How to Make a Stencil and Apply to Fabric

After watching too much Nate Berkus I had MANY ideas for various parts of my home.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Nate, he is an interior designer who had a daytime television show featuring many DIY design projects.  As I would watch his show on DVR, I would be inspired to change things around and add flair.

So many months later, I finally decided on my first Nate inspired project — make a stencil and utilize it on a fabric.  If you already have a stencil you want to use or just want to buy one, skip the items for making a stencil.

Items Needed to Make a Stencil

Items Needed to Make a Stencil:

  • Pattern (to use a base of the stencil)
  • Paper
  • Clear Transparency or Clear Folder
  • Exacto Knife
  • Cutting Board

Items Needed to Stencil a Fabric:

Items Needed for Apply a Stencil

Items Needed for Apply a Stencil

  • Stencil
  • Fabric
  • Acrylic Paint or Fabric Paint
  • Paper Plate, Cup or Shallow Dish (to put paint in)
  • Stencil Sponge
  • Tape (scotch worked for me, but depending on the lampshade you might needs painters tape)
  • Iron

I tried to be minimalistic on the supplies here and ending up just getting what was needed (list above).  So no, the dull box cutter I had would not work to cut out a pattern.  Sorry for the duplicate items.  I ended up revising my stencil half way through, but did get to stencil!

Paper vs cardboard, transparency.  I wanted to clear flexible surface to put my stencil on for what I was doing.  I also wanted to keep it for later use.  If you don’t, feel free to use another material like card stock, light cardboard, etc.

A cutting board or type of work surface that can take gouge marks is a must.  The blade will definitely make sharp indentations (even if pressing lightly).

I decided to stencil a fabric, but the same concept works for stenciling a lampshade, wall, rug, etc.  Be creative!

OberBargain Tip: Plan the project in advance so you can take advantage of the 40% or 50% off regular price coupons and get all your items at a discount.  I had leftover brown acrylic paint from the cork ball project and had some clear sheet protects so I did not need to purchase these items, but even if I did, I would still be able to do this project for under $10!




Making Outline for Custom Stencil

1. Decide on the pattern

  • (I think) this is the hardest part.  I took inspiration from my sheers in the living room and traced most of the pattern using pencil and paper.  You can always find something on the internet and print it out on an 8″ x 11″ or make something free hand.

2. Make suitable for cutting out

  • Modify the design as needed so it can be used as a stencil (i.e. – when the image is cut out, it will all connect and no small/fall away pieces, left enough space between cutouts that the stencil will hold, etc.) If you can, make a copy in case you need to re-do.

3. Make the actual stencil

  • Tape the pattern to the cutting board.  Make sure the tape will hold the paper and clear transparency.  You do not the image to slide half way through.  (If you are using a non-transparent material for the stencil, place on top of cutting board and then tape the stencil to the top of the material.)
  • For right handers, using the sharp end of the blade, start cutting on the top left side and work your way down/over.  When cutting, your free hand should always be above the cutting blade as to avoid accidents.  (Safety first!)  Cut the line of the pattern.  You do not need to press down hard on the blade, it will cut easily.  I did not use firm enough transparency, so I had to redo mine.  (Thankfully I had two different toughnesses!)  I also found that I needed more space in between cutouts to make the stencil sturdier.  My original pattern was intact enough that I could modify it and cut again.
  • After modifying the stencil, I was not a fan any longer.  I had to take out all the detail that had me falling in love with it.  I tried to think of another design that I would be happy with and my heart was set on a damask pattern.  That said, I ended up just buying a damask stencil.  (Don’t worry, I used my 50% off at Michael’s and got a great pattern for $2.50!) For those how had a simpler pattern, you are good to go!


Applying Stencil to a Fabric

Applying Stencil to a Fabric


1. Prepare the fabric & work surface

  • I initially wanted to apply the stencil to a lampshade, but then decided to make a throw pillow.  For those interested in stenciling a lampshade, make sure it is dust free (depending on the material of the shade, vacuum, etc as necessary).  This will help the tape stick better and allow for a more even pattern.
  • If you are using loose fabric, iron the fabric if need be to ensure there are no wrinkles or creases before applying the stencil.  Once the fabric is prepped, position the stencil on the fabric and tape so it does not move.  My fabric was thin, so I placed something underneath so it did not stain my work surface.

2. Start to paint the stencil

  • Place a small amount of paint on a paper plate.  Lightly dab the stencil brush into the paint and apply moving up and down.  Too much paint on the sponge will get under the stencil during application and cause the image to smudge. Moving the sponge side to side to apply the paint will also make the paint run under the stencil. Dab until you have throughly painted within the stencil. Reapply the paint as needed.
  • Depending on how ‘messy’ the stencil is and delicate the detail, it might need to be cleaned of paint in between repositionings to not smear the lines when applying to the next area.  I didn’t need to, but cleaned throughly before going on to my second piece of fabric.  To give you a time gauge, stenciling one of my 18″ x 20″ pieces of fabric took an hour from prep to finish.
  • If you are doing more than one color.  Wait for the first color to completely dry (overnight is a good gauge) and then apply the second color. Reapply the design until you have completed the look you wanted.
Completed Stencil

Completed Stencil



If the stencil fabric is going to be touched or possibly washed, the fabric will need to be set.  When the paint is throughly dry, iron the stenciled fabric from the reverse side with a dry iron on medium-high for three to five minutes to set the colors.  Repeat on the front of the fabric, laying a thin cloth over it so the paint doesn’t stick to the iron.


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3 Responses to “How to Make a Stencil and Apply to Fabric”

  1. jeff says:

    This is cutest blog ever.

  2. […] to focus on making the making the pillow.  If you are interested in the tea staining or how to make a stencil and apply it to fabric, then please go to the individual posts for those […]

  3. […] As for the lampshade, if you are looking to jazz up an existing shade with a stencil.  Check out an earlier post on making and applying a custom made stencil. […]

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