DECOR : Handmade Stencils Can Cut It

From Associated Press

Traditionally, stenciling has been used to decorate walls, ceilings, floors and furniture. You can buy stencils of letters, numbers and designs from art supply stores, but it's not difficult to create your own.

Materials and Tools

All you need to create decorations with stencils is stiff paper, plastic or cardboard from which to cut the stencil, a sharp knife, a stencil brush and paint or some other kind of coloring agent.

To make your own stencils for a job that doesn't require a lot of repetitions, use waxed stencil paper. It's semitransparent and lets you cut a stencil directly from a design placed under it. For repeated stenciling on walls or floors, use flexible, oiled stencil board (available at some arts and crafts supply stores), which is more durable. It's not transparent; you transfer the design onto the board with tracing paper or carbon paper before cutting it. Transparent, stiff acetate is long-lasting and also suitable for any frequently repeated design. Buy 0.005 gauge.

To cut your own stencil, you'll need a craft knife with a replaceable blade. The blade must be very sharp; replace it frequently. A single-edge razor blade and a utility knife are useful for cutting large, simple designs.

Preparing the Stencil

Use a wax pencil to trace your design on the stencil material. Cut a separate stencil for each color in the design.

Protect your work surface with a large piece of cardboard. Then, holding the sharp craft knife like a pencil, cut out the design for each of the stencils. Use your free hand to turn the stencil so that the knife is always cutting in the same direction. Don't lift the knife until the shape has been completely cut out.

When cutting a stencil, include "ties" or strips that separate the shapes and link the cutout shapes to the edges of the stencil. These ties should be at least one-eighth-inch wide.

Then calculate how many times to repeat the design. Measure the stencil and the area to which it's being applied. Divide the stencil's measurement into the area. Use any remainder for spacing between repeats of the design.

Choosing Paint

Choose the coloring agent that best suits the material you're stenciling. Latex paints work well for walls because they blend with background paint, but apply them with an almost-dry brush.

Use acrylic or deck paint for stenciling floors; Japan colors for glass, polished metals or varnished furniture, and crayons or poster paints for paper.

Stenciling Steps

To begin, place the stencil of the lightest shade of color you plan to use at the starting point and lightly mark the stencil's corners on the material to be stenciled. Tape the stencil in place with masking tape.

Work with one color at a time. With a tiny amount of the color agent on a stenciling brush, use an up-and-down motion, keeping the brush perpendicular to the stencil. Take the tape off the stencil gently and carefully lift it straight up; wipe off any excess paint. After the first color dries, tape the second stencil in place and proceed as before. Continue with the other stencils, filling in all the cutout areas.

Beginning with the first color stencil, repeat the pattern on the adjacent space until you have covered the area you plan to stencil.

If you want to make a wall or a piece of furniture washable and preserve the stenciling longer, apply a coat of polyurethane varnish with a smooth roller.

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