Friday, 8 June 2012


I’ve been busy making stencils with Sheba, my Black Cat Cougar cutting machine. I made a few a little while back, but wasn’t 100% satisfied with them because the acetate I used was standard laser printing acetate which is a bit thin, and not up to the somewhat robust treatment that stencils tend to undergo when used in mixed media work.

I’ve discovered various different things you can use to cut stencils, but remembered I’d got a whole box of binders for the heat binding system that I bought some years ago for a project my hubby was doing – some of these covers have gone a bit yellow for some reason, so I thought I’d try cutting them.

Here is one of them, cut from its back cover:

They are certainly a bit thicker than standard acetate, and cutting slowly at Velocity 40, and Force 120 with a double cut on my machine, and using the 60-deg+ blade, I was able to get reasonable results. Some of us on the Black Cat forum have been saying that the small rectangular test cut that the machines will do doesn’t always give very accurate results when it comes to cutting the real thing – the shape is small and regular, and not very intricate, and sometimes cutting the real thing requires a different amount of force. Unless one can determine from a test cut exactly what force and speed is required, one can end up wasting quite a bit of material. Gaz, one of our forum members, and a positive mine of information and useful advice (thanks, Gaz!) has designed a new test cut shape which I have tried, and which works well – it combines straight and curved lines, open and closed paths, giving a more accurate estimate of how the real thing will cut. (I have thickened the lines somewhat, when exporting as a bitmap, so it shows up better.)

When I cut the last lot of stencils, I had problems with small cut out pieces lifting from the mat and being carried along with the blade, preventing further cutting. Loupy, also on the Black Cat Forum, suggested spraying the back of the stencil sheet with repositionable adhesive to create a “double whammy” sticking effect with the adhesive already on the mat (thanks, Loupy!), and this certainly helped a great deal – the added advantage is that the back of the stencil is then slightly sticky and holds in place when you use it. The back of the binders is also made from shiny white card, and I can keep the stencils on this without them sticking, so it’s win-win all round.

However, I had great difficulty peeling the cut stencil off Sheba’s mat without the stencil tearing, as it was so well stuck down! In the end the only way to remove it was to spray it with Crafter’s Companion Stick Away as I lifted it, to dissolve the glue, which of course started to remove the glue from the mat… I am thinking of getting a new mat for general use, and keeping my current one for stencils (I am already using the back of it, because in the early days I scored the top surface deeply by using too much force – common newbie mistake!!) – I can easily re-spray it with Crafter’s Companion Stick and Spray for each stencil I cut. This isn’t a long term project anyway, because when all the stencils are cut, I shan’t need to do any more from those particular svg files, unless, of course, I want to design new ones… Unlike normal svg file cutting in card, which you may want to repeat many times, once you’ve got a stencil, you don’t need to make more copies of it, but can use it repeatedly.

Designing the stencils has been fun as it’s helped improved my knowledge base where Inkscape is concerned! Through this process I have learnt how to use the Tiled Clones feature, which is very useful, and a quick way to make any sort of lattice.

Anyway… here are the stencils I’ve created recently. The first one is approximately 6 x 6 inches, and is of a brickwork design.

Here is a picture of a test piece I made with this stencil, using Distress Inks in Rusty Hinge, Barn Door and Walnut Stain, using my Inkylicious Ink Dusters.

If you look carefully at both this picture and the actual stencil, you can see near the bottom left where two small pieces of the stencil were torn away when I lifted it from the cutting mat. I’m not too worried about this, because mostly, in use, the stencils won’t be used in their entirety anyway, but to add texture in patches.

This is my “Increasing Circles” stencil. I tried to draw this using Tiled Clones but couldn’t get it to work how I wanted, so I just drew several different sizes of circles, and duplicated them several times, and arranged them as randomly as I could across the page to give the effect I wanted. Again, this measures about 6 x 6 inches.

Sheba doesn’t like cutting small circles much, and even with adhesive on the back of the stencil, some of them did tend to lift a bit. There are a couple of tears between some of the circles but I don’t think this will affect the end result much in use.

