Friday, August 8, 2008

August 8 - Friday From The Collectors


Destination: Austin Family

As you may have read in my biography or in many of my posts over at Destination: Austin Family, I am a techno-geek, tried and true. I’ve been in the Information Technology field for over 25 years and while I find what I do very satisfying, it doesn’t fulfill a base need that probably exists within most of us: the need to “make” something.

Think about it – in the modern workplace, many of us spend our 40 hour+ work weeks in an office or a cubicle and what tangible items do we have to show for it? Our parents, grand-parents and all of our ancestors were more likely to be involved in work that actually “made” stuff: car assembly line workers, factory workers, farmers, etc. Perhaps this is why so many of us often use the question “What do you do?” when meeting someone for the first time. We do, we no longer make – the doing defines us, not the end product.

Several years ago, as a means of satisfying this “emptiness” of a sorts, I embarked on several projects involved with “making stuff.”

Do As I Say, Not As I Did

Before I get into details as to the “stuff” that I’ve made or am working on, I need to make a confession. Face it – we all love confessions, as long as we overhear them but are not making them. But I feel comfortable with this confession because in admitting what happened, I have a better understanding of what not to do when it comes to working with old photographs.

So, what was this horrendous, crime against archival nature that Thomas committed? Well, it involved a set of holiday ornaments that I created using CDVs and cabinet photos purchased on ebay. And I used the actual photos instead of scanning them and using the digital images.

Please, please, do not repeat my mistake. It doesn’t matter that the photos were purchased in a thrift store or at a flea market or online. It doesn’t matter that the subjects are not your family – they are someone’s family. So here is what you should do in all the projects listed in this post:

• Scan the images using the scanning “best practices” such as 300 dpi or greater resolution, saving images to TIFF format, etc. Also remember to scan the back of photos especially if there is a photographer’s mark.

• Consider posting unidentified images over at Dead Fred where others may be able to identify them and connect them with family members.

• There are many ways you can get that “antiqued” look with an image off your printer or from a photo processor as described below.

“Antiquing” Your Images

With the advent of photo software such as Adobe Photoshop Elements, the availability of all types of paper, and some good old-fashioned ingenuity from your grandmother’s days, you can recreate the same look with prints that you get with 100-year old cabinet photos or CDVs.

• Experiment with different types of photo paper – you’d be amazed at what is available, most of it online. Photographic paper comes in a variety of sizes and finishes, even self-adhesive which is perfect for crafting. See the Resources section at the end for specific vendors.

• The heavy backing for CDVs and cabinet photos can easily be recreated with card stock.

• You can scan the back of the photo, which often contains very elaborate scrollwork listing the photographer’s studio name and address. Print this in a brown or sepia ink and paste it on the back of your printed photo with card stock in between.

• Use your photo imaging software to produce sepia or other mono-chromatic tones for printing.

• Once printed, take a used tea bag and “stain” the surface of the printed photo to give it an aged look. Realize that this will take some experimentation since different paper finishes will react differently and may smear the ink.

• Consider adding some “hand tinting” of features such as lips, eyes, hats, etc. with watercolors.

Holiday Ornaments

This is the project that really got me started on using old photos to create items. I have a separate blog devoted to what people call a sickness because I begin thinking about Christmas in June. The blog is called A Catskill Christmas. What else would you expect from someone like me who was born on December 25th?

Materials Needed:

• Old photos - preferably CDV, Carte de Vista, or Cabinet format
• Glue gun with hot/cold settings
• Multipurpose glue sticks (hot and cold)
• Preserved Cedar or Sheet Moss
• Dried Mini Rosebuds
• Card stock
• Ribbon
• Hole punch


1. Prepare a clean work surface and use a fabric drop cloth, old tablecloth or old bed sheet. Plug in the glue gun so it is warmed up and ready.

2. Select your photo prints. Go for groupings of infants, children, animals (which are very rare in CDVs), women with fancy hats, etc.

3. Glue card stock to the back of the photos using the glue gun. Select a color that compliments the color of your other ornaments. The card stock will be seen if the ornament happens to spin around.

4. Punch a hole at the top of the photo or the card stock to allow for an ornament hook or ribbon for hanging.

5. Select pieces of preserved cedar or sheet moss and arrange around edges of photo but do not glue.

6. When you are happy with the layout, begin gluing cedar to the photo using the glue gun.

7. Next, place mini-rosebuds in locations around the photo. I often choose the four corners or two corners (diagonally or horizontally across from each other).

8. When you are happy with the layout, begin gluing the rosebuds to the photo using the glue gun.

9. Remove any glue "ghosts" or "whispers" once glue has dried.

Other Ideas:

• Don't be afraid to experiment and use other items such as glitter, rhinestones, cedar roses, other types of dried flowers, etc.

• Try to keep the color of the embellishments the same as the colors of your other ornaments.

