The Complete Book of Stencilcraft

The Complete Book of Stencilcraft

by JoAnne Day

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Stenciling is an inexpensive and clever way to decorate otherwise plain surroundings. Today, with renewed public interest in this age-old craft, the distinctive art form is as popular as ever.
In The Complete Book of Stencilcraft, artist and teacher JoAnne Day has updated older stenciling methods and applications, and the result is an easily affordable


Stenciling is an inexpensive and clever way to decorate otherwise plain surroundings. Today, with renewed public interest in this age-old craft, the distinctive art form is as popular as ever.
In The Complete Book of Stencilcraft, artist and teacher JoAnne Day has updated older stenciling methods and applications, and the result is an easily affordable sourcebook that enables even beginners to create a multitude of eye-catching designs. Numerous ready-to-use reproductions of rare stencil patterns include colorful florals, decorative alphabets, and quaintly dressed folk figures. Easy-to-follow directions tell how to prepare stencil paper, transfer designs, select appropriate paints, and use brushes. Helpful guidelines also suggest ways to achieve harmony, balance, and tasteful effects as well as adapt favorite designs from other sources.
As an art form, stenciling offers many attractive advantages: necessary tools and equipment — paper, knife, a stiff brush, and paint — are inexpensive and available in most well-stocked hardware or art-supply stores. Skills needed to cut stencils are easily acquired, and patterns can be applied directly to just about any surface or material, including floors, walls, ceilings, furniture, fabrics, canvas, leather, and tin.
A valuable addition to any craft library, this comprehensive volume is sure to please all those who receive great personal satisfaction from creating an enduring work of beauty with their own hands.

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Dover Publications
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Dover Craft Bks.
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8.39(w) x 11.20(h) x 0.58(d)

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By JoAnne C. Day

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1987 JoAnne C. Day
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-15865-5





The oldest recorded stencils were found in China, with the outlines of the designs pricked with a pin rather than cut away. Powdered charcoal was rubbed through the myriad tiny pinpricks and left a stencil impression composed of dots. These dots were connected freehand with lines to form repeated patterns. Cut-out stencils as we know them today appeared with the development of cutting tools and the cheap manufacture of paper.

A stencil design is a large composite of shaped patches of color, which may not relate to each other individually, but together form a decorative design (Fig. 1).

A stencil plate is a thin sheet of durable paper on which the stencil design is copied and the various patch areas cut out with a stencil knife (Fig. 2).

Stenciling, the process in which a design is reproduced, is done by placing the stencil plate on any prepared surface and applying color through the cut-out openings. A design remains marked out where the coloring matter has reached through the openings of the stencil plate.

An understanding of how a stencil design remains intact after cutting, and does not fall to pieces, is grasped by the following example (Fig. 3). If a diamond is drawn on a sheet of paper and its outlines cut with a knife, the body of the diamond is cut away along with the center background of the diamond. When stenciling with this plate, the result is simply a solid diamond of color. Therefore, if a diamond outline is to be obtained, the center piece must be kept in place by joining it to the main body of the plate with narrow bridges or strips of paper known as ties.

Ties are strategically placed to hold the various parts of the stencil plate together and help in the formation of the design. Ties are an integral part of the pattern. The black portions of the stencil designs in this book are cut out and the remaining backgrounds form the ties and stencil plate.


In a positive stencil design, the ornament is stenciled. Most stencils are positive because more techniques can be utilized. Positive stencils can be stenciled in more than one color, shaded and highlighted, and used to decorate any surface (Fig. 4).

In a negative stencil design, the ornament is defined by the background being stenciled. The ornament remains the surface color. Negative stenciling is monochromatic (Fig. 5).


Continuous Borders. A continuous border can be a simple geometric or an elaborate floral. These bands of repeating design, as narrow as ¼ inch or as wide as 18 inches, are used for the decoration of fabrics, furniture, floors, and walls. All borders can be stenciled in one or more colors (Fig. 6).

Fret Borders. A fret is an interlocking, angular band of stencil design that forms a border. The fret is geometric although it may be interrupted by nongeometric design. Fret borders look especially good on floors but can decorate any surface (Fig. 7).

Interrupted Borders. Borders that are interrupted regularly by principal parts differing from the band design are designated interrupted borders (Fig. 8).

Spot Stencils. Spots vary in size, shape, and design. Any individual design is considered a spot stencil, such as a flower, a bird, a geometric shape. Spots can be used sparsely or in greater density, and in one or more colors. They adapt to any surface and can be used alone or in combination with borders (Fig. 9).

Diaper Stencils. Diaper designs are the most complex stencil designs. The pattern in a diaper continuously repeats itself in all directions. When a diaper is stenciled, the overall pattern interlocks as if it had no apparent beginning or end (Fig. 10).


The best method for terminating a border is a straight line. When you have reached the point at which the border should end, allow a small space and stencil a vertical line. Very narrow borders do not require terminating (Fig. 11).


