Since I'm stuck in the house all weekend (no I didn't get to go to Austin, sad day) I figured I'd get all these back posts caught up.
This is how I do my stenciled shirts. Yes the t-shirt I was making here is NOT my design. I just didn't want to make my own design for this tutorial, because it was a spur of the moment decision. I don't sell shirts I make and this process is way too time consuming to use it for making a lot of shirts so if you're wanting to do that you'll need to do some more google searching. This process will only make one usable stencil at a time.
What you need:
A print out of the image you want to use for your stencil, a WASHED t-shirt, a pencil, a sharp exacto knife, cutting mat, freezer paper, cardboard that will fit inside your shirt, paint brushes (I prefer actual brushes to the foam kind), acrylic with textile medium or textile inks, or no-drip bleach. First you need to cut off a piece of freezer paper that is a little bigger than the size of the image you want to use. Place the freezer paper over the image (you can tape them together if you're afraid of them slipping or you have to multi task and get up while you're tracing) trace around the entire image.
You're going to be cutting out everything that is black on the original so you may want to shade in any areas that are confusing or keep the original close by if you don't want to take the time to shade. Next you need to draw in bridges, because there are going to be some spots that you need to keep that would fall out otherwise. Like the circle in the middle of the O, for instance.
Draw in as many as you want and need to keep the stencil together. I'll show you how I remove them before I paint it. After everything is traced you can remove the original image and save it for later. Then get ready to cut! Cut out everything that was black in the original and cut out all the little bridges too.
This part requires the most concentration and the most time, but the patience is worth it. There's nothing worse than letting the blade slip and cutting something you don't want to. But you can fix it since its freezer paper. Keep any pieces that you accidentally cut and you can add them when you iron it on. Get ready to iron!
you need your finished stencil, your shirt with the cardboard in between the layers, an iron set to the highest temperature your shirt can handle, a pressing cloth if you're afraid of hurting your shirt or your iron, a ruler if you're picky about it being even, and some embroidery scissors with sharp points. If you don't have cardboard you can use some newspaper to help with the paint but you'll have to iron on a harder surface than a cushioned ironing board. Place your image where you want it to be on your shirt. Use a ruler to square everything up. I measure mine from the shoulders to the top of the image and from the arms to the sides of the image to get it centered. Once in place press the iron down in the middle then go to the outer edges to keep from getting any creases. don't push too hard yet though.
Now that its kind of tacked down you need to get rid of the bridges. Time for the embroidery scissors. I go in an pick up the bridges with the tip of the scissors, loosen the stencil under the bridges, and cut them off. Its really important to make sure your only picking up the stencil and not the t-shirt. The curved edge of the embroidery scissors really help here.
Once you get rid of all the bridges, you need to give it a really good pressing. Still starting in the middle push down really hard and go out to the edges. I then take the tip of the iron and go around all of the edges of the letters and image to make sure no bleeding will happen. If something looks loose you can try to put your finger nail under it to check it. This is your last chance to make sure everything's completely secure. You can't really iron too much, but you can burn the paper, so be careful not to leave it in one spot too long.
Use your paint of preference or no-drip bleach and paint the stencil. Don't use a lot of paint and try to paint away from the edges to keep the paint from bleeding underneath the stencil. I usually let the first layer dry a little before I do any more layers. If you want the t-shirt to have the vintage distressed look, you can dry brush it.
--If you're using bleach here are a couple of things I've found handy- Use no-drip bleach and kind of paint in the lines of the stencil with a small brush. It will immediately start changing colors. Work fast to keep the bleach from soaking too far underneath the stencil and to keep it from eating a hole in the shirt. Once its bleached use a spray bottle with vinegar to soak the bleached area down. This will neutralize the bleach and keep it from bleaching a part of the shirt you don't want bleached when you rinse it. After its soaked take out the card board and rinse the shirt in cold water. Then wash and dry it ( I wash it by hand).--
Once the paint is dry to touch, you can remove the stencil. It will probably tear a lot, but that's ok. Just throw it all away. I've heard of people that were able to use these stencils more than once, but I don't know how they did it. Mine are always way too stuck to the shirt.
The little pieces you cut away from the bridges will still be stuck. Take your exacto knife and lift up the edges to take them off.
Done! Let the shirt sit for as long as the paint says. It can be anywhere from 24 hours to a week. Then heat set the paint by following their directions as well. Wash then wear. This will get rid of any freezer paper residue there may be left on the shirt.
I'll eventually have a tutorial explaining how to make stencils in photoshop, but that will have to be another day and an original image. Other examples of stencils I've done: