This document was originally a pamphlet that accompanied classes I taught in the East Kingdom of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc.
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By Lady Faoiltighearna inghean mhic Ghuaire
Copyright © 1999 Margo Farnsworth
Stenciling is a technique I learned back in high school before I joined the SCA. I have found this to be the easiest way to decorate a pavilion and have had many requests to teach this technique to others. We have evidence of painted pavillions in period, but I have not found any evidence (yet) that they were stenciled. I have also used this technique to decorate a cover for my cooler, a wooden kitchen table, my lords shield, napkins, t-shirts, hats, and shoes. Someone joked that if you stood still in our encampment too long you would be stenciled! Once you have the technique down, you will find that it is very addictive.
Note: You can avoid the above items by buying pre-cut stencils, but it’s much more fun to create your
- Mylar - This is the best material to make your stencil out of. It is durable, washable and you can see
through it. I have also cut stencils out of the sides of milk jugs and printed from my computer onto
transparencies (this method works REALLY well!).
- Permanent black marker
- Xacto knife or stencil burner (stencil burners can be found at many craft stores, I have seen this same
item marked as a wood burner, just make sure it has a small pointy tip)
- Cutting board or cardboard to cut the stencil on, glass if you are using a burner.
- Paint appropriate to what you are painting on. If you are painting fabric, you will need either fabric
paint or fabric medium to add to your paint. I always work with acrylics, but you can use oil paints if
you prefer (but not on fabric).
- Stencil brushes in appropriate sizes for your project. I find I like the natural britle ones best.
- Plastic plates to use as pallets for your paint.
- Newspaper for the back of your project if you are working on fabric.
- Artists tape or white paper tape. I find these types are the best (they allow you to pick up your stencil and place it repeatedly while retaining their adhesive), but you can also use masking tape.
- Pencil to mark any registration marks with.
- Scrap paper or fabric to test your stencil on.
- Paper towels and water are always good to have around, too.
First, we’ll go over the technique of painting the stencil. There are two styles, pouncing and dry brush.
Dry brush gives you a shaded air-brushed appearance like you see in a lot of country stenciling, so I will
not cover it here. I use the pouncing technique which gives you areas of flat color. If you are working on
fabric, pre-wash it if you will be washing it after it is painted. Here are the steps:
- Squeeze paint onto your pallet. I usually put about a tablespoon onto my plate, more if I know that I
will need to cover a large area.
- Put small rolls (sticky side out) of tape on the back of your stencil, you may need to put extra rolls in
any area of the stencil that may be a bit “floppy”. Place your stencil. Make sure it is exactly where you
want it, this is a critical step.
- Load the brush. Take your brush and dab it lightly on the surface of the paint. Off to the side of the
pile of paint (but still on the plate) lightly press down on the brush and swirl it around. This helps to
evenly distribute the paint on the ends of the bristles. The first time you load your brush you made need
to do this a couple of times. Do not overload your brush! This will cause splotching around the edges of
your stencil where the excess paint has ooozed under the edge.
- Take your brush and start tapping it in the center of the stencil area. If possible, do it away from the
edges (only works on large stencils). Use a tapping motion, keeping the brush perpendicular to the work
surface. Do not brush from side to side, this will give a different appearance and force the paint under
the edges of the stencil creating splotching. The force of your tapping will vary according to the material
you are painting and the flexibility of your brush. I prefer to use slightly softer brushes on fabric as they
can get into the grooves of the fabric better and are less jarring to my wrist. Reload the brush as
- If you are repeating the stencil, pick up the stencil and wipe any splotches that may have occured on
the backside. If you do not do this, that splotch will be repeated. You will need to be careful when
placing the stencil again so as not to place the edge on wet paint. You may need to cut down the
edge, but not too much or your brush will make marks off the edge of the stencil.
- If you are working with multiple colors, make sure the first color has dried before laying the stencil
for the second color.
- If you are painting fabric, after you have applied all colors and it has dried sufficiently, iron it. This
melts the paint into the fibers (with most fabric paints).
- If you are painting many repeats of the stencil, you may end up with build-up on the edges. This is
from small bits of paint drying on. The stencil will stop printing as clear because of this. It’s a good
idea to stop and rinse off the stencil as soon as you notice this happening.
Creating the Stencil
- First, choose a pattern. Things with lots of little elements or fine details are not so great to stencil,
although they can be done. Here is an example of a simple fleur-di-lis that should make a nice stencil.
One of the keys is that all of the white areas should be connecting. Otherwise, when the stencil is cut any
not connected areas will simply fall out.
- Adjust the pattern as necessary to create a strong stencil. While this is a decent example, the stencil
could be made stronger. The white areas coming down between the “petals” are fairly thin and would be
a bit floppy and unsupported; the same can be said for the lower “petals”. We can strenghten the stencil
by creating connections across the top and the bottom of the bar that goes across. Transfer the pattern to
mylar using a permanent black marker. If, by any chance, you have made the pattern in the computer you can print it directly to a transparency
with a laser printer. This does not work with a injet printer, the ink does not dry properly.
- Cut the stencil. Start cutting out the smallest pieces first. When the larger pieces come out the
stencil becomes less stable. If you are using an Xacto knife, you need to be very careful not to cut through the
thin connectors (these can be repaired with Scotch tape, but that’s real pain). I would start by cutting out the
bar in the middle first. Then I would proceed to the smaller petals on the bottom by placing the Xacto tip
at the edge of the black closest to the bar so that I am pulling away from the connector. Going around
curves with an Xacto can be tricky, I find that I turn the stencil with my left hand while turning in the
opposite direction and cutting with my right. This is something you’ll have to play with to see what
works best for you. If you find that you are making a lot of stencils, I highly recommend getting a stencil
burner. The tip heats up to 600 degrees and melts the mylar. With this tool, you can cut in any direction,
change directions without lifting, work around difficult curves with ease, and it gives you a much stronger stencil. Stencils cut with an Xacto tend to
tear at any sharp corners.