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Decorating with fine papers: Try decoupage

Decoupage has never been easier - or quicker. Decoupage involves decorating surfaces with fine papers and images cut from catalogs, maps, ads, old prints or even paper napkins. This user-friendly art form is for anyone with a pair of scissors, glue and a little creativity.

Coats of polyurethane, applied after the glued-down papers dry, make a sturdy, waterproof finish. You can decoupage practically anything - tabletops, trays and bathroom or closet walls. Even old briefcases and refrigerators are decoupage candidates these days. Nonporous surfaces such as linoleum, metal and glass can also be decoupaged if you first apply a base coat of modified acrylic primer/sealer - the "Zim" brand works well and is available at many local hardware and paint shops.

To glue papers onto a surface, use plain white craft glue, such as Elmer's. Keep a damp sponge or rag handy to smooth from the center of each piece of paper as you glue and to wipe up excess glue around the edges. Most people lay out their complete paper design before starting to glue anything down, so that it is easy to cut and trim papers to fit the surface. To cover furniture, walls and floors, the decoupage process is exactly the same as for smaller projects.

After a wall leak destroyed part of the wallpaper in one of my bathrooms, I used harmonizing wrapping papers and cut-out borders from a catalog to create a design that looks as if it were planned all along. Four years later, the white glue and polyurethane continue to keep the design in perfect condition.

Some people enjoy using photocopiers to duplicate old letters, photographs and other memorabilia for covering keepsake boxes or framed personal collages for gift-giving. Paper dolls and children's books are other good sources for decoupage material. I'm currently planning to make gifts with 1960s Barbie paper dolls, which I bought from my Los Altos Avon lady, Pat McSweeney.

As a general rule, thinner paper works better than thick, especially on curved or uneven surfaces.

Decorative painting, stencils and stamping all combine well with decoupage. On a successful series of gift trays, I painted the edges and handles in simple stripes and polka dots and then decoupaged the bottom of the trays with ads appropriate to each giftee's interests. Several top coats of polyurethane evened out all of the surfaces, creating a smooth, waterproof finish.

Wrapping papers, candy wrappers, old playing cards, you name it - once the possibilities of decoupage occur to you, you'll find inspiration everywhere.

Here are more suggestions for decoupage projects: desk organizers, waste baskets, box and drawer linings, window shade, covers for journals or binders, table runners and centerpieces (decoupage fine papers onto cardboard or other stiff backing, cut to desired shape and size, then cover with polyurethane), place mats, picture frames, wainscotings, floor coverings.

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