Abby’s New Sweats {stenciling with fabric paint}

One night last week I decided that I just had to create something. My fabric was still packed into bins, the sewing machine and serger were in boxes and life was still settling into “normal” after our move. I tried looking through the fabric bins but after a couple of minutes my motivation died. It’s just not the same when you have to unload everything, set up a sewing station, and find the pattern pieces before even getting started.

So, I opted for something much simpler, but (almost) equally satisfying. I pulled out a pair of gray sweat pants I recently made for Abby and decided to give them a makeover. They’re a test pair for a new pants pattern I’ve been working on, and though I think they’re adorable and fit great, they are still just gray. There’s nothing wrong with making something utilitarian, but in my opinion, why not have cute sweat pants?

When I make something I like to step back from it and say, “Wow, that’s amazing!” Not, “At least she’ll be warm.”


I pulled out the gray sweats and my fabric paints and got to work. This was my process:

Materials I used

  • Fabric Paint, matte finish (metallic paint for contrast is optional). I used Tulip brand, purchased and JoAnne’s using a coupon.
  • Stencil (I used one from the book Stencil Me In, one of my favorite crafting purchases)
  • Sponge (I found this torn-up piece of sponge in the bottom of my kid’s craft box…yeah)
  • Gray sweats (size 24mo) of my own making and pattern
  • Piece of cardboard or something similar that fits inside the leg (this is to protect against fabric paint that might leak through the fabric. I used a thick paper plate cut to size.)
For this project I used Petal Pink (matte finish) and Metallic Gold fabric paints.

Squeeze some paint on a paper plate and get out your sponge.

Choose a stencil.
Insert your cardboard piece into the pants leg. This will prevent the paint from seeping through onto the back of the leg.
Before you apply paint to your stencil, dip your sponge in the paint and then dab it a few times on your plate. This removes excess paint that could seep under your stencil and ruin the image. You only need a little paint on your sponge to get started. 
Place your stencil on your clothing item. I chose to print only part of the image on Abby’s sweats, so I let one side hang of the pants leg.

However, I wanted the paint to end exactly at the seam line without going over onto the back of the leg. So I added a line of tape along the line of the seam. I also taped the top and bottom to keep the stencil stable while I painted. (I’m sure there are better tapes for this kind of thing, but I just used Scotch tape. It’s what we had in the drawer).

Begin dabbing the paint on your stencil with the sponge. As you’re working, use your fingers to keep each section stable against the fabric. Dab quickly and remember not to apply too much paint at one time or it might seep under the stencil. You can always add another layer of paint after the first layer dries.

Cover the entire stencil, checking to make sure all the sections have an equal amount of paint.

Next, add some dabs of another color (I used Metallic Gold) to add some interest. I thought pink and gold was a fun combination. It seems like most of Abby’s clothing features pink and/or orange right now, so I picked colors she could wear with a majority of her t-shirts.

When you finish this step you can either let the paint dry for an hour and then add another coat, or remove the stencil. The best way to remove your stencil without smearing your image is to carefully remove the tape and then quickly (but carefully) pull the stencil up and off. Remove the stencil before the paint has dried (if you added two layers, remove it before the second layer dries).

This is how Abby’s sweat pants looked after the stencil was off:

Here’s a close-up for you:


Before washing or wearing your item, make sure to heat-set the fabric paint. Simply throw a thin washcloth (or a press cloth if you’re really professional and own one of those) over your painted image, set the iron to medium and press for 15 seconds. Do not move the iron around, simply press it on top of the cloth.

Now you’re done! This method can be used for t-shirts, pants, baby onsies, anything you like! For ideas, take a look at these other items I’ve made using fabric paint.

And here is little Abby wearing her pants. She loves them!

Nothing like a trip to the park to really test out a new pair of pants. I’d say they pass!

In case you’re wondering, yes, you can machine wash and dry items with fabric paint. Just turn your clothing item inside out and wash and dry it with your other items. These pants have already been washed and dried twice, and they only show a few little crack lines where the paint was thickest.

If you try a project with fabric paint, I would love to see the results! Leave your flicker or blog link in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!