Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Upcycling Picture Frames - How To Do Shabby Chic, Step by Step Directions

Recycling project for the day: How to refinish/upcycle old picture frames, going for the shabby chic look. They will look fabulous and unique, hardly cost anything and it keeps them out of landfills! Yeah! Anyhow, this is one of the projects I've been working on the past couple of weeks and I figured it would make a great "How To" blog post with pictures and step by step instructions.

I'm frantically trying to finish all the projects I've had lined up for a craft/vendor fair I'm "vendoring" at on Saturday (definitely NOT going to get them all done in time, I'm afraid. Why does time always disappear so quickly?). If you're local to Livingston County, come on by and support local small business! It's at the First United Methodist Church in Brighton, 400 E. Grand River. There are over 20 Vendors, plus food; it runs from 10am - 3pm and part of the proceeds are going to raise money for Alzheimer's Research.
First United Methodist Summer Craft, Vendor Fair & Bake Sale, 400 East Grand River, Brighton 10am - 3pm

I am making a sincere effort to update this blog weekly and since it's way to hot outside to work on outdoor projects like sanding & stripping (furniture!), it's a good time to get cracking on another post. Since the last couple have concentrated on vintage fashion (one of my loves, obviously!), this one is moving into another area; Up-cycling stuff is my thing, here's how to upcycle picture frames, mostly the shabby chic style, but also other variations of colors, there is a lot of room for creativity!

I came across some fabulous vintage ads a while ago that I've been deciding what to do with. Some of them I'm going to frame; and I have some other plans as well, which I'll share in another blog post. I also have a couple of boxes of old frames, which I decided to combine with some of the ads in wonderful ways to make one of a kind, unique pieces of art. It not only keeps things out of landfills, it looks terrific and has character!

Up-cycling, frames and just about anything, really, is something anyone can do. It's not difficult but it is time and labor intensive. This is why most people would rather just buy something after someone else has done the work (for which I'm grateful, believe me!). For one thing, if it's not something you do frequently, just getting the supplies will set you back quite a bit of money.
Frames waiting to be Up-cycled

I've seen some magazine articles and websites that claim refinishing furniture can be done in an afternoon. Well, maybe it can if you don't do it right (or if you have a behind the scenes work crew!), but in that case, why bother? Even the drying time will take you past one day usually. Frames are much faster, obviously. Depending on what you do, they can be done in an afternoon.

 I refinished my first piece of furniture on my own when I was 13 and although I've definitely become more adept since then, it's not a quick process. Refinishing anything takes time and effort. There is simply no way around it, but upcycling picture frames is one of those immediate gratification (almost) projects!

So, here is my step by step guide to up-cycling old picture frames. You can either use your own that you want to give a facelift, or any old frames you find at a thrift store, turning them into "shabby chic" pieces of art themselves!  I keep an eye out for old frames that have glass. Sometimes you can find frames at thrift stores or estate sales for a couple of dollars that are far better quality than what you can get at a regular store unless you want to pay big bucks. You will need a good workspace, preferably an area where you can leave things out for a day or two or at least somewhere out of the way you can move them to. You also need a well-ventilated area for stain and if you use denatured alcohol. Plus sanding inside is a bad idea.

Tools, Stuff I Use
Also, be warned - I've included photos from a variety of projects so there is no color continuity in this photo series. I used whichever photos showed the current activity most clearly. So just ignore the colors and pay attention to the steps!

Here's my supply list of what you'll need as well:

Pliers, Screwdriver, other tools.
Sandpaper, various grits - for frames I use 100, 150 & 240 (I also like the sanding foam blocks for frames, makes it easy to get into all the little edges)
Rubbing or Denatured Alcohol
A good supply of soft, lint-free rags
Latex Paint
Paint Brushes, Regular & Sponge
Stain (if desired), and rubber gloves (I don't bother for paint, but if you don't like paint on your hands you should wear them for painting, too.)
Dust Mask
Eye Protection
Wood Finish Paste Wax (I like Howard Citrus Shield, it's what my Grandfather used to use)

Howard Citrus Shield Paste Wax

1.  Sometimes, depending on where you got your frames, you need to clean off dust and sometimes cobwebs before doing anything.* If they've been sitting in someone's basement or garage for 20 years they can be pretty nasty. Once you can touch it, take it apart. Take off all the hardware, take out the glass and whatever else is in the frame.

Sanding the old finish off
2.  Sand the frame down with the 100 grit sandpaper to start, then move to the 150. Do this outside and wear a dust mask and safety glasses (I wear them and still get sanding dust in my eyes all the time). If there is any sort of finish on the frame and you don't do this, neither paint nor stain will stick. If you want additional nicks or dents in the frame, hitting it with a chain or kind of "dropping" metal tools on it will do it.

