This is how I framed a crocheted doily (gifted from my grandmother!) into a shadowbox using a fabric stiffener, allowing the nostalgia to shine.
Many of the things you’d find in Lucy’s room come from the heart. A quilted blanket from a friend of 20 years. A cross-stitched penguin from a friend of 30(!) years. A snow globe from her ‘Papa.’ A photograph that celebrates womens’ bodies, taken by our neighbor. To add to this, I recently framed a crocheted doily made by my grandma, one of the many that, at a moment in time, sat around her home, under plants, a cup of hot tea or a big dish of stuffed shells.
If you’ve ever held a doily, you know that it’s very floppy, a fine weave of delicate threads. I knew I wanted to frame it, but wouldn’t it look so much cooler if it appeared to be floating in the frame? This was my first dabble in stiffening fabric, and it was so easy! And fun. And a little weird, if I’m being honest. Here’s what I did using my grandma’s doily, but think of all the things you could create with this same method – an old ‘kerchief, a necktie, baby’s first mittens, a sock missing its mate… and the list goes on.
Tools + Supplies Used
- Fabric piece
- Shadowbox frame (like this)
- Stiffy fabric stiffener
- Art board, large enough to fill frame
- Ruler or straight edge
- Utility knife or X-acto
- Cutting board
- Foam brush
- 3D Foam squares
1| Apply the Fabric Stiffener
We used Stiffy fabric stiffener, which – school yard jokes aside – works wonderfully at, well, stiffening my fabric! It has the consistency of Elmer’s glue, albeit with a subtle paint smell.
I laid my doily down on a scrap piece of cardboard and completely saturated it with a foam brush dipped into Stiffy. Ideally I could have done this on a plastic or hard surface, which would prevent sticking as it dried. So to prevent the doily from getting pasted down to the board, I rotated it every 15 minutes until it felt slightly tacky to the touch (at which point, it wasn’t saturated enough to stick to the board any longer). I was generous with the Stiffy application, although from my understanding, you could use less if you’re looking for a slightly flexible end result.
I came back to my project a couple of hours later, and the doily was stiff as a board! I picked it up, half expecting it to feel slightly wilted, but it was solid. Color me impressed!
2| Prepare the Backer Board
I used this brushed brass frame as my shadowbox, but heed my warning: If you’re looking to create a shadowbox for fuller dimensional objects, the frame I used will not work. The way the backing is attached to the frame doesn’t allow for much wiggle room. It worked perfectly for my application, but for thicker pieces, consider a shadowbox frame like this.
My frame came with a standard 8×10 ivory mat, so I chose to add a backer board in a camel color. Between the brass frame and cream-colored fabric, I wanted the entire piece to feel warm and subtle, slightly tone-on-tone. (You know I’m loving that right now!) I cut the backer board down to size using a straight edge and sharp utility knife.
Tip: When cutting any thick board with a utility knife or X-acto, it’s best (and much safer) to make several light passes with the blade. Think of the first two passes as ‘scoring’ the board, and the third or fourth pass should cut all the way through.
3| Make That Fabric Stand Out
To give the illusion of floating, I used these small adhesive foam squares. I stacked them 3 high for added hight, and I placed them evenly around the doily where the fabric had a more opaque weave. After placing the doily in the center of my trimmed backer board, I gently pressed down on each of the foam stacks for better adhesion.
4| Frame + Enjoy!
Once framed, the raised doily casts a soft shadow, adding depth that traditional framing wouldn’t achieve. It makes me smiley and nostalgic, and Lucy has pointed to the frame every day since while saying, Great Grandma made it.
Most of the framed artwork in Lucy’s room was once on the wall to the left of the door, but after the addition of the framed doily, I decided to move it all over to her bookshelf wall! The frames trickle down the side of the shelf, each with a special meaning and memory tied to it.
Okay, I know you must have a scrap of sentimental fabric tucked into the recesses of your memory box. Will you frame it?
PS: Lucy’s nursery reveal, her rocking chair before + after, and a mini terrarium DIY.
I LOVE this – it’s so sweet and so sentimental and just… perfect! I have some hand knitted items from my husband’s grandparents and this is such a wonderful idea! I’ll definitely be using this tutorial in the future – thank you so much for sharing!
Can’t wait to see what you do!
Is Stiffy acid-free? And can it be removed/washed out if I change my mind? Love how your doily came out!
Hi, Lynn – I had to look that one up, but yes, it IS acid-free! I wouldn’t count on being able to wash it out. Only use it if you’re looking for a more permanent solution. But as I mentioned, depending on how much you use will give you different results and strength!
What a fantastic idea! I had custom embroidered handkerchiefs made for our wedding and this would be such a lovely thing to do! Thanks for the inspired ideas, as always.
Ooh I love that!
This is fabulous. I love that you have brought a heritage piece that could be considered fusty into something that is honored and treasured by displaying it.
Thanks for the tutorial with the great tips!
This is inspiring me to get out some of my Grandmother’s doilies! Also, you can use starch for stiffening if it is a piece you do not want to permanently stiffen!
Right, that’s a great tip, too! I considered that, but I wanted this one to be super tough for the long haul.
I love the doily against that golden rust color! It totally bridges the nostalgia with the contemporary. My grandma also has doilies EVERYWHERE! So sweet.
Eeeeep! This is so perfect! I have some lace from a trip to Malta that I’ve wanted to frame for over a years but didn’t know how! I’m doing this ASAP!
Over a period of time will Stiffy yellow the doily? I am concerned that the adhesive from the foam blocks will penetrate the doily and appear as a stain over time. So how does one conserve a cherished doily?
Nothing has yellowed in the few years since we completed the project!