Thursday, September 6, 2012


My daughter asked me to make her a stenciled shirt for her to wear to her play auditions tonight. These shirts are so easy - I've made about a dozen stenciled shirts over the past few years for my kids, as gifts, etc. It took me about an hour to make this shirt, and the cost is pretty low, so I thought I'd share this stenciled shirt-making process as an idea for a Mutual activity. It would be cute to make YW theme shirts (YW torch, maybe - or a saying like "Arise and Shine Forth" or "Stand ye in holy places")

Since I already had the textile medium, craft paint, and freezer paper, the only thing I needed to purchase was a plain t-shirt. That cost me $5, but you might be able to find shirts on sale at Michaels (sometimes they are 2 fo $5) or other stores - or have the girls bring in a used t-shirt that they already own. If they bring a shirt, your cost would only be about $12 total for the textile medium, craft paint, and freezer paper. And that would be enough textile medium and freezer paper for at least 20 girls (though you might need 2 bottles of craft paint for more than 12 girls, which is only about $1 at Walmart)

This project is easy once you get the hang of it, despite my lengthy tutorial here. You might want to try a few projects at home before you teach the girls, so you can be comfortable with the process.

  • 1 T-shirt per girl (used is ok, if its new it will need to be pre-washed)
  • The image/lettering you want to stencil printed on computer paper (1 per girl)
  • 1 small bottle of textile medium (near craft paints in any store that has crafts). You don't need much, but don't skip the textile medium! 1 bottle will be enough for everyone and its not very expensive.
  • 1 small bottle of craft paint in your choice of color (or more if you are doing multiple colors)
  • 1 small paintbrush per girl
  • A roll of freezer paper (can find it by the aluminum foil in any store). Do NOT use wax paper.
  • An iron
  • 1 craft knife per girl
  • Tape
  • 1 piece of cardboard per girl (about the size of the inside of the shirt - not counting the sleeves). You can cut pieces of moving boxes or something - this is just to keep the paint off the back of the shirt. 

Print out your image and/or lettering on a piece of regular computer/printer paper (one page per girl). Do NOT try to reverse the image or lettering when you print. It will end up looking exactly like how you've printed it on the paper, so if you reverse the image it will be backwards.

Cut a piece of freezer paper (the same size or slightly smaller as their piece of cardboard) and tape the freezer paper to the cardboard, SHINY SIDE DOWN. Then tape the computer paper with the image/lettering on it to the top of the freezer paper (the image should be right-side up - just how you want it to look on the shirt)

Next, using a craft knife, the girls will cut out the image/lettering (carefully cutting through the paper and freezer paper, but not pushing so hard that they are cutting through the cardboard). This is best done on a table. Whatever you cut out will be the part that is painted. If you have letters that should have a blank space in the middle (like the letter 'p' in "keep" on the shirt shown in the example below), go ahead and have them just cut them out now and you can take care of replacing that part later.

Once they have the image/lettering cut out, have them check it over and clean up any rough edges or places they might have missed. The smoother the lines, the better.

Next, set the iron on low/medium heat. Remove the computer paper from the top of the freezer paper, being careful to take all of the tape off. You won't need the computer paper anymore, so you can just throw it out. Next you need to remove the freezer paper from the cardboard (again, make sure to remove any remaining tape left on the cardboard or freezer paper so it doesn't get ironed). Place the cardboard inside the shirt and lay it flat on the table. Now lay the freezer paper "stencil" on top of the shirt, SHINY SIDE DOWN, lining it up where you want it to be on the shirt. When you have it where you want it, iron the freezer paper down onto the shirt until it sticks to the shirt. Don't worry, the freezer paper will look like it is pretty well stuck to the shirt, but it will peel off later. You want to make sure the freezer paper is on there pretty well, so if its still sticking up anywhere, keep ironing until its stuck on.

At this point, you want to add any small pieces that need to be added. For example, if you have a 'p' or an 'o' in your lettering, you want to cut some appropriately-sized pieces of freezer paper to fill in where you don't want the paint to go. Just stick your little pieces (shiny side down) where you want them to go and iron briefly until they stick on.

After a minute or so the shirt will be cooled down and ready to paint. In the meantime, mix the paint. For most textile medium paints, its 2 parts craft paint to 1 part textile medium, but just follow the directions on the bottle - they may be slightly different. Textile medium is what will keep the paint from washing away or cracking when you launder the shirts, so this step is important!

For the shirt I made today I used less than 2 teaspoons of paint (2 parts paint, 1 part textile medium). It doesn't take a lot. You can always mix more if you need more. It would probably be best to use paper cups for the paint so everyone has their own if you have more than a couple of girls.

IMPORTANT: Painting the stencil is a multi-layer process. You can't overstress that the girls need to put on a super-thin layer of paint, especially for the first layer. If not, they're going to have problems with the paint seeping under the stencil and ruining the lines of the image/lettering.

The first layer should be very thin - like almost dry. When that is dry, do another layer (using only slightly more paint). And when that is dry do another layer (using only slightly more paint). To make the paint dry faster, use a hair-dryer (otherwise the process will take several hours). After 3 layers you should have pretty good. coverage. If there are still some spots that need more paint, touch them up. Do not remove the freezer paper until you are happy with how the paint looks and it is totally dry.

When you're satisfied with the paint and it is dry, you can peel off the freezer paper (but leave the cardboard inside the shirt). The freezer paper may rip - that is ok, the paint is dry and so it shouldn't damage the image at this point. You can throw the freezer paper away - you won't need to anymore. Once you have all the freezer paper peeled off, check over the design and make any touch-ups that are needed (fill in bare spots, or repair areas where there was bleeding.... you can't remove any paint that is on the shirt, but you might be able to fix a weird edge with a little more spot painting).

If you've added any touch-up  paint, be sure to use the hairdryer again to get the shirt totally dry again.

Press the painted area of the shirt with a low iron for a few seconds to set.

Viola- you're done!

  • Letters are the most tricky to do (because they are difficult to cut out and if you make a mistake its harder to fix), but if you do want to use lettering on your shirts try to pick a font with the least curvy letters. Straight lines are easier for lettering. And larger letters are easier, also.
  • You can print your own wording and photos directly from a program like Word. Its best to have the picture and lettering on one page instead of trying to Frankenstein together different items on the shirt. Its much easier to get everything aligned on the shirt if its already aligned on the paper.
  • You can find generic silhouettes (like my witch) online, basic shapes are best for beginners.

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