Manning Makes Stuff - Halloween decorations, paper mache masks, costumes, party ideas, and more

Manning Makes Stuff - Halloween decorations, paper mache masks, costumes, party ideas, and more

Painting a skeleton shirt with fabric paint


Published by Manning on December 27th, 2017

I’ve already posted two articles about painting skeleton clothes — my first skeleton suit, and a new pair of skeleton pants — and I learn something new every time I paint up some new clothes.

I’ve been wearing my skeleton suit every Mardi Gras for years now, usually with a black dress shirt, sometimes with a tie and/or vest, but last Mardi Gras (2017) was so warm it made me realize I also need an option that doesn’t involve layers. So I decided to paint this skeleton dress shirt. The suit will still be my default, but if the weather is going to be warm I’ll skip the jacket and just do the skeleton shirt and a tie.

Anyway, I’ve always used acrylic paint for painting bones on clothing, and that’s worked great since my suit jacket and cotton pants are pretty thick. For the dress shirt, I wanted to try fabric paint, since the material is much thinner and I know that acrylic paint can be a little stiff, and it can scratch and itch a little. My hope was that fabric paint would be softer, more flexible, and more comfortable. It was a success!

I started with a cheap $15 dress shirt from H&M. I buttoned up the shirt, traced the chest part onto a sheet of foam board, and cut out the foam board with an X-acto knife. The fpoam board will help hold the shirt nice and flat for painting. Before putting the foam board into the shirt, I covered the foam board with wax paper, taped in place. The wax paper is there to help prevent the shirt from sticking to the foam board.

Drawing bones on a skeleton shirt

I sketched the bones lightly onto the shirt with a white grease pen, aka China marker. I just eyeballed this based on some Google image searches of skeletons.

With the sketch finished, it was time to paint the bones. I used a flat-tipped paintbrush to carefully paint all the bones onto the shirt, starting with just the ribs/spine/collarbones on the front; I’d do the arms later. Just like with acrylic paint, the first layer of the fabric paint looked way too thin, and it was hard to get nice clean edges. Here’s that first layer:

Painting a skeleton shirt with fabric paint

However, after letting the first layer dry for an hour (or half an hour with an electric fan), the second one went on a lot neater and thicker. I ended up doing three layers total to get the white nice and opaque. This is the same amount of layers I’ve done with acrylic paint in previous years to get a nice solid white color. The end result looks exactly the same.

I painted the three layers on the front of the shirt, then three layers on the back, and when those were dry I removed the foam board and cut out a thinner foam board panel for the arms. I wrapped this in wax paper as well, and painted three layers onto each of the arms.

The whole skeleton shirt, three layers, back and front, took one entire 2.25-ounce jar of fabric paint to complete.

When completed, the shirt painted with fabric paint looked just like my other black clothes painted with acrylic paint. As for how the shirt feels, it’s hard to say, really, because I’ve never painted a dress shirt before, but I think the shirt feels a little softer and more comfortable than the pants and jacket with the much thicker/stiffer acrylic.

So, the look and comfort of the skeleton shirt were definitely a success, but there was still one big test left: how would the fabric paint do in the washing machine? Acrylic paint holds really well in the washer (and the dryer, too, set on delicate). Acrylic paint can get some tiny hairline cracks here and there after washing and drying a few times, but they’re barely visible, and they’re easy to paint over if you want. I was concerned that the fabric paint might not hold as well, since it ends up less thick and stiff on the fabric. Fortunately, it did just fine, which shouldn’t be surprising, since it’s meant to be used on fabric, and presumably it’s meant to last several washings.

Indirectly related, I wasn’t thrilled with the skeleton pants I made last year — the fit, I mean; the paint job was fine — so since I had a few remaining jars of fabric paint I decided to make a new pair of skeleton pants as well. I used the same exact method as for the skeleton shirt, and the new pants are great. They look just like the other ones I made with acrylic paint, and they’re a little more stretchy and flexible. I also touched up my skeleton gloves, using the fabric paint over the previous layers of acrylic paint. That worked out fine too.

This whole experiment was a great success. I think the only possible downside of using fabric paint is that it ends up being more expensive per article of clothing (but not ridiculous; the one jar I used up for the skeleton shirt was only about six bucks), and I’m still curious as to how it’ll hold up compared to acrylic paint after many washings. We’ll see!

[more pics of this project coming soon!]

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