The art of upcycling

I’ve been busy keeping my Etsy shop stocked over the last month and have been having so much fun finding new treasures to rescue, upcycle and sell. And with all of these projects I have forgotten 99% of the time to take before and after photos. The following item is the 1%.

I thought I’d write a post that explains what I look for in an item, and how I transform it from a piece of junk on its way to the dumpster, to become something that others want to actually have and display in their home. It’s really neat to give an item a complete make-over and a second chance. There is so much potential in many of these forgotten pieces. It takes vision, creativity and time, but the end product is worth it.

The item I’ve chosen to use as an example is this old sewing/craft box:

craftbox insideboxI found it for $1.49. I liked that it was made of solid wood. I also liked the general shape of it. What I didn’t like was the nasty mustard yellow felt lining that had seen better days, The chips on each corner of the bottom drawer, the scuffs/dings/scratches, and the awful pin cushion fabric. But all the things I didn’t like about it could be changed. The doors on top still functioned just fine, the pulls were intact, the lines were cute, and the solid wood was a huge plus. I knew when painted it would feel higher quality.

I wanted to get rid of the yellow felt and replace it with something else. I also wanted to cover the old fabric with something cuter, and I wanted to paint the entire box a different color to give it new life. All of these things were totally doable and didn’t take much time.

It was easy to rip off the top pin cushions. They were just hot glued on so they peeled off. I just covered those and used a stapler underneath to secure the new fabric.

While I had the pin cushions off, I painted the entire box and Aqua color (acrylic paint), distressed it and waxed it with a protective coat with Annie Sloan’s clear wax.

After that I attempted to get rid of the felt. The yellow felt peeled right off. I measured those areas and cut scrap paper to size, then glued them back in.

The scrapbook paper made a huge difference!

The scrapbook paper made a huge difference!

Upcycled Sewing Box

Ahh… much better!

Since I already made this look shabby, it was no big deal that there were chips in the drawer.

I just distressed these areas to make it look more intentional. It still functions the way it needs to.

I just distressed these areas to make it look more intentional. It still functions the way it needs to.

Projects like these are rewarding because the material cost is very low. In this case I used 1/2 small bottle of aqua acrylic paint, 2 scraps of fabric and some scrapbook paper. Since I already had the vision, it only took about 2 hours to complete the project and it was fun to do!

Here are some other projects I’ve done recently that don’t have before pictures but hopefully they can still be inspiring:

Owl bookends made out of 2 secondhand mini wall shelves.

Owl bookends made out of 2 secondhand mini wall shelves.

Earring organizer made out of a vintage weather barometer, some chicken wire, and scrapbook paper.

Earring organizer made out of a vintage weather barometer, some chicken wire, and scrapbook paper.

Cake stand made from a secondhand candle holder, plate and glass dome.

Cake stand made from a secondhand candle holder, plate and glass dome.

As always, if you want to support our upcoming adoption efforts or get ideas for more DIY projects, please visit my Etsy shop to see more items I’ve created from secondhand pieces.

My first experience with Annie Sloan’s Chalkpaint (and Furniture Refinisher)

I’d heard a lot about Chalk Paint and seen tons of things on Pinterest related to painting old furniture with this “miracle” paint, so I decided it was time for me to take the plunge and try it out. To be honest, I was nervous. I guess the special brushes and the pricey-ness of the paint itself along with the whole wax thing made me feel a little intimidated.

What really encouraged me in this direction is when I found a Chippendale-style dining set at my local thrift store for only $75. The finish was not good though. The top was majorly scratched and dinged and the chairs were covered with a dingy old fabric. But, the table was a nice size, with a leaf included, and there were 5 chairs.

Thrift store Chippendale-style dining set. $75.

Thrift store Chippendale-style dining set. $75.

I wanted the top to be durable, so I googled a bunch of different ideas. The one I liked best, suggested using an antique furniture refinisher to rub off the old stain on top with steel wool. I ended up using Fromby’s Furniture Refinisher:

Awesome stuff, but plan on using multiple cans of it if you're stripping a large surface!

Awesome stuff, but plan on using multiple cans of it if you’re stripping a large surface!

I found this YouTube tutorial that I mainly followed:

Here are a few things that I learned from this process.

