How to turn an old white t-shirt into a USA flag tanktop

Do you already know what to wear to this year’s 4th of July event? How about a cute USA flag tank top – made with no sewing, and upcycled from a t-shirt! Whether it’s celebrating in the backyard, at a beach, or at a park you can sport and get some “ooh and aaaahs” this holiday by creating your very own USA flag shirt. It’s a 2-part delight project because it is (1) very economical to make and (2) 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 dept in my home – also known as – hubby’s dresser, to steal up-cycle 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 (ie: pen, scissors, etc.).

List of Ingredients:
1. old white t-shirt (preferably one that has stains to avoid guilt for stealing)
2. fabric paint red and blue (approx $2.50 each)
3. pen (for the brave ones) or pencil
4. scissors (to snip, trim, create)
5. painters tape (for flag lines + to hold stars)
6. paper / manila folder(for making stars)
7. sponge / brush (for applying paint)
8. baking sheets (something to protect surfaces from paint)

Step 1: outline (create) the tank top design with a pen(cil). I wanted a low round neck line 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 lil 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″ thick painters tape. Fun tip: USA flag has a total of 13 combined (red + 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, 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 and gave it 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″ long from tip to tip. Tip: The larger the stars, the more visible they are and the less painting to do. I used 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 lil dab there, ok … bad that blue paint every where!!!

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, table clothes, blankets, etc 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 4th 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 indulged in the happiness of being able to create something in this country your way (then show it off, wink!). Happy 4th of July to all my American friends!

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6 Responses to How to turn an old white t-shirt into a USA flag tanktop

  1. Pat Zaffo says:

    Great t-shirt. You are so creative. Wish I had time to do these things they look like such fun. Happy 4 th

    • Ada says:

      Aaaw, thanks Pat. So lovely to hear (read) from you. Funny, doing DIY projects never feels time consuming to me, HOWEVER, it’s the CLEANING UP afterwards that I wish I could eliminate from the equation haha – wink ; ) Happy 4th of July too, Hope its sparkly!!!

  2. Antonio says:

    What a great idea!! Happy July 4th

  3. Julie Jamison says:

    Love, love, love Ada!

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