Before the paper books that we know today, people in some Asian cultures wrote on thin strips of palm leaves. Then they strung the leaves together into long skinny books. They used wood planks as covers. This is what they look like:
You can find these palm leaf manuscript “books” in Myanmar, Thailand, India, Indonesia. You don’t have to travel to get them. You can sometimes find them on eBay. Just search “palm leaf manuscript” on eBay. There’s a wide range of prices. You may not want to disassemble a nice expensive antique, so look for cheaper ones.
We found a palm leaf book in Thailand. We didn’t pay a lot for ours. It was about US$30. That was back in 2001. We were told that Buddhist monks wrote on the palm leaves in Pali script, which is similar to Sanskrit from India. I have no idea what our book says, or how old it is. The palm leaves are hardy and can last hundreds of years, even in the steamy hot Thai climate. So it could be old.
I thought the long palm leaf strips could make a bold graphic statement. So I made big framed wall art for a nook area in our apartment in Chennai, India:
To make this, first, you need a background, I used wide, long canvas. I painted the canvas black. I wanted a lot of drama and a really dark background so the palm leaves would pop.
Here you see the Black Frost paint contrasts enough with the dark black paint in the background:
I first tested out how different stencil options would look:
Sorry these photos are so grainy. I was working with 3 light bulbs in the whole place, at night! So these photos are brightened significantly so you can see.
After stenciling, I installed the palm leaves over the black background with metallic copper scrapbooking “brads.” Brads are tiny lightweight fasteners:
Each palm leaf had two holes that were used to string all the leaves together. I simply pushed the brads through those holes.
The original plan was to simply hang the canvas on the wall, using the original wood covers of the manuscript for the top and bottom (you can see these wood pieces in the photo above). But, it gets very dusty in our apartment in India. When we come back to the apartment after being away for a year, we must clean EVERYTHING. Like, we even must clean dust off the wire whisks in the kitchen drawers!! Yeah! Dust gets into the drawers and gets stuck on the thin wires! So that’s why our apartment will be minimally decorated (less stuff, less cleaning) and that’s why we framed this wall art behind glass.
We took the canvas to United Brothers on Bazullah Road in T Nagar, Chennai. Frame, matte non-reflective glass and labor cost US$60 total. (A bargain for those of us from the U.S. — this is a huge frame!) United Brothers has locations around Chennai. I tested different frames. I chose a very thin black frame instead of the wider gold frame. This is because I didn’t want a wide gold frame to visually “fight” with other elements in the niche area, like the palm leaves and the lantern’s shadows. I didn’t want the frame to be a focal point.
The wall art makes a dramatic space in this little nook area:
It’s visible from the entire foyer/living/dining/kitchen areas of the apartment because we have an American-style open floor plan in the apartment. What’s hiding under the counter and behind the drawers? Our clothes washing machine!
This is a super short and sweet DIY project! Dress up your drinks with stenciled coasters. I made dramatic coasters with a mix of metallic and black paints:
I made these stenciled coasters for our apartment in India. It’s hot and humid in South India. Drinks sweat. Drinks sweat A LOT. Humans sweat too. Which means we have to drink. And the drinks sweat. It’s a never-ending cycle of sweat.
We have nice wood and metal tables to protect. So I took coaster materials in our suitcases during our last trip to India:
I found these wood squares in the art section of Michael’s. There are also wood coasters in the woodcraft aisles. But they were thicker, and I liked the slim shape of these wood squares. I also found 4″ x 4″ cork at Michael’s.
To make coasters, simply glue the 4″ x 4″ cork to wood squares. I had wood glue with me, so I used that.
Then, paint base colors on the wood squares. Paint any color you want. I painted a mix of metallics — silver, bronze, gold and copper — with Stencil Cremes from Royal Design Studio.
Now, stencil shapes onto the wood squares. You can use stencils that fit within a 4″ x 4″ square. But you don’t have to be limited by that. You can use any size stencil — just stencil a small part of the design on a coaster.
