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What Is Decoupage - A Simple Guide

Updated on May 20, 2013

In this article we are going to be taking a look at the art of decoupage. We will explain to you just what decoupage is and where it originated from. Then we will tell you what kind of things you can use decoupage on and a basic idea of how this is done. By the end of this article you should have a well rounded out understanding of what exactly decoupage is and what it can be used for.

In recent years the trend of upcycling has been all the rage. Upcycling basically means to turn something old and pretty much useless, into something new and useful once again. In a world where everyone is trying to safe money, this is great way to turn cheap junk into handy items that can once again have a use. There are literally hundreds of things you can upcycle and hundreds of ways to go about doing this, but one that has recently come back into fashion is decoupage. So what exactly is this and where did it first come from?

Our Rocking Chair

What Exactly Is Decoupage?

So the art of decoupage is basically covering an object with small pieces of paper. This can be anything from a large table to a small box. It is thought that decoupage first became popular back in 18th century England. Back then it was known as Japanning and this name was given to it as it was a practice first done in the Far East. Back as early as the 12th century there are examples of items from China and that area that have been decorated in such a manner. Travellers brought back the idea gradually and by the 18th century it was seen by many as a very modern fashionable practice. There are lots of examples of decoupage seen from this era and some of the better examples can be quite valuable now.

Over the past few hundred years decoupage has often been a popular practice. Now in the 21st century it seems to be all the rage again as people are trying to bring old furniture and other things back to life. When it comes to what you can decoupage there really is no limit. We have had a go here as you can see from the rocking chair, but we have also done a coffee table, a mirror and an old stool. If you have the time and patience you can do cupboards, wardrobes, dinner tables or you can opt for smaller items such as jewellery boxes. This practice can also be used on things such a crockery and even tools. There really are lots of different things you can upcycle if you think about it.

Although more often that not paper is used to decorate objects, sometimes people try and use fabric or felt. This has a very different look to it but it most cases is still considered a form of decoupage. So now you know a little but about the origins of decoupage and what it is, how exactly do you do it?

Our Coffee Table

How To Decoupage

On this page we are not going to give you an in depth guide on how to go about decoupaging furniture or other objects. But we can give you a basic idea of how it's done. When you have selected the paper you wish to use you simply rip it into small strips and then glue it onto the surface of the object you are decorating. Often a decoupeur will add several layers of paper to get a really good effect on the surface of whatever it is they are using. Once the glue has dried and the object is covered, several layers of varnish are then added. Sometimes people use around five layers sometimes it can be closer to twenty. It depends on the quality of the finish that you want and how much time you have spare. One the varnish is dried it holds the paper in place and gives it a solid seal. Sometimes if you add multiple layers of paper and then varnish it is actually possible to sand it down and this gives it a different texture.

When it comes to what kind of paper to use for decoupage the only limit is your imagination. Look at decoupage pictures online and you will see hundreds of different ideas for what to use. Some people use old newspapers, wallpapers, some use comic books, some use advertising cut out and others even use stamps. When we have had a go at decoupage in the past we actually use specially printed tissue paper which you can buy online. This sticks on easily and gives a nice finish to the things we have been decorating. The best way to approach this really is to try a few different things, you can always start over if you are not happy with the results that you get. That is one of the beauties of this, trail and error does actually work.

Simple & Fun

Is It For You?

So who can get involved with this clever little craft? Well it's surprisingly easy to achieve high quality results. All you need is a little practice and some patience. It is important to remember this is quite a time consuming art and if you want good quality results you need to put some serious hours into your work. As an example the rocking chair that you see pictured here took around an hour a day for two weeks. Due to the fact that you often have to wait for glue or varnish to dry, this is not a project you can do all in one go, it takes a little bit of waiting around at some points in the process. If you are willing to do that however there is no reason why you can't have a go.

Most people have items lying around the house that they can upcycle and bring new life into. If you don't you can usually pick up cheap items from second hand stores or online auctions. Some people use this as a business idea, buy cheap furniture and then do it up and sell it on for a profit. The only issue with this is of course the time factor and how much you can actually sell items for. Again this is something that would require a little more research.

When it comes to the tools you need all that really is required are a few small paint brushes, some PVA glue, varnish and of course the paper you are going to use. These things do not cost much money and so you can get started for a minimal outlay of cash. If you are struggling for ideas there are lots of very nice examples of what people have upcycled if you do a quick search online, this may inspire you to create your very own masterpiece.

Decoupage is a practice that has been around for centuries now. It is a clever and fun way to bring new life to old furniture or other items. It's easy to learn how to do this and great fun when you are involved in something this creative. If you have never had a go at decoupage then it is something you really should give a try.


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    • jocent profile image


      5 years ago

      The word "decoupage" is new to me, but the procedure is the same as Paper Mache which was taught to us during our primary school days. Thanks for sharing, it reminded me of the project I made....a paper mache vase.

    • livingsta profile image


      5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Wow, this is interesting information for me. I have not heard of this before. Thank you for sharing this with us. Voted up, interesting and sharing!

    • Angelo52 profile image


      5 years ago from Central Florida

      Great idea. I have an old table lying around that could use some uplifting. The explanation of what decoupage is and where it originated was educating. Thumbs up and shared.

    • ComfortB profile image

      Comfort Babatola 

      5 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

      Decoupage? Never heard of it before, but I'm sure glad I read your hub.

      Voted up and useful.


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