October 16, 2013

Freezer Paper Stencil Tutorial

New York Comic Con might be over, but I have one last NYCC-inspired craft for you: freezer paper stenciling. Now this isn't inherently geeky. In fact, it's the easiest way to do DIY screen-printing. You could totally do a t-shirt with sports-y theme or your favorite band. Or dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are cool, right?

Me, I wanted a bag for NYCC that was big enough to carry my stuff, with a flap so I didn't have to worry about someone reaching in and taking my wallet, and something that wasn't going to take away from my costume. In the past, I've used a tote bag I bought at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian (subtly nerdy, and it has my favorite piece on it, Game Fish by Larry Fuente), but that wasn't especially TARDIS-y. My original idea was to print another iron-on transfer of the TARDIS Pull to Open sign and iron it on to a white messenger bag.

Apparently cheap, plain white messenger bags are really hard to find. All the cheap bags are meant for kids and have patterns on them. The plain white ones I was finding were all uber-special laptop bags, $60 and up. I finally found an off-white/light beige one at Walmart for $10, but it was also a laptop bag, and too wide for the pull to open sign to look okay on, so I decided instead that I wanted to put "Bad Wolf" on it instead. Long story short, I found this really cool graffiti-art TARDIS and that was the pattern I ended up using. (I couldn't find the original artist, but I fell head over heels for the design. If you can find the artist, let me know)

If this is your first time doing anything remotely similar to this, I would strongly suggest choosing a less complicated pattern. This isn't the first time I've worked with freezer paper, though. It's actually what we used in a print making class I took in high school to create a resist for screen-printing (my high school had more than its share of faults, but we had a seriously bitchin' art program). But I never realized that you could use it without a silk screen, not until I discovered Pinterest.

Freezer paper is heavy, white parchment paper that's waxed only on one side. It's great for crafting because you can draw-- or print!-- on the paper side, the waxed side is non-stick, and it's not as flimsy as waxed paper. And apparently, if you iron it, the waxed side will stick to fabric and peel off cleanly. Thank you, interwebz, for teaching me this. It's just about the coolest thing ever. I forsee more freezer paper stenciling in my future.

First things first: Choose your pattern and what you're stenciling it on. Print or draw a test on plain white paper so you can check sizing and placement. Always make sure to measure, measure, measure. If you're using a t-shirt, plain tote, or anything that can go in the wash, wash it first: delicate cycle, mild detergent, tumble dry low (or follow instructions on the tag). I wouldn't suggest using a laptop bag like I did, just because it is waterproof, for obvious reasons, and things didn't stick as well as I would have liked. But I was using a graffiti art print, so little mistakes are less noticeable.
Now the cool part: you can print the design right on the freezer paper. Cut the freezer paper to the same size as a regular piece of copy paper (I used a paper cutter so I could make sure everything was even), and put it in your printer so that the design will print on the matte/paper side. Convert the design to black and white in your favorite photo editor, size it up the way you want, and hit print. It went through my printer no problem (I had more trouble with the iron-on transfers, which are meant to go through the printer).

Tape the design onto a cutting board and use an X-Acto knife (or the freebie you got in a glass etching kit. Heh) to cut out the black areas. This is why you want to do a more simple design, since my super cool graffiti-art TARDIS had a lot of really delicate details, and it took hours. If you accidentally cut out any white pieces that need to stay (like the insides of letters), make sure to hang onto them. You can place them back onto the design when you iron it on.
Which brings us to the next step: Lay the bag or shirt on a flat, steady, heat resistant surface. Put a piece of cardboard in the middle to prevent the faint from seeping through. Iron it to remove any wrinkles. Place the freezer paper stencil waxed side down on the fabric-- take your time and make sure you place it correctly. With the iron on high heat, iron the stencil onto the fabric, taking extra care around the edges of the design. I placed a piece of parchment paper over the design first, just to make sure I didn't accidentally fold or crease or move anything around, but that's optional. Again, my stencil had a lot of delicate details. The freezer paper didn't stick as well as I would have liked, but I think that's because of the fabric of the bag. Like I said, I wouldn't recommend a laptop bag.
Get some fabric paint (I mixed some royal blue and navy to get a real TARDIS-y blue), and paint it over the stencil (I used a foam paintbrush and stippled it on, to make sure nothing would seep under the edges. Not sure how essential that is; just don't get too goopy). Allow to dry completely-- fabric paint usually takes about 4 hours. If necessary, paint another coat so you get even coverage.

Peel off the stencil-- it will come off cleanly. Place parchment paper or thin cloth over the dried design, and iron it on low heat for about 30 seconds. This will help prevent fading, especially in the wash.
And that's all there is to it. I apparently forgot to take finished photos before NYCC, so that is authentic comic con grime you see on that bag. It is a badge of honor.

Now that you know the trick, what stenciling projects are you going to try first?