Leggi questo post in: Italiano
I just can’t handle a plain garment. And I REALLY can’t handle a plain T-shirt. And this is one of the reasons why I do freezer paper stenciling so often. What’s another reason?
It’s SO EASY. It’s SO FUN. It’s SO ADDICTIVE. (Are those enough reasons?!)
Back in 2010 I wrote a tutorial on how to freezer paper stencil. I stenciled a drawing my daughter had drawn of my husband to a T-shirt for him for Father’s Day and it continues to be, seven years later, his favorite t shirt. You can see it in the picture above.
I decided to give the tutorial a little facelift, cleaning up the photos, making the instructions a little clearer and adding a bit of new information, except I couldn’t find the original pictures anywhere. So I made a totally new tutorial from scratch to replace the old one. So, despite the date on this post, what you’re reading now was actually published March 29, 2017. (Just in case you’re coming to this post after having seen one of the old pictures on Pinterest, or something!)
Ok, enough about that. Let’s get down to business!
What IS freezer paper?
Freezer paper* can be found in any typical supermarket in the United States. It cannot be found anywhere in many other countries, such as my adopted country, Italy. It comes in rolls and looks an awful lot like regular wax paper. It has one paper side and one shiny side. And that shiny side creates a temporary bond with fabric when heated. This is the key to what makes this paper so great for crafting.
What if I can’t find freezer paper where I live?
You might be able to find it on Amazon in your country (for example, here on Amazon.com*). But over the years of not being able to find it here in Italy, I’ve found a few great substitutes that work exactly the same way as freezer paper.
- Butcher paper. I personally have never seen or used it, but I know people who have with absolutely perfect results. Ask you local butcher for a piece of it. If you’re vegetarian, you might consider asking one of your carnivore friends to ask.
- Copy/printer paper packaging. This may not be universal, but I’ve found that the paper that reams of photocopy or printer paper come in is usually laminated inside, and it sticks to fabric like freezer paper does.
- Paper packages for silverware. Again, this may be very local to me, but I’ve found more than one local small and informal restaurant that packages their silverware in these little envelopes that have the same sort of lamination as the reams of printer paper.
You may find this sort of paper in all sorts of other places, too. Just keep your eyes open and test out a bit of it on a piece of fabric to see if it adheres and then peels off easily.
Where can I find designs to stencil?
Anywhere! Most often I do a Google Images search for the thing that I’m looking for with either “black and white” or “stencil” added. So, for example, when I wanted to stencil a cassette tape on one of my daughter’s t-shirts, I searched for “cassette tape stencil” and found this image.
Enlarge it on your computer screen to the size you want, put the freezer paper over it, and trace the image onto the paper side. You might want to simplify some more complex designs, like I did with this one.
I also frequently use my kids’ drawings done with a thick magic marker (which is easier to trace and also makes a thicker line to be painted in). Again, try to use more simple designs. When I asked my son to draw something he’d want on his shirt, he first gave me the dinosaur skeleton on the right. Consider that you have to cut around every single line and save all the inside white bits and rearrange them. I asked him to draw a more simple drawing, and he gave me the elasmosaurus, which was much better!
But really, you can trace anything you want, as long as it has very definite positive and negative spaces (such as in a single-color drawing).
So, are you ready? Let me show you how to transfer drawings to t shirts with freezer paper!
- T-shirt or other fabric item you want to decorate
- Image to transfer
- Freezer paper*
- Xacto knife* (or regular scissors for larger parts) (not shown)
- Small cutting mat* (not shown)
- Fabric paint (here I am using Javana brand glitter paint)**
- Stiff bristle paint brush (many people use foam paint brushes, though I never have myself)
**A note about paint: Some people have asked me if it’s possible to use acrylic paint with freezer paper stencil. You can, but I have never used it myself. Acrylic paint isn’t made to be washed, so I don’t know how it holds up after repeated washings. Also, when you heat set fabric paint, it gets perfectly flattened so that it looks super professional.
If you want to stencil an image that is on your computer, you can also print directly onto printable freezer paper sheets*. These sheets are US Letter size and made for ink jet printers, but I came up with a great trick to print with a laser printer and to get around the paper size issue. You can read all about how to print on freezer paper here.
