Friday, November 29, 2013

DIY Water Slide Decals

As promised, and at long last, here is the information about how I created and applied the waterslide decals for Shield Maiden.

The Supply List And Quick Directions

I bought the decals and chemicals from  Sadly they do not pay me to endorse them. As usual I am going to link you to the exact products that I bought, but remember that this was the very first time I ever did this.  So I have no way of knowing if these products are the best, the best value, or anything like that.  The links are meant to be helpful or maybe just to give you a starting point.  You can learn a tremendous amount by reading the product reviews on

It just didn't occur to me to take pictures during the application of the decals. I was nervous about doing this for the first time.  But it was really, really easy.  Not cheap, but easy. 

What you SHOULD do is just buy the stuff and read the directions.  But I fear you would feel cheated if that was all I said about the process.  So here's a quick overview.

Water Slide Decal Paper
An amazon search of "water slide decal paper" followed by "ink jet" or "laser", depending on your printer, will give you the choices.  Mine's ink jet, and I bought 10 sheets of "clear" for under $12.  It also comes in white, but clear is what you need.   I used two sheets for the Shield Maiden.
  • Print your text and images on the decal paper
Oh, how simple that sounds.   Actually the hardest part of this process was the image manipulation, and we'll talk about that after the quick tutorial.

Clear coat, about $7, keeps the ink from running when you later dip the decal in water.
  • Spray your decal paper with clear coat.  Let dry.  Spray again.  Let dry.  Repeat a third time.
  • Cut out individual motifs.  One at a time worked best for me.
Micro Set setting solution
Helps the decal adhere to the surface.  Under $6.
  •  Paint this onto the surface where you will be applying the decal.  Does not matter if you go "outside the lines". 

 Small Bowl of Water
  • Put the decal-paper motif into the water.  In less than a minute the decal will be easy to slide off of the paper, and it is easy to tell when this happens.
  • Slide the decal off of the paper and onto the machine surface.  Upright or flat, no problem
Fingers and a Brush or Sponge  
  • Smooth the decal from the center out.  
    • Fingers first to smooth it out and begin to get the air bubbles and water out
    • Then dab at it with a brush or sponge to finish that job
Micro Sol setting solution 
Softens the decal and allows it to meld with the surface.  $6.25 at time of publication.
  • Paint a very small amount of this on the top of the decal.  Use the brush to dab at it a bit and assist that melding process.
  • Do the next motif the same way
  • When all of the decals are applied and have dried, spray the whole machine with the same clear coat you used on the decal paper.  Let dry, repeat.  And again
    • You will need to tape over any holes and openings.  Photos below

At this point I have just about doubled the purchase price of the machine!  But I only used a fraction of the Micro Sol stuff.

The Creation of the Shield Maiden

All that technical how-to stuff is easy.  To me the interesting part is the design process.  And here I did think to take photos.

The selection of the paint color for the machine (Rustoleum hammered copper) resulted from the decision to stick to black only as the color on the decals.  I knew that the image selection and manipulation would take an unimaginable amount of time.  No matter what the project, if images are involved it always does.  Add color to the mix and you can easily multiply the amount of time by 20x.  At least I can. 

So black for the images was the first decision.  The sewing machine needed to be a nice contrast to the black.  I also considered the gold hammered Rustoleum, but settled on the copper, which looks to me like a lovely rose gold.

I don't remember consciously choosing Viking and Celtic art as the source for the images.  It was just there from the beginning.  I said that "black was the first decision" because this is a kind of tutorial and one has to start somewhere.  But it was more of a single mental explosion:  black ink, copper machine, Viking art.  All at once.

I tried looking online for images and hated the process for some reason.  Delved happily into books, and you can see them in this post.  And here is the moral dilemma:  I don't feel guilty about scanning and adapting a few images from books for my personal use on my personal sewing machine.  But what if I later decide to sell it?  And what about showing them to you on this blog?  Have I violated the copyright laws?  I don't think I want to know the answer to that question.  I do know that this makes me uncomfortable enough so that I will either use my own images or get copyright free art the next time.  Dover clip art has amazing stuff, including Celtic and Norse art.  Coulda, woulda, shoulda.  

