by Cheri Branca

Many basket weavers like to add a bit of decoration to their baskets. One way to accomplish this is by stenciling a pattern on an ash strip that has been woven into the basket. Since ash is much smoother than reed it is preferable to use for stenciling. A basic, uncomplicated pattern is the best choice with an ash strip that is 1" to 1 1/2" wide. There are many simple patterns and stencils available. Notes on purchased stencils and ideas for designing your own stencils are shown at the end of this article.

Supplies you will need:
stencil brushes (short, stiff, round brushes)
liner brushes (tapered, fine brushes)
acrylic paints
Paper toweling

Choosing or cutting stencils:
Be sure to choose a design that will be appropriate for the small spaces of ash. Complicated designs with small cut-outs do not work well. If you would like to design and cut your own stencils you will need stencil plastic or mylar (plain sheets can be found in stores that carry stenciling supplies). You will also need a sharp Exacto knife and a piece of glass on which to cut the mylar. Trace the pattern onto the mylar with a sharp pencil and cut with the knife, always cutting toward the center. Move the mylar, rather than the knife to get smoother edges. Have a small amount of mylar left around the edges. Too much excess mylar will make it difficult to position on the basket.

Stenciling on stained baskets:
Keep in mind that you will be stenciling on natural ash or a light to medium brown or reddish stain. Colors will need to show up on these shades. Practice on a piece of cardboard (rather than white paper) so you can get an idea how the colors will look. If you are staining your basket a darker tone you may wish to wipe off some of the stain on the ash strip so the stencil areas will be lighter in color. Doing this also gives this area an antique look, with the stain darkening at the edges. You can, of course, stencil on a dyed basket, too. Just keep in mind your color choices and practice on something that has a similar color.

Practicing with the stencil(s):
With a pencil draw a box around the stencil that is the height of the ash strip and about the width of the space you will be stenciling upon. This will help you to place the stencil properly and consistently. Place the stencil on a piece of cardboard, holding securely with one hand. If you have a stencil that will be painted more than one color, either cover the second color's spaces with scotch tape or your fingertip so that this area will be protected. Using the stencil brush, dip it into the paint, wipe off the excess, and dab the brush onto some paper toweling until the brush is almost dry. Now pounce the brush over the positioned stencil, moving it toward the center so that no paint goes under the stencil's edges. Some patterns look best with the spaces solidly filled, some you can paint less heavily. Once you have stenciled the pattern with a color let it dry and proceed to the next color. Some patterns look better with a bit more detail. You may wish to add a bit of contrasting color using a fine brush. Be sure to note the colors you have used on this practice sheet so that you can remember the combinations you used the next time.

When weaving a basket that will be stenciled, keep in mind the size of the ash and the stencil that you will be using. Possibly offset the ash strip with a row or two of 3/16" or 1/4" flat or flat oval reed on each side of the ash, that is coordinated with the stencil's colors.

Now you can stencil on your basket! Be sure that any staining is completely dry. You will need to decide where to place each painting; every space, every other space, or some other combination that will fit evenly. Try to keep the stencil positioned correctly so that the paintings all appear to be at the same level. Do one color for all of the spaces so that by the time you go on to the next color the first is most likely dry. In some instances you might decide to use the stencil flipped over so the pattern is reversed. Do the one side completely and then clean the stencil before doing the other side. Also consider adding a stencilled pattern (or part of it) on the handle of the basket.

Be sure to carefully clean your brushes and stencils with soap and water. Let the stencils air dry or pat them dry with a towel. Brushes should be thoroughly cleaned; brushing them on a bar of soap and rinsing them will help. Store the brushes with their tips up so they will not become misshapen.

Stencils that you can purchase that are well made and small enough for ash strips (1" or 1 1/2") are:

You might also try looking in stencil books and reducing the less complicated patterns so that they would fit on the ash strips with a margin left over. If you pick something that is too complicated it will be difficult to cut and/or paint.

Two books that are helpful are "The Stenciling: a Harrowsmith Guide" by Sandra Buckingham and "Country Diary Book of Stenciling" by Jane Cheshire. Quilt pattern books are also helpful. Start looking at greeting cards and other needlework sources for inspiration, too. Check out Early American Crafts books--especially those with Theorem painting--another stencil art.

Painted stencil patterns:
Apple stencil (left) shown in four views: #1 stencil entire apple in red. Next 3 steps use a fine brush: #2 Shade left side and lower right with a darker red. #3 Paint on stem with brown. #4 Paint leaf with green and highlight with white.

Pumpkin stencil (right) shown in two views: #1 Stencil pumpkin with dark orange. Using fine brush paint in stem with dark brown. #2 Stencil left side with green speckles and right side with gold speckles. Do curlicues with fine brush in green.

Pennsylvania Dutch Bird (left): Stencil bird with dark red. Stencil wing with black. With fine brush do beak, feet, eye and tail feather in black.

Shaker Boy (right): Stencil overalls in denim or grey. Stencil hat and shoes with black.

Text and illustrations of this article were created by Cheri Branca. Gif files were created from Cheri's Theorems, drawings, and photographs by WebMarji. All material contained in this article is protected by copyright, either the author's or that of the company that published the design.

Two more examples of stenciled baskets made by Cheri Branca.

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