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Fabric Stenciling: Learn How To Stencil on Fabric to Create Custom Textiles

Stenciling on fabric is easy when you follow a few basic guidelines!
If you iron the fabric prior to stenciling and use the right tools and techniques, your fabric painting project should be a fun and rewarding experience. Not to mention how much money you can save with DIY decorating. With stenciling, you can create custom home textiles and garments!
What You'll Need
  • Your Cutting Edge Stencil
  • Fabric Scrap for testing
  • Low Tack Painters Tape
  • Stencil Paint (acrylic or textile paint)
  • Textile medium (optional)
  • Stencil Brush(es)
  • Dense Foam Roller
  • Paint Tray or Paper Plate
  • Paper Towels
  • Spray Adhesive
Preparing Your Fabric
Make sure that the fabric you’ll be stenciling is clean and ready to go! Many types of fabric are suitable for stenciling but in general, natural cotton, silk and linen accept paint much better than synthetics. Sheer fabrics and velvets can be more difficult to stencil, but it still possible. Fabric with lots of texture might not be suitable for stenciling. Cotton T-shirt fabric works nicely for stenciling. First, iron the fabric to remove as many wrinkles as possible. Then place the fabric on a flat surface like a table, a piece of plywood, or even on the floor. Be sure that there aren’t any ridges or bumps on that surface as they can “telegraph” and become visible when you stencil. Depending on the thickness of the fabric you are using, you may wish to have a piece of plastic or cardboard under to prevent the paint from bleeding through the fabric and getting on your table surface. Tape the fabric to your surface, pulling it tight and keeping it square, but avoid stretching it.
Masking
When stenciling furniture, always use a low tack painters tape such as 3M blue tape. Avoid masking over freshly painted surfaces as the tape can pull the paint up. Burnish (rub down) the edge of the tape for a cleaner line. Always remove your masking tape slowly, pulling it an an angle.
What paint to use to stencil fabric
When stenciling fabric you can use a specific fabric paint such as Jacquard textile paint or regular craft acrylics For craft acrylics, it’s best to add a dollop of fabric medium to the paint. This helps to make the paint softer and easier to apply while minimizing paint seepage under the stencil. Fabric medium is available at most craft stores. Textile paints have fabric medium already mixed in.
Using Spray Adhesive
When stenciling fabric, stencil adhesive is a must. Using a good quality repositionable spray adhesive makes stenciling your fabric project easy and gives your prints crisper edges. Always apply your spray adhesive in a well ventilated area. Mist the back of the stencil and let it dry for a few minutes so the adhesive tacks up. This will prevent any of the spray adhesive from transferring to the fabric. Reapply as necessary during your project.
Choosing Your Colors
Look at some reference for color combinations that work well together and do a test sample so you are comfortable with your choices. We love using white index cards for color swatches.
Sample Test
It is always a good idea to test your stenciling technique and color selections before starting your fabric stenciling project. You can test your stencil and colors on a small piece of similar fabric or on a discreet place on your project. Do a few prints to get comfortable with your technique. It’s also nice to have a sample for color and pattern reference so you can take it with you when shopping for accessories.
Positioning Your Fabric Stencil
Generally we recommend to start at the top left if you’re stenciling a large textile such as a curtain or a table cloth. You can measure and mark light guidelines using a chalk pencil that can easily be wiped off after stenciling but before you heat set the fabric in the end.
Stenciling With a Dense Foam Roller
This is a super fast way to get the job done. Works great for a curtain or tablecloth stencil project! Pour your stencil paint into a tray and EVENLY load your Dense foam roller by rolling it a few times through the paint, applying medium pressure. We don’t want a blotchy looking roller. Once your stencil roller is evenly saturated with paint, off load the excess paint by rolling it a couple times on folded paper towels. If the roller leaves stripy lines on the paper towels, reload the roller so it’s evenly coated and then off load it again on your folded paper towels. The roller should appear somewhat dry. Remember, It’s always better to have less paint on your roller because too much paint can cause paint seepage under the stencil.
Start rolling and slowly build up paint coverage using light to medium pressure. Don’t push too hard as this can cause paint bleed under the stencil. Carefully un-tape and pull back a corner of the stencil to see if your paint coverage is satisfactory. Reload and off load the roller as necessary during your stenciling project.
Built in Registration
Most Cutting Edge Stencils have a built in registration that makes alignment easy for a repeat patern. This means that the stencil aligns with previously stenciled elements. Alignment instructions are shown in the stencil’s description on our website.
Stenciling with a Brush
Sometimes you can't use a dense foam roller due to the shape of your furniture, so using a stencil brush would be perfect for such projects. Stencil brushes work better when you are using a stencil with small openings, and for multicolor stenciling. Using a stencil brush works great for shading and also for tight edges and corners. Select your stencil brush size based on the size of the stencil openings. In general, the smaller the stencil openings - the smaller the brush and vice versa. Pour you stencil paint onto a tray. Dip the stencil brush tip into the paint (only about 1/8") and then swirl it on the tray to evenly distribute the paint into the bristle tips. Off load the excess paint onto some folded paper towels. Like the roller, the brush should appear almost dry. Use a light swirling motion for a softer look and for shading. Make sure to avoid a sweeping motion towards the edges of the stencil openings, since it can force the paint under the stencil. Pouncing (straight up and down motion) works great for filling in areas. When using multiple colors, use a separate brush for each color to avoid color contamination.
About Paint Bleed or Paint Seepage
Stencil bleed occurs when paint seeps under the edge of the stencil leaving a less than perfect print. Don’t worry about this too much, but do take measures to reduce the amount of bleed. Know that there will always be some minor bleed or imperfections, as we’re creating a hand-painted textile. But when the fabric is stenciled and you look at the entire project your eye will see the color and the pattern. In most cases you wouldn’t even notice a little bleed. However, we still want to keep bleed to a minimum so we follow these guidelines: Don't overload your stencil roller or brush with paint, and build the paint coverage up slowly, without pressing hard on the roller. Use repositionable spray adhesive for even crisper edges.
Heat Setting
Heat setting your stenciled fabric is a way to increase the bond between the paint and the fabric by essentially melting the paint into the fibers of the fabric. This significantly adds to the durability of your stenciled fabric and helps to keep the stenciling from fading when it’s washed. Slowly iron your fully dried stenciled fabric through a piece of thin cotton cloth for about 30 seconds on a low setting making sure to heat all of the design. This process will permanently set the paint and add durability. If you are not planning to wash your fabric, this step is not necessary, so simply allow the paint to dry fully.
Clean Up
If you clean your brushes, rollers and stencils as soon as you are done with your project, the paint comes off much easier. Don’t soak your stencil brushes for a long time: the natural bristles expand and may split the metal ferrule. Using a drop of brush cleaner or Murphy’s Oil Soap works well for cleaning brushes. Using a Brush scrubbing tool helps to better remove paint particles from the brush bristles. Don’t let your brushes or roller dry out during the project. If you take a break, put them in a plastic baggie or cover with damp cloth.

