Introduction: Stencil a Minecraft Creeper T-shirt

Minecraft is a fun and addictive game, suitable for adults and kids.  It's my daughter's favorite game currently.  Sadly, there's no official merchandise available right now, but Notch (the game's creator) has consented to the making of custom Creeper T-shirts.  I couldn't find a design-your-own site that offered the right colored shirt in kid sizes, so I decided to make my own.  It turned out to be quite simple.

We also decided to spice it up a little by adding black glitter to the Creeper's face, but if that's not your thing, just skip those steps.

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

A to-scale copy of your chosen design  (download a Creeper face here) (update: If the previous link doesn't work, try this one or you can easily draw your own on graph paper.  Just make sure to get the features proportioned properly.)
T-shirt (pre-washed)
Freezer paper (not wax paper!)*
X-acto knife or some other tool for cutting out your design
safe cutting surface
metal ruler/straight edge
fine-line permanent marker or ball point pen, something that won't smudge easily
removable tape
black fabric paint**
something to put the paint and glue on (scrap freezer paper will do)
stencil brushes (a sponge cut into cubes could work too)
ironing board
pressing cloth or parchment paper

If you want a glittery design, then you'll also need:
fabric glue
black machine washable glitter

*  Why freezer paper?  You can buy packs of self-adhesive stencil paper at craft stores, but it's rather pricey at about $9 for just 10 sheets whereas a roll of freezer paper is 50-75 square feet, costs around $5, and can be cut to different sizes. The drawback to a freezer paper stencil is that it can really only be used once.  Be sure to get freezer paper, not wax paper. Freezer paper has a dull side and a waxy coated side. Wax paper is coated on both sides.

**  You can use regular acrylic craft paint and mix it with a fabric paint medium, but that adds an extra step to the whole project, and the little bottle of fabric paint was inexpensive.

Step 2: Make Your Stencil

Print or trace your design
Print out a high res image of a Creeper face or draw it out on graph paper if you're out of printer ink like me. (I've updated this link to a Google image search since the original image was taken down.) Place your image on a smooth surface then put some freezer paper over it dull side up. Make sure the freezer paper has a generous border around the design so you don't accidentally get paint beyond the stencil. A bit of removable tape placed on the corners will help to keep the freezer paper from slipping as you trace the design.

Alternately, you can cut a sheet of freezer paper to fit through your printer and print the Creeper face directly onto the freezer paper. Make sure you print on the dull side of the paper.

Cut out the design
Once your design is on the freezer paper, move it to your cutting surface. A metal ruler makes cutting all these straight lines fast and easy. Carefully cut away the Creeper's eyes and mouth then discard these pieces. Don't overcut past the black areas.

Step 3: Attach the Stencil to the Shirt

Lay out your shirt on the ironing board, front side up (unless you want the design on the back, then put it back side up).  Turn on your iron to the cotton setting (or whatever is appropriate for your T-shirt's material) and let it heat up while you do the next step.  Don't use steam.

Optional but recommended step
Take a piece of blank freezer paper at least as large as your stencil design and put it inside the shirt with the waxy side up, about where the design will go.  Smooth out any wrinkles.  Once the iron is hot, slowly run the iron over the front of the shirt.  The waxy surface of the paper inside the shirt will melt slightly and make it adhere to the shirt.  This takes more heat and time than you'd expect, so be patient.  Lift up the edge of the shirt and see if the freezer paper peels away easily if you pull on it.  If it does, use the iron for a few more minutes. 

Alternately you can just slip a large piece of cardboard or heavy paper inside the shirt to prevent paint bleeding through to the back, but this piece of freezer paper provides a stable surface for painting and makes it easier to iron the stencil to the front of the shirt.

Iron on the stencil
Once the backer paper is in place, put your stencil on top of the shirt waxy side down.  Make sure you have it positioned exactly where you want it, then begin to iron it.  Pay extra attention to the edges of the design.  You want the freezer paper adhered as smoothly as possible so that no paint will get under the edges.

