July 20, 2014

TUTORIAL: How to Add Fabric Lettering to Clothing

A lot of people have been asking me how I make the shirts with lettering, so I thought I'd put together a tutorial. It's really very amateur, and if you have any sewing skills whatsoever, I'm sure you could do a much better job! But to keep things super cheap and simple, this is how I add lettering to a shirt. Here are a couple of examples of shirts I've made this way:

adding lettering to clothing

running sucks shirt

It really doesn't take very long to do, even though it's tedious, and it's a super cheap way to letter a shirt!


*A shirt or other article of clothing (that can be ironed... I've used sweatshirts, t-shirts, and tech shirts without problems). For this tutorial, I used a track jacket that I found at a thrift store. It had embroidery on the left chest part, so I ripped out the embroidery and wanted to cover it with my name.

*A contrasting fabric for the lettering (I've used denim on sweatshirts, or just cotton on the other shirts). For this project, I just chose white cotton.

*Letter stencils (whatever size/font you'd like; found with the painting supplies at a craft store, usually):

*Double-stick fusible webbing:

*An iron

*A fabric pencil (or, if you're a simpleton like me, just a ballpoint pen)

*Scissors for fabric

*Sewing machine and thread (optional, to reinforce lettering with top-stitching)


First, iron the fabric that you plan to use for the lettering to make sure it's nice and smooth. Then, you'll use the letter stencil to trace out your letters onto your fabric with the fabric pencil (or pen, in my case). I like to flip the stencil over, and trace onto the WRONG side of the fabric, so that the ink isn't visible once it's done.

Once you have all of the letters traced, you'll use the double-stick webbing. The webbing has three pieces--wax paper, a layer of glue web, and then another piece of wax paper:

Two pieces of wax paper sandwiching a sheet of glue webbing

Peel off ONE of the layers of wax paper and discard it. Then press the glue side of the webbing down onto the letters you've traced onto the fabric.

The glue side goes down on the back of the letters. On the top is the wax paper.

Press down on the wax paper with your hand (not the iron yet) and smooth it out. Then, you'll cut out each letter, making sure to cut through the fabric, glue, and wax paper all at the same time. If you use pen, it's easy to see through the wax paper.

Now, the letters should be a layer of fabric, a layer of the glue web, and a layer of wax paper. Next, you'll peel the wax paper off, and place the letters (sticky glue side down) on your shirt exactly as you'd like them to be permanently. Until you iron them, they are moveable, so you can adjust them. Just make sure the glue stays with the fabric.

After placing the letters where you want them, carefully cover them with a scrap of fabric (or press cloth). You don't want to press the iron directly onto the letters or your shirt, so the fabric is just a thin barrier to protect them. I put the iron on the synthetic setting, but just use your discretion. Iron very well, making sure to press all the edges and corners of each letter.

When you're done ironing, the letters *should* be stuck on there pretty good!

At this point, you could probably just leave it as-is, but I always like to reinforce it by stitching the edges. I'm not sure how the lettering would hold up in the washer if you just rely on the glue. (For Eli's race shirt, I didn't do the top-stitching, but the letters stayed on fine during the race. I'll update after I've washed it). When using denim letters, like I did on the sweatshirt, I especially like to reinforce with stitching, because the letters fray a little on the edges--and I like that look!

For the jacket, I just chose to use a white thread. Use the sewing machine to sew as closely as possible around each letter. (Don't try to sew the letters without doing the webbing part above, though--they will be really difficult to sew.)

Once you sew around the edges of the letters, just trim the thread and viola! It's done.

So this is my simple but effective way to add letters to shirts! Hopefully it's helpful :)


  1. Very cool Katie. Thanks for the tutorial--I'm all ready if I find anything I want to put my name (or grandkid's) names on. When my youngest was little, I cross-stitched his name on his sweatshirt with disposable cross-stitch fabric. My only regret--he grew out of his sweatshirt way too fast, and it was a lot of work!

  2. Thanks for the tutorial! I suck with the sewing machine, but I could probably hand sew the letters if it was a short enough word. ;-)

  3. Thanks for the tutorial.


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