Wednesday, February 22, 2012

multicolor stencil technique

As I work my way through the various projects for the baby gift box, I keep getting ideas... I found a new/used cotton onesie at the Goodwill up the street, a nice peach color, but very plain. It calls out for some decorative fabric paint to tie it in to the whole color theme...

While I could use freezer paper stenciling to come up with a motif, I am inclined to do a multicolor cave horse instead, since I already have the stencils cut. The nice thing about freezer paper stencils is that you make a unique design each time, but it requires cutting a new stencil each time. The nice thing about a reuseable stencil is that, depending on the substrate, you can have it available to decorate objects for years to come, without having to re-cut your design.

Stencil decoration is one of my very favorite ways to add original embellishment. A one part stencil is basically the same as the kind you can buy at a craft store, but by making your own you are not limited to any particular style or aesthetic... A multiple color stencil, while more complex, is still a relatively low-tech process.

This three color stencil patch decorates a black linen summer jacket

A multiple color stencil is a little more complicated to do than a single color. What I use is the clear acetate that you can get at a copy shop, used for report covers, a finepoint "sharpie" waterproof marker pen, and an exacto knife. I choose a design that I want to copy, making sure that it is either one of my own artworks, or copyright free.

1. First I trace onto a piece of acetate the overall design, then mark a few dots at various places around the edges, not covered by the design. (these dots are used to line up the different colors of the stencil) cut out the dots only on this piece. Then put the acetate back on top of your design.

2. On another piece of acetate, trace the parts of the design that you want to be in color #1, and trace the location of the dots as well. Cut out the color #1 parts, but do not cut out the dots, just leave them marked on your sheet. then tape the color #1 sheet on top of your design outline and original design.

3. Take another piece of acetate and do the same thing with where you want color #2, and so forth. (five colors is as many as I have done) what you should end up with is a stack of stencil acetates that combine to form your total design, all marked with "dots" in the same place, and one acetate with the "whole" design, which has the dots cut out.

Then comes the messy part... painting! First I use the whole design acetate to locate where on my fabric or garment I want the design to go, then rub chalk through the "dots" to leave locator marks on my project. Then I carefully line up the stencil #1 with those marks, and dab the appropriate color fabric paint through the stencil. Let that color dry, then repeat the process as many times as needed to complete your design. Then I brush away the chalk locator marks, and heat-set the fabric paint.


  1. Thanks for this- I think it will help me out a lot!

    1. oh good! information sharing is one of my favorite things about this electronic world...