1) DO NOT BUY LATEX GLOVES. Don’t even buy just regular rubber gloves. You need to buy the gloves that say they are made for working with strong chemicals. And even when I used those, eventually they would eat through after enough use. You may have to buy several pairs of gloves (2-3)

2) You will most likely end up going through a lot of refinisher if you’re stripping a large area. I ended up having to buy 3 jugs of refinisher.

3) I think I used an entire package of the steel wool when all was said and done.

4) You also need a metal bucket to put the refinisher in. I found using 2 metal buckets was best, because each time you dip your steel wool back in to get more refinisher on it, you end up dirtying the rest of the refinisher. It was best to have refinisher in 2 buckets. One for rinsing and squeezing out as much old stain as I could, and the other for getting some cleaner refinisher to go back to the table with. If the second bucket started getting too gross I would add it to the first bucket and add some clean refinisher to the 2nd again.

Once I finished this process, this beautiful underlying wood was revealed:

The stain had darkened so much and was so dinged and scratched that I didn't even know the wood had a pattern in it until I stripped it!

The stain had darkened so much and was so dinged and scratched that I didn’t even know the wood had a pattern in it until I stripped it!

I used Minwax Polyshades to stain the top of the table. I chose Bombay Mahogany in the gloss for the shade.

There is a dark cherry quality to this stain. I love the way it classed up the top of the table.

There is a dark cherry quality to this stain. I love the way it classed up the top of the table.

The YouTube tutorial above does a good job explaining the kind of brush you need. Usually you’ll only need one coat of this since the protective agent is mixed into the stain. We only used one coat and were happy with it. If you want it darker you can add another coat after 6 hours. Make sure to lightly sand between coats.

After taking care of the stain, I tackled the chairs, and base of the table with my Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. I chose the white color since all of our molding is true white. The nice thing about it is you don’t have to do any prep work whatsoever. I lightly dusted all of the chairs and the table legs, but no sanding is necessary. This makes the process a lot quicker and easier.

chaircloseupdetailBecause I chose the only paint that doesn’t have any pigmentation to it, it required 2 coats of paint to get the chairs how I wanted them. But since I wanted them to look distressed, I was satisfied with the results. If I had wanted them to be more opaque and smooth, I would’ve probably done a 3rd coat. Here are a few things I learned in the process:

1) The paint dries super quickly. That means that once you finish your first coat, you can usually start immediately on a second coat.

2) You don’t have to purchase the special brushes. You’ll want a good quality brush, but it doesn’t have to be an Annie Sloan one. I used a nice Purdy brush and it worked beautifully.

3) The chalk paint washes easily out of the brushes. Even after having a blonde moment and forgetting to wash my brush one evening, I was able to easily wash it out almost completely in the morning.

4) You can pretty much finish a painting project within 30-40 minutes since the paint dries fast and as soon as you sand/distress (if you desire), you can start the waxing process immeditately.

5) You can use an old t-shirt to rub the wax into the piece.

6) The paint goes a long way. With pieces that I’ve painted that have more pigmentation, I’ve only had to use 1 coat.

7) There are TONS of tutorials on using Annie Sloan wax on YouTube, so take advantage of this! I watched several before starting this project and I recommend you do too.

To recover the chairs, I used some fabric and plastic covering for the seats along with a staple gun, just like I did with my pub set. My goal with this table was to have a very elegant looking table to was also practical for having children.

I utilized the fabric in a way that I could get 2 seats covered from one yard. If it hadn't been so darn economical, I would've probably turned the pattern 90 degrees CCW. But frugal-ness won... again.

I utilized the fabric in a way that I could get 2 seats covered from one yard. If it hadn’t been so darn economical, I would’ve probably turned the pattern 90 degrees CCW. But frugal-ness won… again.

I also opted for the distressed look because it is sure to be dinged up and damaged by my 3 year old and our soon-to-be adopted daughter.

So I have to admit, I haven’t quite finished this set yet, because I have to work within my monthly budget and I can’t buy more fabric until the 10th, but it’s a good start:

You'll notice that I've included that antique chair I repainted and recovered for now, until I sell it (or don't).

You’ll notice that I’ve included that antique chair I repainted and recovered for now, until I sell it (or don’t).

And since this project I’ve done several more, but all with the intention of selling them to make money for our adoption. It will be hard to part with these pieces, because they were so fun to make!

