Scratch Foam-Printed T-Shirt

Materials: T-shirt, scratch foam, textile paint (or liquid acrylics); brayer or foam paint brush

After we made prints with scratch foam, I had the idea in the back of my head that it would be cool to make t-shirts with that method. When the boys began talking about their ideas for shirts, though, it became clear that their ideas were better suited to a different technique–so I’ll talk about their shirts in the next post. Meanwhile, G wanted an orange butterfly on a yellow shirt. On the one hand, I always, always want my kids to reach for their vision themselves–if they’re making the t-shirt, then they should make the t-shirt. On the other hand, I didn’t want G to be disappointed if she didn’t end up with a butterfly.

After thinking it over, I asked her what she thought about this: I could cut a butterfly shape out of scratch foam, and she could draw on the inside to add the decorations. She agreed to that, so after consulting her on how big the butterfly should be, we got to work.

My camera had a hard time figuring out what to focus on, with that white butterfly against the white table! But here, G is scratching into the cut-out foam butterfly. She started with a bone folder and a wooden tool for sculpting clay. Then we went hunting around the house and came back with a comb and a boomerang. She also tried a toothpick. She worked on the foam for quite a while–close to a half hour, maybe?–making her marks.

Then we set the butterfly aside and mixed the paint. We used Speedball textile paint, but liquid acrylics would work as well (and don’t require heat setting with the iron). Our set has red, yellow, blue, green, black, and white–but no orange. So we mixed some.

Mixing paint colors is just a delight, isn’t it? “Orange!” exclaimed G. We adjusted until she was happy with the color.

I protected the inside of the shirt with some freezer paper–I just placed it inside, no need to iron it on–so that the paint didn’t bleed to the back of the shirt. Then we rolled the brayer and inked the plate. Except I’ve been having trouble with both my brayers this week–they roll just fine on some surfaces but not others, and the combination of the textile ink and the foam wasn’t working too well. (Does anyone have any idea what the problem might be?) So the paint more smeared than anything, and G used a foam paintbrush to even it out–so you can see some brush marks in the finished print (as always, you can click to embiggen the photos a bit).

I don’t have pictures of the actual printing, because I was helping. You don’t want the paint to be too thick, because then it will smoosh. Pick up the plate, place it paint-side down on the shirt, and gently but firmly smooth down the back. I placed the plate, but G helped with the pressing. “I want to see what happened,” she said. When it comes to printmaking, the reveal is always so much fun.

An orange butterfly on a yellow shirt–a collaboration that quite pleased the not-quite-three-year-old.

This project is easy–just remember that anytime you’re painting or printing on textiles, the paint won’t wash out of the clothes you’re wearing, either. I keep wet wipes handy, too, since any paint on fingers will transfer to the shirt you’re making. I haven’t quite made up my mind, but I think plain old liquid acrylics might be even better for this kind of printing on shirts (that’s what we’ve used in the past for making fish prints on shirts–with fish replicas). So don’t feel like you need special supplies–a plain t-shirt, some scratch foam (or a new Styrofoam meat or vegetable tray), a 59-cent bottle of paint and a foam paintbrush, and you’re ready to create some wearable art!

2 thoughts on “Scratch Foam-Printed T-Shirt

  1. Pingback: T-Shirt Design: Freezer Paper Stencils | kids in the studio

  2. Pingback: Favorite Projects of 2011 | kids in the studio

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