Stenciling Your Walls

Overview and the rules

Where walls and ceilings have been done in solid colors, a border design which collects the principal colors of the room in some pleasing pattern gives the needed central point of interest in the decorative plan. These can be put on by means of stencils, which are perforated patterns placed against the wall and painted over, the perforations permitting the paint to touch the wall at the points necessary to carry out the pattern.

The pattern of stencil decoration to apply will depend on the general plan and character of the room, and the effect desired. A vividly colored border placed below the moulding in a high ceilinged room will make it appear lower, but if the ceilings of the rooms are already low it is better to make the border in more delicate tones, blending with the colors of wall and ceiling, so that it will not be so strongly accented.

Vintage bird stencil design
Vintage bird stencil design

In a paneled room the division of the wall may be pleasing emphasized by placing a medallion design in each panel. This should be placed well above the center of the panel, preferably about one-third of the panel length from the top. In a room with beamed ceilings and a heavy cornice additional, decoration may not be needed unless there is too great a contrast in color between the walls and the beaming of the ceiling. Where the walls are light and the ceiling is beamed with dark wood, a border design shading off and blending the two contrasted colors is needed to avoid too harsh a line at the top of the wall. Where the wall has been done in a stippled or mottled effect that contains some of the tones of the woodwork, the stencil border need not be so prominent. A border more delicate in tone or design is also called for in a small room where a feeling of greater space is desired.

A large design, or one in too brilliant colors, tends to emphasize the boundaries of a room and bring the walls nearer together, while one delicate in lines and tones gives an effect of greater distance. So important is the proper selection of stencil designs in making or marring the appearance of a room that rules worked out through long experiment should be taken carefully in account by the home decorator. One good set of rules for stencil decoration, compiled by a prominent stencil makers, is as follows:

Rule 1.—Use borders which will correspond to the proportions of the room. Smaller borders are necessary in the low ceilinged room, while the larger designs are required in public interiors where the ceilings are often from twelve to fifteen feet high.

Rule 2.—Select the character of the pattern which will conform to the character of the room, as for instance, employ the more conventional designs in those rooms which are constructed along the severe type, while the more floral patterns are suitable in those rooms where the other features give a suggestions of beauty of line.

Rule 3.—Do not use a simple stenciled border in a room which is to be decorated and furnished in a most elaborate style, and vice versa, do not use an elaborate border in a simply decorated and furnished room.

Rule 4.—Do not attempt to introduce a stencil border when the wall is of such a character that a pattern will only detract from the appearance. This is true with the wall which is so much broken and cut up by window and doors spaces, other fixtures, etc. that unless the stencil is especially designed for the particular room, it cannot be used with any great amount of freedom. Panel work in some cases is advisable under such conditions, but special stencils patterns must be designed for this work.

Rule 5.—The color for the stencil has been mentioned previously. As a rule, stronger colors are best for small borders. For the larger border, colors which harmonize with the wall color to a greater extent, are desirable.

Stencil designing has a technique of its own and is most successful when it does not try to copy too closely the effect of free hand mural decoration. The distinctive marks of stencil decoration is furnished by the ties of strips which must run across the opening at intervals to hold the stencil together. These ties are utilized by skillful stencil makers as an effective part of their design. Representations of flowers and other natural objects must necessarily be conventionalized in stencil patterns to work in the ties which leave unpainted spots in the completed design.

In applying a stencil decoration, the stencil should be held flat against the surface to be decorated. If necessary, a few thumb tacks which will not injure the wall can be used to prevent the stencil from slipping. A stencil brush an inch and a half in diameter is best for general work. It should be dipped in the paint and then holding the brush up straight against the stencil the colors should be pushed through the openings of the stencil by rubbing it over them with a rotary scrubbing motion.

Stencil colors as they come from the tube are frequently too dark and intense for use. They should be thinned by the use of glazing liquids prepared especially for this purpose, as turpentine evaporates too quickly, and oil gives the painted pattern too gloomy an appearance. Special care should be taken in stenciling to have the paint of the proper consistency. If it is too heavy to brush on easily the result will be spotty, and if it is too thin it is apt to run under the stencil and blur the design. Before a new stencil has been used several prints should be made on a piece of wrapping paper, as there is a tendency to "run under" in new stencils. Before starting to stencil always try out the brush on a board or paper to see that both brush and color are working right.

A border stencil carrying a uniform design around the room presents no great difficulty to the worker if the stencil is placed properly and help firmly in position. The border can be started at one corner and carried around the room. If the design centers about a few prominent features like medallions or large flowers, these should be placed so as to give a balance with doors, mantel pieces and other conspicuous features of the room. Apply stencil at the points where this part of the design should come, filling in any odd spaces with the leaf part or less important part of the design.

When a medallion stencil is used with the design connected by a ribbon or binder, one method effective in many rooms is to pair the medallions in the corners, letting them come at regular intervals at other points in the walls.

In placing the design in the corners of the room the stencil must be bent. It is, therefore, generally desirable to leave the corners unfinished until the straight wall work is completed. Work as close to the corner as possible without bending the stencil. Then measure the length from guide to guide on the stencil and lay it off around the corner of the wall. Begin again on the straight wall at the end of the omitted stencil length, proceeding as before at the next corner.

When the walls are all finished but the corners, the stencil must be bent. Measure off the first space left blank and measure it off on the stencil. Then, using yard stick or other straight edge, bend the stencil up so that it will fit in the corner. The design may then be painted in at the first corner, then the stencil is again straightened and then bent again at the point required for the second corner.

When it is desired to have the pattern come out even at a certain point, lay off the remaining pattern on the wall with about six or eight stencil lengths distance. If the discrepancy is less than half a stencil length, the additional space can be made by repeating a few minor details of the design at points where the lengthening will not be noticed. If the discrepancy is more than half a stencil the design may be slightly crowded together by leaving out a short length of the detail each time.

The top edge of the stencil should be perfectly straight, running parallel with the center axis of the design. Before starting work with a new stencil it is well to make sure that the tip of the top is true by placing it against a ruler. Where the border is placed under a moulding and it is desired to shorten the space between the top of the design and the moulding a section of the top of the stencil may be cut off. If it is desired to drop the design down farther a strip may be pasted on the top.

Two different types of stencils are commonly used in making wall borders. One of these is the block stencil and the other is the outline stencil. The block stencil places the entire design on the wall by means of the stencil. Where several colors are used there are usually as many stencils as there are colors, each stencil providing openings for a certain color. In some cases two colors are applied from one stencil where the openings for the different colors are separated sufficiently to be brushed easily without blurring into the other color. Where the stencil pattern calls for two or more parts, guide marks are provided so the flowers register correctly with leaves and other connected portions of the design joined smoothly.

If the border is a flower design, pleasing results may be obtained by varying the color used. The roses may be changed from pink to red to orange and to gray in different portions of the border.

The outline stencil marks the outline of the design of the wall, leaving certain parts to be filled in later by hand. The outline color is darker than the wall so that it still shows after the filling has been completed. The color is used for filling is usually lighter than the outline.

When filling in, several brushes should be placed in convenient reach so that the larger ones can be used for filling in the larger spots and the smaller ones for finer work.

--From The Home published in 1923 as a supplement by Womens Weekly.

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