I painted stencils with shimmery Frosted Black Stencil Creme. I took a bunch of stencils with me to India (also from Royal Design Studio), and chose a mix of stencil shapes that made an interesting combo on the coasters. You can see this design was bigger than the stencil so it ran off the edges, and that’s okay! It gives you more design ideas to play with:
I’m sorry I can’t provide step-by-step photos — I didn’t photograph the actual painting. I painted these really fast. My husband and I were chatting with our electrician and carpenter. They had helped us finish projects in our India apartment — a raised wood wall sconce and a silver leaf candlestick table. Both of those projects were painted with stencils, and they wondered how the heck I did that. They hadn’t seen things like this before. I said, it’s easy! They looked skeptical. I said, I’ll show you!
So I pulled out the coasters, which I had intended to paint anyway. While we were all sitting around the dining table and chatting, I painted and stenciled the coasters to show our electrician and carpenter how to do it. They were amazed.
I told them, I’d love to find a cooperative around Chennai and teach women how to stencil like this, and make products. Our electrician said he’d pay $10 for the coasters. He asked, how much did it cost to make them? I said, “uh, about $10!” We all laughed. No money to be made there! But I paid retail prices in the U.S. for materials. Our electrician said there’s free wood all over the place — he’s on job sites where lots of good wood, tiles and other materials are thrown out simply because the homeowners didn’t like them. Sometimes it’s new stuff that’s being ripped out!
Maybe some day I’ll do more with that idea of teaching other people in India to stencil. Meanwhile, these coasters are already doing their job, protecting our tables from the cold drinks:
While sitting on a sofa, do you ever set a drink on the floor, then knock it over? Or set a bowl on the floor after eating pasta, with some red pasta sauce still in it, then stand up and stick your foot in the bowl? Yeah, I have done that! That’s why I love having a tiny table near chairs and sofas. Here’s the table for today’s DIY project:
That little table was so convenient, I made another one for our apartment in India which is shared today. While going through photos for this post, I see I failed to photograph the process as I went through it step by step. So, consider this more of an idea/inspiration post with a supplies list. I’ll embed a few videos that show how to do some steps. Sorry about that – it’s been a busy year!
Here are supplies to make this table:
Tall candlestick (mine is about 2′ tall, found at Joann 50% off sale)
Three wooden rounds, two 10″ round and one 12″ round (I found these hard to find – ordered mine from eBay seller morezmore)
Screws and drill
Optional: Stencil if you want to add designs on it
Optional: I added silver leaf to my wooden rounds because the candlestick has a silver leaf look
I used one 10″ round for the tabletop, and glued 10″ and 12″ rounds together for the bottom. There were some gaps so I filled those with wood filler:
TIP: I will warn, try not to buy a resin candlestick.
If the table falls over on a hard floor, the resin can break. I set my feet on the little table I made previously, and the resin candlestick cracked in half in the middle! Look for a solid wood candlestick. You also want a candlestick with some heavy weight to it, with more weight at the bottom than at the top. You don’t want your table to be top-heavy because it could tip over.
You can paint your table any color(s) you want. As an optional detail, you can add stenciled designs. I’ll show you what I did: a silver-leafed table with two layered stencil designs. I wanted a silver table like the table in this moodboard for our India apartment:
STEP 1: SILVER LEAFING
I first found the 2′ tall candlestick for half off at Joann, for about $20-25. So I needed to make the wooden rounds match the candlestick. Because the candlestick was metallic silver leaf, paint wasn’t going to match it well enough. So I silver-leafed the wood rounds.
This video has good tips showing how to apply metal leaf:
It’s long, but you can skip ahead to areas where she shows tips. I’d say our time and materials are a cost, so it’s worth it to invest time to learn.
Where I went wrong was in not following her instructions, and I got sizing glue on my tools and fingers.
TIP: Use the wax paper, as she recommends!
If you follow these instructions and practice, you should be fine. But what happened to me was, I wound up re-doing the silver-leafing three times because twice it became a gunky gluey mess. My mistake — I got the sizing glue on my fingers and my gluey fingers ruined the shiny surface. Once I made sure sizing didn’t get on tools as I applied the silver leaf, I was happy with the final result.
