Monday, September 1, 2008

So You Cook with Freezer Paper How?

Ah, the bliss of a long holiday weekend--extra cups of coffee, cleaning out the minivan, dumpster diving, chocolate shake with peanut butter cup mix-ins at the Chocolate Moose, hand-stitching white beads on little girl dresses while watching the Jerry Lewis telethon, and finally some time to freezer paper stencil.

We love freezer paper stencilling onto shirts around here. It's very fangeek friendly, with lots of videogame and sci-fi and dinosaur stencils available free on the web; it's relatively quick and easy, with a high satisfaction ratio (if you're careful, you're unlikely to mess it up even if you're an idiot--whew!); it involves paint(!), a medium that I, with little hand-drawing skill, very rarely get to dabble in; and the time from start to awesome is pretty brief, with Matt wearing today the Darth Vader shirt I made for him yesterday.

One caveat: the having-to-be-pretty careful part--you know, cutting out the stencils so carefully, and not spilling paint all over the place because it's expensive and permanent--means that this isn't an activity that I can do very often, because my policy that kiddoes always get to participate means that I must have a co-parent around solely to moderate the girlies' work. That's why long holiday weekends are the best--you get all the regular weekend grunt work done, and you still have an hour left for freezer paper stencilling.

Now, there are way better tutorials out in the world than mine. Amanda Soule, for one, has a huge section of devoted to freezer paper stencilling, as well as on her blog, and she's the one who invented stencilling over weird stains to cover them up--I would have thought that the weird stain would bleed through, but it does not. Some other good tutorials are:
Yeah, everybody and their dog has a freezer paper stencil tutorial. I, however, am still going to stick my nose in and offer a little tutorial of my own--I know of a couple of tricky little tricks to make the business even easier, and I know some good ways to involve little kiddoes. So.....