3.  Carefully wipe the frame down with alcohol and a soft, lint free rag to remove all dust. You can use denatured alcohol or just plain old rubbing alcohol. For furniture I use denatured, for frames I just use rubbing alcohol. Let it dry thoroughly. 

4.  Decide what color combo you want. Do you want one color or more? Traditional "shabby chic" colors are usually pastel, off-white and the like. I like to go beyond that and use brighter colors as well. Coordinate with the art you are framing and, if you have a specific place in mind, your decor.
5. Here is where what you do really depends on the final look you want, I'll share photos of a few different looks, but really the options are only limited by your creativity! For the purposes of simplicity, I'm going to chronicle a basic version, with occasional notes about other looks. My fall-back color is a mixture of almond and white.

6. I have my frame, sanded down and wiped clean. I have my work space, which is my kitchen table for this part, covered by an old vinyl tablecloth I've been using for this purpose for about 20 years now. I am just using plain old latex wall paint. I've mixed an almond with the basic stark white so it's more of an eggshell color. I get almost all of my paint from the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, it's cheap and it helps support a great organization. Of course, sometimes color selection can be a problem, so if you don't paint a lot of things on a regular basis you might be out of luck. If you buy paint somewhere else though, please donate your leftovers!!

For this frame of a darker wood, I wanted to add red.

I slathered on the red.
Then I immediately wiped it off, let dry, then repeated, this one isn't really shabby chic, I just wanted a deeper, richer tone with some red in it to match the ad I was framing it with.
7.  Using a sponge brush (you can use any brush you like, I just think for frames the sponge ones give a smoother coat), put a coat of paint on the frame. I do the top first, let it dry for a couple of hours and turn it over to do the bottom & edges. Let it dry for another couple of hours, then repeat the process. Now, you can add another color at this point if you want color layers, or you can just use the wood for your base, it depends on the look you want. Between coats it only needs to dry to touch, which can vary depending on the humidity level, from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Regardless, once you've finished painting all your coats, let the whole thing dry for at least 24 hours (more if it's really humid).

Sanding with a sanding block.

8.  When your paint is thoroughly dry, take it back outside and sand it again, using the 150 grit or 240 grit, depending on how much paint you want to remove. How much, again, depends on the look you want. Concentrate on the edges, corners, until you reach the desired level of wear.

9. Once again, wipe it down with alcohol on a soft, lint free rag. Some of the paint will come off on the rag, don't worry about this, it's not enough to make a difference and will help make sure you get a smooth finish. Let it dry.

10. Now, you need to decide if it's where you want it. Sometimes, if I want to "add" a little more age, I'll use stain. If you like the way it looks after wiping it down, skip this step.This you need to do outside or in a very well ventilated area. I use Min-Wax Early American, because I like the way the color works for aging purposes.  Using an old, ratty brush (this is important, you don't want it to be smooth and even!), wipe the stain over your frame. Give it a few seconds, then wipe it off with yet another soft, lint-free rag. The stain will darken the paint just slightly and will stick in dents, scratches, crevices, etc., adding another layer of depth and "age." Now let it dry at least another 24 hours, maybe more if it's humid.
Adding Stain. This is Min-Wax Early American.

Use an old brush for the stain.                                                        
Brush it on. Wear gloves when using stain, it's called stain for a reason!

Wipe of the stain. Repeat as needed.

11.  Finish the frame. You can use polyurethane, I prefer the way a good wax wood finish looks and I like Howard Citrus Shield. It comes in a few different colors, I just use the neutral one. It makes the wood look wonderful and it smells good! You just rub it on with another old cloth (I use old socks for this, they work great!), let it dry 15 minutes or so, add another coat, wait another 15 - 20 minutes and then buff it with another rag.** You frame now looks fabulous! Clean the glass and you can frame whatever you want! You don't have to finish it with wax or polyurethane, it's up to you, but it will look much nicer if you do!

Have fun!

Fabulous old 1963 Chevy Ad for 1964 Models.
A Frame I did for two fans that belonged to my Great Grandmother in the 1800's.

A few of the other frames I've done the past few days, and the vintage ads I used them on.

*  Yes, I'm paranoid, but I don't bring anything, frames, furniture, anything, into my house until it has been thoroughly cleaned, checked for bugs, etc. You know the old saying about an ounce of prevention. . . .
** For furniture you want to use more than two coats of finishing wax.

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