DIY No-Sew Shadow Boxes
This project definitely falls into the Great Gift Idea category. It also falls into the No Sew category! A personalized shadow box is a wonderful way to commemorate a special occasion. Our samples celebrate a new baby and a wedding. You could also create one for an anniversary, graduation, to memorialize a trip or to mark a milestone birthday. The featured element that makes our boxes unique is the stunning Dritz Campaign Hardware at each corner.
Campaign furniture comes to us from Britain, where is was developed in the late 18th century to travel with British officers on their military campaigns around the world. The signature brackets and hinges allowed the furniture to collapse into manageable pieces that could be stowed away in a trunk to be carried by ship, camel, elephant or horse and still arrive intact and ready to re-assemble. Today, the hallmark of campaign furniture is still the striking corner hardware set against simple, sturdy wooden pieces.
Dritz introduced their campaign hardware selection in late 2018, and has since added even more finishes, shapes, and sizes. In all cases, the decorative nails are included in the package.
The Dritz collection gives this traditional hardware a contemporary spin and is designed purely for aesthetics. Check out the Dritz Top Ten Tips for using their hardware as well as some of their clever DIY furniture projects on the Dritz Make Something blog.
We stayed with a traditional flat wood surface for our shadow boxes. It’s not only a more classic campaign furniture look, these natural wood shadow boxes are easy to find and quite economical. We also opted not to include a glass front panel, but that was more for photography purposes to eliminate glare. You could certainly choose a shadow box with a glass front. Our samples came from a local Michael’s store.
A good way to think about a shadow box is as a scrapbook page in 3-D. In fact, you can find lots of super cute decorations to add to your shadow box in your craft store’s scrapbooking aisles. The main thing to remember is that you are working with depth. You don’t want everything to be flat as a pancake. Take advantage of the depth by incorporating dimensional items. We even glued a small piece of foam behind some of our photographs to bring them up off the surface at varying heights.
As mentioned above, a level wood surface works best with the Dritz campaign hardware. Like picture frames, you may see many shadow boxes with ornately beveled fronts. This is certainly pretty, but it’s not the look you’re going for with campaign furniture, and this type of hardware is not designed to sit against a curve.
The Dritz hardware collection features both straight corners and quatrefoil corners in a variety of finishes and sizes as well as right angle corners. And although we used just one style on each of our samples, don’t be afraid to mix and match both the shapes and finishes to build interesting geometric patterns. Joann’s has a great selection online of the Dritz Campaign Hardware.
Because our shadow boxes started as unfinished wood, they needed to be painted. We opted for spray paint, but if we were to do the project again, we’d sand and paint with a brush. The spray paint fumes seemed to really cling to the finished boxes – not a good option for a gift item that is meant to hang inside… especially a baby gift! The final choice is, of course, totally up to you, but we felt it was important to mention our preference.
As a backing board, we chose cork covered foam core. It was less than ½” thick and so didn’t take up too much of the depth of the shadow box, and it was easy to cut to size.
We used heavy scrapbooking paper to cover the cork and provide a very pretty background for all the elements. The baby shadow box is a single sheet of wallpaper-striped paper. The wedding shadow box uses two papers: a subtle polka dot overlaid with a lacy, doily-type top layer. These papers are simply held in place with double-stick tape, which allows us to strictly adhere to our No Sew promise. But, if you have some wonderful fabric in your stash, it could also be a great choice for covering the backing board. Simply stretch it over foam core or thick cardboard and staple, tape or use a glue gun to hot glue the ends in place. Once securely in place, you’ll never see that side of backing board, but do be mindful of keeping your wraparound as flat as possible so the backing board sits perfectly flush against the shadow box.
Keeping with the 3-D theme, we returned to the amazingly fun products from Dritz Home and selected two beautiful Dritz Cabinet Knobs. Centering a knob at the bottom of the shadow box frame allows you to hang a larger keepsake as part of the overall look. From wedding pearls to a treasured newborn sweater, it’s a pretty and practical way to expand the items with which you work. We found the complete Dritz Home Cabinet Knob collection online at Joann’s.
