My mother has been crafting decoupage boxes since she was a little girl, giving them away as gifts upon gifts or just keeping for storing craft accessories and knick knacks. I have always wanted to sit down and have her teach me the ways of elegant decoupaging, and with our holiday cookie baking tradition about to start, thought they'd make festive two-in-one gifts for a few special recipients. We spent the last three days covered in glue and glitter (everywhere I went: "Do you know you have glitter on your face?") and now that I've made two and seen the amount of time and patience they require, I'm very tempted to keep them for myself because I doubt anyone will know the blood, sweat, and tears that went into them. Along with delicious cookies, I will have left a bit of my soul in each box.
Traditionally, you can decoupage with any type of scrap paper: newspapers, magazines, wrapping paper, photos, stickers, etc. We used mostly wrapping paper (for images of Santa, holly, snow, etc), post cards (used/recycled as well as vintage booklets from a local stationery store) and then these really old sheets of flower cut-outs from god knows where. My mother was given them as a child and are still beautiful even though brittle and yellowing. I hardly wanted to touch them because she shrieked in agony every time I raised the scissors. We used these old-fashioned cards and stickers which you can find at stationery or book stores; the specifically decoupage cut-outs are carried at most craft stores like Michaels or Ben Franklin.
We scooped up a stack of tin boxes on sale at The Container Store for a dollar a piece but you can use any type of cardboard or plastic box too. Shoe boxes are always excellent but I was really excited about these tin ones because they'll last longer and are visibly prettier beneath the paper. I start at the center by gluing down a 4" x 6" post card and work my way out. I found a perfect already-decorated vintage card that my cousin gave me with a gift last Christmas and features soft tones of blues and reds. The center image is important in that the smaller images encircling it should pattern its colors.
I like to place big, bold images in the corners of the lid to draw the eye, filling in the spaces between with overlapping smaller ones. When cutting out the images, it's best to follow their natural shapes rather than making blunt circles or squares around them. I did most of the arranging as I went instead of laying it all out and then gluing but it might be wise to play around with the pieces first for a rough idea.
My second box had a fun image of Santa at the center, with bold greens and reds but balanced nicely with lighter hues of whites and pinks. I like using images with white parts (like clouds, snow, flowers, etc) because these are the parts that, once everything is down and outlined with glue and glitter, shimmer and sparkle brilliantly in the light.
The sides of the box are not as high maintenance as the lid but still require some strategy. I follow the same ratio of big, bold images to smaller ones but with some random fun items thrown in. I also try to wrap the paper continuously around the corners but leave a little room at the top so the box can close without later crunching paper and glitter.
The part of gluing and glittering is completely optional: many decoupagers, at this point, cover the whole thing with varnish and they're done. My mother's process is so masterful and elegant, and doesn't include varnish but rather ultra-fine translucent glitter and clear-drying glue. (She mentioned that she has added a layer of clear varnish in the past but it ends up muting the colors and shimmer.) We start with the sides and trace along the top edge of paper with glue. We then pick out the lightest areas and highlight those bits depending on their shapes (i.e. Santa's white beard and hat, the tips of a rose, or snow). We then use an iridescent clear .035 glitter flake (which my mother emphasizes as a more-than-glitter glitter because regular glitter will dry to look like sugar) and sprinkle along the whole surface, with something below to catch the extra glitter (it's expensive so best to salvage and re-use). We give the area a quick bump of the hand to force the glitter in and shake off to dry.
The glittering of the lid follows like the sides except I like to outline around the frame of the center card as well as within it. This is actually very important as the center should be the focus and appropriately accentuated. Once the glue completely dries, you'll be able to see how all the colors and textures sparkle together.
My mother opts for many large, striking images instead of a million overlapping each other. All the surrounding pieces are angled to frame the center and pick out the strongest colors. I think they will make gorgeous gift boxes and I'm already pondering translating this process to cards, ornaments, and wall art. And I hope they're as fun to receive as they are to make.
A plain box
Scraps of paper for decoration (newspapers, magazines, photos, sheets of cut-outs)
Glue or Mod Podge (make sure it dries clear)
Glitter (iridescent clear .035 flakes)
1. Prepare your materials: select a clean, dry box and decorative paper to cut out. If you choose to, find a large image like a post card for the lid's center.
2. Cut your cut-outs. Apply each piece one-by-one using a clear-drying glue. Start at the center and work your way to the edges, overlapping and filling in gaps.
3. Once the lid is finished, set aside. Glue and apply paper to each side, wrapping around the corners. Glue evenly so the pieces lay smooth, without crumpling. Let dry.
4. Over a prepared surface for catching excess glitter, use glue to trace the top edges of paper on each side as well as a few highlights on the images themselves. While wet, sprinkle with glitter and pat gently. Let dry.
5. Repeat with the lid but outline the center image frame. Highlight lighter areas with linear strokes and sprinkle entire surface with glue. Pat gently and let dry.