Reverse Applique for a Cool New T-shirt

When my son Max asked me to make him a lightning bolt t-shirt, I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. He was very specific, too. It had to be green with a yellow bolt. I was talking to some friends about how I should do it, and one of them suggested reverse applique. I’d never done it before, and wasn’t sure how, but it ended up being a brilliant idea.

Here’s the tutorial I used from This Darn Kat. I’ll outline the steps, and the few modifications I’ve made to the process here.

Here's the lightning bolt shirt. He was so proud of it. To be honest, I was pretty proud, too. I drew the design by hand.

Supplies needed: 

Sewing machine or hand needle
Fabric in a coordinating color
A design either drawn or printed on plain paper or cardstock

1. Choose your fabric. I used part of an old t-shirt that had been previously cut up for a Halloween costume. You want it to be bigger than your design all the way around. I recommend using a stable fabric like a quilting cotton, or something without much stretch. This was the first time I used another jersey knit as the complimentary fabric, and it was a little bit of a nightmare to sew.

You'll want to move the accent fabric to the inside of the shirt.

2. Draw or print your design, and cut it out. I’ll just prepare you for my design… Max requested it. He thinks the gender symbols are cool, okay. He’s a unique individual who thinks outside of the box, and I wouldn’t have him any other way.

3. Place the template exactly where you want it, and pin to both pieces of fabric, being sure not to pin it to the back of the t-shirt. (Make sure the accent fabric is inside of the shirt.)

I traced mason jar lids to make the circles.

I like to put a piece of cardboard inside the shirt to make the pinning easier.

Yes, that is a cereal box. Work with whatcha got.

4. Sew around the design. I’ve found that a small zigzag stitch works well to keep the fabric from unravelling.

My stitches aren't too pretty on this one, 'cause like I mentioned, sewing the 2 layers of t-shirt was kind of a bear.

5. After you’ve sewn around the image, it’s time to cut out the top layer of fabric, just where you want the accent fabric to show.

Again, please know that I am capable of making better stitches. My other reverse applique shirts are much cleaner, I swear!

That’s it! You’re done. Here’s the finished product:

He was playing it cool for this pic.

And here’s another one I made for him. It’s a “triforce of wisdom” from the Zelda video games.


Here’s an action shot of Max walking in his lightning bolt shirt with one of his best friend’s, Xander (Charlie’s son). They are two peas in a pod.

If you make a reverse applique shirt for yourself or your kids, send me a pic. I’d love to see it!


4 thoughts on “Reverse Applique for a Cool New T-shirt

  1. Nice!

    There are a good few designs that I’d love to put on a t-shirt right now, for various reasons. Either applique or reverse-applique might be a good way of doing it. Thanks for the inspiration!

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