With Hollywood abuzz about the Oscars next week, I thought this would be the perfect time to show off the Now Showing sign I made (with a little help from my husband).
The sign was actually a gift for our cinephile son who was moving into his first apartment and wanted to decorate it in a movie theater theme. He had looked into buying a sign online first, but the prices were too high for his college-student budget.
Then I looked into buying one for him, but the prices were too high for my newspaper-designer budget. (One website said, “List Price: $1,658. Our Price: $1,499 & Free Shipping!” Apparently, this was a good deal?)
I studied the pictures we found online. They didn’t look all that complicated: just wide frames with lights around the perimeters. “How hard could it be to make one?” I thought. (Turns out, it was pretty hard.)
The project started off easily enough. I found a 24″ x 36″ wooden frame in a thrift store for $3. I bought it, hoping that that was the default size for movie posters. It was. So far, so good.
Then I found round patio lights at Target that were the style I needed. I was on a roll.
From here, things got a lot more complicated.
As my thrift store frame was only 2″ wide around the edges, it wasn’t beefy enough to hold a row of lights. No problem, I thought. I will just glue the thrift store frame onto a piece of plywood a few inches wider and taller than the frame and drill holes for the lights into the plywood, like so:
I found a scrap piece of 1/2-inch plywood in my husband’s workshop that looked like it would work.
At this point, my husband, who, I would like to point out, is much more supportive of my hair-brained schemes than he really should be, wandered in. He looked over my thrift store frame, my lights, my plywood and my plan.
He liked the frame and the lights. The heavy plywood and the half-baked plan, not so much.
He suggested a few alterations and drew up a new plan that called for a frame of 1×4’s attached to a thin, lightweight backer board, then a frame of 1×3’s sitting on top of that, creating a ledge that the thrift store frame could rest on. He called it a sandwich. Here is a cutaway profile view of the new plan:
With his plan, the frame would be lighter weight, the light sockets would be supported and stand up straight, and the unused portion of the light string would be contained inside the enclosed back instead of just left to dangle. (In other words, his plan would actually work.)
Within an hour, we were in the husband’s F150, en route to the local lumber yard to buy supplies. (See I told you: way too supportive. He enables this kind of behavior.)
Once we got home, we ran some of the 1×4’s we’d bought through the table saw to rip them down to 3 inches in width. Then I cut those down to length with a miter saw. (My first time using a miter saw; it was very exciting.) Those pieces became the frame (pictured below) around the thrift store frame.
Then I cut the 1×4’s down to length, creating the second, wider frame that would sit underneath the narrower one.
Next it was time to make the holes for the lights. I had to do math (I hate doing math) to figure out the spacing of the lights. I marked where the holes would go in pencil on the 1×3’s and then tacked the frame together, so I could drill all the way through the 1×3’s and partway through the 1×4’s underneath.
When I was done drilling all the holes, I took the two layers apart again, so I could rout out channels on the bottom 1×4’s to run the excess cord through. (Also my first time using a router; also very exciting.)
Isn’t that ingenius? (I take no credit for it; the channels were all the husband’s idea.)
To get around the corner, I just made sure the channels lined up from one piece to the next.
I needed 34 lights for the project. Target only had strings of 25 lights. So I bought two strings and left all of the unused sockets hang in the middle of the sandwich.
When all the lights were in place, I tacked the two layers of wood together again and then attached them permanently with finish nails.
Then I flipped the sandwich over and attached the backing.
After the backing was secured, I flipped the sandwich back over again and did a ton of sanding. (My miter cuts were not exactly precision accurate, as you can see below.) I stuffed tinfoil into the light sockets to keep the sawdust out.
All that was left to do after that was to paint all the wood gold and then attach the thrift store frame onto the top of the sandwich. The frame is attached with screws, so the poster can be swapped out easily if our son ever gets sick of Star Wars (not likely).
I was very nervous about the lights actually working after everything was done, but, happily, they all lit up.
The tail of the green cord hanging down on the left really bothers me. The next time I’m at my son’s apartment, I am either going to paint the cord white or his wall green, so it’s not so noticeable.
I probably saved $1,399 by DIY’ing the sign vs. buying the On-Sale-With-Free-Shipping! version. But I now understand why the price was so high. This was not a simple project.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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).
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.
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.”
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.
I made three pillows at once (and to complicate matters, they were two different sizes), so I ended up with nine pieces.
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.
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.
