Craft Your Own Sun-Dyed Tee

Harness the power of the sun to create personalized tee shirt designs. This is a fun, “green” project to do with your kids that does not involve chemicals or expensive supplies. How mindful is creating your own sun-dyed tee? Here’s the quick science behind this mindful DIY craft . Linen is exposed to the sun, the sunlight bleaches or wear out the color dye over time. That’s why on dark tees, necklines tend to fade out faster.

For this project, all you need is a sunny window, a pattern, and the supplies below to get started. Since Halloween is around the corner, I chose a simple pumpkin face design. You can also consider fall themes like leaves or outline of a turkey for Thanksgiving. You can even do letters! If you’re unsure, you can freehand a design or check out the internet for free stock images and ideas. Keep the design simple because you’ll need to cut the pattern out on the cardboard.

Materials you need for your sun-dyed tee

  • Exacto knife (sharp blade)
  • 100% cotton tee shirt (darker color, the better for contrast)
  • 12 binder clips
  • Permanent marker
  • Painters tape
  • Two pieces of cardboard of equal size that’s the same size as your shirt


Step one

Once you’ve selected a design, center, and draw it on one piece of cardboard. Only the cut-out (eyes and mouth) will be exposed to the light. The rest of the shirt will be shielded by the cardboard. As you can see from the picture, I selected a piece of cardboard double the width of the shirt so it was easy for me to center the design on the shirt than wrap around to enclose it.

Step two

Using a sharp, fresh blade cut the design out of the cardboard (don’t let your kids to this step on their own). Depending on the thickness of the cardboard, score your pattern first lightly, then go over the cuts with more pressure. This will keep you from missing any details. Remember, keep your designs simple because intricate designs may not transfer or translate correctly in this sun-dyed tee!

Step three

Mount the shirt by using the second piece of cardboard and slide it inside the shirt. Stretch the shirt tight, using half the clamps to keep the shirt in place. This will prevent the sunlight from bleaching or “dying” through the cutouts. If the cardboard is the width of the shirt it makes it much easier to stretch as well as keep the shirt centered.

Step four

Enclose the shirt with the cutout of the cardboard. Anywhere the shirt is exposed to the sun will be dyed, so be sure to protect the rest of the shirt for sunlight! As you can see from the picture, I not only clamped around the image but applied painter’s tape as tightly as I could to keep the stencil pressed against the shirt. The tighter the stencil is pressed against the shirt, the sharper the image will turn out! And I selected painter’s tape for this project because it is easy to remove!

Step five

Select a window in the house that receives the most light exposure. In this example, I selected a window that receives light from sunrise to one p.m. I left the shirt there for just over a week and viola. The longer it is exposed to light, the more contrast you have!

Experiment with the positive and negative space of design in this fun and easy DIY project!

If you choose to do multiple shirts with different designs, cut a window out of the cardboard to be wrapped around the shirt and use extra pieces of cardboard to be the stencil (they need to be slightly larger than the window cut out of the wrapping cardboard). Then place those stencils into the “window” created in the larger piece of cardboard allowing you to change out the design and reuse the cardboard to make more sun-dyed tees.