Freezer Paper Stencil Shirts

Supergirl t-shirt -

Just a few short days ago it was 70°F (21°C) here in Wisconsin, but that changed quickly! Now it’s cold, windy and often rainy. We’re lucky if it breaks above freezing temps.  Definitely gloomy as well – not much sunshine the last several days.

My favorite way of dealing with the cold and gloom of late fall/early winter? Crafting of course!

Little Chick had a whole bunch of plain t-shirts in her drawer, so on Saturday we pulled them out and Mom went to work creating freezer paper stencils so we could paint them.

I talked a little about the Freezer Paper Stencil technique two years ago back when I first gave it a try. Since then I’ve made many more shirts for friends and family and have learned a lot more and would love to share how it is done!

Just a note – I am not selling these shirts – just giving them to family, so I personally don’t have any issues “borrowing” designs from the internet to use.  However, if you want to sell them, be cautious of using any trademarked or copyrighted images without the proper licensing. - Frozen silhouette t-shirt

First you need to get an image onto a piece of freezer paper. We are able to pick up these rolls in any grocery store. Freezer paper is thick and has two sides: a flat, uncoated paper for the outside and a shiny, slippery side that is normally held against the food. It’s this shiny side that makes the whole thing work. It’s a thin plastic coating that when ironed onto the shirt, forms a seal that allows you to paint without bleeding.

Way back when I first started, I ran freezer paper through our ink jet printer to get the image onto the non-shiny side.  A sharp utility knife or other blade was my tool for cutting the image.

It didn’t take many labor-intensive sessions cutting the freezer paper by hand before it pushed me to learn how to use my Brother Scan-n-Cut machine!

This machine is similar to many of the other die-cut machines: Cricut, Silhouette, etc. I love how well it cuts intricate designs! Still, it is a multiple-step process:

  1. Find the image and download to my computer. The image needs to be something “simple” – I don’t do multiple colors (yet). Black silhouettes look amazing done on colorful shirts.
  2. Format the image, cleaning up any areas I don’t want. I also like to add text this way versus trying to add using the Scan-n-Cut software. I use gimp to manipulate the images. It’s a free software comparable to Adobe Photoshop, meaning it’s very powerful but it has a large learning curve. Fortunately there are hundreds of people using it so help if readily available through search.
  3. Convert the image to SVG. If you can already find an image in this format it will save you some steps. The Scan-n-Cut software only lets you add SVG images to the designer. I’ve found this converter works well (it’s also free). I force my images to save to monochrome as I only want the outlines.
  4. Then I go into the Scan-n-Cut designer, upload the picture to a new project, save, and then download the resulting .fcm file (file cutting machine?)
  5. I’m then able to put the .fcm file on a flash drive to bring to my Scan-N-Cut. And FINALLY cut the image. There is a wireless option for the Brother Scan-N-Cut but I haven’t configured that yet.

My mats are getting old and beat so I’ve learned I need to make extra-sure the freezer paper is stuck down on the mat for every square inch. If I don’t, when the cutter hits a “bubble”, it tears the freezer paper and I often have to start over with a new sheet. - cutting the template

As I mentioned in the previous post, once the stencil is cut, you really need the OUTSIDE of the paper. Everything that is the “image” is tossed – because that area needs to be left open on the t-shirt. That’s where the paint will go. Sometimes it’s still difficult for my head to wrap around this concept!

Once you have a template / stencil, it needs to be ironed to your fabric. They say it’s best to wash the fabric first, making sure not to use any fabric softener. Have I followed this? Nah. Most of the time I’m too impatient to wait. They still turn out fine.

I place the image on the shirt, making sure it’s centered and positioned where I want with the shiny side down. A medium-hot iron is plenty warm – just be sure to cover all the interior edges of the stencil a couple of times.

Placing a piece of cardboard, magazine, wax paper, etc. inside the shirt (after the ironing is done) will help prevent any fabric paint from leaking onto the back of the shirt – just in case you get a little overzealous in adding paint.

We are using fabric paint found in the local craft stores – I think it’s all Tulip brand. With 2-3 coats for each t-shirt, the designs hold up well enough to withstand all the washings until Little Chick starts to outgrown the shirts :-).The best paint? Some iridescent glitter paint I found on clearance!  It’s what gave the black castle its shimmer.  I don’t even remember the brand, but it was similar to this one:

The first couple shirts I painted in white ended up being “fuzzy” – the edges weren’t as crisp. The white paint was thinner than the black I had used before but it’s still possible to make your images come out looking sharp.

Supergirl t-shirt -

First, don’t use too much paint. The first coat will help “seal” the edges between the shirt and template – you can go thicker on the second coat and/or add a third coat if necessary.

Second, paint gently! If I’m at all concerned about the seal, I will move the brush from the paper to the shirt. Painting the other direction could pull up the edge of the template if it’s not ironed completely or if you are painting roughly.

painting freezer paper stencil shirts -

But as you can see, this is a project even Little Chick was able to do! So, it’s not that difficult – or fussy.

I always put two coats, sometimes three on the shirts, letting them dry in between coats. I also wait until they are completely dry before attempting to remove the freezer paper. I’m too worried that wet paint from the paper will accidentally touch the shirt.

Sometimes I’ve found the paint to be rather stiff on the shirt, especially if you have large areas of paint. I’ve read that ironing with a towel over the design, or with the shirt turned inside out will help to soften. Some have even mentioned steaming a little. I’ll have to try that.

Make sure the first time you wash the t-shirt that you turn it inside out. It will help protect the image. After that I haven’t found it really matters too much.

And now for a little Halloween fun… BOO!

Part of the reason we painted t-shirts this weekend was so we could have some Wonder Woman shirts for Halloween!  Actually, Little Chick was originally going as a witch princess, or something that didn’t require mom to make her costume.  But when she saw me making my shirt, she wanted to match!  🙂

Wonder women -

The belt, headbands and arm bands were all made with scrap fabric I had lying around.  The stars we made from cardboard, “painted” with glue, sprinkled with gold glitter and then Mod-Podged so we didn’t end up with glitter all over everything.

Oh, who am I kidding.  We still had glitter everywhere … just not from the stars!

Wonder Woman glitter stars -

Little Chick had a parade at her elementary school earlier today.  They don’t dress up until the afternoon – just before the parade (so her costume has to be easy for her to put on herself!), and then they have a little party.  We signed up to bring fruit.  But that doesn’t mean the fruit has to be boring!  We ran out of clementines to decorate before we ran out of fun decorating!

clementine pumpkins -

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One Reply to “Freezer Paper Stencil Shirts”

  1. It is nice to see you back on the blog! It looks fun to decorate that way, and so nice that you can do it together with your little girl. Well, she is not a “little” girl any more, she is growing so fast!

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