Adorable curio cabinet with antique key. Painted Duck Egg Blue.

Charming curio cabinet with original antique key. Painted Duck Egg Blue. I love the patina on all the brass hardware!

Adorable antique Dixie night stand/end table. Painted Duck Egg Blue.

Adorable antique Dixie night stand/end table. Painted Duck Egg Blue.

Chalkboard created from a thrift store mirror. Painted with Annie Sloan's White chalk paint.

Chalkboard created from a thrift store mirror. Painted with Annie Sloan’s White chalk paint.

Dollar Store Challenge: Sunburst Mirror

Last week, we spent time visiting my parents in the Seattle area. Other than the entire household contracting a nasty respiratory virus (courtesy of my daughter), we had a great time spending time with family.

My brother and his fiancee live in the area and I was really excited to see them and catch up. While we were there we decided to do a couples’ challenge using Dollar Store items. The challenge is to create something using $5 worth of Dollar Store items to re-purpose into something else that can be sold on Craigslist for the most money. We are allowed to use paint, glue/adhesive, nails, staples and other bonding products, but that is about it.

Our deadline isn’t until May 15th, so the competition isn’t over yet, but in the process of brainstorming projects, I came up with this idea, which I may or may not use in the actual competition.

A Sunburst Mirror:

DIY Dollar Store Sunburst Mirror

DIY Dollar Store Sunburst Mirror. $5.

This project can be done for as little as $3. However, I spent the full $5 on mine. I will show you both versions.

I started out with these three basic items:

DIY Dollar Store Sunburst Mirror

Candle mirror, candle plate and mini plastic spoons.


I started by hot gluing the spoons in a circle. It helps to do the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions first and then evenly space in between these 4 points. Hot glue them like CRAZY so they will stay in place.

You can then spray paint the entire thing, front and back:

DIY Sunburst Mirror

After painting both sides and letting it dry, you can hot glue the mirror if you choose the $3 version of this mirror. If you want the $5 version DO NOT glue the mirror yet.

I decided after the fact that I wanted to embellish it a little:

DIY Dollar Store Sunburst Mirror

You can glue dollar store toothpicks in between the spoons to add a little more detail.

Obviously, I had to go back and repaint once I added these. If you know ahead of time you want to add them you can wait to paint the entire thing until after the toothpicks are added.

After everything dried, I hot glued the mirror on (tons of glue again!), and then added these jewels to each spoon end:

Dollar Store gems

Dollar Store gems from the craft/school supply aisle.

And that’s how I got this:

DIY Dollar Store Sunburst Mirror

DIY Dollar Store Sunburst Mirror. $5.

Use glass bonding glue to apply hanging hardware in the back. Follow all the directions to assure it dries and bonds properly.

So that is about it! I will let you know if I end up using this, or if I choose something else. And of course I will announce the winner when all is said and done (provided we win;)).

Thrift store sheets for fabric

I promised to eventually post a little about some sewing projects that I have completed. I received my sewing machine in late January. Since then I have done some self teaching but I have also had my mother and a couple of dear friends of mine guide me through pattern reading and the basics of sewing. I think it’s safe to say that I’m obsessed.

My husband often has to work late, but can bring his work home. So while he’s on his laptop, I’m next to him at a card table with my sewing machine hooked up working on various projects.

I recently started to try to sew some clothes for myself. That has always been a dream of mine. I’ve heard before that it is often more expensive to make your clothes than to buy them because fabric can be so pricey. Well, my friends, NOT if the fabric you’re using comes from the thrift store in bed sheet form. Not convinced?

Here is my latest project.

Wal-Mart Pattern

97 cent pattern from Wal-Mart.

Thrift Store Sheet

Wrinkly $1 bed sheet from the thrift store. Equivalent to at least 3 yards of fabric.

Finished dress

Finished dress.

Just call me Fraulein Maria.

I also found a cute white and gray pinstripe sheet that I will make into some other article of clothing.

More to come.

DIY Picture Frame Mirrors

I have always had a thing for mirrors. No, no, not in that way. I actually would prefer to keep my reflection OUT of them most of the time (unless I have something stuck in my teeth). But I love the way they look and the light they reflect. And also how they can make a space look bigger than it really is.

