A Drink from the Well: Crash course in DIY framing

This tutorial brought to you by Theresa B of Egret Effects.

Nothing makes your house feel more like a home than seeing your favorite photos and artwork on your walls. I'll admit there was a time I used that sticky blue gum to hang things (namely, magazine cutouts circa my high school days), but a couple years as a custom framer has taught me that preserving and displaying your art can be, well, an art.

The thought of custom framing summons visions of dollar signs for many of us, and there's a good reason for that. Anything custom-made has a price tag that reflects the fact that it can't be used for anything but the one special thing for which it was made. A custom frame is well-built, the materials are suited for preserving whatever's going in it, and there's a surprising amount of ingenuity a framer must possess to design and fit together a finished piece.

That said, you're not going to have everything in your home custom framed unless you are, perhaps, Oprah Winfrey. Using my prized inaugural season home-opener Twins ticket, here are some pointers for framing at home.

The Frame
Buy a frame that's roughly proportional to your art. My ticket is about the size of a dollar bill. This frame is nicely wrapped so I'm pretty sure it's in good shape, and I can tell that the "writing" on the glass is just a decal.

When I get home, I open the frame and inspect it. Any work on the frame should be done while it's totally disassembled to prevent potential damage to the artwork. Attach the hanging hardware if necessary. Nicks in the frame can often be touched up with a marker - but test the color on the back of the frame first! Marks on the mat can often just be erased.

The Mounting
This is usually where some finagling has to take place. My *simple* project has three little problems: the backing is destroyed from pulling the mat off of it, the mat opening is not the right size, and the ticket is not flat.

Problem one is an easy fix. I cut a piece of black scrapbooking paper to the size of the frame for a new, preservation-friendly backing.

Problem two is more complicated. Skipping the mat altogether would be simple, but then a new problem would arise - the ticket would press against the glass. Any amount of moisture in there will wick right to the ticket and ruin it. So I can either have a mat custom cut (which might be $10-$20 for something small like this), or I can cut it myself.

Never try to cut a mat unless you have a mat cutter. Using a utility knife or an Exacto will not be pretty. Mat cutters are at least $50, but if you plan on doing this more than two or three times it's a good investment. They all work a little differently, so follow the directions closely and do some practice mats. Mat blanks (pieces that have no opening) can be purchased at most craft stores for a few dollars. In this case, I'm just going to cut the existing mat. And here is the most important fact about framing: You know how they say to measure twice and cut once? Well, they do. And they mean it.

I want 3/8 of an inch of the black backing to show on each side of the ticket, so I add that to the ticket length and width to figure the mat opening. If I didn't want any of the backing to show, I would have to get a new mat blank and make the opening small enough to cover 1/8 inch of the art on each side to account for uneven edges or unsquare mat cuts.

Problem three can be solved simply by cutting strips of scrap matting 1/4 inch narrower than the mat and sticking them to the underside, lined up with the outside edge. This is called a raised mat, and it will prevent wavy or otherwise irregular artwork from touching the glass.

Now I can stick the raised mat to the backing, hold the ticket in position, and mount it to the backing with photo corners. Photo corners are essentially little pockets with sticky undersides. The ticket's four corners fit into the pockets, and the adhesive needs only to stick to the backing. The less adhesive on your artwork, the better the preservation. If the mat were overlapping the ticket, I would "hang" the ticket on two pieces of acid-free tape - one at each of the top corners.

Preservation-wise, the only thing missing from my project is UV-protective glass. You can have glass cut to the appropriate size with the cost depending on the grade of protection.

The Specs
As a framer, I've seen designs like this sell for anywhere between $50 and $300. That is money well-spent for a piece of art you want to take care of in the best possible ways. I sacrificed the wide selection of frame styles and mat colors, a few preservation techniques, and a little of my time - but I dropped less than $5 on this project. Of course, that doesn't account for the price of the ticket.