tray imageMother's Day is celebrated the second Sunday in May in the United States and many other countries. The holiday is set aside to honor our mothers and to express our gratitude for all they do for us.

If you'd like to create a special gift, you can recycle a small picture frame to make an attractive tray. It will be just the right size to keep small items organized on her vanity. We'll make the tray by using papier mache, a technique in which strips of newspapers are pasted onto the frame.

For centuries, making paper was limited and expensive, so recycling the material to make new products was a practical application of papier mache. Today the craft is practiced worldwide, and it has been used to make everything from simple puppets and piggy banks to expensive boutique items and characters on parade floats.

Make a Tray for Mother's Day

How to:

Bracelet MaterialsMaking a small tray is a great way to recycle an old or damaged picture frame. Since the entire frame will be covered, no one will notice the flaws. If you don't have a frame available, look for one at garage sales or try your local thrift store. If the glass is still in place, have an adult remove it and set it aside. Measure the rabbet or groove inside the frame, and cut pieces of mat board to fit. You'll need many pieces, because it will be necessary to fill the frame from front to back. Measure the back of the frame and cut one larger piece of mat board to cover it.

frame sampleUsing lots of glue, fasten all the smaller pieces of mat board together, and put rubber bands around them to hold them in place for a few minutes. Remove the bands, and glue the boards inside the frame where the glass would normally fit. If necessary, add more mat board to fill the frame. Finally, glue the larger sheet of mat board onto the back of the frame, and add some strips of masking tape all around to help hold it in place. Protect the table with newspapers, and work on a sheet of wax paper to prevent gluing your project to the newspapers.

Mix the wallpaper paste according to manufacturer's directions. Tear the newspaper into small squares or short strips, and begin pasting them to the tray form. Dip the paper into the mixture, and remove the extra paste by running the strip between your fingers and thumb. Apply one layer over the entire tray, front and back. When dry, apply a primer coat of gesso to the sides, top, and inside of the form. It's not necessary to prime the back, because it will be covered with felt.

frame coveredPainting a design on the tray is the fun part of this activity. You can paint the entire form one color, and then apply surface decoration on top of this base coat. To make the tray more interesting, however, you might want to use several colors. Before you start, look at the form to see if there are any definite shapes or borders suggested by the picture frame beneath the paper surface. You can paint the large area in the center one color and paint the frame portion one or more colors, for example. Also, paint a small strip of color all around on the back of the tray to hide any paper which the felt may not cover.

After the base coat is dry, you're ready to apply the surface decoration to the entire frame. Rather than painting something realistic, consider using a design. It's easy to get ideas on good design elements by looking at patterns in printed fabric and paper such as those found in drapery and wallpaper. Another way is to study other cultures and use their painting techniques to inspire your work. Can you imagine painting without a brush? The Aborigines of Australia have been painting beautiful dot designs with sticks for thousands of years!

You can try your hand at stick painting by using short lengths of dowel rods, cotton swabs, or similar materials. To begin, look at the tray to see if there are any "natural" shapes or borders that could be decorated by stick painting. Dip the stick into a color, and apply it to the tray. Repeat until this area is covered with a design. Another way to decorate the surface is to dip the edge of a small piece of mat board into paint and apply it to the form. When you've finished painting, set the tray aside to dry. Complete the project by attaching felt to the back with fabric glue.
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glue backing


inserting back

glue on back

banding on backing

paper mache

first coat

Tips and Tricks:

Your picture framer may share used or damaged frames with you. He or she often has a supply on hand, because customers who bring work in for reframing don't want their old frames returned. Also the framer may donate odd scraps of mat board for your project.

You can substitute other heavy cardboard for mat board. A paper cutter is an ideal tool to use in cutting the material to the sizes you'll need. Whether you're using a utility knife or a paper cutter, however, always have an adult do the cutting for you.

While it's not essential, one coat of gloss acrylic varnish applied to the finished tray will make it more attractive and durable. If you'd like to learn more about papier mache, use a search engine such as Alta Vista or Hot Bot to find other references and sites for this popular and useful craft.

Make your own wrapping paper and gift containers, too. See the Previous Activity, Wrap It Up for Chanukah!, for many ideas which you can adapt for Mother's Day.

Visit Mother's Day on the Net to learn more ways to help you celebrate this special day. Trays pictured above were designed by some of my students. Thanks Abby, Heidi, and Ann!