Scroll down for very short, how-to videos and ideas.
Decoupage [day-koo-pahzh] is a fancy French word that means decorating with paper, and I am a big fan. It is a cheap and interesting way to cover surfaces that cannot be sanded and refinished. The interesting patterns and designs that can be made with decoupage also offers character to a room, not to mention a conversation piece.
The process of decoupage is simple enough – rip or cut paper and glue it to something. There are products available at the craft store that are specific to decoupage, but I have found them to be expensive and unnecessary. A few bottles of dollar store glue and clear nail polish is all you need to complete many projects. Give the surface of the chosen object a thorough wipe down and let it dry before gluing, for best results.
When you choose paper for the theme of your project, steer away from anything that is very thick; choose a thin paper if you are gluing something spherical, that needs to wrap around a corner or has rounded parts (like the spindles of a chair back). Additionally, the smaller the object to be glued, 1. shred paper into small pieces, 2. choose paper with a very small print.
Decide what you will do with the paper. Depending on your project you may like to cut specific pictures from magazines, use large sheets, rip the paper into tiny pieces, or cut it into geometric shapes. If you are using wrapping paper, it usually has a grid printed on the back, that makes it easy to cut into simple shapes. I cut this wrapping paper in various sizes of rectangles.
Once your paper is ready, get out your glue. Brush the glue over the surface of the object, place the paper on the glue, then brush glue on top of the paper. Continue adding overlapped pieces until the surface is covered to your preference. if the paper buckles from the wet glue, smooth it down with your fingers. Seriously, your hands will be covered in glue. Kids will love this! They can let it dry and peel it off later… Make it a competition: Who can go without touching anything until the glue is dry? Lol.
For something like a holiday ornament, or a frequently touched surface, glaze it with a clear coat of some kind to seal the glue and protect the paper. There are plenty of seal coats available commercially, including a regular clear nail polish (available at the dollar store).
Ornaments can be tricky. Tear or cut the paper into small pieces and be prepared to smooth out many, many wrinkles in the paper. It has to be convinced to form to the sphere, so expect a bumpy service. With a little clear coat, it isn’t as bumpy as it is without.
No matter what you are gluing it onto, there are so many options for paper to use. In a former life, I was a social studies teacher. As such, I do now have a number of extra dictionaries that I purchased at RAFT (a thrift store for teachers that is no longer in business) for 25 cents a piece. While I was still a teacher, students began transitioning to digital media, and the dictionaries collected dust. I used one to cover a shelf that was in my classroom.
Dictionaries also make great ornaments. My son made the one below. After covering it with shredded pages, he intentionally glued holiday themed words with their definitions to the top. I am really impressed with his creativity on that one!
Another paper I like to use is children’s books. The thrift stores in my area have shelves and shelves of them, usually 50% off on the weekend. They make a great decoupage for gift boxes and children’s furniture. If the pictures are very small, they are also good for ornaments.
I found this doll chair at the thrift store for a couple bucks and decoupaged it with a couple Dr. Seuss books, bought at the same time.
Children’s books with larger pictures can also be used on gift boxes and baked goods tins. I covered some of my coffee containers in pages from National Geographic to organize my sewing notions. I also used a few containers to make gift boxes for baked goods, or (for me this year) soap. I like the larger pictures, because parts of the story can be glued on top. It makes a very sentimental box to store a decoupage ornament.
I have this fold-up table that I bought at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore with a membership discount (it’s free, you just give them your email and they send you the deals). The top was water damaged and peeling away. It would have been a pain to try and sand off the rest of the finish, so I decided it would be decoupaged. It was a large surface area and I needed plenty of paper.
When I left my teaching position and cleaned out my classroom, I found myself with a lot of random paper items that could be upcycled for this project. One of my favorite activities with the students was to play a game of review trivia, using play money to keep score. As a result, I had a bag of play money that would have otherwise ended up in the dumpster. It was a mixture of three games worth of pastel paper pieces, perfectly sized.
I think a table made to look like a game board would be an fun project to tackle with some kids! Games and puzzles are readily available at the thrift store and are often less than a couple dollars. I think something covered in trivia cards would also be fun! That paper is rather thick, though, and may require a resin application. I hope I’ve inspired you to try this out. It’s cheap and easy, and it’s a great project to try with kids. Happy gluing!