Tutorial: Fabric Painting with Stencils

Today I’ve got a tutorial that is meant to help out with tomorrow’s project! Consider it a little bit of a sneak peek to what it is ^-~

Most of the projects I create involve a lot of appliqué, a kind of embellishment that involves sewing small shapes of fabric to other, larger pieces of fabric. It’s probably my favorite kind of embellishment which is why I use it so much and it offers a lot of variations and options. However, it doesn’t always work with everything, and next favorite way of embellishing has to be with fabric paint. This method is a like a faux kind of screen printing, where you use freezer paper as a fabric stencil.

Whenever you see one of my patterns calling for an appliqué, a lot of the time you can swap it out for a freezer paper fabric paint stencil instead.

Freezer paper stencils are particularly helpful for:
• Shapes that are too intricate or difficult to sew (but would be easier to cut with scissors)
• Shapes that repeat frequently over the design (stencils are reusable)
• Shapes that are very tiny
• Shapes that need a specific placement that might be hard to achieve in fabric
• Shapes that need a certain color that you don’t have in fabric

Times where it’s not so great to use paper stencils include:
• Shapes with a lot of inner negative spaces (like donut holes)
• Shapes that need to be appliquéd over fuzzy or furry fabric (like faux fur, corduroy, or other fabrics that don’t take well to paint)
• Very large shapes (that would use up lots of paint, over-saturating the fabric)
• Shapes that need to be overlapped (it can be done by doing several layers of stenciling, but it’s hard work and time-consuming)
• Light colors over dark fabrics (this again can take a lot of paint to overcome the dark color; fabric is more opaque)

As you can see, there are pros and cons to stenciling, but as you get the feel for the materials you’re working with, you can get a better idea of what would work best for what you want to achieve!

Materials you Need:
• Freezer paper (a kind of food storage wrap you can find with the aluminum foil)
• Iron
• Scissors (for cutting larger shapes)
• X-Acto knife (for cutting smaller, intricate shapes)
• Safety mat (or similar surface for absorbing the cuts of your X-acto, the thick cardboard backing of a sketchbook also works)
• Paintbrush or foam brush (don’t need to be fancy here, just get something where the bristles won’t fall out)
• Fabric paint (the smooth kind from a bottle, not puffy paint)
• Tape (preferably painter’s or artist’s tape, but scotch is also fine)

1. Print your paper stencil from your computer just the same as you would a sewing pattern. This is where you can also print the appliqué pattern and use it to cut a stencil instead. Cut a piece of freezer paper a little larger than your paper pattern. With the shiny side of the freezer paper facing down, place the paper pattern on top and tape it in place. With your X-acto knife, cut around the stencil shapes, going through both the printer paper and the freezer paper. When you come across the inner negative shapes, as you see with these gears I’m cutting, set them to the side and save them for the next step.

2. You’ll see the empty spaces that I cut is where the paint will go. Remove your stencil from the freezer paper and position it onto your fabric. Iron it in place with a low to medium setting without steam, and this will adhere the freezer paper to your fabric. You can peel it off later without it leaving a residue, hence the beauty of freezer paper – it’s like a sticky note for fabric! After your main shapes are ironed on, go back and place in the inner shapes that you saved from the previous step. These are more spots where you want to block paint. Now iron those on as well, and make sure all the edges are securely adhered so paint doesn’t leak beneath them.

3. When you’re sure everything has adhered, you can start painting! Place your fabric over a piece of newspaper or something similar if you’re worried about bleed through. Using either your foam brush or regular paintbrush, start putting the paint on your fabric, covering up the empty spaces in the stencil. Be careful to paint away from the edges of the stencil, so as not to force any paint beneath the freezer paper. Also be sure to get a nice even coat of paint, trying not to get it too thick or too thin. Your fabric may start to absorb some of the paint, so keep an eye on that so you can pay attention to when you need to add more.

4. When you’ve finished painting, you can begin to think about taking off your stencil. Most people say to take the stencil off after the paint dries, as if you do it now, you run the risk of smudging the wet paint. In my experience, if you wait for the paint to dry, the paint sometimes oozes beneath the edges and you end up with sloppy-looking lines. I think it all depends on what you think your skill level is. If you believe you can get the stencil off without smudging the wet paint, go for it! If you’re worried you might mess up, then play it safe and let the paint dry. Maybe you’ll luck out and your edges will still look crisp and clean 🙂

Either way, let your paint dry to its fullest before you continue on with your project. Most fabric paints call for you to heat set the fabric with an iron before moving on. Either way, your freezer paper stencil is ready to use again! Of course there’s some paint on it from the last application, but you’re free to iron it to another piece of fabric and it will stick just fine for at least 10 or so more applications.

I hope this tutorial helps out some people! So if you ever see one of my projects call for appliqué and you think you’d prefer it in paint, give it a shot!

7 thoughts on “Tutorial: Fabric Painting with Stencils”

  1. Sehr schönes Blog über Fabric Painting mit Schablonen. Es ist sehr gute Technik, um Malerei auf Ihre Lieblings-kleiden, mit Ihrem Lieblings-Stoff zu malen. Diese Schablonen malen oder die Gestaltung sieht sehr schön aus.

  2. Nice little tutorial. 🙂
    I’ve been doing stenciling for a little while now and I’ve also found that I prefer to remove the stencil before the paint dries. When I first started I let it dry before removing it and, depending on the thickness of the paint, found that sometimes the paint will try to pull up with the stencil, or like you said, the edging might not be as crisp.

    And so long as one is careful, there shouldn’t be much danger of smudging the paint. Especially if you use the tip of an X-Acto to lift more delicate/intricate areas instead of with fingers. The last 2 projects I did were extremely detailed, but I had no problems at all with removing the stencil with the paint still wet. :3

    1. Oh, that’s awesome that you’ve been stenciling too! I totally agree that letting the paint dry first can sometimes cause it to pull up with the stencil. And I use the tip of my X-Acto to peel back more delicate pieces too! Looks like great minds think alike 🙂

      I would love to try real screen printing one day, but I haven’t got the room XD So I’m all about different alternatives in the meantime ♥

    1. It might! I can say that it works on faux suede for sure.
      Ironing leather or suede has to be done gently, so a very low iron setting would be necessary as well as a press cloth. The material would have to be porous enough to take the paint as well — so suede should have no trouble but leather might depend on the finish. So you’ll likely need to test it on a scrap first, but there’s a chance it could work out!

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