Makeover | Painting a shadow box

 I’ve always wanted a vintage typesetter’s tray. The trouble is, the ones I’ve seen for sale have been on the large side, and the walls in my house don’t have any large-sized spots left to fill.
So until I can persuade my husband to buy a bigger house or to build another wall in our current one, I am making do with a small (12″ x 17″) shadow box.

typesetter's tray
It’s not the vintage typesetter’s tray of my dreams, but it serves the purpose. And I kinda like it. I brought it home from a thrift store a couple years ago. Here’s what it looked like then:

I think I paid 50 cents for it. Which was probably 49 cents more than it was worth.

I wanted to display some of my old type blocks, which are all very dark, in the box, and I knew they would show up better against a light background, so I broke out the white paint.

The faux brass hardware on the corners I painted black and then layered a little silver Rub ‘n’ Buff over, in an attempt to make them look old and worn.

Then, because I can never leave well enough alone, I distressed the wood and backed a few of the squares with some whitewashed newspaper.

I put a few blocks of vintage type, an old camera lens and a miniature wooden shoe, among other treasures, inside my new box. The type blocks are from antique stores; the wooden shoe and the camera lens were thrift store finds.

The lens came in a leather case which is absolutely fabulous.

I wish it would have fit in one of the cubbies, but it was a little too big.

shadow box
An old wooden-wheeled caster with a beautiful worn patina — one of a whole box full of mismatched casters and wheels that I found at a thrift store one day — is perched in the top corner. Below the caster are a couple of square nails that I appropriated from my dad’s toolbox when I was a kid. (And by “toolbox” I mean “various coffee cans, peanut butter tubs and old pails” that he used for storage.)

shadow box
A beat-up silver trophy holds a collection of blocks. The trophy is plastic and came from a thrift store for a few cents. The blocks — which spell out H-E-A-R-T-S — are a family heirloom of sorts. The really old ones were part of a vintage game. When my mom was young, she added to the set by making a few extras herself. The old Z children’s block is another cheap thrift store find.

In the bottom section of the box, I have a couple of black dice, some numbers, a few old slides and a vintage bike license plate. The license plate came from eBay. Everything else is from thrift stores.

The 2015 is part of a set of letters and numbers that obviously went with a sign blank at one time. The letters were originally white, but I painted these black to contrast with the white shadowbox.

The rest of the letters are stored in a glass bottle.

I am fascinated by the old Kodachrome slides. This is one of my favorites: It features two guys in khaki clothes and (what might be) pith helmets sitting next to a camp fire. I imagine they were on safari in Africa when the photo was taken. Or maybe they were just sitting in their backyard roasting marshmallows.

shadow box
In the bottom of the shadowbox, I have a C that was lime green plastic when I bought it. I spray painted it black, then covered it with some Spanish copper Rub ‘n’ Buff. It looks like it’s some kind of aged metal now (until you pick it up and realize it’s light as a feather).

Making easy stenciled envelope pillows from canvas drop cloth

My sewing skills can best be described as “rudimentary.” If you want proof, just ask my long-suffering childhood 4-H sewing leader/mother. She tried her best to pass her seamstressy superpowers on to me with very limited success.

Nevertheless, I decided to blow the dust off  of my hand-me-down sewing machine recently to make new cases for the pillows in my living room.

envelope pillow
Luckily for me, envelope pillows are about the easiest thing in the world to sew. Four seams. No zippers. No button holes. No swearing at the sewing machine.

They’re even easier to make when you cheat a bit by starting with fabric that’s already been hemmed. And by “fabric,” I mean “canvas drop cloths from Menards.”

envelope pillow

See that finished edge at the top of the (above) photo? I strategically cut my fabric pieces so that part  would be on the edge of the two overlapping back pieces, so I wouldn’t have to hem them myself. Here’s a complicated drawing to explain a simple process:

Once I figured out how big to make my pieces, I started cutting.

envelope pillow
I made three pillows at once (and to complicate matters, they were two different sizes), so I ended up with nine pieces.

envelope pillow
When the cutting was done, I printed out numbers to stencil onto the front of the pillows. The numbers were larger than standard 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper, so I had to tile them together after printing.

envelope pillow
Next, I traced the numbers onto a sheet of freezer paper.

