February 15, 2010

Being Crafty: Decoupage

These days, it feels like all my creativity is channeled towards a computer screen. Writing, reading, keeping in touch: it's all accomplished through my pretty little Macbook. So much so that I am developing intimate feelings for my laptop that no one- NO one- should feel towards a lump of wires and screen. Sometimes, I need to take a break and do something creative that doesn't depend on a plug-in battery. Thus my love of being crafty.

When I graduated from grad school last year, I decided I wanted to make something for my friend Lyndsey, who graduated alongside me. She was my rock, my drinking buddy, my us-against-the-world partner in crime: I wanted to make her something special. She is a list/I-need-to-write-down-my-thoughts-on-this-subject person, like me, so I decided to make her some personalized notebooks using decoupage.

This is one of the easiest, most versatile decorating methods in the world. It hearkens back to the days when you used to smear glue over your family's furniture with your chubby, unattended little fingers. There are about a million and one different "looks" you can achieve, but the method remains insanely easy no matter what look you're going for. You don't need many supplies to do it: just a surface to work on (this can be anything from a notebook cover to a tabletop, canvas, glass, a jewelry/shoebox... you name it, as long as it's smooth), some cut-outs that you want to put onto said surface and some decoupage glue. I've been told that you can use regular Elmer's glue in decoupage, but I've never been brave enough to try it as a substitute. Just make sure that whatever surface you're using in clean and dry.

First, I wanted to cover the front and back covers of three spiral-bound black notebooks with
different panels of sturdy wrapping paper. I measured out each panel and cut it to the size I wanted. Then I whipped out my handy sponge-on-a-stick tool (you can also use a paint brush or a Popsicle stick if you're feeling reckless), covered the notebook with a not-too-thick layer of glue, and smoothed the wrapping paper over it.

I rolled a pencil from one end of the now-papered surface to the other to try and scare out any air bubbles hiding underneath the fabric. Wrinkling is the trickiest part of decoupage: if you lay on the glue too thick or if you lay your fabric down sloppily, you end up with air bubbles that look like little warts in your work. No good.

Next, I cut out all the little bits and pieces I wanted to use in my design. That included some bits of decorative paper, cut-outs from the front of a greeting card, some black satin ribbonand some stickers. Keep in mind when choosing things to decoupage that they generally need to be flat and lightweight, or else you risk them falling off your medium over time. You can put things like coins or beads onto your medium, but you'll probably want to superglue them instead of using the decoupage glue. Also, try to stay away from super-fragile or transparent tissue paper and the like. I used a gauzy paper on Notebook #1 and found it difficult to work with (I ended up liking the result, but it was a close call). Take it from me, they rip and change color when you coat them with glue, and they end up getting wrinkled when saturated. Again, the warts. Photos, ticket stubs, stickers, stamps, some kinds of ribbon and sturdy paper work best for this. If you end up using markers, make sure they're permanent, or they'll run when you put glue over them. I find that Sharpies work best.

Once I'd cut out all the things I wanted to use, I coated their bottoms with glue (except for the stickers, which stick themselves) and laid them down carefully. I usually do the roll-with-a-pencil technique as I go to prevent air bubbles while drying. Once I had done that, I used a black Sharpie to write quotes on the front of the notebooks that I thought Lyndsey would find inspirational. Once you've stuck on everything you want, it's good to let it dry for half a day/overnight.

The last step in to coat the whole project in a thin layer of glue. Just take your brush or sponge tool and paint the glue over the collage as a varnish. I'll usually let this coat dry for a few hours and then apply another coat. This will make your collage all shiny-like and will protect it from peeling/future damage. This is some of what I ended up with:

Front of Notebook #1

Back of Notebook #1

Notebook #2, still drying. See the air bubbles underneath the light golden paper? I like to think they ended up looking like a stylistic choice, but they suck nonetheless.

I was really pleased with the way the notebooks turned out (though not pleased to have mysteriously misplaced half my pictures of them when they were finished: sorry).

I made Manfriend a decoupage collage of our trip around the States for his birthday. Working with photos and a canvas make this one of the dead easiest crafty projects in the world.

Everyone likes a hand-made gift, and I've found that these are cost-efficient and fun. This is the craft for "I'm not crafty" people. Go ahead, give it a try. The six-year-old (and the technologically over-baked adult) in you will thank you.


  1. You are so crafty! They all turned out so beautiful. Made even the uncrafty me want to give it a try! Looks like fun!

  2. I love decoupage but have never had the patience to make anything. The notebooks are beautiful.

  3. HOLY make me cry. I love my notebooks and use them with a warm heart almost daily. You're a rock to me, Kate!!! Thank you!!! xoxo