Monday 1 July 2019

Today's THE Day: Learn How To Stencil!

About every year or so, I get lots of queries about stenciling on fabric for quilts. I don't know what sparks this mostly mid year craving for art, but whatever the trigger is, I wholeheartedly approve!

Stenciling is a real love of mine; I love that it's actually one of the most authentic and historic quilting techniques out there.. even though most quilters think it's a modern thing and mostly ignore it. Nope, it's authentic, timeless and proof that the earliest quilters were innovative, experimental and lovers of adapting techniques. 

So, to honor the early quilters and satisfy all the queries, I've decided to make all this week all about the pleasure and technique of stenciling.  

Are you ready to try something new? 

Today I offer a perfect little taste of what it means to stencil with this simple but effective Tulip Stencil. Print out your free Tulip pattern, follow the instructions below and give stenciling a go. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. 
Let's Stencil: The Tulip
Cutting matt
Tracing pencil
Permanent fine marker
Craft cutting knife or scalpel
Sharp scissors
Paper towels
Stubby paint brushes for stenciling: I like using round brushes, size 8 & 10
Small containers for mixing up colours
Freezer Paper ( I use Reynolds Brand)
Acrylic or textile paints (textile medium if applicable)
Extra fabric for experimenting
Plain background to be stenciled, approx a 12 ½inch block, however the size isn't as important as this workshop is focusing on technique.
Whichever acrylic paint you choose, ensure that you use Textile Medium unless specified otherwise by the paint manufacturer. 
Textile Medium helps paint adhere to fabric—for better setting, and is always recommended.
A stencil pattern is what you create when you cut out selected segments (holes) from a design according to a line drawing. Starting with the line drawing that you want to turn into a stencil, trace this line drawing onto freezer paper (use a light box if required)
Position freezer paper on cutting mat 
Then carefully cut out the design with a craft knife
It will look like this when complete
When cutting out your design, allow plenty of time. I find working with a scalpel best, however some people prefer sharp thin bladed decoupage scissors—use whatever method you are most comfortable with. You do not want to rush the cutting out as the lines will show up in your stenciling—jagged edging shows. If your work is neat, keep all the ‘cut outs’ separately for use later.
You want to keep the bottom half of the leaves for shading, so don't discard them
Iron your fabric and position your freezer paper stencil. On a mid heat, iron down the freezer paper. Do this carefully and ensure that all the lines are firmly ironed down as you do not want edges coming loose and lifting up when stenciling!
Set up your paints and pre-mix the colours you want to use. For this workshop, I used green and red and to create a darker green for shading, I simply blended the two together. Use a new brush for each color. There will be no need to rinse your brushes during stenciling.
Have plenty of paper toweling ready for blotting off excess paint from your brush. I can't stress this enough. Stenciling is not about 'painting' fabric, it is about building up layers of almost dry paint stippled into position - and these are very different things. 

Apply some paint to your blotting tissue. Now blot off any excess paint. It is important that your brush remain somewhat dry. Remember that you are building up color. When applying paint to your stencil, buff the color in with quick circular movements—with stenciling you are building up color, almost as if you were dry painting. DO NOT SATURATE THE STENCIL.
Colour is blotted into the fabric with a dry brush. This allows you to go over areas and build up stronger color where desired, creating shading effects. If you saturate your brush, or if you did not iron down completely, parts of the freezer paper will lift—and this will lead to color seeping through and smearing. THIS IS TO BE AVOIDED. As below.
When you reach an edge of color, such as red meeting green—use a plastic template as a barrier to keep colors separated. 
The stencil is now stenciled
Lift up your fabric. The painted stencil should be dry to touch and NOT leaking through the fabric. Leaking, seeping & blurriness mean too much wet paint! This image below is how your underside should look - essential dry to touch with no bleed through. 
To create 2 color shading effects on a leaf, return to your earlier cut outs and re-position half of the leaf cut out back onto the flower, as shown below. Iron down the freezer paper piece on top of the paint. Iron down both leaf pieces.

Painting the darker hue: Use the same circular dry method of stenciling. You are only covering half the painted leaf—you are covering the half you do NOT want painted a darker hue. 
Now, using a darker green, paint the top of the leaf
The freezer paper acts as a barrier to protect the color beneath
When dry, peel off the added freezer paper leaf pieces  to reveal two tones of color
Leave the stencil until dry to touch
Then carefully peel back the freezer paper stencil as seen below
Allow stencil to dry
Turn over and iron on wrong side of fabric
Turn to right side and iron over stencil to heat set
Cover ironing board with pressed cloth or paper and heat set the paint by ironing on the back of your stencil with a dry iron set on cotton. Ironing on the back of your stencil sets the paint most successfully (3 -4 minutes). I use fine paper over the stencil to protect my iron against staining when ironing the front. 

Now, what's stopping you from trying your hand at stenciling? 

The Tulip
Free Download
Simply click on this image to download your free
The Tulip Stencil Pattern 

Instant PDF Download


Start Stenciling Today PDF Guide
Buy the full guide to this tutorial post 
for just $1 USD
Instant PDF download 


  1. Great tutorial. One question though. Does the textile medium get mixed into the paint, or do you paint it onto the fabric before you paint the colors? Thanks.

    1. Normally you mix it into the paint and then work with the paint as usual.

      However what the brand you buy advises - follow the instructions. I have only worked with Jo Sonja. There were a few others but I ditched them and can't actually remember what brands they were now. Each brand is a little different.

    2. Thanks for replying. Look forward to trying this technique.

  2. Thank you, Esther. I stenciled my kitchen back splash years ago and it was very satisfying. I want to try my hand at this, too. Love your secret garden stencil!

  3. So thankful for these instructions. I have a stencil I have wanted to do to a shirt with a coordinating embroidery. Been sitting on both for a couple of years!

  4. Technique très intéressante, merci beaucoup pour le partage :)


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