One of the main staples of my wardrobe is my collection of nerdy t-shirts, and most days I can be found wandering around in jeans and one of my shirts announcing my love of classic sci-fi lit, Star Trek, Doctor Who, comics, zombies, etc. And if you’re anything like me, you know that you can never have too many geek themed t-shirts. But sometimes you just can’t find a shirt with the design you want, or you can’t afford to spend $20+ on that cool Star Trek shirt…and that’s where freezer paper stenciling comes in.
The cool thing about freezer paper stencils is you need very few supplies, and those supplies are cheap and easy to find. And it’s super easy, just somewhat fiddly and annoying (like when you’re 90% done cutting a stencil and you slip and cut the wrong piece, frakking up the whole damn stencil. But I digress…). When you’re done, you have a shirt that’s totally unique and when people stop you on the street (of course they will) and ask you where you got that *awesome* shirt, you get to smile smugly and say “oh this, why I made it.” So let’s get started…
FREEZER PAPER STENCILING
Step 1: Gather your supplies
Most importantly, you need your super awesome, geektastic image to use as a stencil. Stencilry and Spraypaintstencils are two decent resources, but my favorite way to find images is to do a google image search for “whatever geeky thing I’m looking for + stencil“. I knew I wanted to do a TARDIS shirt, so to find the image I’m using for this tutorial I searched for “TARDIS + stencil.”
Freezer paper is available at most grocery stores in the same area as the plastic wrap and foil. It makes an awesome stencil making material for a few reasons–it’s *cheap*, it’s easy to cut, and, this is the big one, when ironed it creates a slight, removable adhesive bond which means your stencil stays put and doesn’t bleed or run under the edges. The downside is your stencil is a one-use only deal, so if you want to outfit your entire extended family in matching Death Star t-shirts, this is probably not the best method to use.
You’ll also need a t-shirt (shocking, I know), an exacto knife or some other cutting implement (chainsaws not recommended), fabric paint and a foam paintbrush. In this example I used regular acrylic paint mixed with textile medium to make it suitable for fabrics–since I have a bunch of acrylic paints lying around this is cheaper and gives more color options.
Step 2: Trace your stencil
Print out the image you picked, resizing it to fit your shirt/intended look. Print out your image in black and white for easiest tracing factor–your eyes will appreciate it. Place the freezer paper over the image dull side up and trace. I recommend using bits of tape to secure the freezer paper to the image and keep it from sliding all over the place.
Step 3: Cut out stencil without severing any limbs
With your knife, carefully cut out your stencil. Try to avoid severing any fingers and/or major arteries during this step. Go slowly! Remember above when I mentioned messing up the stencil by making a wrong cut at the very end? Yeah, that’s not fun.
Oh, and notice those little bits in the TARDIS, the windows and panels? One of the nifty things about freezer paper is because it sticks to your shirt after being ironed, you can get fancy with your stencil and place unattached bits to form your image and not have to worry about them moving out of place. I know, the excitement is overwhelming for me too.
Step 4: Iron the stencil to your shirt
Dig out your iron from the back of the cupboard, blow off the dust (or is that just me?) and heat to “cotton” setting. Place your stencil on your shirt wherever you want it, shiny side down and get…ready…to…IRON!!! Don’t worry about over-ironing, that’s not really possible here. Keep your iron moving and really take your time, we want everything nice and secure and stuck down, otherwise you end up with areas of bleed-thru (dear god, no!). When it’s ironed within an inch of it’s life, we’re ready to move on.
Step 5: Painting, aka the fun part
Firstly, it’s not shown, but before you start painting you’ll want to insert something into your t-shirt behind the area you’re painting, separating the front and back. I used an old magazine because that’s what I had lying around, but cardboard, a cutting board, an actual t-shirt board made for this purpose (pshaw!) will work also–basically needs to be something thick enough to keep the paint from seeping through the front and onto the back fabric.
If you’re using the acryclic+textile medium, mix up your paints per the instructions on the back of the textile medium. Load up your foam brush with paint and start filling in your stencil. Think about dabbing or stippling the paint on rather than dragging/brushing it on to help keep your design’s edges sharp. Dragging the brush across the fabric will push some of the paint under the stencils edge, and you’ll end up with a fuzzy TARDIS (or whatever).
Step 6: Let dry and remove stencil, prepared to be amazed.
When your paint is nice and dry (I know it’s hard to be patient, but if you remove the stencil too soon, you risk utter stencil disaster) carefully pull the freezer paper stencil off your t-shirt. There will probably be some little bits that get stubborn and stay stuck as your peeling off the stencil. That’s okay, you can remove those bits after, using your fingernails or a butter knife to help coax them off. Stand back and marvel at the super awesome shirt you just created.
But wait, depending you what your paints/textile medium’s directions say, you probably can’t wear your shirt quite yet. I know, kind of a bummer, but important. Check the instructions on the bottle and do what they say–for the textile medium you need to let dry for a week, then heat set the paint with an iron to make it machine washable.
Wear your shirt with pride and send in a picture of your creation to email@example.com. I’d love to see what you came up with! If you have any questions or suggestions for future tutorials you’d like to see, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer.