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Designing clothing, either for a loved one or for themselves, is an empowering experience for a young person. It’s simple to facilitate this kind of art play at home, but given the permanent nature of fabric paint, I would suggest heavily supervising any of the participants who are 4 years and under.
My little artist loves creating permanent works on textiles. He has made several shirts for his dad and grandparents, and absolutely beams when he sees them being worn. This summer he will turn 4, and I decided now would be a good time to help him personalize his summer wardrobe.
There are lots of ways to have fun with fabric ink, but I will detail the method we used this time.
- Blank fabric (shirts, tote bags and hats all work well)
- Fabric paint
- Fabric markers
- Cardboard scraps
- Toilet paper tubes
- Glue gun
Step One: Make Fabric Stamps
You can fashion some simple fabric stamps with cardboard, toilet paper tubes and hot glue. Cut the shapes you want to print out of cardboard and hot glue them to the toilet paper tubes. Easy peasy!
Step Two: Set It All Up
Depending on the age and independence of your little artist, you will want to set everything up before they (and their eager hands) get too involved. I often like to limit color choices with littles, so I had my little artist choose only four fabric paint colors. We put a different color on three separate sponges in three different bowls, and also added one color to a little spray bottle with some thinner. Each of our stamps joined its own color bowl.
I taped each t-shirt to the table, with a thick piece of paper on the inside of each shirt to prevent the ink from leaking through to the shirt back. This is very important! You don’t want to glue your shirt closed with paint.
Step Three: Print!
Help your little artist print their clothing! Act as a guide and witness to their process, but try not to project your adult aesthetics onto their artwork. Even though this project results in a very tangible product, the main focus is still art play. Trust your little artist’s process. Model the possibilities of how to use the materials and ask them questions about the decisions they make, but resist the urge to control their process.
Step Four: Add Fabric Marker
When finished, wait for the fabric paint to dry. When the shirts are ready you may invite your little artist to come back to their designs and add fabric marker. Layering with new materials in this way provides a more “finished” looking shirt. My little artist and I did this together—he wanted his shapes outlined, but lacks the technical skill and patience to outline, so I agreed to help him bring his vision to fruition.
Step Five: Apply Heat
When everything is dry and finished, apply heat. You can use an iron with a sheet of paper under it, or just throw the shirts in the dryer on high for 30 mins or so. This will help seal and protect the artwork.
I hope you try this fun way to play with art. I think both you and your littles will love it!
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