Thursday, October 22, 2020

Jane Dunnewold: Stenciling with a Heat Press!

Supply List
Heat press (Don’t try this with an iron as you might melt the stencil.)
Silk handkerchiefs (package of twelve) 
OR larger size
Origami paper (This brand works but I can’t promise others will)
2 Teflon sheets
2 or more pieces of white craft felt cut to fit the Teflon sheets
Old washcloths for clean up
Spray bottle
Large piece of shelf liner (or other plastic to protect your work surface)
StencilGirl® Products

Hi, everyone! Jane Dunnewold here! Last year I purchased a heat press because I wanted to adapt it for my botanical printing. Heat presses are usually used to apply transfers to flat objects like T-shirts, and in some cases as an assist to printing on paper. Little did I realize when I bought the press that it would also be a cool tool for stenciling!

You may not have access to a press, but if you do, this might be fun to try. Presses also come in smaller sizes that are relatively affordable and are frequently on sale, or you can find a good used one. 

The machine in the picture is a clamshell style press, with controls for both temperature and time. Several hours of experimenting led me to conclude that two minutes of pressure at 300 degrees is ideal for stenciling.

In the course of figuring out botanical printing with the press, I’ve experimented with all kinds of papers and fabrics. I use colored papers for transferring during that process, which is how I stumbled on the use of the stencils with my botanical prints. You can experiment, but in order to limit variables, I’m going to show you how to work specifically with origami paper and lightweight silk handkerchiefs. There is a learning curve with this process, as you will see.

A heat press isn’t equipped to provide moisture, but a damp surface is imperative when you print the way I am. In order to introduce moisture into the equation, I work with craft felt. I wet the craft felt in the sink and then put it in the spin cycle of the washing machine, so that most of the moisture is spun out. A wet piece of felt is not your friend during this process, as it makes the images bleed and you lose control of details as you can see in these examples!

I’ve had good luck with paper when I print botanicals but when I used the stencils alone, I had better luck with fabric. I’ve successfully printed cotton, silk noil (heavily textured) and light silk, known as China silk, or Habotai. I suggested lightweight silk Habotai handkerchiefs on the supply list because then you can play with layering colors. The silk glows when several colors and patterns are layered on top of each other.

In order to work for stenciling the colored paper needs to the kind where the color goes all the way through the paper, rather than being printed on one side. Construction paper hasn’t worked for me. Some art papers work and some don’t, but the origami paper listed on the supply list works like a charm. It’s inexpensive and can be recycled, which is a plus. The six inch squares are a great size that allows you to play with several colors at once.

I discovered that I prefer stencils that are overall designs for this process, but that might be because when I concentrated on the silk I started to think of the patterns as my gypsy series! From a technical perspective it’s important to choose stencils that have fairly open lines. I tried one very thin-lined circle pattern and the lines were too narrow to print satisfactorily.

So we’ve assembled our supplies and now we’re ready for the fun to begin.

Follow These Step:

1. Turn the press on to 300 degrees and lay out the shelf liner or other plastic to protect the work surface.

2. Wet the felt pieces and spin them in the washer until they are damp-dry.

3. Lay one Teflon sheet on the work table and put a piece of felt on top of it.

4. Lay the fabric on top of the felt. Spritz it lightly to dampen, but DON’T overdo it or the print will bleed.

5. Lay the stencil on top of the fabric.

6. Dip the colored paper you have selected into water in the dishpan and then lay the paper on top of the stencil. In the photo you can see the stencil sticking out from under the colored paper.

7. Lay the second piece of felt on top of the colored paper/stencil/fabric sandwich and then cover the felt with the second Teflon sheet.

8. Carefully carry the “sandwich” to the press and position it on the platen. Close the press. The timer begins as soon as you close the press. It’s only two minutes so don’t walk too far away!

9. When the timer goes off, open the press and take out the “sandwich.” It will be hot so be careful. You may want to wear heat mitts for this step.

10. Carry the “sandwich” to the work table and take off the top Teflon sheet and felt.

11. Carefully peel off the paper and discard it and remove the stencils to reveal the pattern.

12. The color is set by the heat. Allow the fabric to dry unless you want to continue to build layers! Additional layers can be added immediately but you can also decide to add another layer after the fabric dries. Repeat the process again by dampening the fabric and papers and layering between the dry-damp pieces of felt.


Always work with clean felt. The colored paper bleeds onto the flat and can transfer to the background and stain or even ruin it. The gray background in this print was NOT intentional. Cut six-eight pieces of felt and wet them all at once to save time and avoid the tedium of washing the felt after each print. Launder it at the end of the session so it’s fresh and ready for the next session.

Don’t get discouraged if the first few prints bleed. Sometimes the result is actually beautiful and will make a gorgeous background for more printing or embellishment!

How to Add Another Layer

Color background without adding pattern by putting colored paper on the fabric without using a stencil. Colors blend so this is a great color theory lesson! 

Add pattern by repositioning the stencil you used the first time or choose a different stencil to make the patterning super complex.


I haven’t decided what to do with the beautiful fabrics I’ve made on my press. I may embroider on some of them, or assemble them into a quilt. I’d love to add gold leaf and maybe even some additional stenciling. We’ll see! In the meantime, I look forward to discovering what else I can do with fabrics, stencils and colored papers, and I hope you’ll try it too. If you do, send me pictures. It’s always fun to see what someone else does with my ideas. Inspiration is everywhere!


  1. Very interesting project. Thanks for sharing the details!

  2. Now I want a heat press, too. Very cool and aside from giving up more precious square footage it looks like a quick process. Thanks Jane.


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