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Recycling and Upcycling

Last May, we said good-bye to our little apartment above the flower shop in Connecticut and said hello to a duplex in Massachusetts. Needless to say, we were short of a few pieces of furniture here and there. To date, we still do not own a sofa so it’s convenient that we also don’t really know anyone, except our next door neighbor, Pete.

For the next five months, I also didn’t have a night table so my reading lamp was on the floor beside me. So were my books and other night time indispensables (iPad and phone!). We also didn’t have storage in the living room so boxes of videos were piled up against the wall along with the wooden crates that hold my husband vinyl collection.

Finally, one weekend, we decided to visit Ikea. I didn’t like the night stands I’d been seeing at Home Goods so I decided maybe Ikea will have something I can customize. That day, we came home with a beautiful, dark blue cabinet with glass panes on the doors. We also came home with a few useful doodads but no night table.

As my husband was assembling the cabinet, I noticed that the parts came in really sturdy, thick sheets of cardboard. They looked like corrugated boards on steroids! I kept saying how it would be a shame to just pack them off along with the other recyclables.

Then it hit me–why not turn them into a night stand?! Papier mache has been around for centuries, I thought. People have made furniture using the technique. I’ve made papier mache bowls in my childhood. I’ve decorated walls and doors with paper and glue (by the way, even if the glue isn’t waterproof, it’s not easy to remove). I’d never made furniture but I figured it’ll be a good project to experiment with and learn from.

So, to my husband’s dismay, I stashed some of the packing boards in my already crowded work room.


We don’t subscribe to any newspaper but every week we do get flyers, store and grocery newsletters and all kinds of junk mail. I started tearing those for my new project.



If you like getting your hands in the thick of things, papier mache is a good project to try. Of course it made getting to the phone tricky but I made sure I had a towel nearby. At one point, I tried using gloves but the ones I had were a bit large so they didn’t work too well.

This was the time I plowed through a couple of audiobooks. I highly recommend Louise Penny’s mysteries. They’re the kind that you don’t want to stop listening to (or reading) and, at least for my part, will elicit a loud guffaw or two.

The project took me about three weeks to finish. I had to plug up some gaps and awkward spots with paper clay. I also wanted to soften the edges of the top a bit so I smoothed paper clay on those as well. Temperatures had also dropped by then and we’d been having quite a bit of rain so I made sure to give the piece enough time to dry.


When I finally had all the layers I needed, I gave it a coat of primer. Then I dug out my stash of odds and ends and got those in. I found a rose I had pressed some time ago as well as a petal from another rose that was given to me. The daisy at the bottom was also from my stash of pressed flowers. Then I cut out a stencil using my Cricut.


Here it is, almost finished! It’ll remain in that almost finished state for a bit, I suspect. One of my Instagram friends said it can be the “happy project” that I can return to whenever I’m in between projects. I told her that was a really fantastic idea.

In the meantime, I really wanted to get my reading lamp at the right height and to give my corner of the bedroom a bit of cheer. As soon as everything was dry, I brought my papier mache creation upstairs and set everything up.


There are magazines and more books on the lower level of my new night stand. The hubby liked the finished product too.

This was a project I truly enjoyed while feeling like I did a teeny bit for the environment as well. In fact, I’ve been thinking about what to do with all the junk mail that comes every week. One can have only so many night stands, right?

That’s something to think about for sure. This website is called Paper With Everything. Maybe it’s high time I did something about all the paper coming my way!


The Spoonflower 30-Day Challenge

I just proved it to myself. I’m not great at keeping up with things like 30-day challenges. The whole idea of the Spoonflower challenge was to do a sketch or illustration a day for 30 days. My hesitation had me a day late the first week it began, but catching up seemed easy.

Then this week I realized there were a couple of deadlines to beat so while it’s now Thursday, I’ve only managed to do Monday’s prompt. Last night. While watching the last half of a Criminal Minds rerun and the first half of Extant.

Am I giving up? Probably not. I remember years and years ago when I spent most of my time in a dance studio, one of my friends asked how I managed to do a particularly excruciating ab workout without pausing or giving up as almost everyone did. My answer? Pride. And it’s the same reason I have for not giving up on the challenge no matter how far behind I am.

