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.

Materials needed:

Note: You can avoid the above items by buying pre-cut stencils, but it’s much more fun to create your own!


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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 necessary.

Creating the Stencil

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.