I selected many images that I thought might fit on various bits of the sewing machine, scanned them, cropped them.  Estimated the approximate sizes of the spaces on the machine and adjusted the sizes of the images so they would fit.  I use Photoscape, free image editing software similar to Adobe Photoshop Elements.  But free.

Preview One:  Paper

Printed them out, and cut out many of the motifs for a trial run on the machine.  At this point in time I had not thought of the name "Shield Maiden" for the machine.

I printed out many, many more motifs than I ended up using, and I tinkered with the sizes and printed some of then several times.  This is one of the reasons that projects like this take me FOREVER. 

Selected a font and composed the text.  Choose a font size to fit on the machine.  Printed these and cut them out also.  This is when "Shield Maiden" was born, and this choice eventually affected the choice of images on the machine. 

Blue painters tape holds the paper draft copies in place temporarily.

I previewed several bed decals.  In the end, I choose an image with more fine detail but less impact than the one shown here.  I think this simpler, darker one would have been the better choice.  My one criticism of Shield Maiden is that the black should be more prominent:  heavier lines, darker figures.  And don't think that I don't love the end results, because I do.  Just sharing the process with you.

It took more than one try to get the size just right.

The handwheel decal, on the other hand, has just the right visual weight to it.

Here's another nice dark image that would have looked terrific against the copper.  Sigh.  Instead I chose a slender and delicate sword.  Kind of like a needle.  Get it?

Because a Shield Maiden needs a sword.  And there should be dragons lurking also.  I let myself get carried away, I'm afraid.  And went back to the books looking for swords and dragons.  Image selection and manipulation.  Rinse and repeat.  Like I said, forever...

Preview Two:  Overhead Transparencies

I printed out new and revised images and the text on to overhead transparencies.  I found mine at the thrift store, a box for 50 cents, but amazon has 10 sheets for $6.  This step may not be strictly necessary, but it definitely helped to see the black ink directly (well mostly) against the copper machine.

After this preview, I deleted the surrounding ring and elongated the sword.  Which made it even lighter in weight visually.  And I substituted the sword-and-ring image for the much lovelier but less meaningful image in the preview below.

The clasped hands march all around the irregular bottom of the fiddlebase, but a straight line preview was good enough.

But wait!  What's this?  There is a round flat place for the spool to rest.  There is a hole for the spool pin.  The spool pin is NOT in the center of the round place.  Makes image placement a problem.

AFTER I had made the absolutely final selection of the images, then and only then did I do a final clean up on the images.  Scanned images can have fuzzy edges, images can have speckles that can be removed, etc.

And that pain-in-the-neck aspect of the image manipulation will be completely avoided on my next project, where I will buy some copyright free Dover clip art.  All clean and tidy.

The Decals

After the decals are applied and have dried, you need to spray a protective clear coat over the whole machine.  These photos show the amount of taping I did for the clear coat. I taped over openings and over the chrome parts of the machine that I didn't remove.

The top of the pillar is slightly domed, and the decal had a hard time settling down over it.  The chemical solutions definitely helped but I can still detect a few very tiny crinkles in this.  I would do it differently next time.  A smaller circular image, or an image with a series of rings that could be applied separately.  Or something like a snowflake.

Domed might have been a problem, but just rounded worked fine.  The real manufacturer and model name went smoothly onto the rounded arm of the machine with no problems.

I love these clasped hands.  They also march around the irregular fiddle base.

These were printed out in long straight lines, but cut and applied individually.  Because the ends are rounded it was pretty forgiving.  Look closely and you will see that they line up a bit sloppily.  And it does not matter one bit.

 I really like the idea of the sword pointing downward to the needle of the machine, but again the final decal is too light.  But I do like it.

I decided to cut the bed decal out in one piece, so that the sword placement would be just right.  I don't think you can see it in the photo, but there are a few very tiny air bubbles trapped under the  decal.  I should have either cut them separately (it's easier to get all the bubbles out from under smaller pieces of decal) OR spent more time and attention on that step.  Live, experiment, and learn.

The dragon wraps himself nicely around the pillar.

