Easy Ways to Make a Stencil for Fabric Painting

The days until Christmas and Hanukah are dwindling. I don’t know about you, but I’m already starting to worry there won’t be enough time to order all of my supplies and to finish the holiday projects I have planned on time.

Commercial plastic stencils shown with various applicators. Photo by Tom Liden.

In an effort to stave off my anxiety, I decided to take a look through my tried and true copy of The Surface Designer’s Handbook in the hope I would stumble upon a gift idea that wouldn’t require much in the way of time or supplies. As I was weighing the pros and cons of creating shibori-dyed throw pillows, I came across the stenciling chapter. Of course, stenciling! Why hadn’t I thought of that before?

Stenciling is a great way to add a little something special to any gift, whether it’s a quilted tote bag for a sister or a set of coasters for a friend. Plus, you can use commercial stencils or easily make your own with simple office supplies in no time. The materials for stencils are just a trip to the office supply store away, and they’re so easy to create at home using overhead projector sheets or manila file folders.

Here are 3 easy steps to creating a stencil out of acetate overhead projector sheets or a manila file folder:

1. Draw or trace a design onto the acetate or file folder

2. Use an X-acto knife on a cutting mat, or even a piece of cardboard, to cut out your design (hint: start your cuts at the corners to reduce the risk of over-cutting)

3. Seal your stencil made from a manila envelope with polyurethane outside or in a well-ventilated area with two coats on each side of the folder

A commercial plastic stencil used to print on cotton fabric with a foam brush and acrylic paint. Photo by Tom Liden.

Now you are ready to print. Here are the 5 steps to a successful stencil print:

1. Tape or pin the fabric down

2. Place stencil on fabric using masking tape or spray adhesive

3. Use a foam brush in a pouncing motion to apply fabric paint (hint: avoid applying the paint in a stroking motion because it can force paint under the edges of the stencil)

4. Reposition and repeat as necessary

5. Once the paint is completely dry, set with a warm iron and pressing cloth according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Voila, now you have the makings of a truly unique gift!

Learn more ways to make a stencil along with in-depth information and inspiration on surface design techniques including dyeing, screen printing, discharging, stamping, and more in The Surface Designer’s Handbook by Holly Brackmann. Download your copy today to start making those last minute gifts.

Happy stenciling!

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