A crescent design from The Stencil Library stenciled onto wallpaper.


The Stencil Library Highlights

the Enduring Appeal of Stencils

Any misguided notion that stencils are passé or old-fashioned can quickly be dispelled by a trip to the library—The Stencil Library, that is.

For nearly three decades, The Stencil Library has been a major force in the stenciling profession. Because consumers love to use pattern in their homes in one form or another, the company has been able to endure.

“People love to decorate surfaces whether it is walls, floors, fabrics or even their skin, and a stencil can make decorating a satisfying experience,” says British stenciler Helen, who is one-half of The Stencil Library partnership. (The other half is her husband, Michael Chippendale, or "Chips" for short.)

Helen Morris of The Stencil Library. Background is a set of panels (CH1-CH4)

An Appealing Decorating Option

Helen explains that versatility, ease of use and relatively low cost also make stencils an appealing decorating option. “By versatility, I mean that there is a huge array of surfaces that stenciled decoration can be applied to and in any color that you can think of. Stencils are an easy tool to use; they require imagination and common sense more than artistic skill and are cost-effective in relation to other high-end finishes and wallpapers.”

Stencils are appealing to artists and consumers alike because they eliminate the painstaking effort of repeating a pattern over and over again.” I cannot think of a better tool to replicate pattern with consistently good results when applying by hand,” Helen says. “They save so much time. We would not have the wealth of painted pattern in ancient churches and grand historical buildings if the repetitious parts of such decoration had not been helped along by the stencil tool.”

Helen and Chips started The Stencil Library

It All Started in 1988…

The Stencil Library is based in the beautiful northern English county of Northumberland, close to the Scottish border. Helen and Chips designed and cut their very first stencils in 1988 and have been going strong ever since. Chips is very much the backroom talent while Helen is the decorating, teaching and media side of the relationship.

Helen’s enthusiasm for the stencil tool and what it can achieve has prompted her to travel the world demonstrating stencil techniques on television programs, exhibitions and conventions. She also shared her passion for stenciling in a book, The Stencilled Home, which she wrote in 1998, and used to showcase her very own home. To this day, she continues to give tours of her stenciled home. More than a dozen years after publication of her first book, Helen wrote a follow-up, Stencil It. Both books were made available in U.S. editions.

When she is not stenciling or teaching for others, Helen conducts classes at her home base in Northern England. She also is an active member of both IDAL and Salon, where she has gained valuable experience and made lasting friendships.

A Napoleon-stenciled bedroom.

Technological Influences

While using stencils has never been difficult, Helen reports that their use has become even easier over the last several decades because of the introduction of modern stenciling materials. “Clear, flexible and cleanable stencil film replaced oil-card and metal as the material of choice,” she explains. “This made them easier to use by those inside and outside the trade.”

One big technological development was the introduction of the automated precision cutter, which allows intricate designs to be cut faster and cheaper than hand-cutting. The modernization has definitely been a change for the better for Helen and Chips. “At The Stencil Library, we like to hand-draw our stencil designs, but the pattern repeat and the cutting is computerized,” Helen says. “In our early days, some of our designs would take days to hand-cut ... I know because I used to cut them. I still have a groove on my forefinger where the scalpel used to press!”

Another major influence on The Stencil Library’s business has been the emergence of the Internet. Coinciding with the publication of The Stencilled Home, Helen and Chips saw an upswing in their online sales that very soon began to rival the mail-order business generated by their print catalog. Now, most of the company’s stencils are sold through the company’s website and shipped all over the world.

“Online stencil stores offered a huge advance in choice and ease when buying stencils,” Helen reports. “You can now buy from many countries in many currencies in any time zone and have product shipped to your address.”

In addition, Helen observes that many companies will scale their designs to a customer’s specifications or create a stencil from a customer’s own artwork. Much of this customization is being driven by the Internet. “Decorative inspiration and information can be found on your screen within seconds from magazines and social media,” she says. “I think this has made people more adventurous in their decorating choices.”

A rendition on wall and furniture of the Sticky Weed stencil.

An Amazingly Broad Range

One of the advantages offered by The Stencil Library is an amazingly broad range of product. The company has designed what is believed to be the world’s largest stencil collection with a current offering encompassing more than 4,000 stencils. If by some chance you don’t see what you need from that huge product offering, Helen and Chips would be happy to discuss a possible custom order for you. The couple cut each of their designs to order, enabling each stencil to be custom-sized if needed.

Helen and Chips describe their range of historical style stencils as "the museum meets the movie set," an idealized version of past decorative genres. Although they like playing with history, they have designed a large selection of contemporary stencils. The couple enjoy creating trends and innovative ways to use the stencil tool.

At the moment, Helen is immersed in stenciling walls and furniture using Chinoiserie stencils from the company’s 2001 collection. This collection gained its inspiration from the 18th-century Chinese-style wallpapers found in one of England’s former royal palaces. In addition, Helen is decorating with the company’s newest range of stencils, which will launch this summer and is one of the duo’s biggest collections to date. (Focus on Faux will give the word to its reader when this collection goes live.)

Stencils from The Stencil Library add drama to this kitchen.

Having created so many stencil designs, Helen and Chips show no signs of stopping. What keeps them so enthralled with their work? Helen sums up the answer in two words: instant gratification. “One of the aspects of stenciling that appeals to me is the instant gratification that comes when I lift the stencil to see a well-executed imprint, and with each application the pattern grows,” she says. “It still gives me joy, and I have been doing this for almost 30 years now."

Additionally, Helen loves the fact that stenciling is such an accessible form of artistry. If individuals have the desire to do it, they have a great likelihood of success. “The stencil is a democratic tool; one does not need to be an artist to get artistic results when using a stencil," Helen states. "That is another of the keys to its popularity.”

To learn more about The Stencil Library, visit the company's website at and follow Helen and Chips on Facebook, TwitterPinterest and Instagram. Also visit the company’s blog at www.designinspiration.typepad.com.

See Helen Morris' Artist Portfolio at the link.