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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Make Do and Mend: Tarot Breakfast Tray

When I lived in Boerum Hill I had really cool roommates who were both crafty and thrifty–Rachel made a colorful quilt out of old t-shirts, and Rel found some great furniture and other random stuff on the street (curbside shopping, can’t beat it for the price!) She came upon a lone tarot card (I think it was Death), and she cut a small rectangle in the center and used it as a switchplate cover. Rel also found an adorable (if rather banged-up) breakfast tray someone was tossing, but she ended up passing it along to me when she moved out. That was back in 2003, and the breakfast-tray-with-potential had been sitting in my basement waiting for its makeover ever since.

Before: cute but scratched and faded vinyl tray covering and white paint job that was probably never sealed–it was flaking and splintering.

The plan: pull off the vinyl, strip the paint (using an eco-friendly…eco-friendlier?…paint stripper), sand the bare wood, stain it, put on a new lining using the decoupage technique (with Mod Podge Hardcoat), and seal it all up.


The eco-friendlier paint stripper worked pretty well, and I applied two coats of a dark stain. I knew the decoupage would be tricky, so I did the bottom of the tray first since most of the time it won’t be visible. (Naturally, the reverse side turned out great, but there were a couple of tiny tears on the side everyone sees! Fortunately the pattern on the paper is busy enough that you’d never notice unless I pointed it out.)

I measured the paper, adding a fraction of an inch on all sides (to be removed with an exacto knife later), and applied the Mod Podge with a foam brush directly to the paper before positioning it on the wood. Then I smoothed out the air bubbles with an old credit card. Some decoupage tutorials suggest using wrapping paper, but I think that’s a bad idea–I used relatively thick, high-quality paper, and still had a couple small problems with the paper tearing (too much glue and too much friction from the credit card). After the paper was in place, I waited for the glue to dry before trimming the edges. Repeated the process on the top surface, then painted on three thin coats of Mod Podge over the whole tray (over a period of a few days).

I panicked a little when the first topcoat went on though–an air bubble appeared out of nowhere, and it was impossible to smooth it out (as I’d been able to when I initially glued the paper on). I got frustrated–‘why does every DIY project I attempt come out like CRAP?! ARGH!!!’–and then decided to watch Pride & Prejudice with my mom and try to forget about it. The topcoat had dried by the time I came up to bed, and lo and behold, the paper had tried perfectly flat and smooth! HOORAY!!!

To my dismay, the Mod Podge Hardcoat instructions say you’ve got to wait a whole month between the last coat and actually using the finished piece. It’s perfectly dry now though, so I’m going ahead and taking pictures, and I’ll eventually pick up a can of polyurethane. The Mod Podge people say you don’t need an additional sealant, but I don’t believe them.

Here’s a close-up of the oh-so-appropriate new paper lining, purchased at a stationery shop in Florence in 2002 (and up to now, gathering dust in a roll under my bed). I’m such a sucker for pretty Italian papers.

This wasn’t a cheap DIY project (the materials were about $25, and the paper couldn’t have been more than a euro or two), but I can rationalize the expense somewhat because I’m planning to use the paint stripper (the priciest purchase) on another project. And it’s quirky yet practical–just my style. Yay!

5 Comments to Make Do and Mend: Tarot Breakfast Tray

  1. Pare's Gravatar Pare
    October 22, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    AWESOME. What great paper!

    I love Mod Podge. And in my experience, they're really not lying abt the additional sealant, but knock yourself out.

  2. Mod Podge Amy's Gravatar Mod Podge Amy
    October 23, 2009 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Love your tray! Plus the fact that you watched Pride & Prejudice while Podging . . . I do it too!

    Oh, and you really don't need an additional sealant. Mod Podge is good like that! 😀

    xo Amy

  3. Eliza's Gravatar Eliza
    October 24, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    that's great, truly! 🙂 i love it. makes me think of magic and witches. much love ♥

  4. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    October 26, 2009 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Looks great, Mealey!

  5. K's Gravatar K
    November 4, 2009 at 3:38 am | Permalink

    Love it!

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.