A Boy and His Giraffe

Meet ‘Raff, Eli’s new best buddy.

Eli has never before gotten attached to any of his stuffed animals.  My husband’s mother passed long before I met him so I never had the pleasure of knowing her, but one of the many things she was known for in the family was her love of giraffes. I think Eli’s Grandma Beverly would have been pleased by his choice. And look at that face. It does exude it’s fair share of personality. Eli likes to have ‘Raff do everything he does these days, including playing the guitar, coloring and reading stories (this involves bobbing his head along to the rhythm of the words). Thankfully we’ve been able to help ‘Raff avoid any forced participation in water play thus far.

After my first success with putting sleeves into a garment with my blanket sweater I decided it was time to try making t-shirts. I traced one of Eli’s current shirts to make a pattern and cut the pieces out of an old pair of yoga pants.

I first learned about making freezer paper stencils and using bleach pens from I Am Momma Hear Me Roar. It was finally (almost a year later) time to give it a whirl myself. I love the orange-brown color you get when bleaching black fabric. Just perfect for Eli’s giraffe! I was horrible about taking photos along the way for this project, but really wouldn’t have improved upon Cherie’s tutorial anyway. Kelley over at Restitch Me has also done some amazing work with freezer paper stencils. Check out the Hunger Games shirts she made for her teenagers here.

After I bleached the giraffe shape I embroidered around the edge and then added the facial features and the spots. A spot of mane at the top of the head and a tassel on the tail finished it off.

This project would never have been possible if Aunt Misa hadn’t completely charmed my son and spent copious amounts of time with him over the past week. Thanks, Misa!

I was told as a child that if you are good at embroidery the backside of your project will look as good as the front. Obviously I’m not very good at embroidery. I was pretty sure Eli would find all of the threads and knots irritating against his skin, and I shuddered to think of what could happen in the wash with things like bra clasps or velcro, so I sewed another piece of knit fabric over the back of the giraffe.

Once the giraffe was completed all that remained was to put the shirt together.

I’m pleased for the most part with how it came out. There are areas on it that look a little wonky to me, but nothing so bad that I feel compelled to rip out and resew. It’s a learning process and I think I will do better on the next shirt. I have quite a few other ideas on the drawing board.

Thanks for reading!


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  1. dawn aldrich said,

    April 30, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Cutest shirt EVER! What a clever, creative mom you are! My grandkids share this love for giraffes, too and have the same stuffed animal as Eli.

  2. Maysem said,

    April 30, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    I LOVE it!! So cute! Eli looks so happy to be wearing his new giraffe tshirt:D Stenciling with bleach is a new concept for me… it’s so neat!! I will have to give it a try one day.

    • April 30, 2012 at 8:33 pm

      I’d love to see what kind of amazing creation would result from you stenciling with bleach! It’s a lot of fun because each color of knit fabric bleaches differently, and not necessarily just a lighter version of the original color.

  3. wendy said,

    May 1, 2012 at 3:15 am

    How lovely! Your giraffe is fantastic, such a great idea to bleach him before embroidering. When you sewed the fabric over the threads at the back, is the stitching showing on the front?

    • May 1, 2012 at 7:03 am

      Thank you, Wendy! There is a line of black stitching going around the giraffe visible in the front, but as it it black on black not too visible. You can see it most clearly in the close up photo of the head of the giraffe.

  4. Christin M said,

    May 1, 2012 at 3:56 am

    Your giraffe shirt is absolutely adorable. What a lucky little boy!

  5. ReStitch Me said,

    May 1, 2012 at 5:35 am

    Eli looks so adorable in his new shirt! What a great shirt–I love the whimsical giraffe. Great job!

  6. ReStitch Me said,

    May 1, 2012 at 5:43 am

    (oops!) Thanks for the mention, too!!! 🙂

  7. May 1, 2012 at 9:33 am

    So cute!

  8. etcetorize said,

    May 1, 2012 at 9:47 am

    What a neat idea! I never would’ve guessed that was a bleach pen. In fact, I had to read your directions twice to get it. Thanks so much for sharing your awesome tutorial at Etcetorize~

    • May 1, 2012 at 3:59 pm

      I’m so glad I got around to trying the bleach pen stencil. I couldn’t believe how crisp the lines came out. I had drawn on fabric with it before, which is also a lot of fun. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  9. Inder said,

    May 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Aw, I just love that giraffe tee! So flippin’ cute!! Well done! I’ve been on a t-shirt kick myself, but I haven’t done anything nearly as involved as this. I admire your talent for hand-stitching!

    • May 1, 2012 at 12:40 pm

      Thanks, Inder! I’ve been watching the shirts you’ve been making Joe. I actually ordered a double needle based on your recommendation, but it just arrived yesterday and I haven’t tried it yet. I’ve been wondering whether or not to buy the flashback tee pattern. Eli isn’t exactly chunky, but he’s solid. Also with the sensory issues he doesn’t like things that are at all even remotely binding. The “skinny” description of the tee is what is holding me back. What do you think? Would just adding a bit to the sides of the pattern make it a bit fuller, or would that then throw off how the sleeves fit in? Do you know of any other good t-shirt patterns out there that aren’t “skinny”? This giraffe shirt I made isn’t going to last him long because I think I made it too skinny as well.

      • Inder said,

        May 1, 2012 at 12:49 pm

        Well, I do like that the Flashback tee pattern isn’t *too* skinny. I’ve now made it up in several fabrics – softer knits and stiffer ones – and it has turned out well in all of them, and never too tight for Joe in a size 3T (which is his RTW size). Made up in a softer, stretchier knit, it isn’t the least bit binding or tight. In a stiffer fabric, I’d be most concerned about the sleeves, because they are pretty slim/snug.

