Is there a happy medium? I'd say there is! Using freezer-paper is a simple and inexpensive way to transfer crisp, clean graphics to T-shirts, pillowcases, tote bags, or just about anything made out of fabric!
Recently, I took one of my super-simple pillowcases and made it one-of-a-kind by stenciling some words on it.
"An object at rest will stay at rest until acted upon by an outside force." Newton's first law of physics... which I experience first-hand every morning.
To get started I formatted the text to be large enough to span the pillow in Microsoft Publisher. I love Publisher in that I can move boxes of text anywhere on the page and manipulate them independently, unlike Word. I also had make my phrase span two pages, which I could do automatically in Publisher. But to each his own! It doesn't matter how you format your phrase or image as long as you have the ability to print it out the size you want.
Freezer paper typically comes in large, wide rolls but it is easy enough to cut out a few 8 1/2" by 11" sheets. Load these sheets into your printer so that your image will print out on the papery, NON-shiny side!
Then, very carefully, using an exacto blade or craft knife, cut out the design. Now, I was very ambitious using such a long phrase... each individual letter had to be cut out, which was a lot of work! For your first stencil I highly recommend something simpler! Also, when cutting out letters like "o" or "e" that have inner shapes to them, I found that leaving a tiny little "bridge" of paper connecting the inner shape to the larger paper really helped me to not lose those tiny shapes.
Here's what was left over:
Alrighty, now that we have cut out our design we have our stencil! Now is the time to position the stencil on your fabric/shirt/pillowcase/what-have-you. Make sure that the shiny, plastic-y side is facing down and the papery side is facing up and run over the stencil with a hot iron.
The plastic coating will melt very slightly and will adhere to your fabric! Now is the time to very carefully remove any paper "bridges" that you made and make sure that all of those little "inner shapes" are firmly adhered on their own.
Now it's time to paint! Make sure that you have newspaper or wax paper underneath your fabric, and if you are painting a T-shirt make sure that it is sandwiched in between the front and the back. When you apply your paint, make sure to do it GENTLY and "dab" it on rather than "brush" it on. Even if your freezer paper seems to be stuck on securely it doesn't take much to accidentally force some paint underneath the stencil and mess up your design. Also, I used specific fabric paint for this project and some people will tell you that if you use acrylic on fabric you have to add a "medium" to it... but in all honesty I've found that straight-up acrylic works just as well.
Once your paint is dry it is time for the MOMENT OF TRUTH! Carefully peel off the freezer paper to reveal your deign! This is perhaps the funnest part of the whole process. For the tiny little "inner shapes" I ended up using some tweezers to pull them off the fabric.
(As you can see, my painting job wasn't perfect... but overall I think it turned out well!)
There you have it! An inexpensive way to get silk-screen results with endless possibilities!