Notice that the arm is narrower towards the nose and wider towards the pillar.  So how do you line up the text?  Parallel to the top or the bottom (which are not parallel with each other?)  Dead horizontal?  Actually none of the above looked good.  It's almost horizontal, but just not quite.

Here's a simple ring image rather than a full circular image, which would have looked odd with the off center spool pin.

The handwheel is my favorite part of the machine.

For the handwheel I selected an image that had natural breaks in it where it could be cut into small arcs. Those were applied one at a time.  The image is just a bit smaller than the handwheel.  If it was the exact size then each segment would have to fit exactly.  Since it is a pinch smaller there are tiny gaps between the arcs, which gives some wiggle room as you place them.

Summing Up

My original goal was to find a cheap treadle of no particular value and experiment with all the aspects of treadle-beautification.  I painted the irons, I refinished the cabinet, and painted the machine head.  And I made my own decals and applied them.  I experimented with new products and techniques.  I had an absolute ball.  Yes, it took forever, but if you enjoy the process then that is a GOOD thing.  Hey, I'm retired.  Time has a very different meaning after you are retired.

My general attitude in writing this blog is to demonstrate to everyone that anybody can dive into this hobby and have fun.  I learned everything I know about vintage sewing machines in the last few years.  I never represent myself as an expert.  I screw up a lot and like to tell you about it and laugh at myself.  In general, I feel pretty humble. 

But, Boy Howdy, not this time!   This project exceeded my wildest dreams.  All aspects of it look fabulous.  If I do say so myself.  And I do.

But we can still laugh at me.  I have not yet installed the belt, wound a bobbin, threaded it up and tried to sew on it.  So I don't really know if it works.  But it will.  It turns as smoothly as silk. And this one was never really about restoring the machine (although I did all the usual things to the interior of it).  It was all about experimenting.  Playing.

I'm in the middle of a project that has taken me away from sewing and sewing machines.  And now it is time for my annual Christmas CraigsList sale of sewing machines.  This blog will be temporarily hijacked (by me) as I use it to promote the annual income that keeps this hobby afloat.  Last year I broke even (earned as much selling machines as I spent on machines, tools, and equipment).   This gives me strength as my relatives ask "HOW many sewing machines do you have now?"


  1. Fabulous!!!!! Might try this myself. Thanks for the tutorial.

  2. Thanks for sharing all that! I don't think I'll ever try it myself, but I enjoyed reading about your process. And...the machine is beautiful!

  3. Fantastic adventure you've had here. I'm sure your labors will also inspire others. I confess that after all this labor, I'm eager for you to find out how well it sews and eager to see something you and this machine create!

  4. I love the look of the handwheel! Thanks for the tutorial.

  5. I’ll have to keep an eye on Craigslist. ;-) lol

    Nice work. Fun machine!

  6. What fun! I want a boat anchor to experiment on also! Saw one at a yard sale one time and they actually wanted $100 for it, I think he was offended when I offered $10!

  7. I am NOT that good with fiddly things, but, I do love the looks of that sewing machine. Maybe one day. Hope the Holidays go well for you. I know it will be tough.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Amazing results! I'm so impressed with your attitude. And emboldened. Thank you.

  10. While shopping for Singer 15-1s, I had been seeing a Domestic just like this one (but black) on ebay for a couple of months. I had no interest in it until I saw your last 2015 NC TOGA post with Shield Maiden and the IKEA lamp, which eventually led me to your blog post. Now that lonely neglected, unwanted Domestic is MINE! Not sure I'm ready to tackle repainting like this, but I know where to go when I am ready. Thanks for all you do and share.

  11. Great job with the decals! May I ask what brand decals you used? I clicked the link in your article, and it no longer works. I'm considering custom decals for a machine I want to re-paint. Thanks!

    1. it was a while ago! I bought whatever clear inkjet waterslide decal sheets were cheapest on don't remember the brand name, sorry. as usual with amazon, read the reviews and you will learn all you need to know.


Say hello or leave a comment here. I would love to hear from you! If your own settings are set to receive a comment back, I will write to you. If you don't hear back from me, you will know that your own settings are set to "no reply".

I have to block anonymous posts to prevent spam. I am really sorry if this excludes you.