Besides, it always fun to be able to create something that’s different from whatever it is I happen to be “seriously” working on at the moment. So far, I’ve done some stamping, stenciling, cut paper and collage, and even digital illustrations for the challenges. At first I wanted to do everything with just paper but some, like the River prompt, didn’t manifest on paper. In my head it did. The hands refused. And last night, I used the Paper by 53 app on my tablet because I didn’t want to bring my pens and sketchpad along.

If all goes well today, I may be able to churn out the rest of week’s prompts that I’ve missed then get to work on the Make It In Design Summer School‘s second brief.

This was made with stencils cut out of freezer paper.
This was on the Spoonflower blog as one of their favorites though it was grouped with the Tree prompt. This was actually for the Mountain prompt!
This was my work for the Tree prompt. It got quite a bit of Likes on Instagram. The trunk is from a brown paper bag and the leaves are from a few of National Geographic Kids subscription insert in magazines. The tire is from the styrofoam sheet that covered a box of chalk pastels.
Couldn’t think of what to do for River until I remembered Wynken, Blynken, and Nod sailing off in a wooden shoe.
I know you’re supposed to make lemonade but I happen to love lemon bars! Created via Paper by 53.


Finishing Touches and On to Hand Made Journals!

We’ve been having quite a bit of snow lately but today is sunny–that means I get to have more natural light to work with!

Before I move on to the hand made journal, I want to give a little update on the cats canister from my last post. I added some detail to the cats’ faces with light paint to give a bit more emphasis on the facial features.

teabag on quote

When that was done, I decided I wanted a quote on the other side of the canister. Sometimes I write directly on the surface with aSharpee but for some reason, thistime I wasn’t too confident about doing that. Instead, I chose a quote and printed it out. I made sure the quote would fit on the sheet of teabag paper I had beforehand. Yup, it’s from a used teabag. I remove the tags and strings, open up the bag and throw out the used leaves. Then I rinse the sheet and let it dry.

I used the printout as a guide for tracing the quote on the sheet. If you’re doing this, just make sure you use a waterproof marker. Then I glued the sheet onto the back of the canister. I’m going to coat the painted surface with Polycrylic to protect the design. I do this with most of my projects and I like using one with a satin finish. Sometimes I’ll do a matt finish but for canisters and floor cloths, I like the satin finish.

teabag_over_print Positioning sheet on top of printout.

traced_quote Quote traced onto teabag sheet

quote_glued_on Quote glued on to the canister…

quote_waiting_to_dry and now to wait for the glue to dry before coating with Polycrylic!

Okay, so now we move on to making journals. My fascination with binding books must have something to do with my penchant for “deconstructing” things. I think it began when I was in my school library and I noticed that the pages of the book that were spreads had thread running through the midsection. Of course I didn’t take that book apart because I’d have gotten into real serious trouble but I did begin to take note of how the books I’d be reading from then on were bound.

Years later I saw an article in a home decorating magazine and the lady who was featured explained her book binding process. That’s when I began to make my own diaries. A few more years later, I found the book by Alisa Golden that I keep mentioning and that was that. I started collecting all sorts of paper I could use to decorate the covers, kept cereal boxes, and all sorts of boards that would work as hard covers. Best of all, my husband had a friend who had a whole stock of wallpaper samples that were no longer needed so I actually had several of those heavy books with wallpaper samples!

That was ages ago and now that my passion for making those books has been rekindled (in this day and age when journaling has become a thing to do!), I want to share the process with you. This will be just one type of binding–there are so many! I chose this because I wanted to incorporate collage-work into the project. It also saves you from having to look for binding paper or cloth. It takes a bit of patience, but if you have music or an audiobook on, things should go along nicely. For this project, I had Jeanette Walls’ The Silver Star (the town library sent me an email saying the audiobook was now ready for me–I think I was in line for about a month or more so I actually forgot about it).

To make this journal, you’ll need:

Your choice of paper for the pages. I used a memo pad for this project to free up some time. You can use all sorts of paper. If this is a journal you want to be able to draw or paint on, use watercolor paper or any other kind that can hold moisture without buckling. The memo pad sheets are rectangular so all I had to do was to remove the glue that held the sheets together (I just peel it off carefully).

A cutter that allows you change blades as needed. It’s important to always use sharp blades.

A metal ruler–plastic ones don’t work unless they’re the kind with metal edges.

A cutting mat

Illustration board or a heavy board of your choice for the covers

An awl or a tack for punching holes

Embroidery thread and needle

Paints, brushes, glue, collage odds and ends, old credit or gift cards

Let’s get started!