The next one was a significant failure!! I got a bit carried away in Inkscape, and drew lots of gorgeous gear wheels and clock bits, and got totally confused about what would cut out and what would remain – I do find it hard to visualise this unless it’s a very simple design! You can see some large holes with no detail, and all the detailed bits cut out at the bottom! Rather than ditch it, I thought I’d keep the cut out bits to use as small masks, or perhaps to add to a project – transparent clock gears might be a fun embellishment! Nothing ever wasted…

So… My Clocks and Gears stencil is going to have to be adjusted somewhat, to make it cut as a decent, useable stencil!

Here is the Scallops stencil. I haven’t cut this one yet, so there’s no photo, and I’m hoping it will cut OK.

My final one in this session is the Honeycomb stencil. I nearly made the same mistake as I did with the Clocks and Gears but realised my mistake while I was still in Inkscape, so didn’t waste too much time! If I’d gone ahead as it was, the whole of the centre section would have fallen out, leaving a huge rectangular hole with nice zig-zag edges! Not a lot of use really…

This design was created using Tiled Clones. I had to do a bit of tidying up with the nodes afterwards so that the edges were clean, and there weren’t lots of tiny, untidy bits cut. This stencil measures approximately 10 x 8 inches, but again, will probably never be used in its entirety. There are a few torn bits but I should be able to avoid these in use. I think this will be a very useful stencil as it’s an attractive design.

One thing about using stencils in mixed media art is how you can use them not only to paint through, but to remove paint through – effectively transforming the stencil into a mask! While the paint is still wet, you lay the stencil on top, spritz with a little water if necessary, and then gently rub with a baby wipe to remove the paint through the cut areas of the stencil. Depending on how hard you rub, and what’s underneath, you get different effects. With a layer of gesso on the substrate, you get a much stronger, brighter result, because the gesso tends not to absorb the paint, but when the paint is applied to the substrate with no gesso, you get a much more subtle, gentle effect. Both are good!

I saw a good hint recently somewhere online (sorry, can’t remember who it was) that if you want to enlarge the border of the stencil to prevent inking over the edge, you can add some duct tape (or is it duck tape? I never know… Anyway, why do ducks need tape…?) folded over the edges to give a bit more depth. This enables you to cut useable stencils as large as possible from the given size of acetate that you’ve got. Not sure if I’ll need to do this, though, because most of the time I won’t want to stencil right to the edge. Also, if the stencils end up appreciably larger, I won’t be able to store them so easily. I am currently storing them on their backing sheets, inside clear punched folders in a loose-leaf binder.

The images on here are all bitmaps, of course, so that you can see them. The svg files for cutting are now uploaded to my SkyDrive for free download. Enjoy!


  1. Well done Shoshi. I am not going to download your files this time because I am working on making some stencils myself at the minute. I am trying to make a honeycomb effect and believe it or not I am also working with various sizes of circle, though in a different arrangement from you!
    While I was in UK I had a shopping spree in Shrewsbury, and in one of those shops that sells an assortment of 'odds and bods' I found a set of shelves that held big sheets of card and paper. They are not a regular size, but are a bit larger than A3. On one shelf I found some frosted plastic that is thinner than I bought over here, which wouldn't cut, but thicker than the acetate which wouldn't stay in place on the mat. I bought a couple of sheets and have high hopes for it, but I haven't had time to try it out on the cutter yet. I will use a repositional adhesive with it this time.

    I saw you post on Julia Dunnit's blog. I too missed the WOYWW ATC swap, but I would love to send you one to swap for one of your lovely pieces of zentangle art. If you are up for it, e-mail me your address and I'll see what I can come up with.
    Kate x

  2. Fab stencils. Very creative of you.

    I also saw your comment on Julia Dunnit's most recent blog post. I would love to trade ATCs with you. Please email me your snail mail address. My email is on my side bar HERE!

    Hugs, Sandra

  3. Have no idea what these are, will just keep watching you and see what you make with them

  4. Amazing work- I've been trying to get to grips with inkscape too as well as some other programs I'm learning. I've made a few designs but not got round to cutting them yet. I can't wait for some decent playtime! I'm loving your stencils, another thing I have in the pipeline at the moment!

  5. Thanks for the information. I have an old Cricut Expressions and I tried the acetate. I worked but it was and is extremely thin. I have some blank stencil sheets from the craft store, so I guess I'll give it a try.


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