How to dye, bleach, and reshape a shirt to make it your own

I have a sick obsession with a few things that go into my closet: Jeans, swimsuits and tank tops.  Usually all three of these things are worn together (yes, I am more of a jeans than a shorts girl, even in the summer).  I’m very willing to spend money on two of them: jeans and swimsuits as if you find a one that fits you right, it’s always worth the money.  I am not, however, keen on spending money on tanks, even though I LOVE them.  I wear them everywhere.  To sleep, to work out in, and to buzz around town in.

While counting down my days to fly out to Hawaii, I decided this extra time could be well spent on a few crafts that I had been meaning to try out that I saw on  So, I headed over to the local Michael’s Craft store to get a good look at my resource for endless craft possibilities.  While there, I noticed that they had these neon t-shirts everywhere in the store and they were practically giving them away ($0.99/shirt).  This reminded me of a few pins I had marked talking about reshaping an old tee into a racerback tank and one on using a bleach pen for redesigning.  Plus, at that price, I can always use a new tank top  :)

Presto! My craft for the day was about to take charge.  Because there were so many “safety/construction” colors on sale, I decided to be a proud linewife, grab a neon yellowish green one and create a shirt in homage to my hubby.   The fact that I haven’t seen him in a week may have also played a factor.   I  grabbed some fabric dye (pink) so that I could ensure that the bleach would take effect on the fabric (Rit is the most popular dye and sold practically everywhere). The shirt is one size larger than my normal and I took note that it was at least 50% cotton.  If it is 100% polyester then the bleach pen will not work.  I then headed over to Target to grab a bleach pen.  They are sold in the laundry section, usually next to the TideToGo sticks.  Just make sure you grab the pen that indicates “for whites”.

I forgot to photograph the shirt before I started cutting away at it, but you get the idea of what I did:  cut off the sleeves, the bottom hem and the collar. Then cut a deep V in the back and finally cut the front neck line lower.  I also make my arm holes larger by cutting away more fabric in the armpit area.  Keep the hem you cut off from the bottom, as this will be used to help make the racer back.

Follow your instructions for the fabric dye.  Obviously, if you just want to do the bleach pen effect, you can skip to that part now. I wanted a faded effect while still keeping the original color at the bottom, so I had to dip my shirt in intervals, leaving the darkest section in the dye the longest.

Once I was happy with the coloring, I rinsed out the shirt and let it completely air dry.  If you want this same effect, remember to rinse away from the original shirt color (let the water run toward the darkest dyed section) or your entire shirt will become dyed.  

I then put a large piece of cardboard in between the two sections of the shirt and started to eye out my design.  I chose to freehand, but you could use a washable pen to draw out your design first. Shake up that bleach pen and have at it!

Once your design is in place, let it sit for 10-15 min or until you see the bleach taking effect.  Then rinse off the bleach pen under warm water, wash,  and dry.  FYI: I found this out after, but the bleach will fade a bit once in the dryer, so make sure it is REALLY set.  You can see on my shirt where I should have let it sit longer.  

Take your hem that  you saved from the bottom of the shirt and stretch it out.  I also chose to unravel the hem a bit so it wasn’t so ridged.

Take the back of your shirt and bring the areas that would normally cover your shoulders together in the middle.  Using your stretched piece of fabric, start wrapping the fabric together: making a coil like section: you’re making your “racer back”.  Tie off you used hem.  I can’t really explain how I did this, I just did. I trust you’ll figure out a way that works best for you.

That’s it!~ You now have a one of a kind, custom made tank.  :)



  • I even found a use for the sleeves I cut off! I was in need of luggage tags….





How to dye, bleach, and reshape a shirt to make it your own — 1 Comment

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