Step 1: Trace the image
I usually use masking tape to stick the image to a window with a sheet of freezer paper over it, and then I trace over it onto the paper side of the freezer paper. You can always use a lightbox or just trace normally.
(Like the view of Mount Vesuvius we have?)
You need to trace AROUND the marks. See how my son’s magic marker lines became “hollow” pencil lines? You might want to color inside these lines to make the cutting less confusing.
Also, be sure to leave a somewhat wide margin of freezer paper all around the design to avoid gettting paint on the fabric where it shouldn’t go.
Step 2: Cut out the stencil
Just discard the little bits that correspond to what will be colored in (at the top).
Remember to save the inner “islands” that need to remain the color of the fabric. You will need to position them back in place when attaching the stencil to the fabric. If there are various similar parts, I suggest labelling them as you can see I did in the picture above (on the bottom).
Here’s my prepared stencil, with all the “islands” put aside.
Step 3: Attach the stencil
Iron the fabric and lay it out on the ironing board. Position the outside part of the stencil on the fabric. With the iron on high (or whatever setting your fabric can handle) with NO steam, iron over the stencil just a few seconds, just enough for it to stay in place on its own.
Position the “islands” one by one, quickly ironing each as you go to keep it in place. Use the original image as a reference to make sure you’re positioning them correctly, and use tweezers to maneuver small parts if necessary.
If you make a mistake, peel off the piece, reposition it, and iron over it again. Try not to do this too much, because the paper won’t stick anymore after a couple of quick irons.
When everything is perfect, iron over the whole thing again, making sure that all pieces are well-adhered to the fabric.
Step 4: Paint the stencil
Put a piece of wax paper, a laminated paper bag, a plastic bag, or whatever other plastified material inside the T-shirt (under the layer that will get painted) to protect the back of the shirt and the ironing board.
Use the brush to apply a coat of fabric paint inside the cut-out parts. Make sure to smooth it out and that the paint doesn’t go over the outer edge of the freezer paper. (This is why it’s a good idea to leave a wide margin of freezer paper around the drawing.)
Let the paint dry for a few hours, then apply a second coat. Let it dry overnight.
*Note* Different brands of fabric paint may have different instructions for application and setting. Make sure you always follow the instructions given!
Step 5: Remove the stencil
This is without a doubt the best part of freezer paper stenciling, because you finally get to see the result of your work.
Pull up a corner of the freezer paper and gently peel it off.
It may rip in some parts. Use tweezers to peel those parts off, as well as the “islands”.
Ta-da! Like magic, there is the perfectly reproduced image!
Step 6: Heat set the paint
You will be tempted to skip this step, but if you have any intention of ever washing the item, just bite the bullet and DO IT! Otherwise all your hard work will literally get washed down the drain when the paint gets sudsy and scrubbed clean.
Set the iron to hot, no steam. Put a thin cloth over the paint and iron over the design for 5 minutes (or whatever the paint instructions say).
Just a word of warning: keep the iron moving. This may seem pretty obvious, but you might get distracted while moving the iron over the same small area for 5 minutes. See how there’s a yellow-ish halo around my design? That’s because the fabric got lightly scorched because I didn’t keep the iron moving enough. Whoops…
If you do accidentally do this, don’t worry about it. It’ll eventually wash out for the most part. (I know this because I’ve accidentally done this before and not learned from my mistake!)
Speaking of washing, I always wash freezer paper stenciled garments on a cold delicate cycle. They have from time to time made it into regular loads of laundry and nothing has happened to them, but I prefer to play it safe.
Scorched or not, it’s still adorable, right?
And as far as I’m concerned, if it makes this prehistorical reptile-obsessed child happy, it makes me happy!
So seriously, if you’ve never tried this technique out before, find a fun design and a blah shirt, and transfer drawings to t shirts with freezer paper stenciling! You will have so much fun and will want to do it over… and over… and over again!
If you just love using freezer paper for your crafting needs, check out this tutorial on how to print onto freezer paper with your home printer!
*This post contains affiliate links.