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Leaf printing on fabric – grungy tshirt refashion tutorial

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Leaf printing on fabric - grungy tshirt refashion tutorialHoping to try leaf printing on fabric? I’m sharing how I used it to transform this grungy tshirt refashion tutorial! My husband works from home these days, but he keeps a tote of dress clothes for the periodic in person trips back to the office. The stack of his white undershirts has looked sadder and sadder each time he goes in, and I finally decided it was time to transform them into something new! I love how this turned out and will definitely be wearing it in the future. I had the idea of fern printing strike late at night, so I tromped out with my cellphone flashlight to clip them from our woods, I’m glad it paid off!

refashion before

I think the shirt looks better on camera than it does in real life; there are lots of random paint and pen stains, yellow armpits (sorry, dear) and stretched out collars. I actually used 4 of his men’s large white tshirts and 1 random white tanktop from my upcycle stash; 1 shirt for the sleeves, 1 shirt for the flounce, and then 1 shirt for each bodice piece. I think I could’ve gotten away with 3 if they’d been crewneck. The random tanktop was because the white shirts weren’t stretchy enough to make a proper neckline!

If you love refashioning, check out these other posts too!

fern print craft fabric

This is the Waterfall Raglan by Chalk and Notch patterns! Here is what it looked like after I sewed it up and fern printed it! My original plan was to overdye it, like I did, but seeing the pink & white contrast had me seriously debating leaving it as is. What do you think, should have I? sewing refashion tutorial

Here is the final product! I wanted the ferns to be subtle and the color to be fun, check and check.

I really love the fit on this Waterfall Raglan pattern! Don’t judge it by this example; I had to piece the front & back since it was so wide, and the fabric paint made the fabric a touch stiffer and less swingy than I think it normally looks like.

I sewed a straight 6″ and was really happy with how it came together! I’m excited to try this in a drapier fabric and without the piecing, it’s super comfy. 

diy fabric printmaking

Another shot of how the ferns read after dye! Ready to see how to do it yourself?

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tshirt makeover

Leaf printing on fabric – grungy tshirt refashion tutorial

First, a few things I wanted to remember for when I try this again or for anyone who’s trying it for the first time!

  • The “puffy” fabric paint is not ideal when you’re mixing in dyes. I think it led to a weird discoloration with the heat; it’s not a common supply so stick to regular fabric paint!
  • The seam allowance in the front piecing held extra dye, leaving some unevenness on the front of the fabric, I debated trimming it before I dyed and now I know it had an effect.
  • Polyester thread doesn’t hold dye, which makes sense, but if you want your topstitching to blend in, sew it with whatever color your finished garment will be dyed.

I did not think that through, hence the contrasting white stitching.

Here you can see the discoloration, it’s subtle but annoying.


  • Fabric paint – shop on   Amazon
  • Brayer – shop on Etsy  – Amazon
  • Rit dye – shop on Etsy  – Amazon
  • Scrap fabric for a presser cloth
  • Ferns
  • Iron – shop on Amazon
  • Dishwasher soap & salt, per the RIT instructions
  • I didn’t have one on hand but they suggest using RIT dye fixative after dye.
  • Big pot or tote
  • Paint stir stick
  • Gloves are suggested, I live on the edge and skip them usually


step 1 upcycling

Step 1– First, cut up your seams! This will maximize your fabric. Some tshirts don’t have side seams, so just aim for the narrowest side under the armpit, and just cut one.

Step 2- I realized I wasn’t going to have enough fabric for the top’s bodice pieces, so I waffled between using a totally different fabric added in or piecing them together, landing on piecing them together. Here you can see me adding a seam allowance to the bodice piece instead of cutting it on the fold.

and then sewing it together, so I have a normal bodice piece as written in the pattern. I cut all my other pattern pieces, saving all the scraps.

Time to start stamping! My biggest advice here would be to experiment first. I initially thought I’d like the paint a little watery but duh, that just led to a blurry fern print (right). I wanted to do this dark blue under the pink but realized that I didn’t have enough of it to finish so on to plan B, as dictated by my supplies!

printing on fabric with fern

Step 3-I used a regular paintbrush and brushed paint on to one side of the fern.

Step 4– Then I laid it down, covered it with a scrap piece of tshirt material (any fabric will do) and rolled over it twice with a brayer.

diy fern fabric

Step 5- Then gently peel it up! I was really surprised by how well the ferns held up, I only lost one or two leaves throughout the entire process.

Step 6– Just a visual of how I printed on all the pieces! I wanted it to look organic, no pun intended, with the pieces starting and stopping over the edges, as if it was cut from a pre-printed fabric. You could just roll off the fabric or shuffle the pieces around so the fern is laying half on one and half on the other.

Step 7– Once all the printing is done, let it dry overnight. Then it’s time to heat set, per the fabric paint’s instructions! Use a presser cloth so your iron doesn’t get sticky.

diy fern leaf print on fabric

Then, finish sewing the pattern together, and dye it! Dye isn’t complicated and I forgot to snap a photo, I just followed the instructions on the back of the RIT bottle and an empty tub. Ta-da! You’ve transformed grotty old shirts into something new for summer!

white tshirt refashion

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Friday 14th of April 2023

I love how your shirt turned out - both white with pink and the pink over dyed!! I wasn’t looking for a new project but this is so cute I just might have to do this. I have some white t-shirt material even. Thanks for sharing your process And what products you used!!!

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Tuesday 4th of July 2023

Yay!! I hope you get a chance to try it :)

Trish (northern Canada)

Tuesday 12th of May 2020

I really like the look of the fern prints-well done! And clear instructions on the painting process too. Thank you. My personal preference would have been to do fern prints on white background, but if the white shirt isn't true white anymore after several wearings, then a dye-over is good idea. I don't have ferns here so I'll have to go for another style of leaf, but I'll have to wait until we have more greenery. The trees are just showing a green haze now but the leaves are on the way.

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Wednesday 13th of May 2020

Thank you Trish! I'd love to see what you end up stamping with if you try it, and I hope it warms up for you soon :)


Tuesday 12th of May 2020

Your shirt is adorable!

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Wednesday 13th of May 2020

Thanks so much Linda!!


Tuesday 12th of May 2020

I like both versions for different reasons. What I LOVE is the expression on your face in the before shot, lol. Definitely gets the point across about the "bleah-ness" of the original tee. 😄

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Wednesday 13th of May 2020

Haha, 'before' shots are the only ones I feel like I know what I'm doing ;) I haven't mastered the fashion-sewing blogger poses, but I can definitely do the "this looks awful" pose :) Thanks for reading!!

Karen Demers

Tuesday 12th of May 2020

Thank you for this tutorial--I have some white linen that I've been wanting to do something with, and this might be the thing! I appreciate you thorough and clear explanations, and enjoy reading and sharing your work.K

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Wednesday 13th of May 2020

Karen, you are so kind! You made my night. I'd love to see your linen if you end up trying it :D

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