Monday, October 25, 2021

Stencil Play

As I have blogged previously, I had the opportunity to take a class in Florence AL this past spring and learn some of the Alabama Chanin techniques. In addition to my two kits (blogged here and here), I purchased one of their stencils.

I have collected more than a few stencils over the years, especially those I've used over and over again with Nancy Shriber's contemporary sashiko technique. That is a sure-fire technique for me and I return to it over and over again. Such a meditative practice. 

I've also had some small successes with paint. I've used make-up sponges and I've tried stencil brushes. It is very hard, IMO, to get the paint applied smoothly. At AC, they use a commercial air brush machine that is very even and predictable. It does not change the hand of the fabric much at all. And the person applying the paint is an artisan in her own right. It takes just the right touch even with the best equipment.

Here is my first result using that AC stencil I purchased:

It is two layers of AC organic cotton and the sewing pattern is a variation on the Sewing Workshop's eTee. I applied the stencil to the outer light gray cotton. The paint is a metallic silver from stash. I used a make-up brush to apply it. It worked OK. But the paint was a bit uneven and, in places, it feels kind of leathery and stiff.

This is not terrible because I cut away most of the interior of the stencil, AC style. And I am quite pleased with the result. I sure do like the AC technique for applying a binding to a V neck. So good.

In September I took a class locally from Kathy Colt. The title was something like Printing with Natural Dyes. It checked a number of boxes for me so I signed up. And it was a great class.

The class spanned 2 consecutive days because natural dyes require quite a lot of processing. She wanted to walk us through the entire procedure from applying the thickened dyes to finished product. She gave us a recipe for creating the thickened paints from natural dyes. I'll try that some day.


The resulting fabrics are quite soft as the paint does not change the hand much at all. Natural dyes do finish much lighter than they look when initially applied though. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on your goals.


We had quite a lot of time to experiment on our own. Kathy brought with her a large selection of stencils, some purchased and some she created from photographs (another class!). She guided us in her process of applying thickened dyes to stencils on fabric. 

This was a "duh" moment for me. She uses a plain framed silk screen with the stencil sandwiched between the fabric and the screen. In a similar manner, she applies masking tape to fabric and prints geometric shapes flawlessly. Voila! The paints were so easy to apply evenly and not too thickly.

Kathy also brought a wonderful selection of her own creations - bags and garments and experimental pieces. She is a gifted artist, so inspiring. I have several samples from the class to incorporate in future projects and the left-over paint is still in my refrigerator. I must get to that soon!

My first step after Kathy's class was to purchase a plain framed silk screen. It is probably made from polyester and not silk. I don't think that matters much in this process. It was not expensive and I'm glad I added it to my tool kit.

My first project with this tool used up more stash of AC organic cotton.  The pattern is the Lark tee from Grainline Studio. I printed a front and back of a plain tee shirt with my koi stencil. I am smitten with the design. I took almost a week, working a few minutes each day so that the paint on each stenciled shape had time to dry. It was during a rainy period and it took a while for the prints to dry out.

I used ordinary fabric paint, navy blue. Unlike the natural paints, this produces a crisp dark image. I do love that! The silk screen worked like a charm. My work is not perfect, but it is getting better.

It has been suggested to me that you can make your own screen by placing polyester organza in a large embroidery hoop. I think that would work as well. However the framed one I purchased was not expensive. The paint does stain the frame or hoop. And I think it's easier to apply the paint in a rectangular space. So why not have a dedicated tool?

And there's more, right? I may create my own stencils now that I have a better understanding of the process and some keys to success. It is not a quick process but it is artistically satisfying.

Good times! I hope you too are finding time to explore your artistic side. We all have one.


  1. I love all of these, you are so adventurous and it is always a good day when you send out a new post.

    1. Many thanks to you! Do you receive an email notification? Just wondering.

  2. It's a delight to see all that you're working on. These are marvelous garments and are even better knowing how much you've enjoyed these techniques. And yes . . . it is indeed a good day when you send out a new post!!!!! It's the first thing I read, always.

    1. And thank you! I'm curious - do you receive an email notification? I'm not sure that works anymore.

  3. I am in awe of your talent and your willingness to branch out! These are gorgeous, and I love that koi stencil! Yes, I still get email notifications each time you post. And I am always delighted to see them.

  4. Can you share the AC technique for applying a binding to a V neck?

  5. Your koi top is gorgeous! Wow, you've really learned a lot about fabric embellishment and surface dyeing. I can't wait to see more. I used to be able to get a certain type of stencil brush that gave me the softest transluscent finish but just can't find them any more. That was back in the 80s and from a local now closed art store. I keep buying brushes but nothing comes close and sponges are not my favorite. I settle for second best brushes instead. Sigh.....Your work is wonderful.