In the video, she advises to clean off excess leaf outside or over a trashcan. Yes, do that! Don’t do it in the middle of your living room as I did. There was silver leaf in my nose, on my eyelashes, everywhere. It makes a pretty mess in a canister vacuum — there were pretty layers of silver specks mixed with layers of cat hair and dust!
STEP 1 ALTERNATIVE: PAINT
As an easier alternative, don’t do any leafing. Paint the candlestick and the rounds any color you want. You could paint with a silver metallic paint and get a beautiful metal-like effect, especially if you use Modern Masters metallic paints.
STEP 2: STENCIL (OPTIONAL)
If you want to add a pattern, you can use any stencil you like. You can find stencils online and in craft stores. I’m a fan of Royal Design Studio stencils, and use them a lot. For this project, I got a vision that led to making a custom stencil. I made a simple geometric sun shape — a “surya” in Sanskrit– in Photoshop. It’s just long skinny rectangles and a circle arranged in Photoshop. I know that the chairs and sofa in our apartment will eventually be covered with many patterns, and I wanted a simple bold design on the table. I cut the design in a Dura-Lar sheet with my Cricut Explore to make a stencil. Here’s a video showing how to cut a stencil with a Cricut Explore cutting machine:
I wanted to add another layer of pattern. I had an electronic image of a love poem, written in the 14th century in South India. That script image was used in an artwork gift for my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. The poem is written in Tamil which is a beautiful loopy script. Tamil is also the native language of the city and state where our apartment is located in India. I made another stencil with this script, by cutting it in a Dura-Lar sheet with the Cricut Explore.
I painted the Tamil love poem on a 10″ silver-leafed wood round, with French Linen Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan. As you can see in the stencil below, there’s big open spots where little circles in the script will fall out of the stencil. So with a tiny brush, I hand-painted those little circles back into the script.
Then I stenciled the “surya” sun shape over the Tamil script with Flat Black Stencil Creme from Royal Design Studio. The Stencil Cremes are made for stenciling, and with the high contrast of black and silver, I wanted a nice paint to do a clean crisp stenciling job. To soften the black, I stippled some metallic paints like antique gold, bronze and copper through the stencil.
STEP 3: ASSEMBLY
Then, all the pieces went to India in a suitcase. Actually that’s not true. The candlestick went to India with my husband during a previous trip. When I was silver-leafing the wood rounds in Chicago, I was using my memory of the candlestick for guidance.
Once the wood rounds and candlestick were together in India, it was obvious that the candlestick was a much warmer silver. They looked like totally different silvers:
No problem! This can be fixed. You can add some yellow to warm it up. I mixed water with a golden paint, and lightly smeared the gold wash over the wood rounds. I also used a bit of watered-down brown to “dirty them up” a little bit because the candlestick is darker and a bit distressed. The pieces now look really similar.
Our carpenter glued and nailed/screwed the pieces together, and that was it! Assembly is super easy. I am sorry I didn’t get pictures while the carpenter was assembling it. For instructions on how to assemble a table like this, visit my guest post at PaintandPattern.com where I show you step-by-step details from a previous DIY table.
We now have a little table to hold drinks, iPhones, light dishes, books, etc.! It’s next to a curvy teak South Indian chair so we can look out the window at trees and the sky. The chaos of the street below (lots of various traffic mixed with goats and chickens down there) is out of view.
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Do you ever see something on Pinterest, or a blog or catalog that YOU MUST HAVE. But it costs way too much? All. The. Time. One that got stuck in my brain like a little gnawing burr was this sconce from Shades of Light:
It’s the carved or embossed wood that caught me, and the exaggerated vertical line. This sconce has presence, and I liked that.
In the India pied-a-terre’s living room, there are two large windows with a sliver of wall in between. And there was electrical provision there for a sconce. What is perfect for a space like that? A long vertical embossed wood sconce like this!
