is a bit more tedious, sewing the bonded pieces into place.  I try to match my thread to the fabric for each piece, and when two pieces are touching, pick the color I want to dominate/shadow.  If you are making multiple shirts, it will save you a lot of time to do one color at a time on all your shirts, rather than sewing one shirt at a time.

Feel free to ask questions!


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