Maybe you have a son (or grandson, friend’s son, nephew, etc.) who loves pink or ladybugs. Maybe you have a daughter (or granddaughter, friend’s daughter, niece, etc.) who loves cars or trains. Maybe you’ve newly committed yourself to not buying stereotypically gendered clothes. Or maybe you have been endeavoring to do so for awhile, but you’re realizing that as a result, your kids mostly have plain solid color or striped clothes with little design at all. Or maybe your son loves his trucks and never thinks about clothes and you would just like to be an ally to all of the pink-loving boys in the world like my son!
And maybe you’re a busy working person and/or feel you have no sewing skills. Today’s post is for you! Here are some of the easiest ways to jazz up plain clothes and push back against cultural definitions of what is masculine and feminine.
1. Using Iron-On Appliques and Patches
The first requires no skill and few tools. Go to a decent fabric store and select some iron-on appliques. Following directions, iron them on a plain shirt (or dress, or pants, etc.). If you have a needle and some thread, tack down the edges as well as it will last a lot longer in the wash. You can try not to make the sewing show, or use a few strands of embroidery floss in a contrasting color to draw attention to the stitching. I made the three shirts below a couple of years ago and they have each been through the wash dozens (or hundreds?) of times with no peeling up of the designs. I used thread on the red and blue shirts and embroidery floss on the yellow shirt.
By the way, creative iron-on placement is also a great way to extend the life of a garment with a small stain you can’t remove. One drawback of iron-ons is that they tend to be small; they’re great for adding a small design but for more punch you either have to put several on (like the pink ladybug flying over the blue flower, above) or add a background. Fortunately, there are now fun, funky iron-on patches in bright colors and patterns! The background of the frog, above, is one such patch — I didn’t even have to cut the rounded corners or anything. Just iron it on and add stitching. My son picked black embroidery floss to add more contrast and make it funkier (good style instincts, even at age 2). Then we added the frog on top . (This was a shirt from a thrift store that had an old iron-on design on it that was faded and peeled almost off, but the rest of the shirt looked great and at the time, yellow was my son’s favorite color. The patch covered the old design completely and voila! New shirt!)
If you’re not a practiced or confident sewer, it may seem counter-intuitive to make your stitches show, but it is much harder to make them invisible, so claim them as part of your artistry, pick a contrasting color, and stitch away!
2. Simple Appliques
The next technique requires just a little more from you, but not much. At its simplest, it is merely adding a fabric with some interest to a plain shirt or dress.
This example by my friend Blythe is just a rectangular strip of fabric with a cute design sewn onto a plain t-shirt. For added pizazz it also has a small square of fabric on the back of the shirt behind the neck. This is a great way to use remnants and scraps, and to reuse clothes with a cool pattern that are too small or too stained to wear. If you have a sewing machine and can manage to sew more or less in a straight line, in an hour you can jazz up several kids’ shirts you already have and get a huge smile in return! (You could also do this by hand with a needle and thread; it would just take a little longer.)
I know many of us who don’t like the options for kids’ clothes that we see in the stores, but we feel like we don’t have time or talent to make our own clothes, so we buy the best available item and call it a day. But if you know a girl longing for a car dress, or a boy whose favorite color is pink, try one of these super-simple ideas for a holiday gift and see if the response inspires you!