T-shirt Projects

I Love to Create: Spray 4 Ways!

As some of you know, I’ve been just a little bit obsessed with my spray paints lately. And it’s because they’re the perfect quickie spiff-up and surface embellish for T-shirts, pillows, dresses–or any other fabric item you want to spray! Since it’s spring, though, I grabbed up some plain cotton dresses to spray. Here are four different ways to pair those fabric spray paints with templates made from materials around the house including masking tape, stationery stickers, and freezer paper. Pull your spray paints from your holsters!

Once your paints are assembled, select your surfaces (in all different colors–though light colors will take the paint best).

Then introduce any number of “secret weapons from around the house” (items that can be used as templates or stencils to mask parts of the fabric, e.g. freezer paper, permanent marker, a craft knife; map dot stickers; rectangle sticker labels; masking tape) in each of the individual projects below!

1. Yellow Brick Road

Secret weapon from around the house: Rectangle sticker labels

Originally, my plan was to stick on these labels in a checkerboard pattern to give the dress the feel of a racing flag. But the stickers so easily lent themselves to being bricks, that I immediately thought of the yellow brick road in the Land of Oz.

I chose to follow the yellow brick road along the waistband, but you could lay your bricks around the hem of the dress, up and over the shoulder, or a circle them all over the dress. I laid one row of bricks and then stuck down a second row, offsetting the first brick in the second row so that the rest of the stickers in that row would be slightly staggered to create the brick pattern.

Mask the rest of the garment before spraying (I used T-shirt scraps and paper from my recycling bin) so that you can contain the paint to only the area you want to color. I used black spray paint to make the yellow bricks really pop!

Let the paint dry completely before you peel off the brick stickers and try it on!

2. Skull & Bones

Secret weapons from around the house: Freezer paper, high-contrast image printout, marker, craft knife, and cutting mat

I chose the classic skull and crossbones as my image to download and print for creating the stencil, but any image is fair game!

Trace the design onto a sheet of freezer paper.

Then use the craft knife to carefully cut out the shapes.

Tape the stencil onto the fabric surface (I placed it along the hem). Don’t forget to place any loose pieces (in this case, the eye sockets and nose cavity!). I sprayed red spray paint on the charcoal gray surface and reused the stencil to create a pattern around the bottom of the skirt.

Let each image dry slightly before moving the stencil to another part of the fabric.

Then let the image dry completely before spraying it onto the back of the garment. Let all the paint dry completely before you try it on!

3. Bubble, Bubble, Toil, and Trouble

Secret weapon from around the house: Map or garage sale dot stickers in different sizes.

These stickers have so much potential. Beyond mixing up the sizes, you can arrange them into patterns, overlap them, use the surrounding sticker bits to create reverse dots, and so on. I used three sizes (3/4″, 1 1/4″, and 1 3/4″).

To create the appearance of bubbles rising up to the surface, I started with closely spaced small dots at the hem, then transitioned to more widely spaced medium dots, with the large dots finishing below the bodice.

Mask all the parts of the garment you don’t want to color. I used black spray paint, fading out at the top, to make the pink really shine through! I also allowed the naturally occurring wrinkles caused by the gathered skirt to form “cracks” in the paint.

Let the paint dry completely before you put it on. Now that you’ve made your bubbles, go out and make some trouble!

4. Yipes Stripes!

Secret weapon from around the house: Masking or Artists tape

Stripes are just the beginning–you can create plaid, checkered, or gingham patterns with a roll of masking tape. Keep in mind that the width of the tape (and how closely you align them) determines the width of your stripes!

I followed the V-neck cut of the dress to create gently slanting diagonal stripes. Be careful to line up the tape strips carefully in order to keep your design symmetrical and even.

As always, mask the fabric you don’t want to paint! I chose blue spray paint to pair with my bright green frock–a springtime inspiration, for sure!

Let the paint dry before peeling off the tape to reveal your sassy stripes!

One, two, three, four — don’t stop now, let’s spray some more! How many more ways can you spray?

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[ Posted on April 26th, 2011 ]


  1. Sophie says:

    This is great! I love it!

