Stenciling on burlap: a tutorial

Burlap bee 2When I saw these hand towels, I was smitten. I loved the crisp white linen and delicate eyelet. But it was the fern and bee design that had me swooning.


Bee toweljpeg



So when I decided to re-upholster the seats of my wrought iron outdoor chairs, I thought I’d see if I could replicate the design.



And I could! Here’s how I did it.


Sunbrella shot


I started with these guys which I had upholstered with a remnant of Sunbrella fabric a few years back. The upshot was Sunbrella is awesome in its fade and stain resistance. The downside? The pattern was way too tropical for these decidedly untropical chairs.



So I banished them to the garage–until now. Our new house is in desperate need of outdoor seating so I figured I’d use what I had. My next instinct was to re-upholster them using drop cloths.



Brilliant, I thought. Drop cloths are inexpensive, readily available at Home Depot, a great neutral color, and water-resistant.


Drop cloth water resistantLook at the pooled water, waving like Casper the Friendly Ghost.



But it can also be plain.



And boring.



Drop cloth chairDull, no?


So I had to do something better.


And better involved burlap.


The rich tone and texture of burlap would add some visual interest.  But not enough. That would come from stenciling on a design.

Blue fern stencilI found this fern stencil at Michael’s for under $3–before the 40% off coupon. Sold!




Bee stencil


For the bee, I turned to Google for a clip art graphic. I inflated the size to the dimensions I needed (5 1/2″ x 4″) before printing it onto white copy paper. Note: Learn from my mistake. If your printable image is solid, convert it to an outline before printing so you don’t waste your ink, like I did. Eh hem. I used an X-acto blade to cut out the solid (outlined in your case) areas of the bee graphic.



Fern leaves on burlap


While I was busy as a bee, cutting my stencil, I looked over at the fern stencil from Michael’s and it hit me, “I could’ve placed one of those plastic report covers over the printed bee, traced it with a Sharpie and then cut the design from the plastic.” If I had, I’d have a stencil that would hold up a lot better than the copy paper one I made although, to be fair, it did hold up through the two rounds of stenciling which is all I really needed it for.


But what if there are future projects that require bees stencils? You never know, so for that reason, if you happen to have any plastic sheets of some kind lying around, you’d be wise to use them–not copy paper!–to create your stencil. If you don’t, here’s another idea. It turns out there’s a whole industry of products designed around creating stencils. You may already know all about this, but if you don’t, check it out. It’s called stencil paper and looks like this:


stencil paper


Back to my archaic method, once I finished cutting my bee stencil, I rested it on the fabric, along with the fern stencil, and plotted the placement. Once everything was in the proper position I began painting using black acrylic paint. I found it was helpful to keep my non-painting hand pressed down on the stencil so the paint couldn’t bleed underneath the stencil. Tip: Do not add water to your paint or it will be too runny and may bleed under the stencil!


Fern and bee stencil copy

Bee and fern in progress


Once the stenciling was finished and the paint had dried, I unscrewed the seat cushions from the chair, draped the stenciled burlap over the cushion, (making sure the design was centered), then secured the fabric to the back of the cushion using a staple gun. After screwing the burlap seats back in place, I sprayed their tops with clear acrylic spray paint to protect them from the elements–and any messy diners!



Burlap Bee chair after


Bee Chairs AfterTa da! So much better!



Note:  Before I reupholstered the chair cushions with the piece of stenciled burlap, I draped it over a pillow and duct taped it in place to see how it would translate into a decorative pillow. I think it works!  Other uses? Sew the burlap into a beach tote or reusable grocery bag; create a table runner or frame it.




Burlap bee 2

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