A Place for Chives

Practical placemats are easy projects.


| February/March 1995



Here’s a little mid-winter project that will have you thinking of spring every time you sit down at the kitchen table. Pick a favorite herb, one with a pretty shape and colorful flowers, and design a pattern around it. Transfer that design onto canvas, paint it, then give the canvas a durable finish. What you’ve got is a placemat that proclaims your affinity for herbs. Make a set, then set the table.

I chose chives for my placemats because their playful pink pompon blossoms are among the cheeriest sights of the spring garden, and their readily recognizable shape is simple to reproduce. You can make your own design or use mine, which is shown in outline form on page 46. This project is meant to be easy; you don’t have to be an artist to achieve a pleasing result, and the technique is adaptable to any skill level. It uses materials that a person who does a lot of crafts is likely to have around the house or which are readily available. I find these mats to be useful and practical, and they wipe down quickly at cleanup time.

I wanted my placemats to have an antiqued country look, so I painted the background in translucent layers of color in tawny hues that I mixed myself, using an old plate as a palette. The chive pattern flows around the wide cream-colored border, and the darker rectangle in the center features a single stem and flower. The directions that follow describe the procedure I used to make a set of four placemats.

Materials

  • Scissors
  • Medium-weight cotton canvas (available in fabric and craft stores), enough for four pieces that measure 18 by 15 inches (with a 60-inch canvas width, that would be 1/2 yard)
  • 4 wood stretchers with inside dimensions of 16 by 13 inches (available in hobby stores)
  • Stapler
  • Pencil
  • Plastic dropcloth
  • White gesso
  • Large paintbrush
  • Palette or old plate
  • Small bottles of acrylic craft paint in the following colors: cream, antique gold, dark brown, red, white, blue, green
  • Small household sponge, cut in half
  • Masking tape
  • Carbon paper
  • #00 paintbrush
  • Small can of polyurethane
  • Fabric glue
  • Felt

Cut the cotton canvas into four 18- by 15-inch pieces, which allows a 1-inch margin on each side. Attach the canvas to the stretcher by positioning it, stapling along one edge, pulling the opposite edge taut, and stapling it in place, then doing the same for the other two sides. The stretcher makes it easier to paint on the canvas by holding it smooth and firm. Although they’re inexpensive to buy, stretchers can also be made easily from scrap lumber. After the canvas is firmly attached, lightly mark the edges of the finished mat with a pencil to a size of 16 by 13 inches.

Use the plastic dropcloth to protect the surface you’re working on. With a large brush, apply a coat of gesso to the canvas within the pencil marks, and let it dry. This will stiffen the top surface. I used a hair-dryer to lessen the drying time between coats of gesso and paint. On the palette or plate, put about a 2-inch dollop of dark brown acrylic craft paint. Fill the sponge with water, then squeeze it a bit so that it’s not drippy. Dab the sponge onto the paint, squeezing and dabbing again so that the water in the sponge dilutes the paint, which is drawn into the sponge. Then apply the brown paint to the gessoed canvas, staying within the lines and adding more water or paint as necessary. Rinse the sponge and the palette. To the side of the palette, put a dab of antique gold paint about the size of a quarter and about twice as much of the cream paint next to it. Using a corner of the wet sponge, pull out a bit of both colors and mix them on the plate until they are a shade you like, then sponge that onto the canvas atop the brown. Mix the colors as you use them and spread a thin layer across the entire canvas, adding more water to the sponge if necessary. You want the brown to show through the lighter layer here and there; this gives the effect of depth and translucency. Rinse the sponge again.

Now using only the cream color, dab the entire surface of the wet sponge with paint, position it at the edge of the canvas as shown, and pull the sponge along the edge to create the border. The length of the sponge (a little more than 3 inches) will be the guide to make the lines straight. Sponge on more paint as needed and continue to paint the cream. Don’t worry too much about making it exact; just judge it with your eye. Put two or more coats of the cream paint in the border section of the mat. Let it dry thoroughly.





elderberry, echinacea, bee hive

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