Tuesday, December 9

DIY gifts: Back with a vengeance (and some Mod Podge)

I love decoupage. Maybe it’s because I can’t draw to save my life but still think I have an eye for color and design. Or maybe it’s because, each time I peel off the glue-skin that forms on my hands, I’m transported by to childhood, when the trick was to see how big a piece you can get.

Whatever the reason, it’s a great way to craft without spending a lot of time or money.

I also like decoupage because it makes decorative containers and organizers, which help keep down clutter. Most DIY gifts create more clutter.

The Projects

For this post, I dug up an old Ann Taintor weekly calendar, a lucky find at a thrift store. Her pictures are great for visual appeal and snarkiness.

Naturally, not everyone can get their hands on something like this. And I certainly wouldn’t suggest you go online and find her images that I’m sure plenty of people have uploaded. That would be illegal. Ahem... Moving on.

The bank:

A frugal gift twofold: Cheap to make and it helps the recipient save money! I found the "Insert Coin" phrase in one of Tim's gaming magazines. It seemed too perfect not to use.

You don't have to go with this sort of theme, though. If you know someone who is saving up, find some images associated with that: a house for, well, a house fund, a plane and sun for a vacation fund, shoes and jewelry for a shopping fund. You can really personalize these to the individual!

The recipe holder:

For the cook in the family, create a recipe box. This gift would be best if you scared up some tabbed index cards, for better filing.

The jewelry box:

The lid

The box

If you know someone who always has jewelry scattered everywhere, decorate a box to put it all in.

Of course, this could also be a small bank, separating coins into different boxes. Or a larger box for holding photos/keepsakes. Each different purpose suggests a different decoration theme.

The coupon holder:

I thought it would be great to have a coupon holder, for the time between clipping and shopping. I tend to lose loose coupons, so it would be great to have a place to put them (other than clipped to the fridge, where they get forgotten).

The box was 10 cents at Tim's card store.

As you can see, I cut out phrases and coupons. But if you prefer pictures to words, it's all about your own personal aesthetic.

The big project:

Our first Christmas together, I wanted to get Tim something special. He always needed more storage for his Magic the Gathering cards. He also had downloaded a lot of the art from MTG's website, for use as screen savers and backgrounds on the computer.

One day it dawned on me that these two facts could work together. I went to Value Village and got him a wooden box. Then I printed out many of the pictures. Some I left in squares (for the base layer). Others I cut down for extra emphasis and texture.

It took forever, but it turned out beautifully (if I do say so myself):

When he saw the result, Tim was blown away. Magic the Gathering is a huge part of his life, and I was able to take something he needed anyway (more storage boxes for his cards) and personalize it.

While I don't recommend that you start with this intricate of a project -- it wore me out -- it's proof that there is no limit to what you can use decoupage for:

  • Decorate a bank (rather than make one)
  • Beautify the cover of a blank journal
  • Personalize a photo album's cover
  • Cut out various, funky letters and spell out your favorite quotes.
  • Get pictures and copy them onto regular paper. Decoupage with them.
  • Find a cheap clock and decorate the face.

The point is, there are tons of ideas out there. You just have to know your audience.

The method


1 bottle of Mod Podge Gloss Lustre ($6.99 at Michael's, $4.19 after 40% coupon)
1-2 paintbrushes (49 cents each at Michael's)
Container(s) for decoration
Magazines OR clip art
#400 sandpaper (optional)

The first step, obviously, is to find an item to decorate. The great thing about this craft is the containers don't have to be pristine. Depending how much actual decoration you're doing, you can cover up stains or scratches. It means you can find some very cheap items in the thrift stores.

Once you have your container, you need images. Get them from the internet, old magazines or just clip art files. It doesn't matter, so long as the images express your theme.

Assuming you are doing just a basic, one-image item, you simply need to swab Mod Podge on the back of the image.

Tip: When you're placing the image, you may be nervous about putting it on crookedly or in the wrong place. Don't worry. Mod Podge doesn't dry instantly, so you have some time to scoot it around or make the picture level.

As you are placing the image, you need to be aware of air bubbles. The best way to avoid these is to place the image down left to right (Just reverse this process if you're left-handed, it's all pretty intuitive.) Place the left side of the picture down to make contact with the container. Then, using your whole hand, push the image down left to right. This should force out any air bubbles.

Tip: If you don't like getting your hands glue-y, you can use anything that allows you to apply an even pressure over the whole image: a ruler, a sponge, someone else's hand... You get the general idea.

No matter how careful you are, you may miss a small pocket. Don't worry. Using your fingernails (and I bite mine so anyone should be able to do this), you can pick up one side -- lifting slowly and gently so that you don't tear the picture -- and smooth it back down.

Once the image is secured (and flat) you simply need to seal it with a coat of Mod Podge.

How many coats you put on is entirely up to you. One or two will easily get the product looking finished. (A coat generally takes 20 minutes to dry.) I chose to do about five or six coats, to make a more even finish between the picture and the container.

If you use the Gloss Lustre variety of Mod Podge, you won't need to apply a second sealant for a glossy finish. (To get a truly glossy shine with Mod Podge, you have use fine sandpaper, wetted, on the top coat. Personally, I like the slightly grainy look that came from just painting it on.)

If you cannot find the Gloss Lustre, you will need a secondary sealant. This is bad for two reasons: These seem to come primarily in spray cans and they reek. A lot.

Spray cans are fine if you are able to work in your own garage. But in an apartment setting, you have to worry about messing up the floor permanently, if the spray goes farther than anticipated.

More importantly, the smell can't be contained as well in an apartment. The best you can do is to seal off your bathroom for several hours.

Remember that, despite being a spray, the sealant will run down the sides. This means each side has to be done individually. Assume at least a half hour for thorough drying. And the smell won't dissipate for a few hours after that, even with the fan on the whole time.

In other words, just go get the Gloss Lustre Mod Podge and save yourself the headache (from the fumes).

Tip: If you're worried about a glossy shine (personally, I liked the slightly grainy look I created) the bottle suggests using a fine grade of sand paper between coats.

Tip: Be sure to wash out your paintbrush between coats. It will be hard to get all the Mod Podge out. Even after this, the bristles may dry a little stiffly. Before tossing your brush, though, do a few strokes. Often, the bristles loosen up after a few dunkings in the bottle.

Tip: Don't forget that Mod Podge dries clear (despite being a milky white when you apply it) so feel free to apply more as needed.

Tip: Especially when you are creating a layered collage, you may have trouble wrapping around the corners. Use lots of glue, both under the image and coating the top, and push it down with the paintbrush as needed.

Tip: When working with layered collages, be sure to first cover the whole surface area with base layers. Then, as you're putting in more layers, be sure to cover seams from those base layers.

I think that about covers it. Feel free to write in with your own experiences, or questions!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, wow, this is GREAT! I starred it in Google Reader so I can come back for the recipe later!


December 10, 2008 at 10:46 AM

Blogger SBL said...

WOW! Sounds stunning.

SBL clipping path services

December 10, 2008 at 9:00 PM


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