DIY Scrimmage Shirts

DIY scrimmage shirts are the go-to option for derby black and whites. If you can’t afford a fancy reversible scrimmage shirt (which are awesome, by the way, don’t get me wrong), using an old t-shirt and some crafting magic is a pretty good substitute. As a former employee of a large craft chain and lifelong crafting experimenter (just ask my Barbies), here’s what I’ve learned trying to make my own scrimmage shirts:


Iron-ons are finicky and might make your life miserable, but are also cool and fun.


Iron-on numbers are widely available at craft stores. They’re an easy way to get a high-quality number of the size you need on your back. If your scrimmage shirt has sleeves, you can iron on smaller numbers to the upper arm and forego sweaty armbands. Plus, you can print your own custom numbers on iron-on sheets or use pretty iron-on sheets (there are even zebra numbers for zebras!). Fancy, right? It is, but only if it works. Here are some tips for making it work:


  • Use a 100% cotton t-shirt. A lot of t-shirts are made of poly-cotton blends. Your best bet for getting the adhesive to stick to your shirt is to set your iron on the highest setting (cotton). You don’t want to use the “cotton” setting on a poly-cotton shirt and certainly not on anything with rayon or nylon in it (I did this once with my American Girl doll’s winter vest. It burned the fabric clean off. I was sad). Lots of iron-on products advise using 100% cotton fabric too.

  • Carefully read the instructions that come with the iron-ons. This may seem like obvious advice, but I did not do this because iron-ons seem pretty straightforward. I found out that many products require you to apply pressure for a certain number of seconds, apply heat from the other side of the fabric, etc.

  • Wash and dry shirts with iron-ons inside out. I like to wash them in lingerie bags to maximize their lifetime and minimize flaking of the iron-on material. See here for a guide to washing garments with iron-on transfers.


Also, depending on the quality of the iron-on material and how well it adheres to the shirt, you could end up with something like this after a year (my number is 6):

It’s still readable at scrimmages, but I’m pretty sure some of it came off just taking this picture.


My personal preference is for painting numbers on with fabric paint. It’s a little more involved (more set up/clean up than iron-ons) but costs less and I am usually happier with the results. Here’s what my teammates and I have learned:


Using stencils makes it look pretty, but it involves sprayable glue and that might be a problem.


This is especially helpful if you need to make a shirt that also acts as a jersey. Many WFTDA leagues’ B and C teams are adopting the WFTDA rules for jersey metrics [LINK]. Even if you’re not on a charter and aren’t required to have a matching jersey, you will want a shirt with numbers that are the correct size.


Plus, stencils make the finished product look nice, and make it easy for you to use fabric spray paint instead of a brush and tube. Here are some more tips for using stencils:


  • Use a non-permanent adhesive (sprayable ones work well but are kind of messy - be sure to use them in a well-ventilated area where you won’t get it on something you care about, like your cat) to attach the stencil to your shirt to prevent shifting and bleeding on the edges. Let the stencil air dry for a few seconds before sticking it the shirt -- this will make it easier to pull off.  

  • Apply multiple coats of fabric paint. This is more time-consuming but the numbers will last longer. Totally worth it.

  • Place cardboard or paper between the layers of the shirt. I use part of an old cereal box. If you don’t do this, the paint could bleed through and stick to the other side. Not fun.


Fabric markers work in a pinch, but might make your numbers look like a 4-year-old wrote them.


Fabric markers are great to keep on-hand in case you or a teammate finds yourself with a shirt that doesn’t have your number. But writing clearly on t-shirt fabric is more effort because the fabric likes to move with the marker tip, and it takes more effort to make it visible to officials. A few brands make huge markers that would work great for derby (in lots of pretty colors, like pearl! fun!). Here are some tips for using markers:


  • Place cardboard between the layers of the t-shirt and pin it in place so that the area you want to write on is taut. This will make the shirt easier to write on.

  • For black shirts, use a bleach pen. Note that this won’t produce clean-cut numbers, since the bleach will bleed a little. Also, it will not bleach the numbers white -- bleach on black shirts usually creates a brown-orange color (I found this out trying to recreate our old jerseys and ended up with a black scrimmage shirt that made it look like I was skating around topless).


Puffy paint is surprisingly effective!


Puffy paint is that crafty fabric paint that comes in 5 zillion colors but has a tiny little nozzle. It teaches you patience and manual dexterity AND it’s sparkly, so it’s really a win-win. Since the paint draws a thin line, you may want to scribble your number/name on several times so it is more easily visible to officials. You can also use “dimensional’ paint, which is puffy paint but with a larger applicator, so you can make larger designs. These are a bit pricier than the normal little puffy paint bottles but less effort.


Here are some scrimmage shirts the Dimes have made over the years:

Skorpion and the Big Booty Judies from Ann Arbor's 5-on-5 Tournament

Skorpion and the Big Booty Judies from Ann Arbor's 5-on-5 Tournament

Bombya and Jax, Big Booty and Lil Booty respectively, in their matching scrimmage shirts

Bombya and Jax, Big Booty and Lil Booty respectively, in their matching scrimmage shirts

Snarky Malarky's very first scrimmage shirts - stencils and bleach

Snarky Malarky's very first scrimmage shirts - stencils and bleach

The Dinos from Ann Arbor's 5-on-5 Tournament - cereal box stencil and fabric spray paint!

The Dinos from Ann Arbor's 5-on-5 Tournament - cereal box stencil and fabric spray paint!

Sharpie can work in a pinch!

Sharpie can work in a pinch!


Comment with your own tips and experiences. I hope you found this helpful!


Hellinor Bruisevelt is a Vigilante and Bruiser Alt. Nobody calls Hellinor by her full three-syllable name except her grandmother.

Posted on August 15, 2017 .