After I had the numbers transferred, I carefully cut them out, creating a stencil.
I lined up the stencil where I wanted it on my pre-cut pillow front.
I decided to place my numbers a little off kilter so they’d be spilling off the sides instead of being perfectly centered.
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).
I know it looks like I’m just making a big mess, but, trust me, it will all turn out OK.
After I was done painting, I waited a bit for it to dry and then started peeling off the stencil.
This is always my favorite part: the big reveal.
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).
When I was done sewing, I turned the pillowcase right side out.
Then I stuffed the pillow inside. Here’s the back, showing how the two pieces overlap.
And voila. The finished pillows.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Or silver. I made Roger a couple years ago. He’s got a lot of personality.
He hangs out on my desk all day.
But lately, I think the old guy’s been feeling a little off. Like he’s empty inside.
Clearly, he’s lonely.
So I decided to make Roger a companion.
Building a robot requires high-tech, precision-calibrated instruments. Or a glue gun. And lots of electronic components, computer parts and rusty Jell-O molds.
Luckily I had everything on hand.
Remember the scene from “Apollo 13” when one of the engineers at Mission Control dumps a box of gear onto a table and tells his co-workers that they have to build a square carbon dioxide filter that will fit into a round hole using nothing but the stuff in front of them or the three astronauts in the lunar module will die?
Yeah, this was nothing like that. But it’s as close as I will ever come to being a NASA engineer.
I sorted through my table of junk until I found the perfect chassis for my new robot: a mini-lantern.
I removed the handle and the base that would normally hold a tea light. Then I glued what looked like the foot of a furniture leg on top of the lantern to serve as the robot’s neck.
A silver mini tart pan became the head.
Three other gold furniture feet became legs.
With Valentine’s Day approaching, I thought it would be a nice touch to give the robot a heart.
After digging through my stash, I picked out two of my favorites and suspended them from a chain that hangs down inside the lantern and then winds around her neck like a necklace.
A couple of springs made bendable arms.
And two old sewing machine bobbins served as eyes. (I later painted them gold to contrast with her skin tone.)
My little robot was shaping up nicely, but I wanted her to look a little more girly, so I started crafting a tinfoil skirt for her.
Pleats seemed like a good idea at first, but during the model fitting, I could hear the Tim Gunn inside my head saying, “She’s looking a little matronly.”
So I scrapped the pleats and opted for a more youthful silhouette: fringe.
This time my inner Tim approved.
The Blue Fly/Macy’s/Piperlime Accessory Wall was full of options for head gear.
In the end, I sent my model down the runway in this rather futuristic-looking chapeau:
Yes, that is indeed a toilet paper runway.
Aww. What a cute couple. I think they were made for each other.
Now all that’s left to do is to give my new robot a name. As she appears to be a sterling companion to my little Roger, I was thinking maybe Joan. Or Mona. But definitely not Jane.
As a chronic collector (and the owner of an ever-expanding number of vintage baubles), I always have an eye out at thrift stores for old jewelry boxes like these to house my precious non-precious gems:
The good news is: There are tons of old jewelry boxes out there. The bad news is: Even the most mild-mannered-looking ones on the outside generally look something like this on the inside:
Needless to say, I am not a red satin kind of girl. It’s way too loud and Hollywood glam for my Midwestern sensibilities.
But when I opened this one up, I was happily surprised…
… to see a beautiful blue velvet lining.
I hemmed and hawed about whether to buy it because the white pleather had stains on it, and some of the corners were chipped. But as I was walking through the store debating whether the box was a lost cause, I happened upon a remnant of wallpaper…
… that was the same shade of blue as the velvet. Clearly it as a sign.
So I bought the stained jewelry box and the wallpaper remnant and put the two together, so this once shabby box….
… now looks like this.
And I’m happy to report the inside cleaned up very nicely.
As a bonus, the original tag/guarantee was still inside the box in all its 1950s glory. Here’s the cover:
And here’s the inside:
Fortunately, I still had a remnant of the remnant wallpaper left when I was done covering the box, because a few months later I found two more ugly-on-the-outside but velvety-blue-on-the-inside cases. They started out looking like this …
… and now look like this:
Their interiors went from looking like this…
… to looking like this…
I lined the inside covers with some white tissue paper with faux handwriting printed on it.
And because I still had a tiny remnant of the remnant of the original remnant left over when I was done with covering all of the jewelry boxes, I dug this Williamsburg blue vintage suitcase out of storage …
…and pasted a plaid liner on its inside cover.
