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How to Create a Stencil

An Interview with Artist Jill Buckley

Jill Buckley shares her process behind creating original stencils for silk-screening.

We recently discovered Jill Buckley and her awesome art blog The Quilt Rat, and we’re thrilled she has allowed us to share her process of designing a stencil for a silk-screening project (or any kind of project) and turning it into multiple, beautiful fabrics. Here’s how she does it.

"Unlike using freezer paper or cardboard that are often only single use, this method gives you a stencil you can clean and reuse. The bonus is that you can make it pretty much any size you want."

Jill Buckley - My regular readers know that I love to doodle, and lately I have begun using technology more and more in my creative process. I recently realized that since I discovered digital drawing on my iPad mini, specifically using Concepts, I have not touched paper.

I’ve tried to draw using programs on my PC but nothing felt natural and I don’t like to be tethered to my computer. With my iPad and Concepts I can be free and spontaneous, and draw anywhere, any time. I can change my mind as often as I like and fix what I don’t like right away. I can also make several versions of any drawing… perfect for an anal retentive with OCD, lol!

I wanted to make an original stencil I could reuse with silk-screening and many different projects. I chose this dragonfly from among my doodles and imported it into a new Concepts project.

I lowered the opacity of the image, and used the fill tool to create these “chunks” that would eventually become the cutout parts for the stencil.

Then I exported the image to my email and printed it from my PC. Step one, easy and done. Time to turn the design into the real thing.

Unlike using freezer paper or cardboard that are often only single use, this method gives you a stencil you can clean and reuse. The bonus is that you can make it pretty much any size you want. This dragonfly is 15 inches long.

Here is what you need to make your stencil:

  • Your image, printed on regular printer paper
  • A sharp pair of small scissors (or craft knife if you prefer)
  • An awl
  • Window film

Yep, window film, that clear, sticky plastic stuff that comes on a roll applied to windows for privacy, available at home improvement stores among other places.

Cut 2 sheets of the window film. Allow a couple of inches all around the image you will be cutting. You’re going to be trapping the image between these 2 sheets.

Take the 1st sheet and carefully peel the release paper back enough to place your image on the sticky side.

Then place the next sheet — sticky side to sticky side — and slowly, carefully, peel the release paper away, smoothing as you go. You want to take care to have no bubbles. I also used a roller/brayer to make sure I had a very tight seal.

Now comes the fun cutting part. I take time to determine which areas to cut first, then I poke some tiny holes with an awl to allow my scissors access.

I generally cut the smaller, more difficult areas first…

… and continue working my way through the entire design, bit by bit.

And there you have it — a flexible, durable, reusable stencil.

From here, I take out my silk-screening supplies. Even if you do not want to make prints, this would be a great way to make quilting stencils that could be used with chalk, pencils, or Pounce pads to transfer the design.

In silk-screening, you take a silk mesh screen that has been stretched drum-tight over a wooden frame, and flood it with ink. Then you force the ink over your design onto a surface (paper, fabric, wood). This is called “pulling” an image, because you literally pull the ink with a squeegee across the screen. You can “burn” permanent designs into a screen using emulsions and lights and a darkroom, but that’s a bit much for me. Creating a stencil like this is easier and more versatile.

I arrange my material so it’s completely flat. I flood the screen with ink, to give the stencil something to stick to when I lift the screen from the material. Then I set the screen down on my stencil and “pull” the ink over my design. If you want to see this in process, there are many helpful silk-screening tutorials on YouTube.

Here is a sampling of the images I pulled. Several are on plain black cotton, the rest are on a variety of hand-dyed fabrics. The ink was white.

Now, you might say, why would you want a bunch of white prints like that? Well, the answer is that I can go in now and add colour. A little or a lot. This is an example of one of the prints I added colour to, using Tsukineko inks and Aloe gel. Subtle blues and greens.

But one could go crazy and add some wild colour too…

This was a “test” of a bunch of different things — paints, markers, Inktense pencils, dye sticks and whatever else I got my hands on just to see what would happen. The result is pretty jarring but it was a good way to learn what works and what doesn’t, while only ruining one print. (Something like this could work well if you want a stained glass effect.)

I also used the stencil as, well, a stencil. I laid it on top of this commercial fabric and stenciled with Seta-Color fabric paint. After being heat set, it is nice and soft and perfect for the addition of hand stitches.

As you can see, I used this stencil in a variety of ways, and had to clean it several times. When I used the silk-screen, I forgot to remove it before I rinsed my screen, so it got a real scrubbing. I was a bit concerned, as this is how it looked after that initial cleaning:

Yikes, wet around the edges! But no worries, I placed it between some paper towels and left it to dry, weighted with a heavy book. It dried flat and I’ve continued using it with no problems. It is still holding up well.

Good luck with your stencil!


Jill Buckley is a self-taught artist living in southwestern Ontario, Canada. Her working years involved garment design and construction, but her fascination with line, pattern and form continued into retirement. Doodling, a regular process in her textile works, eventually evolved into the intricate drawings she is recognized for today. Current day technology, especially Concepts, has dramatically changed her drawing process. While Jill considers drawing a relaxing pastime, her works can be seen in books, magazines, logos and most notably as embroidery designs available on several top-of-the-line Janome sewing machines, and she feels privileged to provide illustrations for internationally renowned embroidery artist / author Trish Burr. Find Jill at The Quilt Rat and on Instagram.

Interview by Erica Christensen


Creating Patterns and Designs - Artist Jill Buckley shares simple techniques for planning colors and patterns in your projects.

Discovering the Unexpected in Fashion Design - Emily Keller shares her creative journey in Fashion Design and how she creates knitwear designs on her iPad.

Designing for Whitework - Jill Buckley shares how she and Trish Burr collaborate to design and create exemplary whitework patterns and tutorials.