Fabric Stenciling Basics
Fabric stenciling employs the same basic stenciling technique as other surfaces: Using a dry brush, water-based paint and creating shading and coloration variations by swirling or stippling through the stencil. Fabric stenciling could involve anything from a small project such as a painted canvas gift bag to stenciling a border pattern on curtains, such as the Thistle and Grape Scroll shown at left. As always with stenciling, the choices are virtually limitless! See our Extraordinary Stencil Effects Video: Fabric and Glass for demonstrations of fabric stenciling on silk, velvet and canvas using three different stenciling techniques.
Generally, fabric painting is best done on natural fabrics such as cotton, muslin, denim, velvet and heavier silks. Popular surfaces include aprons, canvas totes and pillow covers, tablecloths, bed linens, denim shirts or jeans, curtains, slipcovers and cambric window shades.
If the item is going to be "wash and wear", remove the sizing on the fabric by washing it before painting. Air dry and iron.
There are many paints designed specifically for painting on fabric. Regular craft acrylics can be turned into suitable fabric painting mediums with the simple addition of Textile Medium. The Textile Medium changes the properties of the paint, allowing it to bond better with the fibers and leaving a softer, more pliable feel on the surface. Metallic paints can be used as well, or created by mixing metallic powders into Textile Medium.
Keeping it in place
Heavier fabrics will tend not to move very much when stenciling. Lighter fabrics can be held in place by working on a smooth cardboard surface that has been lightly sprayed with stencil adhesive. Small fabric pieces can be held in place by taping fine sandpaper to the work surface and placing the fabric over it.
Use Stencil Adhesive is also useful for keeping the stencils from shifting on the fabric as you work.
The basic stenciling technique is the same for smooth fabrics. Although the fabric is generally a more absorbent surface than most walls or furniture, you will still need to offload the brush well, and apply paint by building up thin layers of color.
Heavier, textured fabrics such as velvet require more paint to fill in and cover. A stippling or pouncing technique can be used with the stencil brush to work the paint well into the fibers. Our large Verona, Florence and Palermo tile stencils are simply stenciled with metallic paints on Pottery Barn velvet pillow covers.
Again, if you plan to wash your fabric, you will want to heat-set the paint. The easiest way is to place the item in the dryer on high heat for an hour. Otherwise, you can heat set the painted area with a hot, dry iron and pressing cloth for a minute or two.
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