This is my DIY sweet spot! Get inspired by something I can’t afford, then make it affordably. Here’s my final result:
Plank of aspen wood (not much grain) from Menards
Stencil – custom made with Cricut Explorer and mylar
Chalk paints for matte finish
Sconce from Home Depot
Glass shade with imperfect bubbles, looks old
Metal pieces and screws
I bought a 48″ length of wood, but the wood needed to fit in a suitcase to go to India. I measured the space in our longest suitcase, and cut the wood down to 31″ — the max length that would fit in the suitcase.
This crushed me! I really wanted the very elongated vertical proportion. When I played with placement of the Home Depot sconce on the 31″ plank, the whole thing looked short and stubby. So I decided to also paint the 17″ piece of wood, take it to India too, and see if we could “make it work.”
I custom made the stencil. The stencil pattern came from a wood printing block from Jaipur. That is a whole ‘nother DIY process I’ll share in another post! When I saw this printing block on eBay, I saw it on the wood sconce, and that was that! The stencil was cut with a Cricut Explorer in mylar thin enough to cut, but thick enough to hold up to being slathered with joint compound.
I used joint compound because it was in the basement, left by a contractor who was fixing walls. You can use any material that will create raised texture. I laid the stencil on the wood, and spread the joint compound like frosting over the stencil. I laid it on pretty thick, because I wanted a good noticeable raised pattern. To make the pattern, before the joint compound dries, carefully lift the stencil straight up. You can see in the above pictures, some areas are really messy. When the joint compound was half-dry, I simply put the stencil back over the design and applied more joint compound to build it up and smooth it out.
Let the joint compound dry. If you need to make repeat patterns, lay the stencil down after the joint compound is dry enough that it won’t smoosh. (A more technical term than squish!) Don’t worry about subtle ridges. Use fine sandpaper to smooth the joint compound if needed. I did not sand perfectly because I wanted my board to have the feel of old dinged up hand-carved wood.
After everything is dried and sanded, you can paint. Fun time! I chose chalk paints – a mix of Annie Sloan paints and Americana Decor — because I wanted a matte chalky finish.
Sorry for the poor light quality. I was painting on the kitchen floor at 3 a.m. after a cat woke me up for food. So rude!
I dry brushed several natural colors of chalk paints to make variations in color. As you see in the above photos, I first painted the lightest color of chalk paint, then I dry brushed the darker colors. I decided some dark areas were TOO dark, so then I dry brushed the lighter paint over the dark paint to tone it down. So don’t worry, if something doesn’t turn out the way you want, it’s just paint. You can paint over it.
The stencil is a two-part stencil, so it has two pieces to make the design. I used the first layer of the stencil to make the embossed pattern with the joint compound. Then I used the second layer of the stencil to paint a pattern with the gorgeous blue Florence color Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan. I lightly brushed natural chalk paint colors over the Florence to tone it down and make everything look old and dusty.
Then, I packed the boards in a suitcase! The next steps happened in India.
We screwed the two wood boards together with metal pieces that I treated to look old. I could have glued, patched and painted the wood to make the pattern continuous, but it would take too much work to make it look perfect, like it had never been cut apart. I decided instead to highlight the cut. It’s okay to turn a challenge into a “design element!”
Our electrician and carpenter helped with placement of the wood boards on the wall. We used my iPhone leveling app to get the board level. The carpenter drilled a hole to install the Home Depot sconce over the board. He screwed the wood boards directly to the plaster wall with two screws.
All the handling caused some chips that I fixed with paint. Yes I took chalk paints to India.
I don’t think the Home Depot sconce is the 100% ideal look for this wood board, but I was running out of time before our trip and was seeking an affordable sconce. It comes with a frosted glass shade. That wasn’t the look I wanted, so for $7 I got a seeded clear glass shade, all nice and bubbly! We still need to find a clear bulb. According to the electrician, “there are no more clear bulbs of this shape and size left in India.” ???
Here it is all finished:
You can see here with the width of the room and the large windows, the little Home Depot sconce by itself could look lost on the wall. But with the embossed wood, it has turned into an art piece that people notice and ask about.