Some History About Stenciling

This is a photo of heavy paper stencils in the collection of Old Sturbridge Village, sales in Massachusetts. They were cut and used about 150 years ago and are still caked with paint.


While doing some research, I found some interesting things about stenciling and thought I would share some of it’s history with you.

We tend to think of stenciling as something that was done in the 18th century, but actually stenciling began way before then. In the sixteenth century a king used a stencil to sign his name. Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, traced the first four letters of his name through a stencil cut in a gold plate in the 16th century in Italy. Later the French used stencils to make flocked wallpaper with designs made with ground velvet or wool. Patterns were stenciled in glue and then dusted with velvet or wool powder which gave the paper a texture like brocade fabric. The word stencil is French and derived from an old French word, estenceler, which means “to cover with sparkle”. Many centuries later artisans stenciled fabrics in the Fiji Islands, in Japan, and in Western Nigeria. In Figi women stenciled wide geometric patterns cut into banana leaves in black on bark cloth or on masi, which was used as mosquito netting. In Japan artisans cut designs in mulberry paper and stenciled on sikl and cotton for their robes, on futons and for kimonos.
There is so much more to learn about stenciling, but let’s get into the kind that we love today, the kind that was done in the 18th century, the stenciling of early American walls. Most stenciling was done after 1800, when prosperity resulted in more and more larger homes. People were yearning for color and decoration in their lives, so they began to hire stencilers and other artists to come and decorate their walls. This picture is a watercolor of a woman painted in 1841. Mrs. Jaques sat for her portrait in Southwest Indiana in front of a stenciled wall in her parlor.


If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that I am a muralist, but before I painted murals, I was a stenciler. That was many years ago, back in the late 60′s and 70′s. My murals are done in the style of Rufus Porter, whose friend, Moses Easton, did stenciling. On my next post I’ll talk more about him and stenciling designs.


Happy Day

12 Responses to “Some History About Stenciling”

  1. Rachael Says:

    WONDERFUL Carole!!
    Ohhh I cant wait to hear more about Moses! Stenciling is very addictive, in my opinion…..a little stencil here or there, and before you know it, there everywhere!

  2. Nancy Says:

    So interesting!!! It’s always so educational & fun to visit here. It’s been far too long!
    I can imagine that someday your beautiful murals and stencilling shall be in the background of a famous painting too Carole!
    :-) Nanc

  3. Martha Says:

    This post is so interesting! I learned a lot. When I lived in Micigan I had stenciled the front hall way, when it was time to move the realtor said, “You have to paint over these crayon drawings, it will not appeal to buyers”, that was a stab in the heart! It looked very nice. . .after we moved here I did a stencil in the living room around the window wall, two years ago I had the room painted and the painter primed and painted over it! He said he could not save it. . .so the next time I stencil it will be on a box or something!

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  5. rondell konat Says:

    Loved your post, I’d love to stencil some walls around here especially in my kitchen below my kitchen cabinets.

  6. Carole Says:

    Thank you to everyone that left a comment on this post. it is my pleasure to write about something that gives so much pleasure. I’ll be writing more about stenciling very soon.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Actually King Theodoric was King from 498-523 Ad, not in the 16th century unless yo are refering to some other King

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