Freezer Paper Stencilling: A Tutorial
1. Gather materials.
I'm surprised that I love freezer paper stencilling so much, because I don't normally care for projects that require a lot of special equipment. Freezer paper stencilling requires freezer paper, a heavy paper with a thin plastic coating on one side. That coating used to be made of wax, and freezer paper used to be used like Ziploc bags, to wrap up things for the freezer, but I think it's really mostly used now for craft projects. And that's because it's perfect for them--the plastic side irons onto fabric and adheres there, but also peels off easily, leaving no residue. That means it makes the perfect stencil, since you'd have to try really hard to get bleed-through, but it's also good for stabilizing fabric on the back side if you want to freehand paint or draw on the fabric, and if you soak fabric in Bubble Jet Set, you can iron it to 8.5"x11" freezer paper and actually feed it through your printer for printing images that won't wash out of the fabric.
You can use anything you think will dye permanently for your fabric paint, but most people who do freezer paper stencilling regularly seem to prefer high-quality specialty-store fabric paint--it's hella more expensive, but you really don't use very much at one time, so it lasts for quite a while. I buy all my materials online from Dharma Trading Co. I bought the set of 8.5"x11" sheets of freezer paper because I print my stencils from the computer and I also print on fabric ironed to freezer paper, and my printer is a little finicky so I didn't want to mess with measuring and cutting larger sheets of freezer paper to size. I bet that if you wanted to make bigger stencils or to draw them yourself, you could find bigger sheets of freezer paper somewhere.
I also have the Jaquard Neopaque Starter Set. I chose this set because it promised to work well even on dark fabrics, and I like to paint on all colors. Don't forget, though, that after your paint has dried for about 24 hours, you have to "set" it by ironing on the back side of the fabric--this is supposed to make it colorfast, and it's something that I'm always threatening to forget, because within 24 hours, someone is always wearing/using whatever I've stenciled.
2. Make your stencils.
I'll have to go backwards and post this tutorial later, perhaps when I print out the city skyline stencil I found to go with my Godzilla stencil. I'd also love to play around with Photoshop and design my own stencils. Briefly, though, you print or draw your stencil on the dull, not shiny, side of the freezer paper, then carefully cut it out with an exacto knife. You don't need to worry about islands, because you can just iron them onto your fabric, too. This also makes it possible to make two images from each stencil--you can make one traditional stencil, then, if you save all the pieces you cut out to form your stencil, you can iron them onto the fabric in the right places and make a negative image stencil.
One caveat: Obviously, it isn't ethical to sell anything you make using a stencil you did not design yourself. Matt's currently designing me a Pumpkinbear stencil, but all these Darth Vader and dinosaur and pony stencils that I've pulled off of the Internet are only for my family's personal use, and they've been posted with that allowed.
3. Lay out your shirt flat, put a few layers of newspaper in between the front and back of the shirt so that paint that bleeds through the front won't get onto the back, and iron the shirt where your stencil is going to be to make sure that it's really, really flat. If you look closely, you can see the two bleach stains that I'm going to be covering up. This shirt of Matt's must have been sitting in the to-be-mended pile for a REALLY long time, because I switched to natural cleaners, no bleach allowed, years ago. Well, shoemakers' children go unshod...
4. Iron your stencils onto your shirt. You have to be careful here: Freezer paper stencils are one-time-use only, so if you mess up where you put it, you have to make another. You also need to take care that you iron down all the edges so they stick to the shirt--otherwise the paint will bleed--but if you totally iron the crap out of your stencil I think you'll just melt the plastic off. Notice that the Darth Vader stencil was big enough that I used a whole sheet for him, but the Death Star stencil came from a freezer paper sheet that I printed out probably six more stencils from and just cut around them.
5. Now you can paint your stencil.
I like to use a small foam brush, because I think it lays the ink on really smoothly, but I know some people even use a roller. The important thing is to work a thin layer of paint on smoothly. If you brush too hard, the shirt will stretch a little at the time, but that won't last. If you lay on too much paint you'll be able to tell just a little when you're done, but not really much. If you don't lay on enough paint you'll be able to see the thinner spots in a few minutes after the paint has begun to dry a little, and then you can brush on more. When it's possible, brush with the grain of your fabric, and when it's possible, either brush away from or parallel to the freezer paper. I've heard that a few people had problems with bleeding when they brushed toward the freezer paper--they drove a little paint in under the stencil, they think. If you're using a foam brush, you can sponge the paint in when you reach a tight spot.
When you're done, your shirt will look like this: Here's a close-up: 6. Hopefully your shirt is somewhere where it's not in the way, because now you want to leave it alone for a few hours to dry.
And what are the girls doing while I'm painting, you ask? Why, they're doing this: There are actually a load of things that even little kids can do with high-quality fabric paint. It flows nicely just like regular paint, so the girls can use regular brushes to paint with it. This requires a lot more supervision, though, than their usual painting projects. First, I do ask them to moderate the amount of paint they use since it is expensive, so an adult sits with them and helps them scrape off excess paint against the edge of the jar and reminds them not to dip the brush too deeply, etc.--it's not the way I usually make them paint, but fussy rules are fine for special occasions. The adult also watches to make sure they don't accidentally mix paint in the jars by dipping into a wrong color or accidentally water the paint down by dipping a wet brush in. The best way to avoid this is usually just to have a brush for each color, and when one kid is through with one color, Matt usually offers that color and brush to the other kid, and they trade. Again, it's bossy, but you can do it without acting bossy about it and interrupting their groove. And you do have to make your peace with the fact that they're going to use more paint than you would, but hey, they're the creative ones and you're the penny-pincher.

There are also a lot of really cool, purposeful things the kids can paint, so that you don't have to feel like you're just wasting your good paint. Old T-shirts are fun----and if the paint job doesn't end up looking like a child's purposeful art (ahem)--
--then you can always jazz it up later with additional embellishments, embroidery or beads or more paint, etc. For this shirt of Willow's, I'm going to stencil a monkey over the top of her *cough* mess, then stencil "MESSY MONKEY" below it. For Syd's I might embroider "messy monkey" with an arrow pointing to the paint.
The kids can also use the fabric paint to embellish just about anything, though, not just ruin their shirts. They can paint directly onto tote bags, bibs, stuffed animals or cloth dolls, pillows, whatever, and also onto fabric pieces that have been reinforced with freezer paper that you can later sew into ornaments, quilts, 3D stuffies, and anything else you can think of to throw at grandma for Christmas. We're going to make ornaments that way, and once Willow's more comfortable with the medium (I've noticed that when kids are just trying out something new, they'll scribble and mess just to see the colors and to feel how it works, but when that's old, then they'll use the medium to create), I'm going to try to get her to draw dinosaurs and other animals onto white flannel to make some stuffies for her cousins.
7. When the paint is dry to the touch, you can peel off the stencil. You can try it on if you want--
--but then you have to hang it up or lay it out for a full 24 hours to completely dry.
8. It depends on the type of paint you use, but usually after 24 hours you'll need to turn the shirt inside out, put more newspaper between the layers of cloth, and then iron for 30 seconds or so on the wrong side of the fabric behind the paint to heat-set it. This will make it color-fast, but I like to wash my stuff for the first time, anyway, on cold with no detergent but with vinegar in the rinse. After that, you're good to go.

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