Decorative Stencil Patterns

A collection of period stencils from the 1880s.

Figure 1 is the simplest kind of stencil you can have. It consists of a series of cut-out triangular spaces, placed between parallel lines, and the white pattern is merely the spaces left.


Figure 2 shows the same arrangement, only here its triangular spaces are made up of small parts, the ties again joining the design.  The lines at top and bottom are run in by hand to give a finish.


Figure 3 is another example of a simple stencil.  Some people are apt to think, in looking at such a pattern, that the white portion is the one stenciled; however, it is the dark portion that is cut out.


Figure 4 is an ornamental rendering of a butterfly.  It will be noticed that the wings have light markings.  These markings are put on with a second stencil. The first stencil only had the four wings, body, and antennae cut out. The second stencil had the markings on wings and the ornamental portions cut to enable a second color to be introduced. If all the patterns are cut out of one plate, only one color can be used; but if one portion of the design is cut out of one plate, and another out of a second plate, each plate can be stenciled in a different color.



Figure 5 shows this more clearly, for it requires the plate A cut out with the flowers and some of the leaves and stems, and plate B with the remaining portions.  Here, although only two plates are employed, three distinct colors can be used, as the leaves that are cut out of plate A can be a different color to those on plate B. The rea­son why two plates are required in this and other designs is, that in stenciling say the flowers, it is impossible to prevent the color spreading beyond the space to be stenciled; and if other portions are cut out too near the flowers, and these por­tions are required to be in a different color to the flowers, you would find if you used a second color that there would be a danger of the two tints mixing and destroying each other's purity.  But this does not prevent two colors being used on the same plate, if the portions to be stenciled in different colors are sufficiently separated.  For elaborate patterns, three and even four stencil plates can be used; but for ordinary work, three plates are ample.  Care must be exercised in making the various parts of the design fit together in the completed stencil; and to this end it is better to transfer the whole design to all the plates, marking in the portion to be cut in some distinguishing color, and when the first plate is cut, stencil that portion on the others before cut­ting them, so as to avoid cutting the some portion twice over. The white lines on leaves and flowers in Figure 5, are not supposed to be stenciled, but are done to show that a variety of colors should be used, lighter or darker, according to the part to be stenciled.  The veins or leaves might be touched-in by hand, for stenciled patterns finished by hand can be made very elaborate.


Figure 6 is an example of how simple, yet effective, a stencil can be made.  Two plates might be used: one for the tall grass, and the other for round dots and short grass.  Such a stencil would do for the skirting of a room.


Figure 7 is an example of a running border, requiring two or three plates to complete it.  It might be used around the door-frames, and along the top of a dado.


Figure 8 would do admirably for the top of a room, or frieze, and is a particularly graceful pattern, with real Greek feeling in it.


Figure 9 is a specimen of a simpler stencil border, and is made up of geometrical flower patterns, repeating at every fifth flower.


We shall now offer a few general remarks. In running patterns it is necessary to cut a small portion of the repeat, so that when you use it on the walls you have no trouble in placing it the proper distance from each impression.  In Figure 7, for instance, you need not cut more than one portion of the design—that is, the flower on one plate, and leaves on another plate; but by cutting a portion of the second flower, as you shift your stencil you can always get the flowers the same distance apart by putting the cutout portion of second flower over the flower previously stenciled.

In the leaf-stencil, you would not see where to put it unless you cut out the center of flowers on this plate, and that would guide you in placing the leaf-stencil.  The more plates in a stencil, the more particular you must be to have some key to guide you in placing the various plates in the right places, so that they fit accurately together and are the same distance apart.  It is as well to cut two or three sections of a repeating stencil, as it avoids the continual shifting, and you get over the ground so much more rapidly.

You will find at first that the color has a tendency to work under the stencils; but by keeping your brush tolerably dry, and not too full of color, you will with a little practice soon prevent this.  Wipe the back of your stencils occasionally.

In running lines at the edge of stencils, it is as well to mark the line, first of all, with string rubbed with charcoal. When you have rubbed the string, get a friend to hold it down on the wall at one end, and by pulling it in the center, and allowing it to snap back, an impression will be left of the string.  You want a straight-edge, beveled on one side, and you must use the beveled side against the wall.   Have a nice stiff flat hog-brush, with the hair cut down, and the edges trimmed off so that the brush is rounded.  Fill it with color, and run it along the straight-edge by its flat side, putting as much pressure as is required to make the line its necessary thickness. If the line is to be very wide, use large brushes.  Lining is merely a knack, and a little practice will overcome any difficulties you may encounter.

Stenciling need not be made merely mechanical, as some persons make it. On the contrary, a great many colors may be used, and not just two or three tints; but this requires taste, an eye for color, and more or less technical dexterity: all of which, however, will come by practice.  For instance, suppose you were stenciling the flowers in Figure 7 in white.  You need not get all the flowers pure white.  By making some a little yellower, some a little grayer, and slight variations of this kind, the general effect is greatly improved, for the eye soon wearies of monotony.  For greens, the same thing should be observed.  Vary your greens as you go on with the stenciling, sometimes making them lighter, sometimes grayer, and so on. To effect this, have say two or three batches of different tints on your palette, and dip your brush into one and then into the other, and so blend two or three tints together.  In filling your brush, spread the color on the palette, and knock the brush a few times on the palette.  If your brush be too full, the color will be sure to run under the stencil.

In rooms where you have a high dado, you can have this part of the wall rich and deep in color, providing you have the upper portion of the wall very light. The light is reflected from the ceiling and frieze of a room, and not from the lower portion of the walls. 

From Peterson’s Magazine, 1884.






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