My fascination with stencils started about 15 years ago, when I was briefly involved as a seamstress-helper at a small theater company in California. I was helping to sew costumes for Madama Butterfly opera, which was a lot of fun! One of the creative challenges we faced was to decorate geisha’s silk kimonos with some traditional Japanese ornamentation, and do it within our (very small) budget. We purchased a bolt of white natural silk, then very creatively dyed it in the washing machine in various soft pastel fabric colors. I had no idea that you can dye fabric in a top loading washing machine! It was so easy and cost effective, and the color gets distributed evenly through the fabric. We got the regular liquid fabric colorant from the general store, then our costume designer and a creative director Nette made some really beautiful color mixes out of the basic few colors we bought. Each colorant mix yielded batches of gorgeous colorful silk. Fabric was let to naturally dry outside, then we ironed it and cut it into kimonos using sewing patterns that Nette have designed. Now I was wondering how would we apply the traditional Japanese ornament to the fabric? That’s when Nette simply said: “We’ll use a Stencil!”
“What’s a stencil?” I asked. She took a piece of oil board and an exacto knife and cut a simple leaf shape in the middle of it. Then she took a weird looking brush with a flat top, dabbed it in paint and instantly produced a perfect imprint, then another one, and one more… The minute I saw it, i knew I was hooked. There was something totally fascinating about how quickly and reliably she could reproduce an image using this simple tool called “stencil“. It was so fast and yet so crisp and accurate! Just a few days later I was cutting and cutting various shapes out of oil board, trying various colors and stenciling ways on silk. I quickly learned the Stenciling Rule #1: Use Less Paint! The stenciling technique was so rewarding, and allowed for so much experimentation, with color, shading, translucency, layering, masking… I loved it! We borrowed some books about Japanese art from the local library and were flooded with amazing imagery, precise geometric and organic ornaments and stenciling ideas. I was definitely obsessed, and there was no taking this exacto knife away from me! :) I spent late evenings in the studio experimenting with more and more stencil designs… This was the very first stencil “collection”, it was made for Madama Butterfly in 1996 and entirely hand-cut out of oil board and vinyl shelving paper with exacto knife.
At some point we had more stencils that we knew what to do with. So our costume designer had to tell me to please stop making stencils and start sewing the costumes already… The performance was coming up, there was lots of sewing to do, and we already had way more stencils than we needed for the production…
Our kimonos turned out fabulous. They looked stunning on stage. Our stenciling withstood numerous dry-cleanings and didn’t fade at all after many performances.
Later I’ve converted those original kimono stencil drawings into wall stencils that are now available in our site. You can use them on fabrics, furniture, walls, floors and many other surfaces that can use some decoration.
Stay tuned as we dive deeper into the Wonderful World of stenciling!