Freezer paper has some kind of magical properties that allow it to stick to fabric when you iron it, which is why I used it.

envelope pillow
After I had the numbers transferred, I carefully cut them out, creating a stencil.

envelope pillow
I lined up the stencil where I wanted it on my pre-cut pillow front.

envelope pillow
I decided to place my numbers a little off kilter so they’d be spilling off the sides instead of being perfectly centered.

envelope pillow
Once the ironing was done, I broke out some black paint. (Mixing acrylic craft paint with fabric medium prevents the paint from cracking after it dries).

envelope pillow
I know it looks like I’m just making a big mess, but, trust me, it will all turn out OK.

envelope pillow
After I was done painting, I waited a bit for it to dry and then started peeling off the stencil.

envelope pillow
This is always my favorite part: the big reveal.

envelope pillow
All that was left to do at that point was to sew the pieces together, with the right sides facing in (so the pillowcase is inside out and the seam goes on the inside).

envelope pillow
When I was done sewing, I turned the pillowcase right side out.

envelope pillow
Then I stuffed the pillow inside. Here’s the back, showing how the two pieces overlap.

envelope pillow
And voila. The finished pillows.

envelope pillow
It’s kind of hard to see in the photos (especially since one of the pillows appears to be upside down), but the numbers on them are 09-16-89, which, coincidentally, is the date my husband and I got married.


Collecting | Typography

I love typography.

Not all typography, mind you. I am a firm believer that the world would be a better place without Brush Script or Cooper Black or a lot of those weird gimmicky fonts. (I’m looking at you, Hobo and Papyrus.)

But, for the most part, I can (and do) stare at type all day. Call it an occupational hazard: I work in the newspaper industry.

Off duty I spend a lot of quality time with type, too.

Here’s a (before) photo of a little letter opener I found at a thrift store a couple weeks ago:

I wasn’t a fan of the grey plastic or the promotional advertising on it, but I needed a letter opener and I liked the shape.

I spray painted it black when I got it home. It works like a charm and looks nice sitting on my desk when it’s not in use.

Also by my desk is a shadow box that I have a few blocks of wood type displayed in. I buy type blocks at antique stores here and there whenever I find some that I like.

type blocks
This letter holder hangs in my kitchen, next to the back door. I bought it years ago at a thrift store, painted it black and stenciled the numbers onto it.

Faux metal letters that spell out “EAT” hang on another wall in my kitchen.

faux galvanized letters

The letters were cheap paper mache ones that I bought at a craft store, basecoated in black paint, then drybrushed some silver over, letting the black peek through so they’d (hopefully) have a vintage industrial vibe (without the vintage industrial price).

And speaking of vintage…

A few old glass canisters with words or letters on them sit on my kitchen counter. All were thrift store finds. (And, yes, I know the “P” jar is supposed to have pepper in it. I swapped it for some sea salt so the contents would contrast with the black letter for the photo.)

On the far wall of my kitchen is this ampersand that I showed off in a previous post.

stenciled letter
Before I stenciled the type onto it, the wood bore an image of John Wayne. My husband still doesn’t understand why I painted over the Duke.

I have a gallery wall on the stairwell going up to our second floor, where this “etc.” sign hangs.

It was originally a stained knotty pine piece with lots of straw flowers and bunches of wheat attached to it (somebody’s craft project from 1985, I’d guess). I bought it from a thrift store, ripped off all the embellishments, sanded copious amounts of glue off of it, painted it black and then Mod Podged houndstooth-patterned paper onto it.

This C monogram sits on a table in my living room:

I bought it from a vendor at Cranberry Fest in Warrens a couple years ago. (If you’re ever in western Wisconsin the last full weekend in September, check it out; the whole town turns into one giant flea market/craft sale.) The letter is cut out of a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book, which I thought was very clever.

Also in my living room: a group of pillows bearing the date of my wedding anniversary.


I made them last summer. (Tune in tomorrow for a post detailing how.)

In my den, you’ll find more numbers, including these that I printed out on cardstock and inserted into the spines of some scrapbooks.

This typewriter key picture also hangs in my den. It’s a Pottery Barn knockoff that I made a few years back after seeing different versions of it floating around the Blogosphere. Holy bananas, was it a lot of work. I spent weeks planning/painting/finishing the beast.

A few of the letters are noticeably crooked (Exhibit A: the letter B). It drives me a little crazy every time I look at it, but it was such a time-sucking project, I decided I’d rather live with its imperfections than go back and redo any of it.

And the sign pictured below might be my absolute favorite example of typography at my house — more for the sentiment than for the font.

When we added on to our deck a few years ago, my husband cut a hole in the lattice that hangs underneath it to allow Calvin (the cat) and Steve (the dog) access to the area. Then Jim (the husband) asked me to make a sign to hang over the top of the hole, so people would know it was intentional, not the result of some shoddy carpentry work on his part.