how-to: make your own colorful t-shirt with freezer paper stencils

I’ve been busy in the studio this week. Packing up and shipping pots from my Etsy Shop (still having my $5 shipping sale!). Throwing mugs to replenish my very depleted mug inventory. Having some really interesting conversations on my Facebook page (like this one about flocculating glazes). And rescuing my mailing list from my old computer that hadn’t been on for several years and transferring it to MailChimp.  It sounds productive when I write it all out- but day to day, I have been feeling very unproductive. Ada has not been the best napper this week which has majorly cut into my studio time. But it’s ok. I’ve met my biggest deadlines for the season, so I’m not stressing too much my less than productive work time at the moment.


I wanted to share a project I did with my nephew, Shiya, for his 5th birthday last month. I found a tutorial via Pinterest for making an “All by Myself Tee” from the blog i am momma hear me ROAR. Shiya is *really* into colorful clothes right now. And when I say he’s into color, I mean serious, head to toe, saturated color. He prefers to wear all one color – which means his socks, underwear, shirt and pants are all the same color. He takes his personal style very seriously. When I found this tutorial, I thought it would be a really fun way of celebrating his birthday and adding some more vivid color to his wardrobe.


  • t-shirt(s). I wanted long sleeve because it’s winter here in Minnesota! I got these from Amazon.
  • freezer paper. I used these printable sheets. You could probably get them in a craft/sewing store. You can also just use a roll of freezer paper. I have heard that Walmart carries it but Target does not.
  • fabric paint. I used these paints. But you could use pretty much any fabric paint- but I would not use puffy paint.
  • X-Acto knife. Just a standard craft knife. Make sure you have a new/ sharp blade!
  • cutting mat. I’m sure you could make due with a kitchen cutting board or a piece of cardboard. But if you’re doing a more intricate design, a cutting mat would make the process go much more smoothly.
  • an iron. This is for heat setting the fabric paint and for getting the freezer paper to adhere to the fabric.
  • brushes. Anything will do – foam ones are nice. I have these brushes and the different shapes are nice for making patterns. But you could also make your own by cutting standard foam brushes. The brushes, like most of the supplies on this list can be used over and over again for other projects.
  • cardboard. This is to put inside the shirt so the paint doesn’t bleed through to the back of the shirt.
I printed out my images onto the freezer sheets. For the number 5 shirt, I used Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) and picked a font and sized it up to fit the page/shirt. I had the images for the other shirts. But if you’re in need of an image- just look up something like “stencil” on Google Images and you’ll find things like this image of a bicycle that you could print out. Or you could hand draw something- or trace an image. If you want to make a stencil from a photograph, you can do a Google search for tutorials for making stencils with or without Photoshop. The image part is wide open!

Once you have your image on the freezer paper, you can start cutting! I tried using my X-Acto with whatever blade was in it and it did not work very well. I put in a new blade in and it was much easier.

After the stencils were all cut, I used an iron to adhere the freezer paper to the shirts. Make sure there is no water in the iron. And take your time to make sure all the small parts and edges are well stuck. If it isn’t, the paint will bleed under the stencil.

Then I got some cardboard from the recycling bin and put some cardboard inside the shirt so the paint doesn’t bleed from the front to the back.

And then it’s time for the fun part! Shiya dove in and started painting.  Every picture I took during this step of the project, Shiya had a look of intense concentration.

Once the paint was dry (which was pretty quick)- I peeled off the freezer paper stencil. Shiya was really really anxious to see the results!
Here’s the frog:

And the rocket ship:

And the really fun hedgehog:

And the very special #5 shirt! Shiya was very proud!

I let the fabric paint completely dry, then I used an iron to set the paint. I put a piece of cloth between the iron and the paint. You can also iron on the reverse side of the paint. I didn’t have any paint come off on the fabric, but it still seems like a good idea. Follow the directions that came with your paint for heat setting. It seems like a pretty common process to have the iron (without water) set to medium, and then iron for a while (longer than if you were just getting the wrinkles out). After that it was safe to put through the wash.

These shirts have been getting lots of wear since we made them last month! And he gets asked about them whenever he wears them- and he proudly says that he painted them!

3 thoughts on “how-to: make your own colorful t-shirt with freezer paper stencils

  1. I did this with my kids who are now about to go to college. My daughter loved making snowflakes in preschool so I gave her some freezer paper and let her go. We ironed them on white sweatshirts and they did the sky in different shades of blue.
    Your little guy did a great job! I love it!

  2. I love this, this fulfills my creative side and it is something that I and my son can do on the weekends. I did one for him to see how it is done and I told him that we will do it next week if he likes it. It’s just Wednesday and he as been bugging me to do it now. Great post.

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