Monday, December 9, 2013

Tutorial Mondays: Decorative display letters...Just in time for the holidays

Last year I decided to add to my collection of decorations for the holidays. I had seen in many magazines the trend of using lettering as a decorative detail and wanted to figure out how I could make a set with what I had around the house or at least with minor purchases.  With a little research which included studying different magazine pictures, etc., I came up with a method I thought would work.  And, it did!  I want to share with you how I did this in hopes of giving you the opportunity to try this out as well.


  1. Wooden letters (unfinished) - I got mine at Michael's Crafts (last year's project came from Joanne Fabrics).  The letters range from 99 cents to $1.50 a piece.  These were about 1/8 to 1/4" thick. 
  2. Craft acrylic paint - I like the Folk Art brand but other's work as well.  I chose a red.
  3. Embossing powder.  I chose silver.
  4. A rubber stamp with a simple over all pattern.  I chose a 4 sided block of leaf patterns.
  5. Embossing stamp pad (the medium that sets the embossing powders).  I have Hampton Art Stamps variety in a smaller pad and the one shown above by RangerInk, called Tinted Big and Bossy Giant pre-inked Embossing pad.  (Both are acid Free).
  6. Heating tool
  7. Sponge brush and access to water for clean-up.
  8. News paper or a plastic drop to protect your work surface.
  9. Drill for making holes.
  10. Twine - I used a blue and white twisted twine.
  11. Other optional supplies:  Light sandpaper to soften any rough edges (not shown), toothpicks
Step 1:
If you need to sand the letters so they are not rough at the edges, use a light sand paper or emery board and clean the edges.  Mine was acceptable so I didn't bother.  However, you need to drill the holes at the top of the letter to string together on twine later.  For the holes, I used a 3/32" drill bit and made two holes.

Step 2:
Paint the front side and edges of the letter with your acrylic craft paint.  I did a couple of layers, letting each one dry.  Don't forget the edges.  You can opt to do the back but wait till the paint is dry before your turn it over. (Can you spray paint these?  Sure why not, give it a try!  I prefer the acrylic paint).  Remember to keep the holes clear. Use a toothpick to clear the holes of paint if necessary.

Step 3:

(If you have not embossed before, try this on a thick card stock and practice).  

Now use the embossing pad and the rubber stamp:  Press the stamp into the pad, then press the stamp on to the surface of the letter in an overall way.  My stamp was bigger than the letter so I stamped and turned the block and stamped in an empty space and kept going till the letter was covered in an embossing ink pattern. The picture above shows the embossing ink highlighted in the light.

Step 4:  

Over a large piece of paper - paper towel will work or a piece of newspaper - I used an 8.5 x 11 printer paper - place the letter on the sheet.  Sprinkle your silver embossing powder all over. Don't worry about wasting the powder - we will recapture the left overs.

Step 5: 

Pick up the letter carefully so as not to rub off the embossing powder which is temporarily adhered to the embossing powder.  Shake off the excess and even tap an edge to the table over the paper to dislodge any more excess.  The excess embossing powder that was shaken off before heating can be recaptured.  Open the embossing powder container.   Pick up the paper (with the embossing left overs) and tilt the powder back into the container. It may seem tedious but I would do this for each letter.  The powder on the table gets every where and could interfere with your designs on the next letters.

Step 6:
Using the heating tool melt the embossing powder onto the letter. (Warning: Don't put the heating tool too close other wise you will melt the acrylic paint - yep! It will!  Acrylics are a plastic of some type - it will melt, bubble and burn, if you get too close and linger.)  You will know the embossing powder is melted and permanent when it turns from this sandy grey look to the...

shiny metallic look above.  Wait a second or two till it cools, then you can gently touch it without burning yourself.  If it is hard and smooth, its done!  If not apply the heat again.  You will see a visual change in the embossing powders as it transforms to its permanent state - it will bubble, rise and then flatten into a bright color.

Step 7: Once all the letters are done, use your chosen twine, string up the letters so that the twine comes up from the back and goes over the front into the next hole and out the back to the next letter.  

I would say that this took perhaps about 15 to 20 mins total to paint, dry, stamp and emboss the one letter in this tutorial.  The biggest time consumer is the painting and letting it thoroughly dry. If you don't let the paint dry the embossing powder will stick to any moist surface and the design will be smudged and not clean.  

All the materials can be found at arts and crafts stores in your area.  The embossing tools are the more expensive part of the list.  If you do not want to invest in a heating tool you could use a hair dryer on its hottest setting but the force of air might blow off the embossing powder, do a test run on a piece card stock first.

I am sure there are other ways to mount the letters, please share your ideas in the comments for myself to note and other readers eager to try this but do not want to use string.  

As the holidays continue to gather momentum, making fun and pretty decorations has always been a part of the celebratory process for me.  I hope that by sharing this tutorial with you, you will give this a try and add a little bit of sparkle and a heartfelt text message to your family and holiday guests.

Happy Holidays!

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