Quite a while ago I came across this lovely t-shirt on Pinterest.

I just loved those cats! But being a minimalist I thought less could be more, so I enlarged the motif and used it more sparingly. Not that I don’t like the all-over effect of the original, and I will probably do a tee with smaller cats all over at some point, but for now let’s stick to one cat short of crazy!

To get there, I first enlarged the cat motif in photoshop, trying out a couple of sizes. Around the size of my hand seemed good, so I printed this out and then traced over the outline with a sharpie to transfer the image to an A4 size acetate stencil.

Put the motif under a transparent acetate stencil and trace, then cut out

I cut out my stencils with scissors whenever possible because it is so much quicker and easier than my blunt craft knife, and less fuss than setting up the hotknife. Fortunately my motifs are often very simple, but if you like intricate designs, scissors will probably not work for you.

Once I had my stencil cut out I started to think about where to place my prints. Because I printed on a t-shirt that was already sewn up, an all over pattern was no longer possible, not unless I wanted to take the shirt apart again. Normally I cut out and then print, but this time I had got ahead of myself with the sewing.

I mocked up the placement of the motifs in Photoshop, but you could just as easily wing it. I did both, mocking up first and then placing them freehand after I had got some idea of what I wanted. I moved the top right cat higher up and onto the sleeve to make a more irregular pattern. Still ended up with a cat’s bum under my chin!

Mock up

With a big motif it is easy to use a single motif stencil and then place it repeatedly for printing. You can see below where I placed the stencil, then masked off the rest of the shirt with newspaper and placed my button box on top to keep the spine of the newspaper I placed inside the shirt from sticking up too much under the stencil. You need the stencil flat on the fabric and the paper inside to stop any paint seepage from the front to the back of the shirt, or vice versa.

Masked with newspaper, stencil in middle, ready to apply ink

I dry each print with my hairdryer, to stop wet paint getting where it is not wanted, probably the number one problem with this technique. Achieving good paint coverage is not hard.

Drying after inking, with stencil and newspaper removed, or they will flap around

If I used smaller motifs and printed them all over like my inspiration tee, I would probably do a larger stencil with several motifs at once and tessellate. A larger stencil will need some adhesive, either spray-on or sticky tape, as the stencil will otherwise move. You can also use freezer paper, which will stick after being ironed on, but I only have A4 sized sheets. They are suitable for a small area such as a child’s tee, and you can re-use the stencil a couple of times, but not 10 times like I needed to with this shirt. Horses for courses, as they say.

But the exciting discovery I made this time was that a brush is a lot easier to use than a sponge to apply the ink! Duh! I don’t know where I got the sponge idea from in the first place, probably from using a sponge roller to ink blocks. But for the large, flat areas I like (no colour variation in the motif), a sponge does not do this efficiently, neither a sponge roller nor a piece of sponge. What works much better is a stiff, stubby brush, and you brush from the edge of the stencil inwards to get a nice sharp edge. Then I fill in the middle, making sure I get good coverage. You can spend ridiculous amounts of money on an artist’s brush, but mine cost next to nothing from Aldi.

I used screen printing ink for this shirt, but I could also have used acrylic paint, with or without a fabric medium. I tested both and there wasn’t a lot of difference in stiffness between both applications. The coverage was not as good as with the screen printing ink, but then the base fabric was lighter and I only did one coat. I could easily do two or use more paint. Both versions, with or without fabric medium, washed up the same. Any stiffness doesn’t bother me, as screen printing ink also stiffens fabric, so I’m used to that and don’t really mind.

Sample of acrylic paint with and without fabric medium

Once I had finished printing the motifs on my shirt I added the eyes with a cotton stick.

Cotton stick makes nice small round spots for eyes

And here is the completed shirt.

Motif printed across sleeve seam

The prints don’t look completely and evenly black, especially the last pic, but that is an artefact of the photos. I am pretty happy with the quality, which is the first time in ages.