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Epoxy T-Shirt Experiment

 

This project begins with an old shirt with sentimental value.

This t-shirt was old, had a few small holes and stains, and was destined for the rag pile. Yet the artwork was still pretty vibrant looking. There were some memories wrapped up in this old shirt, as I had bought it for my wife way back when we were dating. She wore it for many years, then it got packed away until our kids started wearing it. The youngest has now outgrown it, so we thought were were done with it.

But as I stated, the artwork was still nice, and it had some sentimental meaning to us, so I decided to try and turn it into something else. Using epoxy, I would turn the shirt into a piece of artwork.

I first made a test with another old t-shirt. This one had already been cut up as a rag. I first tried some 5-minute epoxy. This seemed to work, but this project would require a lot of epoxy, which I didn't have in the 5-minute variety. (This is the small patch on the left, which I am pointing to with my finger)

I also tried some West System epoxy. I have had a West System kit for quite a few years. (This is the large dark patch on the right.) This worked pretty well. The shirst stuck down solid to the board. However, the image did turn out rather dark. One thing I discovered was that the hardener in my epoxy kit had turned amber. I looked this up online and found out that this can be caused by age (my kit is over 3 years old, or more.) or by moisture. The epoxy does still work, it just has a colour to it.

With this encouraging test result, I was ready to press on. I found a piece of quarter inch plywood that was the right size for a backer board.

First, I reconsidered the situation. The first test turned out rather dark. I had used a green scrap of plywood for the test and I think that the green colour was showing through. I first thought about painting my plwood white, but that would add a few days of waiting to this project. Then I thought about adding some heavy white paper on top of the plywood. This seemed worth further investigation.

I tried another test on a piece of plain plywood. As you can see here, the t-shirt turned almost transparent, and the wood does show through. However, on the section on the white heavy paper, the wood does not show through.

I used spray adhesive to mount this heavy paper to my plywood backing board. I then cut the paper down to match the size of the plywood.

 

I cut the back off of the t-shirt and used more spray adhesive to stick the t-shirt to the white paper on the plywood.

I was a bit concerned about using the spray adhesive. I hoped that it would not react poorly with the epoxy. But I felt that I had to use this in order to have the shirt firmly stuck in place during the epoxy pour.

The spray adhesive worked very well. I could stretch and smooth out the shirt so it was stuck down nice and flat. I did not have to iron the shirt, which was a bonus.

I then started mixing and pouring out the epoxy. The West system uses "metered" pumps, to automatically dispense the correct amount of epoxy + hardener. In total I used twelve "pumps" of epoxy and hardener. This was just a bit too much, which is better than too little.

I first poured out about half...

...and then used a small piece of thin plywood to spread the epoxy out. I wanted it to soak through the shirt so as to bind it firmly to the background. I then added more, and spread it again, and repeated until I thought there was sufficient.

I used a small propane torch to gently heat the epoxy and eliminate all the bubbles that had formed. A heat gun would probably be a better choice, but I don't have one.

By the next day the epoxy had dried. I was quite pleased with the results. It was not perflectly glassy smooth, but it looked pretty good. I did not find any bubbles. I could have polished it up with some super-high grit sandpaper (1000 grit or higher) if I really wanted a high gloss.

I first cut off the loose fabric edges with some scissors and then moved to the bandsaw to trim it into a rectangle. I was concerned that if a saw blade cut into the loose fabric that it would jam or possibly shred the project. So I was careful to only cut in parts that were saturated with the epoxy.

I then took it to the tablesaw and cleaned up the edges and trimmed it to final size.

Here is a close up of one of the edges. Mostly you just see the edge of the plywood. The epoxy, t-shirt, and heavy paper are such a thin layer on top of the plywood.

 

Here below are some photos of the finished project. I had some cherry frame stock left over from a framing project from a few years ago. I skipped over the framing, as that was not the focus here. This project was all about the epoxy and t-shirt experiment. I used some thin pieces of teak as splines to reinforce the miter joints. The final photo shows the completed project hanging on the wall of my shop.

IN CONCLUSION: I think this experiment was a success. I am a bit disappointed in the amber colouration, but I know that I can fix that next time by buying new hardener for my epoxy kit. Another thing to bear in mind is that most epoxy does yellow with age (unless you have UV inhibitors in it) so this project would have yellowed eventually.

 

Thanks for reading!

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