• Place flowers in the hair or on the hats of women.

• Try using bits of lace or ribbon for girls' dresses.

• Use a ribbon punch around the perimeter of the photo and lace satin ribbon through the holes.

• You may use white glue (Elmer's) or spray adhesive if you don't want to use a glue gun. You may have to wait longer for drying times.

Refrigerator Magnet Family Tree

This idea came to me when I saw one of my younger cousins, who is about 3 years of age, playing with the refrigerator magnets at home. Her mom would place them down low enough on the side of the refrigerator so they could easily be reached and rearranged by small little hands.

I thought it would be neat to create magnets using ancestor photos but also to “teach” the younger generation about genealogy and family history.

Detailed instructions are not really needed – just create your photo prints in smaller sizes and paste on to magnets. You can purchase adhesive business card size magnets which are perfect.
Embellish the magnets with names and dates, perhaps even some of the dried roses or cedar from the ornament project above. Some examples can be seen here.

Journal Book Covers

If I have a gift recipient in mind who is more the contemplative type or perhaps likes to make lists of ideas for future projects or even keeps a genealogy journal, I create a neat cover for a store-bought journal using old photos.

While this project seems simple in pasting the right sized photo on a journal book, remember to get creative with your embellishments. Develop a theme, use colors, old buttons, ribbons, etc.


This is a great idea for your next family reunion or for grandparents with photos of the kids! While you can easily have these made for as little as $10 each at places like Walgreens a craft project version is a bit more fun especially if the kids are involved.

The basic placemat involves a thin sheet of craft foam laminated on both sides using clear contact paper. Using a glue gun, attach your photos to the foam in a collage arrangement and add any embellishments like dried leaves, pressed flowers, etc. Then apply the contact paper and trim if necessary.

Memory Quilt

A memory quilt is an easy project if you have a sewing machine – if you don’t look at some of these vendors on Etsy who will use your digital photos to create a quilt. I think this is a great gift idea for an aunt or grandmother to use while watching television and a little bit more warmth is needed. Can you imagine your loved one wrapping themselves with pictures of all their grandchildren or their ancestors?

To make your own you will need to purchase a fabric that can be printed on using your ink jet printer – see the Resources list below. Print the photos and then incorporate them into your favorite quilt pattern.


While it is tempting to laminate photos to large pieces of wood and then handle a jigsaw, this isn’t my idea of a fun craft project. What is much easier is using a website to create a jigsaw puzzle.

You can use or even a site like Snapfish to send in your photo and receive a gift for the puzzle solver in your family.


The list below does not in any way constitute an endorsement of a specific vendor or product but allows you to begin exploring all the supply options available to you.


Ebay - If you don't have old photos for scanning, they can be purchased in large lots, sometimes even grouped thematically by women, children, etc., on Ebay. I usually search under Collectibles, Photographic Images, Antique (Pre-1940), Cabinet Photos using the word "lot." I think that antique photos of children go well on a holiday tree.

Botanicals and Dried Flowers

San Francisco Herb Company – All jokes aside, this is the best place online to get dried flowers and even spices for cooking in bulk amounts at very reasonable prices. When I lived in San Francisco I would make monthly visits here on the way to the Flower Mart.

Paper – they have an outstanding selection of photo printing papers including Hahnemühle Torchon which makes photographs look like paintings, and papers of various finishes and sizes.

Innova Digital Art – another outstanding selection of photo printing papers.

Magnets – this place has incredible ideas for magnets and even has inkjet magnet paper for your printer!

Photo Fabric

Erica’ – there are many different types of photo fabrics to choose from.

Article & Photographs
Copyright © 2008
Thomas MacEntee
Destination: Austin Family


Blogger Kathryn Doyle said...


I'm exhausted just reading this! Great ideas. Okay, so the 2010 Winter GB Games challenge will be crafting?

August 8, 2008 at 8:36 AM  
Blogger Family Curator said...

This posting needs to be forwarded to Martha's Hotline (you know which "Martha" I mean). I saw your decorated tree on the blog and it was spectacular.

August 8, 2008 at 8:56 AM  
Blogger Kathryn Lake Hogan said...

These are great ideas! Thanks for listing the resources and vendors as well.

August 8, 2008 at 10:23 AM  
Blogger Miriam Robbins said...

It's 90-something degrees here in Spokane and I'm already thinking of Christmas! Thanks for the wonderful ideas!

August 8, 2008 at 6:55 PM  
Blogger Sheri Fenley said...

One more thing to add to your talent portfolio! I want to be like you when I grow up!
Sheri Fenley

August 8, 2008 at 11:21 PM  
Blogger Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

I especially like the idea of magnets, an easy project to do with kids. Photo fabric is something I have to check out! I may have to dust off the sewing machine.

August 14, 2008 at 5:59 PM  

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