DIY: Sharpie Dyed Underwear

December 7, 2011

I’m so excited to share this DIY with you today. It is sooo fun and sooo easy! I’m placing bets it’s going to be your new favorite project to try with yours kids. All you need is rubbing alcohol and Sharpie markers. For reals!

Maude used the technique to make underwear sets for her brothers and sisters as Christmas gifts and they turned out great! (Side note: we’ve done t-shirts a few times over the years,  so we thought underwear would make a nice variation. : )

1) Start with Sharpies, rubbing alcohol (the bottle pictures is French, so it’s spelled differently), and a piece of clothing. If you’re not interested to underwear, the same technique would be great for t-shirts or bandanas or tote bags, pillow covers, or pretty much any cotton item.

2) Protect your work surface with an old or dark towel. Use the markers to scribble on any design you like.

3) For this undershirt, we wanted the tie-dye effect to show up on both the front and back. To make sure we were making the same pattern in the same place, we folded the shirt over and continued drawing on the back.

4) Once you’re done scribbling, it’s time to add the alcohol. Our bottle has a drip lid, but if yours doesn’t, use an eye dropper.

5) Drip alcohol on slowly at the edges of your scribbles. Then watch as the colors smear and shift across the shirt. In the photo above, the alcohol has been applied to about half of the scribbled area.

6)Let the alcohol fully dry — this step is important because alcohol is flammable — and then set the color by running it through your dryer.

7) Experiment! If you want more smear, use more alcohol. I was generous on the alcohol with this particular tank top, and the design ended up like this:

8) One last note. If you want the design to just be on the front (like the heart and star above), put a plastic grocery bag inside the shirt so the alcohol and marker won’t bleed through to the back.

And that’s it. It’s so fast and easy — and incredibly fun. You really can’t go wrong. I’d recommend watching for bargains on pale or white tees, boxers, undershirts, etc. and keep them on hand for rainy day projects. These would also be really fun to make at a birthday party!

By the way, I learned this brilliant technique from clever Erin Loechner. She used it to give new life to cloth napkins.

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

1 amyks December 7, 2011 at 7:13 am

Awesome! and less messy than Tie Dye. I am trying this with my kiddos!!!


2 Design Mom December 7, 2011 at 9:52 am

I’m sure they’ll love it, Amyks. The options are endless!


3 Janelle December 7, 2011 at 1:06 pm

We’ve done this in circles for baby swaddle blankets and 4th of July shirts – they turn out gorgeous!


4 Ren Lady Of The Arts December 7, 2011 at 7:16 am

Very cool project- we used fabric paint to make some tea towels and pillow cases last week-

I love the tie dyed effect these have without the huge mess of it


5 Design Mom December 7, 2011 at 9:53 am

How fun, Ren! Thanks for the link.


6 Colleen December 7, 2011 at 8:35 am

Great idea! What are the care instructions for the pieces after you’ve done this?


7 Design Mom December 7, 2011 at 9:54 am

Good question, Colleen! I haven’t washed this particular batch because they’re being wrapped up for Christmas, but I know when we’ve had Sharpie on other clothes it remains through wash after wash. I suppose it depends on the piece of clothing…


8 mandi@herbanhomestead December 7, 2011 at 8:48 am

One time my daughter drew a kitty on her t-shirt with a sharpie and it stunk for so long that we finally had to get rid of it (even after washing). I couldn’t handle that chemically smell. How do you keep from this? Does the alcohol help?


9 Design Mom December 7, 2011 at 9:51 am

Hmmm. I didn’t notice a smell at all. Maybe the alcohol counteracts it. Or maybe my nose isn’t very sensitive. : )


10 Erin R December 7, 2011 at 9:38 am

What a great project to do with the kids,…..and myself! A lot less messy than the “real” tie dye method too.


11 Design Mom December 7, 2011 at 9:55 am

It is soooo good for kids!


12 Susie December 7, 2011 at 10:01 am

Thanks for the awesome tutorial. do you think this will work with synthetic materials, like rayon and such?


13 Cortnie December 7, 2011 at 10:19 am

OMG – I seriously can’t WAIT to do this. I used to tie dye onesies for my boys but it was really time consuming – this sounds perfect! Thanks!



14 annie December 7, 2011 at 10:40 am

This is so great…i just picked up a very large set of sharpies for one of my kids presents for our advent calendar…I do love those sharpies! You always have the best projects!


15 Sara December 7, 2011 at 11:10 am

I can’t even get over how awesome this is!!! The uses for it are endless! Thank you SO much!!


16 Design Mom December 8, 2011 at 12:47 am

That’s how I feel, Sara! : )


17 Pamela Balabuszko-Reay December 7, 2011 at 11:47 am

Thank you so much for this. My daughter will love this project. Who knew?


