Shabby chic picture frame: DIY tutorial

A few weeks ago I was cruising the internets, looking for birthday gift ideas for my mom, and came across this reclaimed wood picture frame on Etsy. My mom is one of the few people who still regularly prints out photos she takes on her digital camera. I thought this frame was very cute, and pictures could be easily changed out. But it’s not quite her style. What if I gave the Etsy frame design a shabby chic makeover?

shabby chic wood frame

I dug around in my garage and was thrilled to discover that I had most of the materials. We had the slats leftover from an old Ikea platform bed (which also came in handy to frame our Little Free Library). I had plenty of leftover paint in almost every color, including a lovely robin’s egg blue (which is on my office wall) and a brick red, which covers my kitchen cabinets. After trying out a test piece with different methods and paint types (I also tried acrylic craft paint [fail]), I had the best results with the following method.

Stuff you’ll need

  • Reclaimed wood (~2-3 in. wide for the frame part, and ~1-1.5 in. wide for the crosspieces)
  • Wood glue
  • clamp or heavy thing
  • 2 colors of acrylic wall paint, somewhere between matte and satin
  • a wax candle (I tried beeswax first, but the softer paraffin kind worked better)
  • medium-fine grit sandpaper (~150)
  • glaze (I used Ralph Lauren tobacco faux finish glaze, also leftover from my cabinets, but you could also use antiquing glaze, or possibly wood stain in a pinch)
  • Decorative mini clothespins from a craft store (this was the one item I bought)
  • Picture hanging wire and small eye screws


I assumed that my mom would be hanging 4×6 prints, so I aimed for a roughly 8 x 10 frame, which would set off the photos, but wouldn’t dwarf them. Because the boards were already 2.5″ wide and I didn’t want to rip them, the final measurements ended up more like 9.75 x 11 in. This  is fine with me, because I really hate measuring things carefully. Any project that can be measured by a “meh, looks good” is my kind of project.

I lined up the 4 boards evenly, and used 4 crosspieces: 2 on the back, and 2 on the front. Only 2 are needed for stability, but I liked how the crosspieces looked on the front (refer back to the Etsy picture), and on the back, I wanted to create a little space out from the wall for the picture hanger eye screws, so they wouldn’t dig into the wall (see pics at the end).

The unintended benefit of this two-sided process is that I started on the back, and it gave me a chance to hone my technique before moving onto the front, which would be visible.

To begin, I glued the crosspieces to my boards using wood glue, and then clamped the whole shebang together:

After the glue dried the requisite amount of hours, I “distressed” the boards by thwacking them with this thing:

fencing tool

Joshua says it’s called a “fence tool,” but I say it’s a wood banger upper. I used the pointy end to nick little pockmarks randomly, and the blunt end to bang at the edges of the boards.

photoframe05Now for the first layer of paint.

First layer of paintAnd here’s where the candle comes in. After the first layer of paint is completely dry, scrape the candle over the first layer of paint. Wherever you scrape on the wax, the second layer of paint won’t stick, so think about where the paint would naturally wear: usually along edges, and any broad surfaces that might be easily scratched.

candle wax

See the wax?

See the wax?

Ready for paint #2. I coated the whole thing with satin finish Robin’s Egg blue. I believe it was Behr paint, which is pretty high quality. If you’re using a paint with less dense pigment, and you’re painting a light color over a dark, you might need to do two coats.

Coat #2

Wait until this coat is absolutely dry, at least overnight. Use the sand paper to lightly scratch the places you scraped candle wax. I found that folding the sandpaper and using the crease was the best method. If you can’t remember where you scraped on the candle wax, sand lightly over the boards with the broad surface of the sandpaper. The top coat of paint should come off pretty easily and show you where to scrape a little harder.


At this point, I could have called it done, but I wanted the whole thing to look a bit more just-dug-out-of-the-back-of-the-attic, so I used the Ralph Lauren tobacco glaze, also leftover from the kitchen cabinets. After applying, I waited just a few moments and wiped it off, careful not to press too hard. The idea is to let the glaze settle into the grooves, as well as those dings and scrapes inflicted earlier.