To continue a border around a turn, a turn-corner stencil can be utilized. The border design is modified slightly to accommodate turning the corner. The turn-corner stencil makes a right-angle turn and flows uninterrupted into the border design. (Fig. 12).

A simpler means of turning a border is to use a spot stencil in the corner. The spot stencil is larger than the width of the border. The border is stenciled up to the spot but does not touch it (Fig. 13).

A third method is to miter the corner. Mitering is easily understood by observing how a picture frame is joined at corners (Fig. 14). Instructions are given in "Stenciling on Floors."


All stencil designs that run continuously, such as borders, frets, and diapers, must have register marks. Register marks help match up and closely join each setting of the stencil plate, thus keeping the stenciling straight. Register marks are on the right or left side of the stencil plate and repeat part of the design on the opposite side of the stencil plate. For each new setting, the plate is placed to the right or left side of the first impression, with the register mark exactly over its matching place in the previously stenciled impression (Fig. 15).

Two-plate stencils require two sets of register marks. Each plate will be stenciled in a different color. The register marks on the first plate are like those described above, but on the second plate the register marks consist of a few cut-out parts from the first stencil plate. After the first color has been stenciled, the second plate is placed on top with the register marks placed over the matching parts of the first stencil. The second color is stenciled excluding the cut-out register marks, which remain the first color. Without these register marks, the exact location of the design on the second plate would be stenciled out of balance with the design on the first plate (Fig. 16).


Stenciling is often done in more than one color using a single stencil plate. To apply colors using one setting of the stencil plate, the parts to be transferred in the second color are covered with the hand or a piece of masking tape while the first color is transferred. Then, without removing the stencil plate, the second color is stenciled while the first is covered. In this manner the colors are kept clean and separate.

Masks are also used to prevent stenciling beyond a designated limit; for example, one might mask off a diaper stencil before it reaches an enclosing border (Fig. 17).


Chalk guidelines are applied on fabrics, furniture, floors, and walls to help locate stencil placement. Pencil guidelines are drawn through the center of the stencil plate. Place the stencil plate over the chalk guideline and center the pencil guideline so both are joined and form a single line. Stencil designs run straighter when this procedure is followed. (Fig. 18).


The different stencil designs in this book can be modified and combined to suit your personal taste. Adapting your own stencil designs is simple. Take a stencil design and mask off undesirable portions of the design. You can combine the remainder with similarly modified designs. The result is an original stencil pattern (Fig. 19).



Before starting to work, assemble all your tools and materials in one place, preferably on a table that has been protected with a few layers of newspaper.


Several types of paper can be used for making stencil plates. Your art supplier will have oiled stencil board in stock. This paper is opaque and has been previously waterproofed by treatment with oil. It is a fairly heavy weight and can be used to stencil any surface.

If stencil board is not available, any type of good grade paper can be treated at home for use in stenciling. Manila adapts particularly well. If manila is used, soak a rag in boiled linseed oil and turpentine and wipe it over both sides of the paper until the sheet is saturated. Hang the paper to dry where it will not be damaged or disturbed for twenty-four hours. The more oil in the paper, the easier the knife will cut through it.

Stencil board, manila and other heavy-duty paper can be protected further by brushing on a coat of shellac or varnish after cutting out plates.

A third candidate, which I frequently use, is heavy-duty wax paper. Sold in sheets, it can be used for tracing because it is translucent, thus eliminating the extra step of transferring a design to a plate with carbon paper. It also cuts easily because of its light weight. However, wax paper is not durable and although a stencil plate of wax paper is quicker to prepare; it should be expected to last for only one job.


Once the paper is chosen and prepared as necessary, it is ready to receive the design. You will need a good grade of tracing paper, transparent enough to catch every detail of the design you wish to copy. Then you will need carbon or transfer paper for transferring the traced design to the stencil paper. A pencil and ruler complete the tools needed. After the design has been traced from this book, the carbon paper is placed face down on the stencil paper and secured with tape. The traced design is set down on top and taped in its place (Fig. 20). With a different color pencil, go over the entire design. In this manner you will have duplicated the design onto the stencil board.


The designs in this book may not be the proper size for the use you have in mind. If this is the case, you will need to enlarge or shrink the design. The procedure is relatively easy. Take a piece of tracing paper and trace the design. With a ruler, box in the design on four sides. Divide the enclosed area into a grid by placing horizontal and vertical lines at regular intervals. On the stencil board, draw a similar grid that has a corresponding number of squares that will cover the new desired size. It can be longer or shorter for different effects, but the same number of blocks should appear in both drawings. Each block should be regarded separately, and the lines of the traced design that fall in a separate block should be duplicated in the matching block on the stencil board grid. When finished you will have an accurately reduced or enlarged pattern (Fig. 21).


The Cutting Surface. A piece of plate glass about two feet square with the edges taped to avoid injury serves as the best cutting surface. Your local glass and mirror dealer or sometimes a large hardware store should have odd-sized remnants for sale at a reasonable cost. Sheet glass, such as windowpanes, should never be used because it will break under the pressure of the knife. Other satisfactory cutting surfaces include marble, Masonite, metal, and hardwood, though a wood surface must be replaced when it becomes heavily scratched. A stack of old newspapers also works well.