Our thanks to Dritz for providing us with access to their great new products and sponsoring these project instructions so they are free to you! Dritz always has wonderful ways to keep your sewing easier and more creative. To find out more, we invite you to visit their website or blog; or follow them on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
Basic steps to a DIY Shadow Box
- Collect all your tools. If you’ll be cutting your backing board elements, we suggest a t-square style metal straight edge and a box cutter for the most accurate slices. As mentioned above, we used spray paint to finish our wooden shadow box. Foam core layered with cork and covered with scrapbooking paper created our backing board.
- To apply the Dritz Campaign Hardware, collect a rubber mallet, an awl, and needle nose pliers, plus painter’s tape to hold the hardware in place.
- Finally, Dritz has a free template download to print out that has all the hardware shapes printed at actual size. This is very helpful for placement planning.
- Paint the shadow box, applying enough paint to cover evenly. Most shadow boxes are quite dimensional, so remember to paint all visible sides and edges. As mentioned above, we did use spray paint, but would recommend more traditional sanding and painting with a small can of low/no-odor paint and a quality brush.
- From the Dritz template sheet, cut out the appropriate size and shape for your chosen hardware. We used a 3.125” square corner in bright brass.
- Center the template on your corner. A seam gauge works well to make sure the corner is even on all sides.
- When you have the template exactly where you want it, use an awl to mark each of the nail holes. You are simply punching through the paper enough to make a small, visible indentation in the wood.
- Remove the paper template and replace it with the Dritz Campaign Hardware, lining up the marked holes with the actual holes in the corner hardware. Tape the hardware in place with removable painter’s tape or similar.
- With the hardware securely taped in place, use the awl to drill a pilot hole at each opening in the hardware. Our shadow box wood was pretty soft and the frame was not super thick, so the awl itself was great for drilling this starter nail hole.
- If you choose a harder and/or thicker wood, you may need to just start the hole with an awl, then remove the hardware and make a very shallow pilot hole with a thin 1/16” drill bit. You can even wrap tape around the bit to make sure the hole is not too deep. Remember, you are not going all the way through the frame, you’re just starting a hole that will make it easier to insert the decorative nails.
- With the pilot holes drilled and the hardware taped in place, drop a decorative nail into one of the holes. Hold it in place with the needle nose pliers.
- Hammer the nail all the way in with a rubber mallet. Repeat to set each of the nails.
- Adhere the Dritz Campaign Hardware in each corner. As mentioned above, we also centered a Dritz Home Cabinet Knob along the bottom edge. These knobs simply screw into place as they would on a drawer or cabinet front. You can drill a pilot hole in the same manner as above for the Campaign Hardware.
- Cut your backing board material to size and adhere it to the back wall of the shadow box. We used double-stick tape. A hot glue gun or glue dots are other good options. If you choose to wrap your backing board with fabric, now is the time to do this, remembering to keep your wrap as flat as possible against the back of the backing board.
- Cut your covering material to size and adhere it to the backing board. Since we used paper, we again simply used double-stick tape.
A few notes about arranging your shadow box elements
Your box is complete with its beautiful Dritz Campaign Hardware corners. But now what to do?! As mentioned above, thinking about the design as a 3-D scrapbook page is a good starting point. Glue dots, a hot glue gun, and/or double-stick tape all work great at holding the various elements in place. Which to use for what really depends on weight. A glue gun is best for the heavier and more dimensional items. Tape or glue dots are excellent for lighter weight, flat elements. Decorative thumb tacks are also a fun choice. We spray painted thumb tacks in the same color as our baby frame for a perfect match.
Other layout tricks to remember:
- Odd numbers of items can always be arranged in a more pleasing way than even numbers.
- Spread out super dimensional items rather than clustering them all in one spot. On our baby shadow box, we placed the floral sprig in the upper right corner and the most prominent photo in the center bottom. Small chunks of foam, cut at different heights, are a great way to boost a flat item up from the surface of the backing board. We used a hot glue gun to secure the foam to both the backing board the the actual element.
- Too much of a good thing is rarely a good thing. Rather than jamming in too much stuff, choose just the most important items so each can be showcased.
- Don’t be afraid to slightly overlap items.
- Stay without one color palette.
- Vary the size of items. If everything is one size nothing stands out.
We received compensation from Dritz® for this project, and some of the materials featured here or used in this project were provided free of charge by Dritz®. All opinions are our own.
Project Design, Sample Creation and Instructional Notes: Alicia Thommas and Liz Johnson
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