07 January 2015

DIY: custom framing an antique dress

When I showed you Baby P’s nursery, I mentioned that I had one last project to do – and that I’d count myself fortunate if I finished it before his arrival. Fortunately, since he is extremely prompt, I managed to complete it with days to spare before his birth! Of course I’m a little delayed in telling you about it, because... well, first-time parent with an infant. Everything takes forever and ever amen.

And what was the project? Inspired by this photo, with the parent’s christening gowns hung over the cribs...

... I decided to frame the baby dress my mother purchased when she was pregnant with me! Not a christening gown, but one that hung in my childhood room as décor, too (just on a hanger, hung from a hat rack in the corner).

Because I was born in the dark ages before routine anatomy scan ultrasounds, my mom didn’t know if I would be a he or a she. So she purchased a cream dress with blue smocking, reasoning that a little girl can carry off blue more easily than a little boy can rock pink. (I’d give her grief for imposing gender norms, but well, it was the early 1980s. No worries, I’ll probably overcompensate with Baby P.)

So here I am, creating a neutral nursery with blue accents, and I have a cream dress with blue smocking. Oh, and a big empty space over his crib.

Meant to be!

I considered just hanging the dress from a pretty hook on the wall, perhaps with a large (backless, glassless) frame around it, but I wanted something with a bit more heft. So, I instead decided to mount it on a fabric-covered surface within a frame, no hangers and no glass.

However... I didn’t have a solid plan for how to carry that off. So I went to Michael’s armed with a few coupons, wandered around a bit (oh, luxurious days before baby!), and looked for options to present themselves. I had hoped to find a reasonably-priced frame with the appropriate dimensions – thinking I could take out the glass and somehow mount the dress to the backing – but all were too tall for the width I wanted, even if I was willing to pay the high price.

After a bit of deliberation in the store, I came home with these instead.

(Sorry for the poor lighting in these photos... it was December, and I couldn’t wait for daylight!)

They’re canvas stretchers... I think? And I’m not entirely sure how one stretches a canvas over them? All I saw was an easy and insanely cheap way to make a basic custom-sized 26x30” frame!

Obviously, though, those corners... yeesh. Fortunately they can be fixed up with a coat or two of caulk.

Then I just painted the whole thing out. The wood is a bit rough (but only stamped on one side, which I kept to the back) so I sanded out the really bad patches and just used flat white paint to hide the bumps.

And that’s it for the frame! I’m totally keeping the canvas-stretcher trick in mind next time I want a basic, big, lightweight frame for a super low cost (just a couple dollars per side). And without any tools! I’m certain I can’t be the first to figure this out, but I hadn’t seen this floating around the DIY blogosphere – perhaps you’d have a use for them too!

The next part was making the backing upon which I could mount the dress. For that I turned to my old friend, foam-core board:

I just taped a two pieces together and trimmed them to a size just larger than the inside of my frame. Note that I used cellophane tape – duct tape would be stronger, but I didn’t want it to show through the fabric.

Then I used batting leftover from the DIY pelmet boxes and stapled it on the exact same way.

Same deal with the fabric – cut to fit and staple it on. (Not shown: full-term baby belly. I was crawling around on the floor with an 8+-pounder inside!)

For the fabric I used the remnants from his DIY crib skirt. I could say I wanted the same pattern above and below the crib, but really, it was free and I had it on hand. Good enough!

To attach the backing to the frame, I just used small finishing nails (you can see one in the photo below by the staple in the corner). And to hang the whole shebang on the wall, I screwed in some eyelet hooks on either side and strung wire between them. I also bent the hooks inwards, so they wouldn’t cause the frame to stand out too far from the wall.

Finally... time for the dress! Because I made the backing with foam-core board and batting (instead of something hard and dense like wood), I could simply use strategically-placed pins to secure the dress to the backing. Note that I used those super-thin pins that you get when you buy men’s dress shirts instead of sewing pins – I figured the smaller the holes in this now-antique dress, the better!

It only took a few pins at the collar, at each sleeve, and at each armpit to keep it in place!

And that’s it! It felt very MacGyvered and ramshackle at the time, but it looks pretty good in the end!

With that last project, I’m officially calling Baby P’s nursery complete!

Well, at least it’s complete now with the accompanying baby... who has yet to even sleep in his beautifully appointed nursery. All in good time!


Janice said...

It looks sooooo amazing! I love the latest/last project for Baby P's room.