How to Stencil on Fabric

blue stencil on white fabric

The Spruce / Caylin Harris


Project Overview
  • Total Time: 15 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Sometimes finding fabric with the perfect pattern is difficult. Instead of using something you're not crazy about, try customizing fabric to your taste with paint and a stencil. Simply choose a fabric in your desired color, along with a stencil to create a pattern you like. Then, pick a paint color that goes well with the fabric color. While you can buy fabric paint to use for stenciling, acrylic paint also can be applied to fabric and is often less expensive and comes in more colors than fabric paint. As for the stencil, the varieties that have a slight adhesive quality are ideal to create a stencil with clean lines.

Stenciling fabric is easy to learn, and the possibilities of what you can create are endless. If you only want to stencil a small spot on the fabric, this is a quick project. But if you plan to stencil a large piece of fabric, it could take an hour or more, especially if you have to keep moving the stencil to form your ideal pattern. Besides customizing fabric to your taste, items sewn with stenciled fabric, such as tote bags, can make great personalized gifts.

Materials needed to stencil a pattern on fabric
The Spruce / Caylin Harris

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sponges or stencil brushes
  • Scrap paper or cardboard
  • Wet cloth or paper towel


  • Piece of fabric
  • Stencil
  • Acrylic paint or fabric paint


  1. Get Your Brush Ready

    Lay your fabric out flat, and find the spot where you want to place your stencil. If you are applying paint to a large area, select a large stencil brush or sponge. And if you want to paint just a small spot, use a small brush or sponge.


    Using the wrong size brush can push excess paint underneath your stencil and make the pattern look sloppy.

    Moreover, if you're using multiple paint colors, only use one color per brush. So before you begin painting, make sure you have enough brushes on hand in the correct size for each color you want to use.

    Stencil placed on the napkin with blue paint to the side
    The Spruce / Caylin Harris
  2. Test Your Stencil

    Before you get started stenciling on your fabric, it's helpful to practice using the stencil first. You can practice on a scrap piece of paper or cardboard or a fabric scrap if you have one available. Note the best way to position the stencil, as well as how much paint you need to use to end up with a clean pattern.

    Use vertical dabbing motions with the paintbrush—rather than sweeping, horizontal brush strokes—until the stencil pattern is filled in. Only work with a moderate amount of paint on the brush at a time, so it doesn't drip and pool in one area. Practice multiple times if necessary until you feel you have just the right touch with your brush.

    Testing out the stencil
    The Spruce / Caylin Harris
  3. Stencil Your Fabric

    Now it's time to stencil your actual project fabric. Position the stencil, and use your vertical dabbing motions to apply the paint to the fabric. Work slowly to lightly layer on the paint. If paint builds up on the stencil, pause to wipe it clean with a wet cloth or paper towel. That way, no excess paint will make its way onto the fabric where you don't want it. Be sure to wipe the stencil while it's still in place on the fabric if you're not done working on that spot; don't remove it, or you could have trouble repositioning it in exactly the same spot.

    Also, if you're stenciling with multiple colors, do one color and then wipe the stencil clean before you proceed to the next color. If you're layering different colors over one another, rather than using different colors for different parts of the stencil, wait until one layer is dry before doing the next.

    Finally, after your stencil is painted to your liking, peel back the stencil to reveal your work. Consult your paint container for how long it will take for the fabric to dry completely.

    Stenciling the fabric
    The Spruce / Caylin Harris