• Kara Errico

Banish Boring T-Shirts


Vacation Bible School (VBS) isn’t new to my family – I participated in it many moons ago in our church’s Fellowship Hall (with no air conditioning and only a few box fans to keep us cool). I have only a few memories of it, but they are fond ones.

I knew when we had children that they would take part in VBS at least once during their summers off from school. But I had no idea what to expect when the time came.

The VBS my daughter now attends is a whole different animal!

It shouldn’t surprise me, in this day and age of “mega” churches, stores like Hobby Lobby, and Etsy shops full of inspiring Christian quotes on loads of merch, but there are actual companiesthat exist to provide Christian resources aplenty, that also orchestrate full-blown theme weeks with all the fixins (Group, Lifetree Kids, Concordia Supply, LifeWay, and more).

Our theme this year was ROAR! Last year was Shipwrecked.

Each year, we receive a CD full of catchy songs and a t-shirt with the theme design, church name, and year printed on it. (We’ll get back to those tees in a bit, I promise.)

I remember a rather lively debate that took place before this year’s week-long camp kicked off, after reading a post by an angry mother who deemed ROAR! racist. (Just another reason I adore Scary Mommy! Women of all backgrounds can openly express themselves about any topic for the benefit of all other mamas out there and it can start a much-needed dialogue about issues we may not have even known existed.)

I was glad to see that the Christian community addressed this as well. And true to our motto (Love Thy Neighbor. No Exceptions!), my local United Methodist Church met these concerns head-on, explaining that there are always pieces of the curriculum each year they may not agree with and that they would find another way to teach concepts – or avoid certain activities altogether – if need be.

It’s interesting the more I read about VBS, the more I realize it’s a subculture all its own in many ways. When there isn’t discussion about the latest theme and the social implications it has on today’s youth, there is commotion about resources used/wasted by VBS each year.

When it all comes down to it though, it’s about the single sentence – that very simple message that the kids shout whenever prompted each day – God is good!

Know what else is good? DIY fully customizable t-shirts!

OK, OK, cheesy segue into this, I know ... but I had to transition! (Cut me some slack, people! Haha)

But in all seriousness, you can use any of the techniques mentioned here on any t-shirt you have for any purpose. So, bust out your old college and concert tees, find those corporate event shirts you only wore for one day, and get to crafting!

As I mentioned, VBS has taken on a life of its own since I did it all those years ago. So much so that I was unaware of the unwritten rule that pony beads, scissors, and more should be broken out immediately after t-shirts are distributed on Day One and kids are sent home for the night.

While I may have been in the dark, the fine folks at VBStshirts.com (that’s right – a whole website devoted to these things!) are very much in the know, stating that “for years, kids have turned up the creativity by decorating their VBS t-shirts in tons of fun ways.”

To drive the point home further, they spoke to a former youth ministry person in LA, Charif Martin, who said, “the classics like beaded fringing and tie-dyeing are here to stay. But some families like to take it to the next level with new ideas that everybody will want to do next year.” In fact, some kids even use their scraps to accessorize, making ponytail ties, headbands, etc.

And the boys get into it too, making some muscle tees to stay cool during the week!

My ideas are not new and I have said a few times now that Pinterest and Google image searches are my favorite go-to places for inspiration. But I do have a competitive streak in me (maybe it’s the Leo in me?) and decided to do a variety of looks this year, culminating in a big Day Five masterpiece.

Let’s get one thing out there. I was competing with myself. I don’t do things to garner praise (and, honestly, I’ve never been good at taking compliments anyway … though they are very much appreciated).

This was just to see what I could accomplish in three days. (I did zilch on Tuesday and just made sure she was clean and presentable and sunscreened up.)

Our church created a new, more junior, group of leaders to help out with all of the participants this year and they did a bleach tie dye design on their shirts (loved that!), so I knew that wasn’t an option for us this time around.

And last year, I got overly ambitious and took the braided fringe look that all of the little girls were rocking to the next level by doing an extra layer/loop (it looked fun, but damn if my fingers weren’t raw from spending a few frantic hours the night before twisting fabric and pulling it through each small bead to create that "fishnet" look).

This year, I wanted to do minimal changes the first few days (no sewing necessary, if possible!) and then go all out for the final day.

Wednesday was a very basic slit sleeve. After looking at some pictures the VBS folks took that day, I should have shortened the sleeves a wee bit before doing the top and bottom cuts … unless you’re looking closely at her sleeves, you can’t really tell the difference from the untouched tee.

Thursday, I removed the crew neck and the bottom hem of the shirt, and then made strips of the sleeves. I didn’t bead every single strip, as I’m guessing that would’ve felt very uncomfortable on a sweaty little body while she was running around doing all of the activities that day. But I’d guess I did maybe five or six strands on each shoulder that were six beads long. (And I actually cut out the two strips underneath (in the armpit) to give her a bit more breathable fabric.)

I have to laugh at the finale video they showed at church on Sunday, as her Thursday look is featured there … but you can’t tell her sleeves are done – all you see is her top slouching WAY off one shoulder as she hugs a few friends.

For Friday’s look, I committed to something a bit more challenging. And, of course, since we’d done an impromptu dinner with friends, bedtime was later than normal … which meant breaking out the sewing machine and sitting down to this project in a wine-induced, bleary-eyed state.

That said, it was really easy! I followed this tutorial and made three cuts:

  1. Lopped off the remaining sleeves/fringe

  2. A straight line across the top (just below where the original crew neck was)

  3. An inch wide strip across the bottom of the shirt – save this for later!!!

The next step requires sewing, but wasn’t bad at all – I promise!

Pin your front and back panels down with the folded fabric on the inside. Both sides should be even.

Sew a line straight across each side from one arm hole to the other (be careful not to gather/sew any other fabric with this though – I accidentally caught an inch or two of arm hole into the one side and had to unstitch a bit and redo the line).

Here is the hardest part. Take the long strip that you cut from the bottom of the shirt, make ONE cut so it’s a long piece of fabric and not a circle anymore. Then work it through the channel you created with your recently sewed lines.

My husband mentioned that I could have sewn around this fabric if I’d put it into place before putting needle to fabric … something I did actually consider, but I feel like I would have messed that up somehow and made more work for myself.

Helpful hint: Find a dowel rod or something long and skinny that you can use to coax your fabric strip through. (I used a fairy wand from my daughter’s dress-up wardrobe.)

You can call it quits once you’ve threaded the tank top “straps” through and tied them off. Or you can get a bit more creative and use grosgrain ribbon instead, making it more like a traditional pillowcase style shirt.

Not surprisingly, I took a (somewhat) tricky project and made it a bit more difficult by adding some of the beads from Thursday’s shirt back on (had to pause after threading the fabric through the front panel, knot part of the fabric, thread beads on, and do another knot before working the rest of the fabric through the channel on the back panel and duplicating the beading process on the other side. But I liked the resulting beaded straps.

All in all, another successful year of VBS with some new t-shirt tweaking skills under my belt. Whoo!!!

However you choose to revamp your old tees, have fun with it! There are so many creative things to do with these and you’re only limited by your imagination. With just some puffy paint, fabric markers, pony beads, and scissors, VBS t-shirts shows how you can make an afternoon of this!

Should you need inspiration though, here are a few other ideas I considered…

Fun workout tanks

Braided empire waist tank

Crop top

Side tied tank

Shirt with looped knots (on the sides or down the back)

Hot glue bleach stencil

Bleach tie dye (the soaking method)

Iron-on shapes

#VBS #tshirt #nosew #beadedfringe #DIY #tanktop #tiedye

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