Our finished Alabama Chanin garments, made from 100% organic cotton jersey, are beautiful when worn as unembellished Basics; however, through the years, most of our designs have highlighted the incredible number of stencil patterns in our growing library. These stencils are the cornerstone of both our design process and our business model.
From page 10 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design:
We use stencils as tools to transfer decorative patterns onto projects like dresses, skirts, and pillows. The stenciled patterns are then used by our artisans as guides for positioning embroidery and beading. Because the stencils so effectively guide the design, our artisans don’t need to work in our studio. Rather, they can work independently as individual business owners when and where they want, scheduling their work time as they like.
Abbie’s Flower All-over Stencil
Additionally, these stencils support our lean method manufacturing—allowing us ultimate flexibility in our design process in that we don’t need to purchase thousands of yards of printed fabrics in a variety of colors. Whether our end goal is a heavily hand-embroidered collection piece or a DIY Kit, each and every piece is hand-cut and stenciled.
We use our large collection of stencils—400 and counting—to transfer designs onto our fabrics and fabric project pieces. These stenciled fabric pieces act as roadmaps for embroidery techniques on a final project.
When considering a new stencil design for our collection, we ask several questions: does the design work within the Alabama Chanin aesthetic? Does the design look beautiful on a wide range of garments and products? Is it too big or too small for our intended embellishment techniques and can the design be scaled up or down? Perhaps most importantly, we must consider the ease or difficulty of working with the design on a garment or other piece in our collection.
We offer a tutorial on how to make and transfer stencils in each of our Studio Books, but present the basic instructions here as, over the next few months, we have a series of DIY projects planned that utilize the stenciling technique. Any of these stenciling methods can be used for garments, home décor—both indoor and outdoor—and even to create gift wrap for the upcoming holiday season. Follow the instructions below to get started.
CREATING A STENCIL
The first step in creating a stencil is to choose a stencil design. We offer a number of stencil designs on our Maker Supplies + Stencils page. But, there other fantastic resources out there, like Ed Roth’s Stencil 101, Lena Corwin’s Printing By Hand, and Amy Butler’s Amy Butler Stencils: Fresh, Decorative Patterns for Home, Fashion & Craft. Many of these sources offer ready-to-use stencils. If you choose a readymade, you can skip to the section below on transferring your stencil design. However, should you choose to create your own design or use a pattern that is not available as a ready-to-use stencil, follow the instructions below to create your own.
CREATING YOUR OWN STENCIL
After you have decided upon the right stencil pattern, we suggest printing this out at full scale at your local copy shop. We work with a printing company that services our local architects and has experience with printing larger format copies. These copies (depending on how large) usually run anywhere from $2 to $8. Be aware that many larger copy shops may not be familiar with large scale printing, so make sure to ask plenty of questions and compare prices when selecting a service.
Once you have selected and printed your design, you are ready to transfer it to your stencil medium.
From page 12 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design:
I’ve made stencils from poster board, wax paper and even brown paper bags, but my favorite stencil materials are clear, medium- to heavy-weight Mylar film and acrylic pennant felt. Clear Mylar film, sold at craft stores is easy to cut. Because you can see through it, you can trace a pattern directly on it with a permanent marker or use spray adhesive to affix a design printed on paper to it. Because this material bends easily, it needs to be stored with care. Acrylic pennant felt, available from specialty catalogs and online stores, is extremely durable, easy to cut with an X-acto or craft knife and easily stored for continued use.
Stencil artwork of your choice—printed to scale
Stencil material of your choice—we recommend Mylar film or pennant felt
X-acto or craft knife with sharp blade (sharpness is key)
From page 13 of Alabama Studio Sewing + Design:
Working in a well-ventilated area and following the instruction on the spray adhesive’s label, lightly spray the back of the paper printout of your stencil design with adhesive to keep the image from shifting as you cut. Then affix the paper to your transparent film or pennant felt, positioning it with a border of about 3” all around.
Place the film or felt on a cutting mat with your design facing up. Use the tip of a craft knife to cut out all of the design’s elements, leaving just the negative space around these elements—your stencil is a negative image of your original piece of art. Work carefully and slowly to avoid injury.
TRANSFERRING YOUR STENCIL DESIGN
Once you have purchased or carefully created your stencil, it is important to properly place the stencil over your fabric or material. Examine the stencil’s design elements and the size and shape of your fabric to determine how your stencil will compliment your surface area and overall design. If you will be stenciling other pieces, think about how your stencil could be positioned on adjacent surfaces.
Once you have a plan for how to position the stencil, follow these instructions for transferring the stencil design onto your chosen medium.
Stencil Transfer materials (Sharpie markers, textile paint, spray enamel)
100% organic cotton jersey
Use a light coating of the spray adhesive to hold the stencil in place on your garment. Use the method of your choice to transfer the stencil pattern. Sharpie markers are an easy method, but can be time consuming for larger pieces. But, they come in a variety of colors, which gives you lots of options. The marks last through many launderings, as well. Textile paint comes in paint-on and spray varieties. We use an airbrush to apply our textile paint, which helps to make sure the coverage is equal. Cans of enamel spray paint are easy to use, but not permanent, so keep that in mind when opting for this method. We provide lots of information, tips, and tricks on stenciling tools and techniques in our Studio Books.
We offer supplies for making your own stencils and ready-to-use stencils on our Maker Supplies + Stencils page and stencil-ready patterns on our Studio Books + Patterns page. Look for DIY posts featuring stencil techniques in the coming months and check back next Thursday for instructions on making the Stenciled T-shirt pictured at the beginning of this post.