I wanted to create a wall of mirrors; all different shapes and sizes. When we painted our banister rail I thought it would be good timing to add something to the wall of the first set of stairs. It’s one of the first things you see when you walk into the house.

DIY Picture Frame Mirrors

Blank Wall with a few nail holes.

Instead of searching for a ton of different mirrors, I thought it might be easier to use left over looking glass paint from when I did all my mercury glass projects and turn picture frames into mirrors that way. It’s a lot easier to find small picture frames in a variety of shapes.

DIY Picture Frame Mirrors

You can get this at Wal-Mart for 8.97. It goes a long way!

I had a few mirrors already but I also bought some frames at IKEA that I thought would make darling mirrors. I’m sure you’ve seen them before:

DIY Picture Frame Mirrors

Add 5 thin coats to any glass surface, letting each coat dry for a full minute before adding the next. And ta-da! You have your very own antique looking mirror.

Now, here is the fine print. The paint has to be applied to glass surfaces only. The two decorative white frames from IKEA come with plastic instead of glass pieces. However, their $2 frames have almost the exact same size of glass that you can swap out and use instead, which is what I did.

This is the $2 frame I'm speaking of.

This is the $2 IKEA frame I’m speaking of.

The thing I love about the looking glass paint is that it makes a mirror-like surface but it looks antique-ish.

DIY Picture Frame Mirrors

Mirrors! Mirrors! On the wall!

So that’s about it. It’s a fun project that takes about an hour. You can spray all the glass pieces together and they take about 1 hour to dry and handle.

Tips: Make sure you fully clean all the glass surfaces well before applying the paint. The instructions say to spray the back side of the glass, then turn it over after it’s dried to reveal the mirror surface.

DIY Anthropologie pillow knock-off

Have any of you seen this on the Anthropologie website?

Anthropologie pillow

So cute, right?

What isn’t so cute about it is the price. This lovely little pillow is going to set you back about $200.

Now look what I have in my living room:

DIY Anthropologie pillow knock-off

You better believe I have never spent $200 on a pillow before.

My knock-off version cost me $2.50. This was my little experiment this weekend and I was pretty pleased with how it turned out so I’m going to walk you through making one of these on your own for a tiny fraction of the price.

You will need:

  • A paint pen. You can use any color you want. I used black. Wal-Mart has them for $2.50.
  • Masking or blue painting tape. This is simply to secure your text and pillow case to a window so you can trace the letters.
  • An old pillow case. Or if you want to purchase one, you can get them cheap at Big Lots.
  • A flattened cardboard box.  You basically just need this to put between the pillow case to keep your paint pen from bleeding through. Cereal boxes work great.
  • An old throw pillow, or batting.
  • A printer. You can print out the following PDF files to tape together to trace the text onto your pillow case.

Click on each of the links below to print the text. You’ll want to print with the least amount of margin your printer will let you.





The first step after you’ve printed the files is to tape all of the pages together so it looks kind of like this:

antrhotapedtextYou might have to eye it a little bit, just basically make sure the lines look straight and they are evenly spaced.

Next you’ll want to secure your “poster” onto a window. This must be done when the sun is still up!

Poster on Window

As you can see, I was pushing it. The sun was about to set when I started this project so I had to race through it.

Next, you probably want to iron your pillow case. I didn’t do that and I wished that I had. Either way, you’ll want to align your pillowcase over the text so it looks something like this:

Pillowcase over poster

Pull the edges of the pillowcase tightly over the text to avoid any loose fabric.

Before you use your paint pen, make sure you shake it a bunch and push the tip down on another surface to make the paint flow into the tip. You’ll probably have to do this several times during the project. And before you start to trace your letters, it’s best to put some kind of thin piece of paper up between the pillowcase to avoid bleeding through.

Traced Letters

As you can see I started filling in the letters but after my back was aching and the sun was setting, I decided to just outline them and then fill them in later on a flat surface.

I laid down the pillowcase on my dining room table and shoved a cereal box in between the pillowcase to give me a flat surface that would prevent any bleeding through while I filled in the letters.

Filled in letters

Continue to shake your paint pen and push the tip down on another surface as you fill in the letters to assure that your tip isn’t going dry.

Once that is done, just cut off the excess pillow case to form a square:

Cut Pillow Case

Make sure you leave a little bit of margin to sew it up at the bottom.

