I’ve always loved trompe-l’œil (which means “deceive the eye” in French). I love things that look like other things: tuxedo shirts and bookcases that are secretly doors and paintings that look like windows to a secret garden.
Here is a project I made as a baby shower gift for an old friend of mine. We have an old joke between us about Junior Park Rangers, and I felt that it was imperative for the future generations of Junior Park Rangers that we get this baby started young.
At first I considered trying to make an actual Ranger outfit, but baby clothes kind of freak me out. They are SO SMALL. So then I thought about embellishing a t-shirt. I can do that.
Of course, you can adapt the trompe-l’oeil thing to fit any theme. Baby’s first tuxedo! Baby’s first prison jumpsuit! Baby’s first motorcycle jacket!
And while I chose to use freehand machine embroidery, you could easily adapt this project for hand embroidery. Not a thread person? Make a no-sew version with fabric markers or fabric paint!
Gather your supplies. In my case:
- baby tee
- dissolving fabric marker
- sewing machine
- thread (I used regular all-purpose sewing machine thread, but you may want to try a nice machine embroidery thread)
This step is optional, but I like to do a rough draft of my pattern. I feel like it’s easier to get the proportions right. I measured my shirt and drew this mock-up on the computer and then printed it out to have as a reference.
Transfer the design to the shirt. I used a dissolving fabric marker and free handed it while looking at my rough draft. You could also use a lightbox or bright window to trace the design through the fabric, depending on how see-through it is. Another option is dressmaker’s carbon transfer paper, which would allow for a more direct tracing of the design.
Begin “drawing” over the reference lines. If you’re using a fabric marker or paint, you can quite literally draw the lines, obviously. With the sewing machine, it’s just a matter of stitching over the lines. If you’ve done applique work, it’s a similar process, there just aren’t any additional layers of fabric – though you could easily incorporate some appliques into the freehand embroidery if you wanted to.
If freehand embroidery seems like a new and scary thing, experiment on some scrap fabric first. Sketch out some basic designs to practice on until you get the hang of it.
Some freehand embroidery tips:
- You can get a freehand embroidery foot for your sewing machine, but it is not totally necessary. I actually stitched this with a regular straight-stitch foot. One of these days I will try the freehand foot, because I imagine it makes things a lot easier. The buttons, for example, were a real pain in the butt with all the pivoting and lifting of the foot.
- If you don’t like the looks of back stitching, leave thread tails a few inches long. When you’re finished sewing, turn the garment Wrong side out and pull on the inside thread tails. This should pull the thread from the Right side to the Wrong side and allow you to knot the tails by hand and then trim. A dab of Fray Stop on the knots might be a wise idea, just in case.
- If you have issues with the stitching pulling a bit too tight and leading to puckering, try loosening the thread tension. If you still have trouble, stretch the fabric gently as you sew.
- You may find using an embroidery hoop and/or fabric stabilizer or interfacing makes things easier.
- Double stitching can accentuate the “hand drawn” look that freehand embroidery offers. Use it to your advantage.
Remove the transfer lines and add any final embellishments. I added a patch and a pin for a little more 3-dimensional detail. You could add color with fabric markers or paint, applique, bows, etc.