Hello and happy summer, fellow Builders of Magic! The other day we were asked for a budget-friendly way to help dress up a canvas tent, and we think we have just the thing for you. For about $15 or so, and a bit of creativity (that’s what we’re here for!) you too can add something uniquely your own to that canvas.  Follow along and see how!

Materials you’ll need for this project:

  • An X-Acto Knife (around 2 dollars)
  • A piece of craft foam (99 cents)
  • Pencil and paper
  • Transparent tape
  • Brush-tip fabric markers ($1.99 apiece. I ended up using 5 for about 11 feet of design: 2 in color A, 2 in color B, and one for color C (which was accents)
  • A cutting surface, such as a mat or heavy pizza-box cardboard

Begin by drawing your design on paper in the size you want. Remember that you’re drawing for a stencil, and so you don’t want any middle pieces to get “lost”. Also bear in mind that the less distance between open holes in the stencil, the more flimsy the stencil will be.

  • Here is a link to an app that will make a stencil design out of text. (It doesn’t leave the centers of letters, like the middle’s of “O”s, attached… you’ll have to do that manually). Here, however, is a stencil-friendly font for text.
  • Here is a link to a bunch of free and royalty-free to use as a stencil.
  • Or you might use one of these dingbat fonts as a template for a stencil.
  • I also found this site, with printable stencil templates of all sorts.

Remember, though, not to get TOO complicated with your stencil design. You will have to cut it all out!

Once you’ve decided on your design, attach the paper to the craft foam sheet. In the photo I used binder clips; you can use those, or the transparent tape.

Using the tip of the X-Acto knife, score your design onto the craft foam. You’re not cutting the whole thing out at this point; you’re simply impressing it into the foam so that you’ll know where to cut later on. In the photos above, the left picture shows scoring the design onto the craft foam; the one on the right shows the craft foam after the design is scored into place.


Next, use the X-Acto knife and your cutting surface, and carefully cut the pieces out of your stencil. I found that the pieces especially liked to hang on at corners, so gently cut them away. Do not hurry with this step! You want nice, exact openings in your stencil.


A completed stencil!


Be sure and test your dye pens out before committing to a design with them! I made simple slash marks on an unseen corner, then waited 24 hours, and completed “X”es. The color remained true and stayed in place. On we go!


Lay your stencil out on your fabric. After a few repetitions, I figured out that it’s much easier to trace the outlines of your design with the stencil in place, then remove the stencil and color in the design. This keeps excess dye/ink from staying on the stencil and smudging on your work surface. Make sure your hands are kept clean as well, for this reason. Stenciling 11 feet of canvas took a few hours total (I ended up doing a few repetitions after work each night while dinner was cooking).

Let the dyed surface dry for 24 hours. Then, I folded a towel over the design and used a hot iron with maximum steam to set the dye in place. I ironed the towel slowly to get plenty of heat and water vapor. This sets the dye in place and makes it permanent.


Now, I used this method for a forester’s canvas tent, but it could also be used for anything from canvas bags and shoes to hats or drawstring bags.

Some ideas for variations:

  • Use heraldic designs for a noble or royal tent that can be spotted easily (they make metallic fabric pens too!)
  • Use swirls and leafy motifs for something elven
  • Use runes or skulls for a more barbarian look
  • Outline your design with black on a darker background, but fill the design in with glow-in-the-dark fabric paint to make moons, stars, astrological symbols, or alchemy symbols for a mage’s or fortune-teller’s tent

One more caution: be sure to not put dye from pens on damp canvas. My test showed that it smudged and didn’t set properly, and even rubbed off on other parts of the canvas.

Show us what you made here in the comments, or offer your other ideas! As always, thank you for building the magic with us.