It’s full of Christmas ornaments right now.
I love storage that’s pretty and practical.
So all together, here are my four Williamsburg blue boxes:
And this is what the three jewelry boxes look like inside now that they’re in use:
This was my birthday present from my husband last year:
No, not the cat. The wall.
We’ve actually owned the wall (and the house that it’s attached to) for 20 years. But the planks — and the installation of them — were my husband’s gift.
There’s a reason I’ve been married to the man for 25 years, and it’s not (entirely) because of his DIY skills. It’s because he knows the way to my heart is through a beautiful planked wall.
While I absolutely loved my new wall, I thought it looked a little naked. And I started getting twitchy at the sight of all that empty space.
I had a couple things that I wanted to hang there, starting with this vintage Wisconsin plate that my sister had given me…
… and our son’s senior picture (taken by a friend and former co-worker of mine, the talented Cory Schaefer).
I also had a few treasured black-and-white photos that were in a box under my bed. So I decided to use those items as the starting point and put together a black-and-white gallery-style wall.
I scoured thrift stores for frames, mats and anything else that I could hang there.
Among the things I found were a chalkboard…
… that I drew this on:
A large wooden key…
… that I painted black and stenciled a Greek key pattern onto.
A wooden kids puzzle…
…that I took out of the frame, glued together and painted black.
And this framed picture…
… which I painted black and stenciled an ampersand onto. (Sorry, Duke.)
I also found a frame and mat for this photo of my dad, taken in about 1978:
The photo was taken by an insurance adjuster the day after Dad had been in a farm accident. He’d been hauling a load of corn from the field to the barn, and when he crossed the railroad tracks between the two, he didn’t notice the freight train barreling down on him. Dad and the tractor (barely) made it across the tracks; the gravity box didn’t. It was smashed into a million pieces. In the photo, Dad’s sitting on the tractor he was driving during the crash, but the gravity box is, obviously, a different one.
I also found a frame for this photo that my son took when we were vacationing on Galveston Island in 2008:
And one last frame that I found went for an old postcard I had of our City Hall. The card has a 1-cent stamp on the back and a postmark from Sept. 2, 1905. The City Hall remains the signature building of our downtown today and still houses our local government offices.
The one thing that I bought for the wall that didn’t come from a thrift store was this license plate. I wish I could say it was a family heirloom, but it came from Ebay, by way of a seller in Michigan. (I’m sure it’s glad to be back home.)
When I was done rounding up all the pieces for the wall, I laid everything out on the floor and just kept moving things around (and subbing things out — I had overbought, it turns out) until I was happy with the arrangement.
Once I decided on a final layout, everything went up on the wall (except for the cat).
I love how the art balances out the window next to it.
I have a small collection of little log cabins. Or a little collection of small log cabins.
Two of the buildings are incense burners, and the third is a Christmas ornament. They’re not particularly old or valuable, which makes them very easy to find and collect.
I see cabins like these at thrift stores all the time, but I was able to resist the temptation to own one until last fall. In a weak moment, I gave in and bought one. And then another. And before I knew it, I had three.
Of course, three of anything is a collection and all but begs to be displayed together, preferably under glass. The closest thing I had to a glass museum case was this tabletop greenhouse.
The greenhouse’s frame had been stained a delightful (and by “delightful” I mean “hideous”) orange color when I bought it years ago. A few months back, I finally decided to paint it white. Unfortunately midway through the painting process I realized that I couldn’t get at the inside of the frame where it pressed up against the glass (and by “glass” I mean “clear plastic”). So now the greenhouse is white on the outside and orange on the inside. Sigh.
To create a miniature forest inside the orange/white greenhouse, I stacked some styrofoam pieces on the bottom, varying the height of the “terrain.” Then I added the cabins and some trees…
… and blanketed the landscape with faux snow.
After the blizzard, I went hunting for my stash of miniature deer.
I love them all, but I decided I’d have to cull the herd a bit …
Because some were too Christmas-y:
Others were too tall:
These guys were just wrong:
I almost used these two:
But I liked this little group a bit more:
I burrowed the chosen ones down into the snowdrifts.
And then I stepped back to admire the scene.
Here’s an aerial view:
I decided the cabins needed a little Terry Redlinesque glow inside them at night, so I added some battery-operated tea lights.
Ahh. Much better.
I have a feeling that this is a collection that will continue to grow.