Your stencil does not have to be cleaned after each repeat. It’s time to clean the stencil when there is a noticeable accumulation of paint - usually after quite a few repeats. In our experience, 10-15 repeats or more. Often you’d be able to stencil an entire medium size accent wall without cleaning the stencil. To clean your stencil, lay it on a flat surface such as a cutting board or a cookie tray, spray it with water and gently scrub with a dish brush under running water. Make sure you have a sink strainer in place to catch any paint pieces. If the paint on the stencil is very dry – we call it "caked" – let is soak for a while before scrubbing it. Lay the cleaned stencil onto paper towels and pat or roll it dry with a roll of paper towels – works great!

It’s not easy to remove spray adhesive from the stencil, but we find that the product called Signature Thread Spray It DK5 Glue Remover works really well. Our stencils are very durable and with proper care and cleaning should last for years!
Stencil Storage
It’s best to store your stencil flat whenever possible. We recommend placing your clean stencils between 2 pieces of paper or cardboard and storing them under the bed or even under an area rug!
Are you ready to stencil?
Stenciling is such an amazing and easy technique that opens the doors to endless decorative possibilities! Don’t be intimidated - be inspired! Just follow these guidelines, and in no time you’ll be stenciling like a pro! Want to learn more about stenciling? Check out our Blog or watch our informative and inspiring How To Stencil Videos!