You can see how it really helps the whole piece look aged:



After letting the glaze dry, you can apply a clear poly or acrylic finish if you want; I tried a clear spray-on “matte” acrylic finish and it came out glossy! What could be worse than spending days dinging and dulling and distressing an item, only to make it look shiny and new in one fell swoop? This is why you do test pieces first. Fortunately, I tried the spray finish on the back first, so nothing was lost. I didn’t use any finish on the front.

Once the whole process is complete for the back, flip it over and do it all over again.


Glue the little clothespins to the front of the frame. I stained mine blue and roughed them up a bit to be in keeping with the rest of the piece.


Although the front crosspieces are centered, I deliberately set the top back crosspiece lower to leave room for the hanging wire. Hanging a heavy piece of solid wood is a little different than hanging a picture frame. Without the back crosspieces, the hanging nail would have pushed the top of the frame away from the wall, causing it to tilt downwards. The crosspieces give 3/8 in. space from the wall for the nail. I used tiny eye screws  to mount the hanging wire, which are just barely recessed from the back crosspiece. Little felt pads will keep the whole thing from scratching the wall paint.



Body Lotion Bar DIY: Beef Tallow Part Deux


Rosemary-scented lotion bar, made from beef tallow and cocoa butter

I was at my desk around 2:30 p.m., and my stomach was hard at work digesting my lunch, while every other cell in my body wanted to be napping. I spaced out for a few minutes. When my brain came back to the present, my eyes were focused on the crook of my left elbow, which, I suddenly noticed, was dry, wrinkled, and looked about 20 years older than it should. And what were those dark blotches all the way down my arm and wrist? Could they be liver spots? I suddenly noticed that the skin on the back of my hand was red, chafed, and scaly.

What. The hell.

I felt like I went to bed a healthy 32 year old and woke up an armadillo. And I resolved that it was time to start moisturizing. 

However, the first ingredient in my bottle of Bath & Bodyworks Aromatherapy Body Lotion is water, which does not moisturize at all. Water is cheap, however, and it is an easy filler for many skin care products. The moisturizing components of the lotion are the oils, but oil and water don’t mix well, so you need emulsifiers like cetyl alcohol and sodium hydroxide to bind the oil and water together. I also found petrolatum (which comes from crude oil) as the primary “fat,” and a bunch of preservatives and parabens later on the ingredients list. The oil is the ingredient that my skin needs; does it really need tocopheryl acetate, propylene glycol, or methylparaben?

I knew that the soap I made out of beef tallow had turned out marvelously well: it is moisturizing, lathers well, and is hard enough to last a good long while in the shower. Could tallow be used as a lotion base as well?

The Weston A. Price Foundation certainly thinks so:

“Currently there are virtually no skin care products available made with animal fats. Interestingly, such topical products disappeared at the same time that animal fats in our diets did. Among the animal fats used for skin care, it appeared from my research that the one used most overwhelmingly was indeed tallow. “

The website also acknowledges the modern taboo against using animal products in skin care, but points out:

“Tallow fat is typically 50 to 55 percent saturated, just like our cell membranes, with almost all of the rest being monounsaturated,21 so it makes sense that it would be helpful for skin health and compatible with our cell biology…In regard to this compatibility of tallow with the biology of our skin, we should note that we are animals rather than plants, so the modern taboo against animal products in skin care products would seem unfounded and even illogical. In addition to containing very little saturated fats, plant products do not have the same levels of other nutrients needed for healthy skin. Tallow contains the abundant natural fat-soluble activators, vitamins A, D, and K, as well as vitamin E, which are found only in animal fats and which are all necessary for general health and for skin health.”

I was convinced. I found a recipe on the Wellness Mama website that used tallow in equal proportion to a body butter (shea or cocoa), with some beeswax for firmness. Essential oil optional. And that’s it. No steryl yadda yadda propylparababble.

The Recipe


I used cocoa butter with my beef tallow, and about 40 drops of rosemary essential oil for scent. You can melt the semi-solid oils with the beeswax over low heat in a small pan, or in a glass Mason jar in a simmering hot water bath. Let the oils cool a bit and then add the drops of essential oil. I poured my lotion bars into a muffin tin, but you could use anything as a mold, including a small plastic tupperware. Once entirely cool and solidified, pop out of the mold and rub some on your skin to check the consistency. Does it melt too fast in your hand? Add some more beeswax and reheat to melt.

