Dries Van Noten on How to Make an Old Shirt a Piece of Art

Dries Van Noten on How to Make an Old Shirt a Piece of Art


In the latest installment of our designer D.I.Y. series, using paint to bring an old garment back to life.

At his house outside Antwerp, where Dries Van Noten spent the early part of the pandemic, the designer has 55 acres of famously glorious gardens filled with the roses and delphiniums and grasses and gooseberries that have inspired many of the lushly fecund prints that he creates himself, and that have become one of his signatures.

The gardens are also what inspired his do-it-yourself garment: an old shirt, given new life with paint.

“Transforming an already existing garment is always a great source of joy,” Mr. Van Noten said, noting that he was inspired by his flowers to create designs on a shirt. “I love the way paint interacts with fabrics, and it’s easy to do at home. You don’t need anything in particular — just your imagination and a pot of paint.”


Lay newspaper or packing paper on a flat surface. Use masking tape to secure it to the surface. Lay the shirt flat on the paper. Place cardboard between the two sides of the garment, so the paint doesn’t bleed.


Use two binder clips, one on the right shoulder and one on the left. Use two more on each side, one halfway between the armpit and hem and one an inch above the hem. Then use two on the bottom (the shirt hem), one each on the right and left corners.


On a light shirt, use a pencil to draw a pattern. For a dark-colored garment, use chalk. Here we painted three lilies.

Draw a small circle in three places on the garment — say, the top left of the shirt, just below the neckline and left shoulder, the middle of shirt and the bottom right. Draw six lines, approximately 4 to 5 inches long, extending from each small circle.


Put your paint in the mixing cup. Here we chose a metallic. Use a generous amount of paint for each stroke: The bristles on the brush should be completely covered with paint, with no bristles visible.

Using the lines drawn on the shirt as a guide, take the thick round brush and, starting at the end of the line closest to the circle, paint a curved line in a fluid motion toward the other end of the line to create one side of the flower petal.

Repeat this step on the other side of the line. The flower petal outline should resemble an elongated raindrop. To fill in the flower petal, repeat the painting technique with smaller strokes inside the petal outline.


Use the long edge of the sponge brush (dipped in paint) to place straight lines sporadically around the flowers to illustrate the stalk, pistil and stamen of the flower.


You can use the thick round brush to loosely draw some leaves around and between the flowers so the three separate flowers connect into one fluid design. The leaves can extend onto the top shoulder and upper arm of the shirt. Use the medium round brush to add smaller leaves. Let the garment dry for 24 hours.

Care note: Do not put the finished product in a washing machine. Dry clean or hand wash only. If you hand wash, turn the fabric inside out and use cold water with mild detergent (no fabric softener). Lay flat or line dry.

Photo credit: Getty Images (Dries Van Noten)


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