Thursday, January 29, 2015

Household Hacks: DIY poster matting

Over the past month or so, Brian and I have been slowly putting the last few finishing touches on our new guest room. We've reinstalled the blinds and the cut-down closet shelf, along with the closet door (which still needs refinishing, but we decided that for now, a slightly battered door was better than no door at all). We also pulled a little shelf unit out of our hall closet and set it next to the futon to serve as a nightstand, while also storing my various sewing and crafting supplies. The one thing the room was still really crying out for, though, was some art. The wall above the futon, in particular, was looking very blank and unfinished. The room definitely needed something else to draw your eye when you first glance in the door.

I thought this spot would make an ideal new home for our pair of poster prints from the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. These two big pieces, framed in cheap 3-by-2-foot wood frames from Michael's, had been living over our bed for as long as it had been our bed, and even before. However, when we bought a new bed (from IKEA, naturally) back in July of 2012, the headboard pushed the two pictures up to an awkward height, and they really didn't look right there anymore. The spot over the futon, by contrast, was just about right for height and width, and the bits of mauve in the right-hand poster would nicely pick up the colors of the quilt we'd put on the futon.

Before moving these posters, however, Brian wanted to fix them up a bit and make them more presentable. The most obvious problem, as you can see from the picture, is that the posters weren't properly matted. It wasn't so noticeable with the one on the left, which is almost big enough to fill the entire frame, but the one on the right was just loosely taped to the paper backing that came with the frame. Over time, the tape had given way, so the poster had fallen to the bottom of the frame, where it looked even sloppier. And on top of that, the frames themselves weren't in great shape; they'd come a bit loose over the years and were starting to bow outward in the middle. So Brian wanted to get both posters properly matted, and the frames shored up, before hanging them in a spot where they'd be generally visible.

The first problem was figuring out how to mat a piece this large. We'd tried matting a picture exactly once before, and we'd made a bit of a mess of it, so doing it ourselves likely wouldn't improve the poster's appearance much. We eventually ended up taking that picture to be re-matted and framed by a professional, which cost us over a hundred dollars—not a reasonable amount to invest in a pair of posters that only cost me five bucks apiece. So I did a little Googling around and turned up this article at Apartment Therapy about a simpler method of matting a print: instead of cutting out a mat to go around the picture, you just center the picture on the matting and stick it down with adhesive. We figured if we just bought a couple of big poster boards from a craft store, we could mount both posters for only a few bucks.

We ran into our second snag when we went looking for the poster boards to put this plan into execution. It turns out that while 24 inches by 36 is a standard size for a picture frame, it's not a standard size for a poster board. In fact, we couldn't find any at all that were bigger than 22 by 28. We could have bought two smaller poster boards and put them together to make each backdrop, but that would leave a narrow seam visible on each side of the poster where the two pieces met. It didn't seem like a terribly elegant solution. Real art mats were available in large enough sizes, but they were quite a bit pricier—around eight bucks apiece—and we also feared they'd be too thick to fit in these flimsy frames. So we debated about what else we might be able to use as a backing for the posters and eventually hit on the idea of trying some of the heavy kraft paper that we bought for our brown-paper floor. (Incidentally, you can now see the full instructions for that project in this HubPages article.) We've got loads of this stuff left over, so we might as well put it to any use we can.

For the first stage of the project, Brian removed the smaller poster from the frame (carefully, since it was still taped to the original paper backing and he had to avoid tearing it) and cut a piece of kraft paper to the size of the frame. He then centered the poster on the paper. (According to the instructions in the Apartment Therapy article, we actually should have left a little more space at the bottom of the mat than at the top so it would look right when viewed from eye level on the wall, but the mat is narrow enough that I don't think it makes much difference.) He secured the poster to the new paper backing with a bit of double-sided tape in each corner. He then cleaned off the "glass" part of the frame—which was actually a large, thin sheet of transparent plastic—with a bit of window spray before slipping the poster back into the frame.

Then, before hanging the poster up, he took some steps to tighten up the frame itself. He ran a piece of string across the back, pulled as tight as he could make it, to put some tension on the frame and fight its tendency to bow outwards. He originally tried doing this with Teflon dental floss, thinking it would be less likely to stretch over time, but it ended up snapping when he pulled it taut. So he just used ordinary household string, stapling it to the wood of the frame on either side. Then he did the same with the other frame. (We decided not to put a mat in that one because the poster was so big it would hardly show, and if we cut the poster down to show off the mat we'd risk damaging it.)

And voilà, here the two posters are in their new home. For a DIY job, the brown-paper matting on the smaller one looks surprisingly neat and workmanlike, and the artwork really does make the room look a lot more complete. We may still hang another picture or two and possibly replace that beat-up old closet organizer shelf with something nicer-looking, and of course we still need to refinish those doors—but I think that the addition of these two big poster prints makes this room, for all practical purposes, complete.

 Now, if we can just come up with something more appropriately sized to fill the now-empty space above our bed...

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