This post must begin with a disclaimer: I am not a professional seamstress. Where crafting is concerned I have no idea what I'm doing really, I just wing it. A better description of me is that I'm a creative mom who likes to make special things for her children, especially for their birthdays. I did not grow up in a house with sewing, I do not have any handmade clothes from my grandmother, I have taken one short sewing class ever. I don't have a fancy iron, I use a tiny table top ironing board, my sewing machine is 20+ years old. That all being said, if I can do this little project, so can you.
For me, a big part of this project is getting to reuse and upcycle old clothes. I've been making these birthday number shirts for my kids since my son turned two, and I've always found fabric supplies in our old-clothing bins. With his fifth birthday coming up I found a seldom worn plain gray shirt in his dresser, and a scrap of green patterned fabric on my sewing shelf.
My daughter's third birthday is in a couple of months and since I was sewing anyway, it seemed like a good idea to make her birthday shirt too, and then her shirt took on a life of its own. I was only able to find a blank short-sleeved shirt in my daughter's dresser and with a cold weather birthday she really needed a long-sleeved one, so I added sleeves made from an old pair of her leggings before beginning the main event of adding a number to the shirt front.
How to Sew a Child's Birthday Number Shirt
Level of difficulty:
Low, but it's recommended that you've sewn a few things before this project, like curtains or an apron or something.
Total time to complete project:
Depending on your level of experience it could take from 30 minutes to an hour, but if you have all your materials assembled before beginning I can't imagine it would take longer than that.
a plain cotton t-shirt
a small amount of patterned cotton fabric
a piece of fusible interfacing as big as your patterned fabric
a spool of thread
a sewing machine
a few pins
a hand-drawn or printed number
an ironing surface
a pair of cotton pants that your child has outgrown
1. Select a blank shirt from your child's existing wardrobe, or purchase one at a used clothing store, or purchase a new one. An all cotton shirt works best. If you want to add sleeves to a t-shirt also procure a pair of soft cotton pants (girls leggings work great). Use any color combo that you like. Make sure all the fabric you use in this project gets washed before beginning the project. If you don't want to add sleeves to your t-shirt, just skip down to the next set of images.
2. Cut off the pants legs at a length that makes sense for your child's arms. Use a long sleeved shirt from their current wardrobe to get a sense of the appropriate length, then add an inch to have room for sewing. You can eyeball it.
3. In this project the pink t-shirt has a cute little ruffle at the edge of the sleeves so I decided to keep that visible and add the long sleeves from the inside, giving it that *very cool* layered look. Slip the widest part of the pant leg into the t-shirt sleeve about an inch and pin all around so it doesn't shift when you're sewing it. The hem of the pants leg will now become the hem at your child's wrist. Slide the shirt onto your machine, choose a stitch pattern that you like (because it will be visible) and sew all around the sleeve edge.
4. Repeat for the other sleeve and then you'll have your blank canvas for adding the birthday child's special number.
5. Create your number template either by printing it from your computer or hand drawing a big bold number. Make sure the paper you select isn't very thick because you want to be able to see the number outline through the other side of the paper. Standard photocopy paper works great. Size your number as you like, using the shirt as your guide. You will be cutting and ironing your number in a reverse position so that the final application to your shirt is in the proper orientation. Yes, you could draw or print your number in the reverse however for those of us who get a little confused about the right side/wrong side of fabric in these types of situations, I find that keeping the template oriented properly allows me to be extra conscious of when I'm using it in reverse.
6. Meet your new best friend, fusible interfacing. Discovering this material completely changed my crafting life. With this simple magic paper you can do all kinds of appliqué without the edges fraying. You can purchase it in small amounts as pictured above or you can buy yards of the stuff on big rolls. Either way, it's great. When you first take it out of the package it is paper on one side and a sort of tacky/sticky surface on the other side. The tacky side is what gets ironed onto fabric, and then the paper side is removed revealing another tacky surface, so it can get ironed on to another piece of fabric or clothing. The photos as we go along will help explain this.
7. Turn your template right side down and pin it to the paper side of the fusible interface. Yes you can pin through paper, and no, it won't harm anything you are working with.
8. Cut through the template paper and the fusible interface, around the outline of your number.
9. Take the pins out and remove the template paper.
10. Iron the tacky side of your fusible interface to the wrong side of your patterned fabric. The number will look backwards, and the right side of your patterned fabric will be face down on your ironing board.
11. You don't need to iron very much and it will be good and fused. I used a setting for cotton and no steam. Once your number is fused to the fabric cut through the fabric and fusible interfacing around the edges of the number. I used a regular scissors for this project but if you will be doing a lot of sewing projects you might consider purchasing a good pair of scissors that you designate for fabric only so they stay really sharp.
12. Once the number is fully cut out, peel the paper backing off to reveal a second tacky surface.
13. Now (finally!) you are ready to fuse your number to your t-shirt. Decide where you want your number to be located on your shirt and iron it down, right side up, tacky side down, on the front of your t-shirt. Make sure you are happy with the location before you iron because once it's fused, there's no going back.
14. It looks like you're finished! But you're not. Well, you could be if you want, but it will look much better if you stitch around the number with thread. If you use heavy duty fusible interfacing the stitching is purely decorative, but it finishes the piece beautifully. You could hand stitch or machine stitch around the edges of the number.
15. I chose to machine stitch and used the same color thread that I used to attach the sleeves. I used a tight zig-zag pattern that I find works well with this type of project, but if you find an alternate type of stitch that you like that's fine too, just make sure to go around all the edges of the number.
16. Ta da! Now you have your number shirt ready for the birthday celebration! Even if the stitching is wonky, or something is not up to your usual high standards, don't worry, you see the imperfections more than anyone else and most important, your child will love it.
18. Here are the finished products! I know my kids will love them, imperfections and all.
I encourage everyone interested in sewing to try your own version of this project. It can be adapted to different sizes, and different appliques. It's fun, fast, and makes a great update to any wardrobe!