You read my mind! Yesterday I cut (with a hot knife) and used my very first Mylar stencil! It was okay, but I will be looking to improve my techniques going forward. This is perfect.
I have had good results with detailed stencils by laminating the printout in my cheapo laminator and then cutting with a craft knife. The result is crisp and clear. Of course it is limited by the size of my laminator but it is easier for me to cut a smaller stencil and move it than to work with a huge piece.
I have not had a lot of luck in trying to paint . Not sure if buying an airbrush would help. I tried a spray bottle with your kind of paint but it did not work. So far I have just used sharpie markers
Have you tried using a damp makeup sponge? I buy the triangle sponges at the drugstore, wet them, dip them in a saucer of paint, and sort of pat the paint on the stencil, like applying wet foundation. I am still experimenting with getting the colors right for the fabric, but I love the way the paint looks.
WE have also had luck with the makeup sponges. Also, with spray bottles, you have to try several different kinds. We have some smaller ones that “mist” rather than “spray” and those seem to work best with most paint colors.
Natalie and all of us @ Alabama Chanin
You can also stencil with the kind of rubber foam used for seat cushion inserts. Cut a rectangular piece, fold it over and tie it with some string. It does not take a lot of foam to make a bunch of these! It takes time to stencil this way but it has worked very well for me. — I do not use spray adhesive. Just the stencil laid flat on top of the fabric. Make sure the sponge has only very little paint on it (dab off excess on plate or paper towel), so you can control the printing and make sure the paint doesn’t bleed under the stencil.
I have tried several spray bottles and even the small ones will mist at first and then get gloppy. I have started using brushes with the airbrush paint that is watered down so it wont be too thick. I just got a set of stenciling brushes from Blick and am anxious to try them. I may also give the makeup sponges a try. I will post results.
I love doing the sewing process so much ……and the results! I ordered the pennant felt from the AC website and like working with it. So far I have been doing smaller projects but I got several of the larger designs enlarged to audition for a dress and will use the felt. Very exciting!
I have been successful in making stencils with freezer paper (available at most grocery stores). It sticks to the fabric with a warm iron and peels off with no residue. I have used the same stencil several times. Though not as long lasting as pennant felt or mylar, I am not going to make a gazillion of the same pattern anyway.
For Mother’s Day, my husband&rascals bought me a tiny airbrush kit with a small compressor. It does an awesome job when transferring stencil designs. I have made my own stencils with pennant felt…not the crisp outlines you would want, necessarily. I have also cut out a large piece of mylar…very time-consuming and my hand hurt because I tried to do it all in one sitting. I have also traced a design (with wax tracing paper) onto mylar and cut it out with a hot knife. This was the easiest, most professional-looking method, and the result was beautiful. BUT, I must say that the 2 stencils I bought from Alabama Chanin have held up the best! Thanks AC for the marvelous inspiration and advice you continue to provide! xoxoxo
Hey, I’m wanting to stencil my downstairs bathroom. Are there any of your stencil designs are designed to pick up and repeat like that? I love love love your work (just finished an Anna Maria Horner Portrait blouse in your style) and would love to cover up the horrible wall paper removal of the previous owner with one of your stencil designs.
I just made a stencil out of marine vinyl (could not find pennant felt locally) and it came out very nice. Clean, sharp edges to painted shapes when I use it, it was easy to cut since I could use scissors instead of an xacto knife, and the material is durable and can be rolled up for storage.
I just cut a couple of stencils using Pellon. Usually used as a stiff interfacing, it’s pretty much the same thing as pennant felt, but available everywhere, and 22″ wide. I sewed two pieces together to make a BIG Anna’s garden stencil. Have also used freezer paper which is grand for one-off work.
I have made my own stencil for your skirt. I stenciled and sewed one panel. I went to get ready to stencil the next panel and had to clean the stencil. It was a horrible experience with lots of acetone. Can you recommend another method for removing the adhesive and paint from my stencil?
The method you use to clean the stencil could be determined based on what type of material you used. The stencils we use in-house are made from 10mil Mylar. Our stenciling department actually pre-treats stencils by coating each side of a new stencil with 2 coats of white paint and letting dry fully before use. Once this base layer is dry, it makes peeling dried paint and spray adhesive much easier. Our stencils generally go through quite a few uses before needing to be cleaned due to the pre-treatment as well as having a light hand with spray adhesive.
If this isn’t something you’re interested in doing, we usually rinse paint off immediately after stenciling before it has a chance to dry. As for the spray adhesive, you only need a very light coat to keep your stencil flat and in place on your garment. We are sometimes able to lay the stencil down again on a second panel without reapplying spray adhesive. If the spray adhesive residue builds up, we’ve used Krud Kutter to soak the stencils for at least an hour—keep in mind that this must be done in a very well-ventilated area as the smell is quite strong—before rinsing off with hot water.
We hope this helps. Let us know if you have any other questions.
To follow up on Alabama’s response on Nov 22, do you use your own white airbrush paint to coat the new stencil with?
We do use our own airbrush paint to coat the stencil. Let us know if you have any other questions.
How do you cut out the spiral stencil, as the lines themselves are so narrow.
We recommend using an Xacto knife with a fresh, sharp blade. The Spiral stencil is time-consuming to cut, but the payoff is well worth it. Take your time and make careful cuts—patience goes a long way with this project.
Let us know if you have any other questions.