HOW TO: sew with words // kid's clothes week

HOW TO sew with words

Hello again! This is Marisa from Thirtynine, bringing you another round of pre-Kids Clothes Week inspiration.

Our Kids Clothes Week blog posts until now have focussed on the visual aspects of storybooks – the people and creatures depicted in the illustrations, the look of the characters’ clothes and the colour palettes. But there’s more to storybooks than pictures – crucially, there are also words.

Of course there are many fabrics available with words and letters already printed on them. But what if you want to choose words from a storybook and put them onto fabric yourself? No problem – there are many different ways to do it, using materials you probably have at home. In this post, I’m going to show you four methods, starting with one that I’m trying out for my own KCW project.

Freezer Paper Stencils

Having recently introduced my ten-year-old to Sherlock Holmes I thought it would be cool to make him a top with a word in ‘dancing men’ code (as used in Conan Doyle’s wonderful story The Dancing Men). It seemed a good opportunity to try out a mysterious American product that, in Australia, can only be found behind the counter of fabric shops: freezer paper. Online tutorials for the stencilling process abound, such as this and this. And having just tried it out – see photos 1-4 below – I can confirm that the resulting painted image comes up well, with beautifully smooth edges. The downside: you can only use your stencil once (although I suspect one Dancing Men top is going to be enough) and you have to be prepared to spend a bit of time cutting out the stencil. Freezer paper is fantastic stuff. I can’t help but wonder, though – does anyone use it in their actual freezer?


1. A word in code  2. the cut-out stencil  3.after being ironed on and painted  4. Finito!

5. Funky Lindsay  6. Crafterhours  7. Skirt as Top


Iron-on transfers

It’s not cheap, but transfer paper – which can be bought at stationery shops –  enables you to use an ink-jet printer to print words (or, indeed, images) for iron-on transfer to your fabric. The advantages are fairly obvious: it’s easy, it’s quick, it can be as detailed and colourful as you like. You do, however, wind up with clear, shiny transfer surrounding your printout , unless you are able to cut it out super-close.


1. You & Mie  2. Femme Fraiche  3. Brighton Kinders

Rubber stamps

Whether you carve your own or buy ready-made alphabet stamps, stamping is a great way to get words onto fabric.  Just get yourself an inkpad suitable for use with fabric, stamp away, and set it with your iron. Alternatively you can dip your stamps in fabric paint, spread thinly on a flat surface. If I had the time, I’d love to make myself a set of Dancing Men rubber stamps… but instead I just had a bit of a muck around with some alphabet stamps (see picture 1 below). Can you work out which storybooks the quotes come from?

If you’ve never tried making your own stamps you might like to have a look at this tutorial – or even try making a stamp out of styrofoam (as in picture 3 below).


1. Alphabet stamping  2. talktothesun  3. A Beautiful Mess


Glue-resist and fabric dye

This batik-like technique involves using glue to write on fabric, then allowing it to dry before dunking the whole thing in a dye bath (see this tutorial for instructions). It lends itself well to cursive script, as you can see from the examples below. Disclaimer: I haven’t yet tried this myself, but it’s definitely one for the to-do list.

glue resist_edited-1

1. Hello Natural  2. Project Run & Play  3. Her Campus

I hope I’ve given you some ideas about how to use words in your Kids Clothes Week sewing, And the above list is by no means exhaustive – how about using a Sharpie to stencil letters directly onto fabric? Or breaking out the fabric markers and letting your kids write their own story? You might prefer to think outside the box and approach the theme as being about books themselves, rather than their content. Whether you’re inspired by words, images, colours or costumes this KCW, I’m looking forward to seeing what you all do!



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  • Reply Lightning McStitch October 9, 2014 at 7:12 am

    Love your dancing men code. I’m all for something that’s kind of high brow, a bit obscure, yet kid friendly and totally cool.

    When my son outgrows his Slaughterhouse 5 “So it goes.” T-shirt, I think I’ll have to make another!
    The glue looks fun, presumably it washes out eventually?…

    • Reply Marisa October 10, 2014 at 6:23 am

      Thanks Shelley! Yes the glue is meant to wash out, although in the scarf photo she left it in because she liked the look of it.

  • Reply Maria October 9, 2014 at 8:56 am

    Great post Marisa! Lots of techniques to check. I do love the freezer paper stencils. 

  • Reply Tabitha October 9, 2014 at 9:53 am

    I’m going to have to give the freezer-paper a try one of these days, i love the soft look of it!! I’ve given up on transfer paper, but have had some good graphics with heat-transfer vinyl. Can’t wait to see everybody’s creations 😀

  • Reply Brienne October 9, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    cool! thanks for the inspiration:)

  • Reply kristin October 9, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    love seeing all of these!  and thanks for including my stanley kubrick tee up there!  i’ve been wanting to try TAP and actually bought some…maybe this KCW i’ll finally do it?

  • Reply Marisa October 10, 2014 at 6:25 am

    Thank you all for your kind comments! And Kristin I’m a huge fan of Kubrick’s films (except, perhaps, for Eyes Wide Shut). Can’t wait til my oldest is just a little older so I can introduce him to them 🙂

  • Reply October 13, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    I must thank you for the efforts you’ve put in penning this website.
    I really hope to view the same high-grade content from you in the future as well.
    In truth, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my own, personal website now 😉

  • Reply Lindsay October 25, 2014 at 12:27 am

    Thanks for the linky love 😉
    I love all of your trials and examples – going to try some rubber stamps!

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