This post contains a few affiliate links to products I loved and used while making the schoolhouse gear! Things you buy through some links may earn a commission that will go straight into fixing up the schoolhouse!
Since we bought our schoolhouse in August of 2021, one of the most fun things we’ve been doing on the side is making fake uniforms, toddler letter jackets, athletic gear, crests, and other swag for it. It’s a completely ridiculous task, for sure, but it’s one of the things that has helped me pass the time as we are living in another city waiting for the professionals to finish things like a new roof, plumbing, electrical, and the long list of other things completely out of our skillset league.
I started my gear-making journey using one of those print-on-demand businesses, but I like these tactics so much more. (And it’s also less expensive in the long run!) It took me a lot of trial and error, blog reading, and research to figure out how to make some of the gear we’ve made for the school, and I wanted to share some of the really cool companies I’ve found along the way.
Short list of things I mention in this article:
- FM Expressions custom transfer sheets (I used the Athletic and Performance formulas)
- I have the Cricut Air Explore 2, but if I did it again I’d get the Cricut Maker 3!
- Wizard Pins for custom patches
- Iron-on letters, and chenille letters
- My heat press from Heat Press Nation
HOW I DESIGN EVERYTHING
First off, I am not a designer. I’m alright at Photoshop and I *wish* I took more graphic design classes in school, but I’m really not great at it. What has blown my mind a bit is how the design tools have evolved over the last decade or so so that anyone, even folks who are not great at design, can make beautiful graphics. I use Canva for all of my schoolhouse designs and it’s been incredible. They have thousands of templates, graphics, fonts and everything you need to make cool stuff. I pay for the yearly tool, but you can also pay for individual elements if you want to dabble. If you want to find great templates for retro-looking gear, I would search for things like “vintage logo” or “vintage sports t-shirt” and just poke around until you find a template that you can make work for you.
Additionally, you can export the files in Canva as SVG or PNG, which is super helpful when using the Cricut… which I outlined below!
FOR BASIC SHIRTS AND SCREEN PRINTING
My little sister gave me a Cricut for Christmas a couple years ago and I cannot believe how much I have used it for schoolhouse gear. If you just want a few shirts and don’t want to get in deeper into the swag/gear-making world, a Cricut is perfect. I mostly use the Cricut to make my kids’ clothes, but it is very time consuming to weed tiny designs… and the Cricut vinyl is NOT a solution if you want to print on athletic gear.
I have the Cricut on the left, the Cricut Explore Air. If I knew what I know now about how much I’d love the Cricut, I would buy the Cricut on the right, the Cricut Maker. The Maker is just a lot more versatile and can do more things than the Air. (Like carve wood, customize brass plates, etc.)
That being said, the Cricut clothes that I’ve made for the kids have gone through the wash a TON and I’ve been really impressed with how they’ve stood up. For the Cricut, I just use my regular iron to press on the designs… and when I’m home in Indiana by my heat press, I’ll use that instead.
MORE ADVANCED T-SHIRT PROCESS
I stumbled upon this company FM Expressions when I was researching how to make custom shirts, and I was super curious. The company makes custom heat transfers either in single colors OR full-color pages, and you can choose different formulas based on your projects– ie heat transfer formulas for athletic gear. You can check out more here.
FM expressions has a bunch of different formulas for different fabrics. You can get something that works for regular t shirts, or you can use their “Performance” formula, which I used here on these running clothes for our made up track club.
With this tactic you can make many shirts without all the vinyl weeding. And while the iron-on vinyl for the Cricut is super durable, the FM Expressions formulas definitely last longer.
You ALSO can make these things called Gang sheets with multiple designs on the single sheet. The gang sheets are a bit more expensive than buying 50 sheets of one design, but I find them to be incredibly useful for the small elements or smaller runs of a design. They’re great for making the toddler shirts. DEFINITELY more time efficient than the Cricut.
The one thing that held me back a bit was that the only way you can use these heat transfer sheets is you need to have a real heat press, no iron, no $100 Cricut heat press. I did a ton of research and ended up going with a basic one from Heat Press Nation, a company based in the US… vs buying a much cheaper heat press on Amazon. I am SO glad I did because the customer service from Heat Press Nation has been incredible the one time I had an issue with my unit. (They have lifetime technical support!) If I had purchased one from a random company, I am worried I would have had a very expensive brick of a heat press if it broke.
Because I knew that we were going to be making t-shirts and gear for kids over many years, I allowed myself to take the schoolhouse t-shirt process to the next level. (Also my brother and sister have been using the heat press a ton, so it’s been great. :))
HOW I’VE MADE OUR PATCHES AND CREST
A few weeks before my daughter was born, I was scrolling through Pinterest and saw a vintage crest patch. I immediately thought, “OH my gosh, our school needs a crest!” So I spent some weekend nap times and late nights working on a schoolhouse crest, using a private girls’ school crest from the Upper East Side where we used to live as a base. I then sent my design to the folks at Wizard Pins and they helped me clean it up and make it incredible.
Even though my order wasn’t huge, they still helped me a TON and I will definitely order from them again. When I asked for the high-res PNG of the file, they said no problem and I used their design to make a screen printed version of our crest for t shirts and sweatshirts.
OTHER FUN STUFF, IRON-ON LETTERS
While I’m always on the lookout for other schoolhouse-themed project ideas beyond gear, also wanted to share the little toddler letter jacket I made for my son. I got the iron-on letters from Etsy, and I tried a few from Alibaba. (They seemed the same, Alibaba is slightly cheaper and I imagine that’s where the Etsy sellers sourced their letters.) While the letters are not a super cheap or scalable solution, I love the retro vibes they add to some of the clothes.
You can also see some of the iron-on letters in this photo.
The final projects (for now) that I’ve been working on are two custom mosaics that I plan to install in the 2 entries into the schoolhouse… and a turkey painting for our living room. I’ll put together a full post on these soon. 🙂
I’ll continue to add to this post as I think up other hairbrained gear to make. Until then, I leave you with Pimm, our dog who is also a victim in our schoolhouse projects. 🙂