DIY American flag tank made from an old T-shirt

Jul 18, 2014 at 10:36 a.m. ET

Dress fashionably patriotic and get some "oohs and aaaahs" this holiday by creating your very own U.S. flag shirt.

Do you already know what to wear to this year's Fourth of July event? How about a cute U.S. flag tank top, made with no sewing, and upcycled from a T-shirt. Whether you're celebrating in the backyard, at a beach or at a park you can dress fashionably patriotic and get some "oohs and aaaahs" this holiday by creating your very own U.S. flag shirt. It's a two-part delight project because it is very economical to make and you get to declare "I made it with pride."

First thing to do is go shopping... in your home closets or dresser. I went to the men's department in my home, also known as hubby's dresser, to upcycle one of his old white T-shirts (psst, this isn't the first time I stole one of his t-shirts, see what I made here).

I wanted to create a casual tank top fit out of the large T-shirt, so I also needed to recruit my scissors to help me with the design, as well as other items that I already had within my home (pen, scissors, etc.).


  • Old white T-shirt (preferably one that has stains to avoid guilt for stealing)
  • Fabric paint, red and blue (approximately $3 each)
  • Pen (for the brave ones) or pencil (with eraser)
  • Scissors (to snip, trim, create)
  • Painter's tape (for flag lines and to hold stars)
  • Paper or manila folder (for making stars)
  • Sponge/brush (for applying paint)
  • Baking sheets (something to protect surfaces from paint)


Step 1: Outline (create) the tank top design with a pen or pencil. I wanted a low, round neckline with wide arm area. I didn't have a choice on the wide arm since I was converting a large T-shirt (already with wide arms) into a medium-size tank top, but I embraced the look, finding it to be a perfect loose-design-tank-top style. Psst, wide arms are perfect for showing off a little bit of your bathing suit.

Step 2: Cut the neckline and arms. This could be an intimidating ("crap, I cut too much") step. Tip: Simply cut an inch before your drawn line to see how the tank top fits first.

Step 3: Add tape to make the flag stripes. I used 1.5-inch thick painter's tape. Fun tip: The U.S. flag has a total of 13 combined (red and white) stripes representing the 13 colonies that declared independence from the British and became the first states of the Union. You can be precise and space the tape wider to create 13 lines/stripes. I didn't. I prefer the thin lines look. Plus, I still had to paint and create stars. Also, make sure you protect the shirt and working area from the paint... with baking sheets, aluminum foil, cardboard, a stack of paper, etc.

Step 4: Sponge red paint onto the white lines of the shirt. Tip: I added water to the red fabric paint to speed up the process, which gave a casual, blurred look to the lines. Warning: Unless you use tight gloves, you will end up with red "manicured" nails and hands.

Extra tip: Use nail polish remover to get the paint off your nails/hands.

Step 5: Draw a star template while you let the red paint (stripes) dry. My star was 2 inches long from tip to tip. Tip: The larger the stars, the more visible they are and the less painting you need to do. I used a manila folder (thick stock paper for sturdiness).

Step 6: Prep the stars area. Remove the tape from the red stripes, position the stars, then tape around it to create a border. Tip: Add tape underneath the stars to help keep it in place.

Step 7: Dab blue paint onto the shirt. A little dab here, a little dab there, OK... bad that blue paint went everywhere.

Step 8: Get some coffee, let paint dry and smile at your creation.

Step 9: Show off your patriotic creation. I tucked my "brand new" shirt into my pants to give it more of a fitted look.

Apart from turning shirts patriotic, the technique can also be used to "American-ize" seat cushions, tablecloths, blankets, fabric, etc. Are you already scheming which T-shirt to steal (even from your very own closet) to get your patriotism on? I would love to see photos if you make your own Fourth of July tank top (for yourself or as a gift); email me your photos at, even if they turn out not as you planned it, so I can join you in laughter (funny fails) and personally give you extra tips. Remember, it is a casual shirt design, so there is no need to be perfect; just indulge in the happiness of being able to create something in this country your way (then show it off, wink). Happy Fourth of July to all my American friends.