Need a gift that’s easy to make but still personal? A matted photo that you make yourself can be just the thing! You use a photo or artwork that lets your recipients know that you’re thinking only of them, and yet the actual matting and framing of the photo takes less than an hour and costs less than five bucks.
Key to this project is the thrifted frame. If you’ve never gone thrifting for frames, I highly recommend it! Many people, when they get tired of what’s inside the frame, just donate the entire piece, frame and all. Our local Goodwill stores have monthly 50%-off storewide sales, and whenever I go to them, I always look through their frames and take home the ones that I like. I generally repaint them for use in my own house, but this gold one that I pulled out of my stash (with the price tag on the back: $1.50!), even though I’d have painted it navy or slate for myself, will actually go perfectly well as-is in my mother’s apartment. That’s one fewer step for me!
If you do want to refinish your frame, check out my round-up of the best methods. Scroll down to the paint and fabric tute to see how I refinish my frames 99% of the time.
The next thing that you need is a lovely paper to cover the thrifted frame’s existing mat board. You’re not making a piece that has to look perfect in a thousand years, so I don’t worry overly much about the acidity of the papers that I use. This is a gift for your grandma or your girlfriend, not the Queen of England. In my own house, I have frames covered in dictionary pages, comic book pages, and wallpaper samples, but for this particular frame, I’m using handmade paper from a little book that has a looooong story, full of drama, from my wedding. So much drama that some of the pages ended up getting torn out. Ask me about it in the Comments and I’ll tell you.
Buy me a pitcher of margaritas, and I’ll tell you some even worse stories of my wedding drama!
I decoupaged the handmade paper to the mat board, tearing the paper into strips and overlapping the edges into straight lines to make the piece look somewhat orderly. The handmade paper is neutral-toned, as well, so it doesn’t distract from the photo. To attach the paper to the mat board, I just used double-sided tape. Now, tape is something that you DO want to be picky about, because a lot of tape is horrible and will begin to discolor your work within months, so it’s best to have handy some kind of tape that says it’s “document-friendly.”
If you’ve got that document-friendly tape, you can also use it to attach the photo to the decoupaged mat board, but if you’re worried, just use photo corners.
Honestly, the biggest pain in the butt when using a thrifted frame is cleaning that glass! These frames have sat in someone’s house for decades, sometimes, and I don’t know what all they have on them, but it can be gross. I use straight vinegar in a spray bottle, scrubbed off with crumpled-up newspaper (this is also how I clean windows and mirrors), repeated until whatever gunk is all over the glass finally comes off.
The last thing that you have to do is simply re-assemble the frame, making sure that you have the hanger on the back correct. Wrap it up, add a pretty bow, and wait for the squeals of happiness when your thoughtful gift is opened!