Step 4: Paint the Creeper's Face

Put some of the black fabric paint on your dish, scrap of freezer paper, or whatever.  Dip the stencil brush into the paint, making sure to coat it nicely and evenly.  Don't get too much paint though.  You don't want it dripping or getting gloppy.

Pat the brush onto the shirt and stencil.  Don't stroke it like a regular paint brush, don't rub it or grind it against the shirt, and don't drag it over the edges of the stencil.  Doing any of that can force paint under the edge of the stencil, ruining your nice straight edges.  Just dab it up and down.  Try to look at the shirt from different angles to look for spots you might have missed, especially in the corners.  Sometimes it's easier to see missed spots after the paint has dried a little bit.  Dab on more paint in these areas as needed.

Once you're satisfied with your paint coverage, move the shirt someplace where it won't be disturbed and leave it alone to dry according to the paint manufacturer's instructions.  The brand I used said to let it air dry for 24 hours then heat set it.

To heat set the paint, wait until it's dry (a day or so), put your pressing cloth or parchment paper over the design, then press with a hot iron.

If you don't want to add glitter, you can skip ahead to Step 6. 
Basically, remove the stencil once the paint is dry and has been heat set.  Carefully start peeling the stencil off, working from the outside in.  It should come off fairly easily.  Don't forget to remove the paper from the inside of the shirt as well.  You can wear the shirt now, but wait another day or two before laundering.  Turn the shirt inside out before washing and follow the paint manufacturer's recommendations.  My paint said to hand wash or machine wash with cool water.

If you want to add glitter, move on to the next step.

Step 5: Add Some Sparkle! (Optional)

I thought the black squares on a solid green shirt was a bit plain, plus my daughter loves all that is sparkly, so I decided to add glitter to the Creeper design.

After the fabric paint has dried and been heat set, put some of your fabric glue on your dish or scrap paper.  Use your stencil brush to dab and smear glue over the design.

Tip: Read the manufacturer's instructions!  My product said to apply a thin layer of adhesive, let it set for 30 seconds, apply a second layer, let that set for 3 minutes, sprinkle on the glitter, then let it all dry for 30 minutes.

I failed to read the directions first.  I smeared on a layer of glue then immediately sprinkled glitter over the whole thing. Despite failing to follow the directions, my method seems to have worked just fine.  I had good coverage once the glue was dry even after the shirt went through the laundry.

Anyway, once you've covered the design in glue, generously sprinkle glitter over all of it.  Use your fingertips to gently pat down the glitter, making sure it's in the corners of the design and that there aren't any bare spots.

Carefully put the shirt is in a safe spot away from breezes, pets, and children, then let it dry undisturbed for at least 30 minutes.

Once the glue has had time to set, carefully pick up the shirt and shake off the excess glitter onto another sheet of paper (scrap will do).  Use this second sheet to pour the extra glitter back into its original container.

At this point I put the shirt onto a hanger, carried it outside, then flailed it around and whacked the back of the shirt to knock off as much of the loose glitter as I could.  Then I whacked it some more.

Once the excess glitter is gone, it's time to heat set the glue.  Set the iron's temperature to the manufacturer's directions.  Put the shirt back on the ironing board (removing the hanger first), place a pressing cloth or parchment paper over the design, then press with the iron.

Step 6: The Big Reveal!

Once your paint and glue have dried and been heat set, it's time to remove the freezer paper.

Carefully begin peeling the stencil away from the shirt, working from the outer edges toward the center.  Then remove the freezer paper from the inside of the shirt.

Now admire the crisp, neat edges of your design!

You can wear the shirt immediately, but I'd wait the recommended 72 hours, then run the shirt through the washing machine, turning it inside out first.  This will clear out any excess paint and glitter so it doesn't end up on you.

Now you're ready to sneak up on people and ssssssssssssssss...  BOOM!