If you don’t have a sewing machine, hopefully you know how to sew by hand. You basically just need to be able to sew the bottom seam somehow since all the other edges are done for you.

Flip the pillowcase inside out and stitch the bottom leaving a small gap so you can fill the pillow with some batting.

Bottom sewn up

I left a few inches open on one side.

Flip the case back out again and stuff with batting. Batting can be expensive so sometimes I take old thrift store pillows or pillows we aren’t using anymore and rip them open and just use the batting inside. That’s what I ended up doing with this one.

Once you’ve stuffed the pillow sew the remaining gap and viola, you have your knock-off Anthropologie pillow for only a few bucks.

DIY Anthropologie pillow knock-offAnd the awesome thing about this method is you can use it for just about anything. You could print a picture or pattern you want to trace, or you could create your own wording. And since you’re making this yourself, you can choose any color scheme you want.

DIY chalkboard made from an old mirror

I’ve been wanting to create a chalkboard for our dining room for awhile now. And yesterday I was at the Salvation Army and found the most perfect narrow mirror. It must have been heaven sent because it was also their 50% off everything day (be still my heart). So that made this fine piece only $20.

DIY Mirror turned chalkboard

I was so excited that I almost forgot to take a picture of it before I had the entire thing painted!

I loved the detail of it and the width was perfect for the wall space that I wanted to fill it with.

I realize that it would’ve been best to remove the mirror from the frame, not to mention that it would make it much easier to paint. However, there were tons of bolts in the back and I just didn’t want to go there and risk ruining the mirror. So I opted for the tedious and frustrating way.

DIY Chalkboard

I painted all of the wood and went back with a fine brush to get the edges close to the mirror.

I wasn’t too concerned about getting paint on the mirror at this point, even though I tried to avoid it as best I could. But I knew that the chalkboard paint would cover any small spots.

Then came the most frustrating part of this process. I taped all the edges and covered the frame with newspaper.

DIY Chalkboard

I sprayed that sucker down with chalkboard paint. Make sure you read all the instructions on how to do this correctly.

You have to apply two coats to create a chalkboard surface. So I let the first coat dry completely then sprayed a second. Once I removed the tape and paper, I realized that on one side, I had overlapped the tape onto the mirror and there was a line where the mirror was showing through. I re-taped it and corrected this problem, but then I ended up getting a little bit of the chalkboard paint on the frame. Argh! So once that dried I went back through with my fine brush and touched things up as best I could.

You have to wait 24 hours before using the board so it just hung out and dried for awhile.

You have to wait 24 hours before using the board so it just hung out and dried for awhile.

Today, I “broke” the board in by using the side of a piece of chalk and rubbing it across the entire mirror. What I wanted to do was put up a menu of our weekly meals. I like to try to plan them out ahead of time and only shop once a week for groceries so I thought this would be a good motivation for me. Now if you’re like me and aren’t too confident in your chalkboard-writing skills, you will love the transfer method I used.

DIY ChalkboardI see people using this method a lot these days but I learned this back in my graphic design classes in college. We used to have to do everything by hand so we’d print out our text, lead the back of the sheet, turn it over and trace the letters onto the piece we were working on, then fill them in with marker or paint, or whatever media we were using at the time. I figured it would work with chalk too.

I printed out the text I wanted to used, held the sheet on the reverse side up against the window so I could see the text through the paper. Then I took a piece of chalk and chalked around the letters. Using blue tape, so it doesn’t leave any residue, I secured the sheet to the chalkboard where I wanted it, then traced the letters with a crayon. I used a crayon so I wouldn’t risk scratching the surface of the chalkboard or tearing through the paper.

DIY chalkboardWhen you lift the paper off you’ll have to clean it up some. I used cue tips and kleenex then went over the letters again to make them darker and sharper.

I continued this method for the entire board:

Finished DIY Chalkboard

The final product.

I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. Although this has the potential to be a frustrating project, it can still be done fairly quickly and when it’s done, it’s worth it.

I saw a chalkboard similar to this online for $100. Since I already had chalkboard paint from previous projects it only cost me $20. That’s what I love about paint. When you buy it, it usually lasts for awhile so you can come up with other projects to use it for and then you can stretch your dollar that much farther.

And if you’re looking for chalk, Michaels has it. I checked Target and a slew of other stores and had no luck, so I thought I’d pass on that info.