18 invitation consultants December 7, 2011 at 12:10 pm

excellent craft!! definitely will try this out!


19 Martha @ runninginmommyland December 7, 2011 at 12:35 pm

We are so totally doing this!!!!


20 Celine December 7, 2011 at 2:32 pm

I’m not exactly sure what chemicals go into the ink for sharpies but it may not be recommended to put it in contact with a child’s skin for a whole day, especially their private parts. This looks like a fun and easy craft project though, and I don’t like to rain on any parade, but I thought I’d put that concern out there.


21 Kristen July 4, 2012 at 12:30 pm

I would not worry about this once it is washed. It is just like any other colored piece of cloth.


22 beyhude uzun December 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm

these are looking awesome


23 Jessica December 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm

Great tie-dye effect! Love this new technique


24 amy December 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm

I”m totally doing this for a gift from the kids to each other.

we’re doing plenty of ‘handmade holiday’ this year. I just made superhero capes for them and I embellished t-shirts as well. this will be a great addition to the holiday


25 Jen Bivens December 7, 2011 at 7:13 pm

I was just searching your site yesterday for something my 4-year-old and I can do together for my husband’s gift. This is perfect. She will be thrilled to be able to use Sharpies. Thank you!


26 Design Mom December 8, 2011 at 12:46 am

So glad to hear it, Jen! Have fun.


27 Shelley Abreu @ The Happiness Diaries December 7, 2011 at 7:19 pm

This is so clever and simple. I have a big box of colored sharpies. I’m packing them in the suitcase right now to bring back to the hospital. My daughter will love this – thanks for another idea to keep us busy!


28 Alana December 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Do the colors tend to run in the wash?


29 Design Mom December 8, 2011 at 12:45 am

Hi Alana! Wait for the alcohol to dry completely, then “set” the color by running the clothing through the dryer. Once you’ve done that, the colors won’t run — or even fade much at all.


30 heather December 7, 2011 at 8:30 pm

we did this at girl scout’s encampment when i was 8 years old–i’m 25 now, and it made me smile to see. i remember designing a bandana and using it as a sling (for my pretend broken arm, of course). :) i’m not sure my memories are reliable, but we used cotton, the colors didn’t fade anymore than a tiedye shirt would, and i don’t think the smell lasted.


31 Stephanie December 7, 2011 at 10:45 pm

What a sweet idea. My ten yr. old daughter would love to make these. Looks like this will be another pin on my diy board at pinterest. Thanks!


32 Kara December 8, 2011 at 7:20 am

This just blew my mind!!! Pinned the heck out of it so I don’t forget about it for the future. :)


33 joanna goddard December 8, 2011 at 8:07 am

this is adorable!! what a brilliant idea.


34 sara December 11, 2011 at 1:53 am

OK, this is nothing short of brilliant in its ease and beauty. I cannot WAIT to do this! Thanks so much – as always, you find the most amazing things :)


35 maya December 11, 2011 at 3:26 pm

thanks so much for the idea! i had tote bags just waiting for the right project. Just finished two of them with my son using this technique. He had fun, and they look great!


36 amyks December 13, 2011 at 6:50 am

So, we made several of these t-shirts this weekend, some turned out better than others. We found that certain colors took to the process better than others, and that thicker blocks of color were better than the skinner lines. All in all, we had lots of fun thanks for the inspiration!!!


37 Pia March 8, 2012 at 7:52 am

but what if you don’t have a dryer? how do you fixate color then?


38 vickie February 7, 2013 at 7:40 am

I bet you could do it with a hair dryer….just don’t hold it too long in one or too close or it will burn it.


39 Teresa May 29, 2013 at 9:11 am

Iron it. You can also lay a piece of wax paper over the project and iron over that. You can even do this on the wrong side as well as the right side and let the wax soak into the fabric fibers completely. This does stay forever. Note. You could let your little ones that you are nor ready to use markers color their shirts with crayons and again, cover with wax paper and press to set the art work.


40 wanie October 22, 2012 at 11:47 pm


Is there anything other than rubber alcohol that I can use?


41 Cerise December 4, 2012 at 12:59 pm

We made sharpie firework shirts a couple years back. SO much fun and so easy too!!


42 vickie February 7, 2013 at 7:39 am

I’m going to try this on prefolded cloth diapers for burp rags. Imagine all the different designs/monograms you could do.


43 lumaie November 13, 2013 at 9:48 pm

I just kind of stumbled onto your site while searching for projects to do with my 9 year old son. He is in the children’s hospital for cancer treatments. Even though we expect this to be a short stay, I spend my nights searching for projects he can do while confined to his room and iv pole. Thanks for taking the time to put this information out for people like us!


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