Next time I make these lotion bars, I’ll use shea butter instead of cocoa butter, only because cocoa butter has a strong scent. Every time I moisturize with it, Joshua tells me I smell like Oaxaca, which made me first think of bean farts and seasoned pork, but I quickly realized he meant that I smell like chocolate. And while I do love chocolate, I don’t want to smell like it always, and the cocoa butter is so powerful that my 40 drops of rosemary oil barely even compete. So next time, shea butter, which is more odor neutral.

The Results

I would like to conclude this post by reporting that my scaly, spotted, and flaking skin has been restored to the youthful even glow of a 16 year old! But that would not be true. It does, however, more closely resemble the skin of a fair-skinned 32-year old (who has not been diligent about sunscreen her whole life), which is still a good deal better than looking like the spawn of an armadillo.

Linked up at: Skip To My Lou The Chicken Chick

Creative coverings for difficult spaces

My house is 106 years old. It was built before indoor plumbing, in an architectural era when “storage” was probably considered a frivolous waste of space. Or, more likely, 106 years ago people had less “stuff” to store. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that Craftsman homes are famous for beautiful built-in bookcases and abysmally small (or nonexistent) closets. Our house has two little closets, each measuring approximately 3 x 4 ft, with a doorway measuring 24 in. wide. If you’ve done any remodeling, you’ll know that 29″ is the smallest “standard” door size, so without dropping $$$ on a custom closet door, we had to find an alternative means to hide all of our stuff.

The yellow blob on the closet floor is an exercise ball that our Aussiepoo popped during an enthusiastic game of pounce. It’s waiting for the day I feel inspired to get a bike kit and patch it. This could take years. Note also a bag of kitty litter. The point is that this closet is messy and personal and I don’t want the contents to be public knowledge. Except that I just posted a picture of it on the internet.

Old houses require creative solutions to privacy problems. Take our attic, for example. We remodeled our unfinished attic several years ago to be a man cave/craft cave/guest suite, complete with ensuite half bath. The house was never meant to be two stories, so the ceiling is very low. We found an antique wooden door that we planned to dog-ear to fit our funky non-rectangular bathroom entrance.

I’m so pleased with myself! What a clever solution to our sloping ceilings!

Shortly after that photo was taken, we realized that it was absolutely 100% impossible to install a door in this opening, because it couldn’t open more than 30 degrees without the highest point hitting the sloped ceiling. We discussed every possibility: could we have saloon-style doors that open in the middle, but don’t reach to the ceiling? How about a door that folds down on hinges, and then swings open? We had run up against unforeseen (or naively uncalculated) problems like this before, and we always found creative solutions. What to do with a bathroom that could not possibly have a door?

Voila! French boudoir meets Craftsman.

Yep, curtains. It’s not as private as a door, but only a little less so. We’ve had numerous overnight guests, and none of them have refused to use the guest bathroom for lack of a proper door. The curtains are secured to the trim via cute drawer knobs.


The skylight next to the bathroom door proved a similar logistical problem. While great for airflow, it faces south and lets in a lot of early morning summer light. If you like rising at 4:30 a.m. in July, then this sleeping space is perfect. Most people don’t, so I had to find a way to make a shade for the skylight. I learned that skylight blinds are at least $400 a pop for the most basic and ugly venetian blind, and they head up steeply from there. Skylight coverings are a challenge, because you have to find a way to keep the curtain from dangling straight down (because gravity).

My solution was inelegant, but definitely serves the purpose. I used two lightweight tension rods braced vertically along the window, and sewed a curtain with casings along both sides. A simple tie keeps the shade neatly gathered to let the sun in during the day, but it can easily be pulled down for sleeping. I used the same fabric to create a Roman shade for an oddly squat window in the dormer.

So back to the closet. You obviously know where I’m going with this. I found some fantastic twill fabric on Amazon that picked up the robin’s egg blue on the office walls, the taupe on the accent wall, and my lime green recliner. Instead of a traditional curtain rod, I used a piece of weathered bamboo from my backyard that has been used as a trellis for pole beans for the past few years. The bamboo rod ties in the Japanese kimono on the opposite wall. Black curtain clips made for easy hanging.

You'd never guess there was a deflated exercise ball and a bag of kitty litter in there...

You’d never guess there was a deflated exercise ball and a bag of kitty litter in there…