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T-Shirts Unit Study and Badge Resources

T-shirts have been part of American fashion for more than a century. Use this T-shirt unit study to help you earn your T-Shirts badge while you not only learn about this fashion staple, but create and decorate a few of your own. Badges you may wish to earn alongside include Fashion Design, Fashion History, Tie Dye, or Accessories.

T-shirt History and Collectibles

According to Real Thread, the first manufactured t-shirt was invented between the Mexican-American War in 1898, and 1913 when the U.S. Navy began issuing them as standard undershirts. It really wasn’t until the 1960’s that the t-shirt became popular as every day apparel. Read through the history of the t-shirt on the Real Thread website.

To Do: Look through a vintage t-shirt collection such as the one on The Captains Vintage. How are the designs different from what you see in stores today? Which t-shirts hold the most value for collectors based on the prices being charged? (WARNING! Used clothing sites change their products constantly. Not all t-shirts are kid friendly so an adult should preview any t-shirt site prior to allowing their kids on it.)

Fulfills requirement #14

Screen Printing vs Direct to Garment

Until just a couple decades ago, if you wanted a design printed on a t-shirt you had it screen printed. Screen printing has been around for more than 1,000 years, though as with most things, the technology has improved over time. Today, screen printing is still one of the most popular ways to print on a t-shirt. To be economical though, screen print designs need to have limited colors and complexity. Since much of the cost of a screen printed shirt is in the creation of the screen itself, screen printing makes the most sense for larger printing orders, instead of a single t-shirt.

The new direct to garment printers that came to the United States in 2004 however launched a whole new way of printing t-shirts. Just like printing a photo from your printer at home, thee giant printers can print the very complex and detailed designs direction on t-shirts.

For a better understand of each process watch the video above. For older students, interested in the history of direct to garment printing, Coldesi has a great article that explains the history as well as a wide variety of the different printers.

To Do: Visit a screen printing website such as Custom Ink or Rush Order Tee’s and a print on demand website such as Printful or Zazzle and design your own t-shirt. Use the chart below to compare and contrasts what you find.

Fulfills optional requirements #12 and #13

Tie Dye T-shirts

Since the 1960’s tie dye t-shirts have been part of American fashion. Tie Dye is a simple and inexpensive way to express your creativity. Many of our Frontier Girls troops and Quest Clubs earn their Tie Dye badge while making troop/club shirts to wear to meetings and events where they might get dirty.

To Do: Tie Dye one or more t-shirts. Learn at least 3 different patterns that can be created based on how you tie and dip your shirts. Happiness is Homemade has great step by step instructions as well as how to make a spiral, stripes, or a bullseye.

Fulfils optional requirement # 7

Transform a T-shirt with Scissors

T-shirts make a great base for all sorts of fun DIY fashion. Many looks can be created with nothing but a t-shirt and a pair of scissors such as a fringed shirt or cutting off the sleeves to create an instant tank top.

To Do: Use a pair of scissors transform a t-shirt into a while new look.

Fulfills starred requirement #2

T-shirt Art

Decorating a t-shirt in some fashion can take a simple wardrobe staple and turn it into a dressier piece for an outfit. If you have some sewing skills you can add embroidery or lace. Are you an artist? Use fabric paint or fabric markers to put your art directly on a shirt. Do you like bling? Use a glue like Jewel-It to glue rhinestones onto your shirt.

To Do: Upcycle a t-shirt into a dressier top by adding lace, rhinestones or beads

To Do: Turn a plain t-shirt into a work of wearable art.

Fulfills starred requirement #1

T-Shirt Recycling and Upcycling

Old t-shirts that have become stained or faded or that you have out grown can be recycled or upcycled into brand new things.

To Do: Make a ball of yarn out of strips from old t-shirts and use it to knit or crochet something, like a belt or bag

To Do: Donate your old t-shirts someplace that actually recycles them (breaks down the fibers to create new thread, yarn or fabric.) For example, Marine Layer’s Respun program has kept 175,000 t-shirts out of landfills as of the writing of this blog. If you donate your old shirts to them they will credit you $5 per shirt (max $25) and will even pay the shipping to send them.

To Do: Upcycle shirts that have meaning to you into something new. For example you could sew them into a quilt, make the into a pillow, or even frame them and decorate your walls.

Fulfills options requirements #9 and #11

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