Stencil Knives and Blades. Art supply stores usually stock stencil and mat knives. They are generally made of aluminum, and can hold blades that come in a variety of shapes. The aluminum handles are about the length of a pen and as slender as a pencil. The blades come separately, and a fine point usually works best. Both are inexpensive. More elaborate knives for varying purposes can be bought. These include knives with parallel blades for cutting lines, compass knives for cutting circles and arcs, and knives with rotating heads for ease in following a curve. But for the beginner the knife that holds one blade stationary is recommended (Fig. 22).

Carborundum Block. A piece of Carborundum should be used for keeping blades sharp. Most hardware or houseware stores carry it for sharpening all knives. Cutting a stencil is so much easier when the knife edge is razor sharp. Your temper as well as your blade will last longer when the Carborundum is used regularly. To sharpen the knife, angle it broadside against the block, put pressure on the blade and swipe it across and back again, just as you would sharpen a kitchen knife.

Circular Punches. These hollow, tubular tools are used to punch holes in leather goods. They can be found in a hobby or handicraft store. It is a piece of metal tubing with one end sharpened to a razor edge. Circular punches come in various diameters, and cut a clean circle wherever the design demands it.

Straight Edge or Ruler. When cutting straight lines, a ruler, preferably metal, should be used as a guide. Place the ruler on the drawn line and run the blade alongside it allowing the ruler to direct the knife.


Be sure that the cutting surface is clean. Trim the stencil board so that there are margins of no less than one inch and no more than two inches around the transferred design. The plate is always rectangular or square regardless of the form the design takes inside it. The squared corners are used for lining up the stencil plate with the chalk guidelines. Place the stencil board on the cutting surface, but do NOT secure it. The stencil paper must be able to move freely, guided by the fingertips of your free hand, sometimes with the knife working between them. The paper should be able to swing around to accommodate the movement of the knife, rather than have the operator leave his seat to follow the line of design. Hold the knife as you would a pen but slightly more perpendicular. Grasp it firmly but lightly, and use the whole arm for the action, rather than just the fingers. Pull the blade toward you, not away from you (Fig. 23). Small details should be cut first. If the large areas are cut first the stencil plate will weaken. Cut all the vertical lines, shift the plate, and cut the horizontal lines that are now in a vertical position. When adjacent lines meet and form a corner or angle, cut slightly past ( inch or less) the ends of the intersecting lines. This prevents ragged or whiskered corners.

When a tie is accidently cut through, it is repaired with a piece of tape applied to both sides. A jagged line or a ragged corner will stencil exactly that way in every impression of the stencil plate. Accuracy the first time is of absolute importance.

Work with circular punches should be left until last. To prevent damaging the razor edge or breaking the glass by too hard a tap of the hammer, a wood or Masonite cutting surface is substituted. A single tap with a light hammer enables the punch to cut cleanly through the paper.

After you have finished cutting a stencil plate, it is a smart idea to take a stenciled impression of it on another stencil board. This will save you the time and trouble of transferring the design, should the original plate break down and a second have to be cut.


It is interesting to study a method used by the Japanese for cutting a stencil. The Japanese technique can be adopted for use whenever you do not want ties to interrupt the actual continuity of a design. To look at a Japanese stenciled design, you would marvel at the absence of ties. These stencils look as if the stencil plate would fall apart because portions of the design are suspended in midair and not held together by ties. The method for achieving this effect is ingenious.

A sheet of stencil board is folded in half, forming a double thickness. A regular stencil design is transferred on the upper surface and cut, leaving ties, through the two layers of stencil board. Care is taken to see that the sheets are absolutely flush with each other during the process. The stencil board is opened out when cutting is finished. On either side of the center fold there is a stencil plate exactly similar to that on the other. The inside of the double stencil plate is coated with an adhesive. Fine silk or nylon threads are laid across the tacky plate at regular and close intervals. Human hair is used by the Japanese for this purpose. The threads should form a grid of intersecting lines like graph paper. The sheet is refolded so that the two sides come into uniform contact with the threads between. Pressure is applied until the adhesive has hardened and secured the threads permanently.

At this point the ties that have been holding the stencil together are cut out. If carefully executed, the threads will keep the plate intact (Fig. 24). When the coloring matter is dabbed through the plate, the bristles of the brush will work around and underneath the fine supporting threads, producing the uncanny appearance of a stencil without ties.

STEP ONE A stencil design with ties is cut through a folded sheet of stencil board and opened out showing duplicate designs on each side

STEP TWO The right side is coated with adhesive and fine threads are laid up and down and across the tacky surface to form a grid

STEP THREE The refolded sheet is pressed together until the adhesive dries, then the ties are carefully cut away


Excerpted from THE COMPLETE BOOK OF STENCILCRAFT by JoAnne C. Day. Copyright © 1987 JoAnne C. Day. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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