How to Make Customized Stencils (for t-shirts, bags & more)

The trick is to use Freezer Paper!

Have you ever had a great idea for a design for a t-shirt or tote bag but didn't know how to GET the design onto said t-shirt or tote bag? Let me tell you that there is a very simple way to transfer your design onto your item, use Freezer Paper! Yep, good old Freezer Paper, the stuff that your Grandma used to use to wrap meat back in the day... Turns out that the shiny side of the stuff sticks to things when it's ironed, and the paper front makes it a breeze to cut into custom shapes.

What to give it a try? Here's what you'll need.

Supplies Needed

- Freezer Paper
- Fabric Paint
- Foam Brush
- Plain T-Shirt
- Cutting Instrument (see options below)

Option 1: Cricut Machine

To cut your design on your freezer paper you have a few options. You can purchase one of the many "e" cutting machines on the market now. These things really are "magic". They hook up to your computer (or in the Cricut's case, your iPad or Tablet) and cut out what you design electronically.

Option 2: Silhouette Machine

There are two main machines on the market now, the Cricut Explore (shown above) and the Silhouette Cameo (shown here). They are both great machines, I find the Cricut cuts better but the Silhouette is a bit better if you like to design your own images (the software allows you to manipulate your images more) Both come with extensive online libraries of images and allow you to purchase just the image you want for that particular project.

Option 3: X-Acto Knife

Freezer paper is VERY easy to cut with a sharp X-Acto knife. I prefer the ones with a comfort grip. Use it with a cutting mat for best results. If you are cutting out your design with a knife, you can run the freezer paper through your printer (paper side up) and cut it out. Or if your design is not on your computer (maybe something you drew) you can trace onto the paper side of the freezer paper and then cut out your design.

Step One: Iron

After you have cut out your design, iron the freezer paper onto the top of your fabric, shiny side down. The heat of the iron will melt into your fabric (but still peel off easily later, test a swatch first if you're worried about it). Next, take another piece of freezer paper and iron it to the back side of your fabric. This will help prevent too much paint from soaking into your fabric.

Step Two: Paint

Using fabric paint and a foam brush dab the paint onto the fabric lightly. Don't use too much paint. Wait for the paint to dry and check to see if a second coat is necessary. Allow the paint to dry completely.

Step Three: Finishing

After your paint is dry, remove the freezer paper. Use a dry iron to set the paint. That's it you're done! If you used good quality fabric paint you should be able to wash and dry your item as usual.


I love to use freezer paper to make t-shirts for Holiday or Birthday Parties. My daughter and I have even used it to add monograms to the tongues of her Converse Tennis Shoes. You can use the same technique to make tote bags, canvas gift bags, onesies and more! The possibilities are endless!

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