Mom’s Birthday Box

The 24th was my mother’s birthday.
I won’t tell you how old she is now because that would make her grumpy with me and I don’t want that, but I will tell you that she hasn’t gotten any less lovely!

This year I gave her a custom hand-decorated box, and today, I’m sharing the process with you.

I’ve written about this particular box a couple of times both here and elsewhere, but I’ll save you the trouble of hunting those details down and give you a quick history-in-brief. I bought it several years ago with no real idea of what I was going to do with it. That never really changed, so it sat in the craft closet, just waiting.

Box lid before I started working on it again.

A couple of years ago I took it out and did a bit of work on it before setting it aside again.

Part of the reason it got I stopped working on it was that my father passed away and I went up to Washington to handle his affairs.

Then I spent a couple of months fighting off one bug or another, new projects came up, another round of birthdays and holidays, a new school-year for Kate… life basically.

Then one day, as I was thinking about what I could give my mother for her birthday, I remembered the poor, sad, unifinished box waiting in the craft closet to be given a happy new life!

I could finish it, give it the perfect new home & it would make a lovely gift.

It took a while to figure out what I was going to do with it. I liked the basic design, but it needed some oomph. For a while I thought about putting the kid’s names or a little quote around the outside of the circle, but calligraphy with a cheap burning tool? Ummm… NO!

Besides, my calligraphy is pretty rusty!

Then it hit me… color!

I darkened the swirls of the sun with some black ink and a bit of honey colored glaze, added some copper and turquoise to the details, put on a layer of light maple finish to darken the inner part of the lid and finally added gold leaf to the knotwork border.

At this point, as you can see, the outline is a bit messed up.  No big deal, happens all the time.

Once that was done I was stuck again.  I knew it still needed something, I just couldn’t figure out what and nobody else had a clue.

Box lid detail with color added.

I waited a few more days for lightning to strike.  It didn’t, so I improvised.  With more black.

Okay, I didn’t actually improvise.  It was more like a leap of faith with a paintbrush loaded with black ink.

It was a huge leap. A really, really huge leap! I was terrified. I felt ill.

Once you add black on wood, there is no turning back.  You can’t ever really fix it.  You are committed!

Sure, you might be able to cover it, but the wood is never going to show through again and it’s always going to look a bit off.

Box top once I was finished.
Finished box front detail.

Thankfully the black worked.

It just sort of tied everything together.  Now the knotwork and the central area of the lid looks sort of like an inlay on an ebony box.  It just feels right… somehow more complete than it was before.

The final touch was adding my mom’s name to the front in gold leaf.

I did this with a tiny brush and a bottle of liquid leaf.  I’ve already mentioned my calligraphy issues, so you really shouldn’t be surprised to hear that this part took forever!

Actually, it only took about two  and a half hours. I was so nervous about the lettering that I had to stop and rest every few minutes to keep my hand from shaking.

I think my greatest worry when making something is the lettering because it’s always the hardest thing to fix when you mess it up… that’s probably why I usually avoid it at all costs.

Can you imagine how long it would have taken me to finish if I had tried to put all three of the kid’s full names around that circle?  I’d probably still be working on it!  The lettering would have needed to be pretty small and I would be scared to death of even the tiniest of tremors.  I’m so glad I didn’t go that route!

I know, I know, I go on and on about pushing your limits and going beyond your comfort zone and then I confess to actually being happy that I stayed within the confines of mine.  But you’ve gotta give me this one… tiny little fancy lettering with a tiny little brush (it only has about 14 hairs)… it could have been a huge disaster!