  2. Jessica says:

    Very cool! I also have some different punches (from scrapbooking) that gives you even more options!

  3. Does the spray have any odor? I like with an asthma. If not I may try out doors.

  4. Just an aside – where do these cute dresses come from?

    And I LOVE the spray paint ideas. I totally need this for a project I want to do! Thank you!

  5. megan says:

    Hi Kimberlee — Someone asked the same thing over on the Facebook page — should have included it in the post! The dresses are from the D2 (Discount II) in my neighborhood (they were about $6 each!). I’ve also seen similar dresses at places like H&M or the sale rack at Old Navy. If you can’t find them there, you can also get a similar silhouette with the baby doll dress in Generation T: Beyond Fashion (use some old white tees to make your own blank canvas!).

  6. megan says:

    @A Moms Choice I have an incredibly sensitive nose, so I’d say that the fabric spray paint has a tiny bit of smell (nothing like a Sharpie or other permanent marker), but because the paints themselves are nontoxic, it’s nothing like if you were using real spray paint. I always have a window open in my craft room for air circulation–it happens to be the hottest room in the apartment–but thankfully, I absolutely don’t need it for the smell!

  7. megan says:

    Great idea, Jessica! You know, as soon as I finished those 4 dresses, I wished I had more so that I could try out a million other different patterns — checkers, argyle, sprigs of grass along the hem…I could go on and on!

  8. Beanzoid says:

    hey there i bought some neon fabric paint and tried stenciling on a black tank top but the cotton tank top absorbed all the paint and i was left with a stiff tank top with no color, did i use cheap paint? or what did i do wrong? thanks so much and i’m new to your website but i’m falling in love with it!

  9. megan says:

    Hi Beanzoid! Thanks for stopping by Generation T! There are some paints that work better than others, but it is also true that as far as the technology has come with fabric paints, they definitely show up better on lighter colors. Yellow, in particular, seems to be the trickiest — in my experience, it shows up best on white (making it hard to make, say, a batman tee since the yellow won’t work on black). If you already have the paints, I would recommend testing them on the inside hem of the shirt to see if it soaks in before painting the whole shirt! Hope that helps…

  10. juno says:

    Oh Megan, I’m browsing around here again today. This site is so fabulous! So many great ideas, and so beautifully designed. Heaps of praise!

  11. megan says:

    Thanks, Juno! I just now posted your project! Talk about fabulous…

  12. Maya Lynn says:

    These are some great ideas and techniques… I look forward to trying them out soon! Thanks for sharing!

  13. megan says:

    Thanks, Maya Lynn! Let us know when you do try them out!

  14. Natasha says:

    Love these! I’ve done some painting on fabric and dyeing, but have yet to try using the spray fabric paint.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  15. megan says:

    I’ve been loving the fabric spray paint lately (mostly because it doesn’t smell like regular spray paint!) — it’s a lot more free-form than traditional painting on fabric, but since you’ve done fabric dying, you already know that the results aren’t always predictable. I hope you do try it!

  16. Scott says:

    Tracked you down finally! Very cool stencilling – can’t believe how versatile t-shirts can be. All the best. Scott:-)

  17. megan says:

    Thanks, Scott! Hope to see you in NYC again soon.

  18. Terra says:

    Hi! I have a specific bright pink dress that I want to spray. I was wondering, because it’s not cotten, would these sprays still work well on it?

    The fabric mixture is this:
    50% rayon
    45% Nylon
    5% Spandex

    Would love to hear what u have to say : )


  19. megan says:

    Hi Terra — Good question. The sprays should work on cotton, poly/cotton blends, synthetics, denim, canvas, knits, and fleece. The only surfaces to avoid (as suggested by the manufacturer) are high pile fabrics or fabrics with a nap such as velvet — it sounds like that shouldn’t be a problem for your project, though. That said, it’s not a blend I’ve worked with, so as with anything new, I’d recommend testing a small spot on the underside of the dress (or at least in a less noticeable place) by following the directions on the package and seeing how it takes. Let us know how it goes!

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