        That said, the pattern is simple as can be, so if you’re already planning to make changes to it, it might not be worth your money. Using an old t-shirt to make a pattern from seems to be working great for you, and that way you can choose a shirt with just the right fit for your little guy to copy.

        Just another idea – Do you ever buy Ottobre magazines/patterns? I ask because those issues are loaded with patterns, and I bet you could find the perfect tee pattern in one of them.

        I think you’ll like the twin needle! Once you get over the hurdle of learning to set it up, it’s pretty awesome!

      • Inder said,

        May 1, 2012 at 12:55 pm

        P.S. Yes, if you make changes to the sides you’d adjust for the sleeves as well. But if you were clever, I think you could pick one size for the sides and sleeves, and another size for the length and the neckline.

      • May 1, 2012 at 2:46 pm

        Thanks for the ideas. I don’t know why this shirt turned out on the small size. The shirt I traced for the pattern is a 4T (Eli is 3T or 4T depending on the shirt maker) and fits well. I traced it inside out so that I had the original seams for the seam allowance. Maybe it is just that the yoga pants I used for the shirt are thick and a bit less stretchy. Maybe I should use the pattern once more with other fabric before giving up on it.

        I’ve never used Ottobre, or any manufactured pattern (with the exception of one horrific failure of a sewing experience.) I’ve heard great things about it and perhaps now would be a good time to give it a try.

  10. Sleeping Mom said,

    May 1, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Um, screw the back because that is one good stitching!! Then again my sewing talents are probably -65 on a scale of 100 but that is seriously an amazing shirt you made. Not just the stitching but the actual design of the giraffe. Very, very cool!

  11. Ruth said,

    May 1, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    this is a treally really cute shirt! Thanks for sharing!

  12. May 1, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    I L-O-V-E that shirt!! How cute! And I could actually use a bleach pen to do a craft – have never considered it!

    • May 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm

      Give the bleach pen a go. I’d love to see what you’d come up with. Thanks for the comment!

  13. Kelley said,

    May 2, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Awwwww!! Karen this came out great! I love how the giraffe turned out using the bleach. And your embroidery is great! We have a giraffe that Ryley calls ‘Raffe’ too! 🙂

    • May 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm

      If I were to rewrite this I’d spell it Ryley’s way too! I’m glad they share a giraffe in common. 🙂

  14. Christine said,

    May 2, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Lol, the only way to make the back look as good as the front is to clip your thread after every spot! I do the same, I often just move the thread to the next spot, I don’t necessarily clip the thread for each one. Your giraffe is very cute. At first, at least until I read what you had done, I thought the giraffe was an applique. I was surprised to find out that it was bleached!

    • May 8, 2012 at 3:11 pm

      Thanks for your comment! A neat backside to my embroidery is definitely not important enough to me to do all that snipping knotting and reknotting!

  15. Kim said,

    May 3, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    That came out darling! I love it!

  16. Melanie said,

    May 4, 2012 at 6:43 am

    How cute! So glad that you shared. Thanks for helping make Things I’ve Done Thursday a success!

  17. Ashley Baker said,

    May 4, 2012 at 8:56 am

    So cute. I’d love it if you’d share this on my Fun Stuff Fridays Link up party. It just opened.


    • May 8, 2012 at 3:15 pm

      Thank you for the invite. I got it in, a little late though. I’ll come back in the future to link up other projects.

  18. Christine said,

    May 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Ahhhh! Perfect! Also brilliant, of course. Stealing your idea after The Kidling goes to bed tonight…


    • May 4, 2012 at 2:31 pm

      Hope she likes it as much as Eli has! He’d wear it all crusty and grungy if I didn’t insist he take it off for a proper washing. 🙂

  19. Christine said,

    May 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Oh, you have an Etsy shop?! I’ll take a peek…

  20. Rose said,

    May 7, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    Your giraffe is awesome! I’m sure that your little guy is enjoying it.

    • May 8, 2012 at 3:16 pm

      Thank you, Rose! He is. It is sometimes a bit of a struggle to convince him to let me change it when it gets grungy!

  21. May 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    Seriously, cutest skirt, Love the giraffe, and it would become my favorite. Creative how you used the bleach. As long as the front looks, who cares what the back holds. Great job, and again so very cute. Thanks for sharing your creative inspiration over at Sunday’s Best!

  22. six sisters said,

    May 9, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    The giraffe is so very cute!! Love this post! We loved having you link up to our “Strut Your Stuff Saturday.” We hope you’ll be back with more great ideas! -The Sisters

  23. tdblue said,

    May 9, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    This shirt is precious, and your little boy is such a cutie!

  24. adohrenwend said,

    May 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    I love your bleach and embroidery T-shirts. All of the T-shirts you’ve made are adorable. I love how you have personalized them into something special for your son Eli, I’m sure they must all be favorites!

    • May 14, 2012 at 7:35 am

      Thanks for your comment. I’m enjoying this time in his life when the things I make become his favorites (although it usually takes some coaxing to get them on him the first time!). I know the day will come when Mama-Made is decidedly uncool. But if I keep personalizing the stuff I make to his interests I bet I can ride this wave quite a while longer. 🙂

  25. Kelli said,

    May 25, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Coolest shirt ever! I HAVE to try this!

  26. books494 said,

    May 29, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    You are awesome!! I could spend all night reading this. You seem so organised!! Thanks for stopping by my blog. Brand new but you sure help!!

    • May 30, 2012 at 8:56 am

      Thank you for the compliment. Actually if anyone who actually knows me in real life read your comment they would laugh long and hard as I am anything BUT organized. It’s something I am rather less than proud of though so it doesn’t show too much on my blog.

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