We get the work decoupage from the French word ‘decouper’ which means ‘to cut’. It is thought to have started out in Siberia, where tombs would be decorated with cut out pieces of felt. In the 12th Century the technique spread to China where items like lanterns and boxes were decorated with paper shapes. It was through Chinese trade links with Italy that the art of decoupage spread to Europe.
Craftsmen in Venice and Florence started to use decoupage alongside technique like gilt work, where gold leaf is applied to an object, to decorate furniture and other household items. It also became a very popular hobby for young women during the 18th century and was considered as an accomplishment worth possessing. One very famous lady who is said to have practised the craft was Marie Antoinette, who apparently cut up works of art for scraps to use as part of her projects. These cut out were stuck on to furniture and then lacquered to finish them off. In England the art was known as Japanning and was practised widely in the royal court for many years. One notable courtier, Mary Delaney, became famous during the reign of George III for creating what she called her ‘paper mosaics’. This craze prompted painter Robert Sayer to write a book called ‘The Art of Japanning Made Easy’. The book contained 1500 illustrations for craftsmen to work from however in most cases these illustrations were cut out by ladies to use on their projects.
Examples of antique decoupage:
The craze for decoupage largely died out in the late 19th and early 20th Century but has undergone a revival in recent years with many decoupage guilds being started up.
Examples of modern decoupage:
Paper – you can get specialist decoupage paper but you can pretty much use anything you like such as napkins, newspaper or magazine cuttings.
Glue – there are a number of specialist decoupage glues out there such as Mod Podge or alternatively white PVA glue works just as well when mixed with water.
Varnish – If you buy a specialist decoupage glue then that will normally contain a varnish but if not acrylic varnish can be used.
Spreader – A foam spreader is used to apply the glue to the paper. The soft foam is best as it is less likely to rip the paper than an acrylic spreader.
Flat Lolly Stick– Use the flat edges to smooth out any wrinkles in the paper once the glue has been applied.
Old Cloth – To clean off any excess glue or wipe up spillages.
- Find an object that you want to decorate. This could be an old wooden chair, a picture frame, a plant pot or anything else you think needs to be jazzed up.
- Set up your workstation. Lay a plastic table cloth over your table and gather all your materials together.
- Cut out your shapes from the papers, magazine etc. that you have selected.
- Prepare your surface. In order to get the best results the surface you are decorating should be both clean and dry. If you surface is not smooth then you could sand the area down. This will also help the glue to adhere properly.
- Apply the glue to your surface and to the back of your cut outs. Lay them carefully on to the surface and smooth out any wrinkles. Ensure that the whole area is covered by layering your cut outs on top of each other where necessary.
- Once the glue is completely dry you should apply a coat of sealer across the whole of the decoupaged area. If necessary you can apply a number of coats until you are happy with the finish.