The mother of invention

It’s been quite a week here in Frogland. We had two first days of school, a kindergarten parent-teacher conference, and said kindergartener’s 6th birthday. Whew! All that stuff takes planning and preparation leaving me not much time to do anything crafty last week. But I did squeak one thing in…

Rana has an aqua-colored t-shirt that is in fine shape other than the very dark purple and obvious popsicle drip right on the front. I really try hard not to send my kids to school in stained clothing and we really needed her to have this shirt in her clothing rotation (anyone who hasn’t been following awhile should know that our financial circumstances are… well, let’s just say you’d be surprised at what this family of 5 lives on). What to do? Somehow we needed to camouflage that stain. What better solution than painting over it?

Not a big stain, but it's hard to miss

Not a big stain, but it’s hard to miss

T-shirt painting is a lot of fun to do and I love the results I get from a method I found several years ago. It’s a multi-step process, but in the end it looks screen-printed rather than the t-shirt painting you are probably envisioning from your junior high years. No neon puff paint here, my friends. Unless that’s your thing, in which case, by all means, puff paint away.

First order of business is to choose your design. You don’t want anything overly complicated unless you’re a whiz with an X-acto knife. Line drawings tend to be the easiest to work with. You can do a little photo editing on a real picture if you want or, as I did this time, just go straight to clip art. I found a cute little bunny that I knew would make Rana’s heart melt and printed it out in three different sizes. If you are not lazy like me, you could probably measure your available painting space and then size the picture accordingly. But darn, if that t-shirt wasn’t all the way across the cabin and I didn’t want to walk over there to measure it. Besides, I tell myself, that sheet of paper was going to get printed one way or another; may as well fill it up.

Next is time to gather your supplies. (Note: If you don’t already have these items, this wouldn’t necessarily be a frugal solution to hiding a stain. If I had had to buy all these things just for this project, I’d have been better off just buying a new shirt. As it is, though, this was a great way to make use of things I already had)

  • your picture
  • craft knife
  • freezer paper
  • masking tape
  • cardboard or some other surface you can cut on safely
  • fabric paint and small paint brush
  • iron
Freezer paper is NOT the same as wax paper or parchment paper, although it should be found in the same general vicinity

Freezer paper is NOT the same as wax paper or parchment paper, although it should be found in the same general vicinity

Rip off a piece of freezer paper just slightly bigger than your printed design. With the masking tape, tape your design onto the matte side of the freezer paper (that means the shiny side is down, folks). Slide the cardboard underneath and begin carefully cutting out your design. Here is where a little forethought comes into play. You need to decide if your final painted picture is going to be merely the outlines or a filled in picture. This makes a huge difference in where you cut. Whatever you cut out is what the end product is going to be. In my case, I wanted just the outline of the bunny, so I had to cut out the line; that also included the dots for the eyes and the little nose and mouth.

Cutting out the black line itself

Cutting out the black line itself

If you are cutting the outline, save all the little pieces from the interior of the design because you will need these to reconstruct the picture. For me, that meant hanging onto the little feet and tail, body, and the head (minus the eyes and nose). You will also need the “frame” of freezer paper around the design. I guess I should clarify there — you won’t need to save any of the printer paper (unless you want it for reference); it’s the freezer paper pieces that you need to hang onto.

Alright, once your design is cut out, carefully reconstruct it on the t-shirt, again with the shiny side down. That’s important! Check that you’ve got it placed right where you want it. You can undo it if you have to, but it’s better just to get it right the first time. Since the whole purpose of me painting this shirt was to hide the stain, I strategically placed the bunny so that its soon-to-be-painted ear would cover the popsicle drip.

Purple stain will be hidden in the line of the bunny's ear. Little feet pieces carefully placed.

Purple stain will be hidden in the line of the bunny’s ear. Little feet pieces carefully placed.

Now, you’ll need your iron. I turn mine on to “3” which is the setting just below where the steam kicks in, so whatever that corresponds to on yours. Once the iron is heated, carefully lower it straight down onto the freezer paper design, being careful not to fold over any edges or shift any of the little pieces. If your design is bigger than your iron plate, you’ll want to carefully lift and set down in any areas that weren’t covered. It only takes a few seconds for the freezer paper to adhere to the fabric. Once the pieces are stuck on, you can do a couple quick swipes of the iron to make sure that all the edges are really pressed down; you don’t want paint leaking under the edge.

Just prior to ironing -- you can see how the pieces don't quite lie flat, but they will once the iron hits 'em!

Just prior to ironing — you can see how the pieces don’t quite lie flat, but they will once the iron hits ’em!

After all that, NOW you are ready to paint! For painting, I really recommend the “soft” fabric paint. It will stay flexible with the fabric and won’t peel or chip off, even after several washings. Case in point: a t-shirt I made for Mr. Gren several years ago. He wears this every week, so it has seen the washer many, many times. Still looks great!

That there's a movie quote.

That there’s a movie quote.

I used three thin coats of paint to get good saturation and color for this little bunny. I didn’t wait the “recommended drying time” — just a couple hours in between. I did, however, wait a full day between the last coat of paint and removing the freezer paper. I didn’t want to take any chances that late in the game. The paper removal is very satisfying. The larger pieces rip up without any problems whatsoever. The tiny pieces may require the use of tweezers, but once you’ve grabbed a hold of them, they come right off, too. Genius. I don’t know who to credit for the freezer paper method, but it’s brilliant.

Peel away

Peel away

One cute bunny t-shirt where before was a stained t-shirt!

As far as she's concerned, this is a major improvement

As far as she’s concerned, this is a major improvement — bunny trumps plain shirt any day.

And just for bonus fun, did you know that you can bake a cake in a bread machine? We’ve had many interesting iterations of birthday cake since we moved to the cabin (no oven, peeps) as I’ve experimented with different ways to conjure up something that the kids would accept as suitable birthday cakeness. I used a regular cake recipe, removed the mixing paddle from my bread machine, and poured the batter in. It seems like a lot, but it does all fit and it doesn’t overflow during the baking process. My bread machine is an Oster — nothing fancy — but it does have a 1 hour “bake” setting (supposedly to set jam? Dunno). The cake took two hours to bake, which wasn’t a big deal other than I didn’t start early enough and had to stay up til midnight to babysit it. Of course, it comes out in loaf shape, but the taste and texture are great.

Loaf o' cake. Beautiful pink frosting achieved via beet puree.

Loaf o’ cake. Beautiful pink frosting achieved via beet puree. Mr. Gren took this mid-way through the icing process, so forgive the unevenness.

So what do cake and t-shirt have in common? It all goes back to that saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” If we had a more substantial cash flow ’round these parts, I wouldn’t have been forced to come up with creative solutions to everyday “problems.” Have you ever been forced into creativity out of necessity? How did it turn out?

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3 thoughts on “The mother of invention

  1. You’ve inspired me to bake a cake in my bread machine! Really, that’s all..just follow the recipe, pour it in, and bake for two hours???

    • I would keep a close eye on it the first time around until you know what it’s going to take. I had actually made an “experiment” cake the week before, so I had an idea of how long to expect. Still, I checked it every fifteen minutes after the first hour because on the experimental cake, I hadn’t poured all the batter in for fear of an overflow (which turned out to be an unnecessary worry), so it didn’t take quite as long to bake that first time.

  2. Pingback: Happy Rockin’ Birthday! | Two Frogs and a Grasshopper

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