A tisket, a tasket, a pretty patterned basket Decoupage: Sisters Bernadette Gross and Janice Stanfield use a 17th-century technique to turn woven containers from plain to fancy.

October 18, 1998|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,SUN STAFF

Bernadette Gross and Janice Stanfield create works of art out of some pretty ordinary stuff: unvarnished baskets from discount stores and napkins from party-supply shops.

The intricate patterns and subtle colors of their decorative baskets are so much a part of the weave they look as if they've been painted on. Instead the two sisters create them with a 17th-century decorating technique called decoupage.

Traditionally the process involves cutting out pictures and fixing them to a flat surface with decoupage glue or other sealer. What makes these decoupage baskets so fascinating is that their surfaces aren't flat; the cutouts are worked into the weave.

"They were unique to me," says George Bauman of WJZ-TV, explaining why he featured the sisters' baskets on his "Maryland by George" spot last spring.

The two women take different napkins with, for instance, floral designs and geometric patterns in compatible colors, cut a border from this one and large roses from that one, saturate the paper in decoupage solution and painstakingly work it into the weave of the basket. Every inch of basket inside and out is covered. When the paper dries, they apply coats of varnish.

"It takes a lot of practice," says Janice.

"You have to have an eye for it," adds her sister. "People ask us to tell them how to do it, but it's hard without demonstrating." (They have given a workshop at a senior center and are hoping to teach a class at a local crafts store soon.)

The finished baskets can be given as gifts or used to hold such things as potpourri, fruit, or finger towels for a powder room.

"Whatever you have sitting on a counter," Bernadette tells her customers, "You can stick in one of our baskets and it'll look prettier."

Both sisters have families and full-time jobs. Bernadette is a management analyst for Social Security and Janice works for Procter & Gamble. They took up their craft five years ago as a way to relieve stress. Bernadette had a large basket collection, so they decided to decoupage the baskets instead of more traditional boxes and trays.

As their business has grown, the two admit they have become more and more obsessed, decorating baskets until 2 or 3 in the morning and all day Saturday. They sell at the Sunday farmers market downtown and at craft shows and festivals.

"And we both have carpal tunnel syndrome," says Bernadette with a rueful laugh.

Her basement has become a neat workshop with shelves and shelves of unvarnished baskets in all sizes, down to miniature ones that hang from nails. They buy them at places as varied as Wal-Mart and IKEA.

Samples of their napkins are filed in books, the way an interior designer might file fabric swatches. (The sisters fill special orders.) When they find a new pattern at a card shop, they say, it's a cause for joy.

Although their business does have a name - Beyond Baskets - the sisters say they aren't in it for the money. They charge as little as $4 for one of their creations.

"If we have a slow day and only make $100," says Bernadette with a chuckle, "I say to Janice, 'Let's go to the napkin store,' and we spend all our earnings on more supplies."

Making Your Own Decoupage Basket

While Bernadette Gross and Janice Stanfield's baskets take a lot of skill, beginning decoupagers can create a simpler version using fabric. This way doesn't involve covering the whole surface. Here's how:

Materials:

* A small woven basket

* Upholstery fabric with motifs

* White glue

* Two flat paintbrushes

* Polyurethane satin varnish

Choose a large motif to fit on the basket's bottom and smaller ones that fit on the sides. Cut them out roughly and paint their backs with glue to prevent fraying. Set aside to dry.

Cut out the motifs completely and brush the backs with glue. Glue to the bottom and sides of the basket and let dry.

Apply six coats of varnish, allowing each to dry. The varnish will protect the surface and seal the motifs.

Adapted from Cheryl Owen's "Beautiful Boxes" (Clarkson N. Potter, 1996).

Pub Date: 10/18/98

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