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.
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.
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.
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.