First thing you have to decide is how many sheets you want per signature. When you put sheets of your paper together and fold them in the middle, that’s one signature.

papersheets_flat_and_folded This photo shows two signatures. I decided on 8 sheets per signature. You can have more or less than 8. Just remember not to go too thick. It gets tricky handling signatures that are too thick. The number of signatures you make will determine how thick your journal will be.

prepping_hole_placements Next step is to mark the folded edges of each signature. The marks will be guides so that you know where to put the holes for sewing. The easiest way for me is to use a scrap sheet from the memo pad I’m using for the journal. I fold it in half so I know where the center is. Then I just fold the strip two more times and mark every other fold.

The thing to remember when making holes is that if you’ll be binding them the way your typical hard cover books are bound, you’ll need an even number of holes so that your thread always ends up on the outside of the signature as illustrated below.


The journal we’re making will not be dependent on the number of holes but it’s good to keep that rule in mind. Our journal will be using chain stitches for the signatures and hem stitches for the covers. In this case, the number of holes you make will depend on how much stitching you want on the spine of your journal.

After you’ve marked your guide, it’s time to mark your signatures. The easiest way for me is to hold the signatures together with the marked strip on top and just slide my pencil down, marking each signature as I go. If you’re worried about keeping the guides straight, you can mark just the top and bottom signatures first then “connect the dots.”


Next step is to put the holes. I used to use a large needle but I found out a tack (for cork boards) worked a whole lot better. If you find it a bit difficult, try putting a couple of foam sheets or a piece of styrofoam under the sheets. The tack should go through pretty easily. Remember too, that if your signatures are thick, getting the tack through may take more effort.


inside_view This is the inside of the signature.

stack_of_signatures Now that you have all your signatures neatly punched and stacked, it’s time to work on the cover.

The size of your cover will depend on the size of your signature and the look you want for your journal. I usually like to extend my covers so that the edges of the cover where the journal opens are a bit longer than the pages. You can choose to make them exactly the same size as the signatures too.

I use illustration board for most of my journals. I use cardboard from cereal boxes if I want the covers to be more flexible or if I have a design that requires the covers to fold out into a spread. Cut your covers to the size you need. Use your metal ruler and take note of the guides on your cutting mat. This ensures that your covers have perfectly angled corners and edges without having to use a triangle. Use the same guide you marked for the signature holes to add holes to the cover. Since you won’t have a folded edge this time, mark and punch the holes close to the edge. I put mine a bit less than ¼ of an inch from the edge.

You can choose to cover the boards with decorative paper (this is where having wallpaper samples come in handy!) or you can paint them and/or do collage work. For this project, I’m going do both painting and a bit of collage.

painting_covers To cover the boards with paint, I squeeze out a bit of paint onto the boards. Then I use the card to spread the paint. The idea is to cover the boards unevenly to create texture and depth. I added a second color and then pulled out some paper napkins that I found at The Christmas Tree Shop a few months back, tore out a few small pieces and added those. This is the part where you can do whatever you like by way of design. Just make sure you don’t completely cover the holes you made. If this happens, though, just mark and punch them out again with your tack or needle.

gluing_papernapkin There’s that bit of the napkin that I’ve glued on. The card helps to remove bubbles and creases.

cover_fronts These are the outer sides of the front and back covers.

covers_inside I chose lighter colors for the insides. Sometimes I end up covering the inside of the covers when I decide at the last minute to use endpapers. What’s an endpaper? Better to show you with a picture.

endpaper_sample Here’s a hard cover book that’s destined to become an altered book. The white sheet you see is the endpaper. It’s the size of the signatures and not the cover so that you can see the red edge of the cover. If you look closely at a hard cover book, you’ll find that the endpaper is actually a spread. That first page or leaf on the right is actually still part of the endpaper. When you turn that page, you’ll see that part of it is glued to the first actual signature page. That’s how the inside of the book and the cover are held together. Now back to our covers!

painted_edge When you’ve finished painting and decorating your covers, make sure to paint the edges of the boards as well. You can use markers or paint. I used a metallic paint marker. It gives a more finished look when the edges are painted. I’ve seen some book artists use washi tapes as well.

At this point, you can brush on some Polycrylic or even some Mod Podge to seal and protect the covers.

On the next post, we’ll put the journal together. Meanwhile, think about the color of the embroidery thread you want to use as well as other decorative stuff you might want to add to the journal.

As always, thank you for stopping by. If you have questions, just put them in the comments box!