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Decoupage is the art of decorating a surface with a pleasing arrangement of cut-out images. It was a popular craft in Victorian days, when ladies spent afternoons cutting out flowers, cherubs, and other favorite images of the era. Items like trays and jewelry boxes that were created at the turn of the century fetch high prices at antique stores today. It is, however, possible to reproduce decoupage easily at home.

Printed sheets of images for decoupage are often available at craft stores. Many of these faithfully reproduce the Victorian-style images of yesteryear. Other sources of images are wallpaper, wrapping paper, art books off the bargain table, and calendars. Try looking for pictures of fruit, flowers, animals and birds for starters.

Here are basic decoupage instructions:

- Cut out the images carefully, with small, sharp scissors. Many will be quite intricate and require patience and precision while cutting.
- Choose a base item for the project. Wooden boxes, metal trays, wastebaskets, etc. are all likely candidates. If you don’t plan on covering the item completely with overlapping cut-outs, paint the item an attractive background color.
- Lay the cut-outs out on the base item to get a good idea of how you will arrange them. Traditional decoupage consisted of overlapping images that completely covered the item. A modern adaptation could be to arrange the images around the edges of the project base as a decorative border. Or, apply one beautiful image, like a fancy bouquet, to the center of the item.
- There are a couple of ways to paste on the cut-outs. One of the easiest is to use a spray adhesive on the backs of the images. Alternatively, white craft glue can be thinned out with a small amount of water and applied to the back of the images with a brush.
- When the images have been pasted, allow the item to dry thoroughly for several hours.
- Now it’s time to seal the surfaces. Craft stores carry a water-based decoupage varnish that is easy to use and clean up – but any type of varnish can be used. Apply a thin coat to all pasted surfaces of the item with a brush. Let dry for the manufacturer’s recommended time.
- Between coats, sand the surface lightly with very fine sandpaper or steel wool. It may take 10 coats or more to thoroughly seal the item. A good clue that you are finished is when you can no longer feel the raised edges of the overlapped cut-outs.