DIY: French Washing Frames Part 1
This week I am antiquing three frames for a gorgeous wedding at the famous villa cimbrone in Ravello, Italy. This historic villa needs frames that match it’s history and beauty. Real antiques could potentially get caught up in customs, so I am transforming three new frames into lovely antiques. Gold leaf (or gilding) creates the most authentic and richest gold. I am still an relatively new at gilding and this post walks through my attempts to match this stunningly romantic candle-lit venue.
It’s worth noting that this project is truly a labor of love! This is not a “do-it-yourself-er” that saves time or money. It’s not “cheap” or “quick and easy.” But I would do everything again because the finished frames are so special.
What really “makes” the frames is the finishing process. Gold leaf is beautiful, but by itself it’s too shiny and overpowers the sign. I’m so glad I found this technique that includes: shellac, french wash, and blush dust. It was my first time trying these and I was quite intimated. But I’m glad I tried! Blush on gold looks like fairy dust out of “a midsummer night’s dream.”
Note: There are so many amazing antiquing products. I happened to use these for this project but I am always trying new ones 🙂
- Workspace Things: Clean Rags, Newspaper, Disposable Cups, Paper Towels, Assorted Industrial Q-tips
- Base Color: Krylon Brick Red Satin Spray Paint
- Shellac Materials Wellermart Dewaxed Garnet Shellac Flakes 4 oz bags (or Orange or Platina), Denatured Alcohol, Fast Cap Glue Bottle (4 oz), Brushes
- Gilding Materials: Imitation Gold Leaf: 600 Sheets of 3.25″ Squares and goat hair gilding brush
- French Wash Materials: Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda (not to be confused with baking soda), Water, Steel Brush, Rags
- Waxing Materials: Brush, Custom Dust (see instructions below), White Acrylic Paint, Clear Wax, Mineral Spirits
- Custom Dust Materials: Commerical Whiting, Red Cement Color, Yellow Cement Color
Note: This project uses imitation leaf. Real gold leaf crumbles easily and can be hard to handle. I’ve always been happy with both types so I went with the easiest option. The following results use imitation leaf and will probably vary quite a bit with real leaf.
The base color or “bole” shines through cracks in the gold leaf to mimic years gone by. You can use any base color, but I went with brick red for it’s warmth. A clay bole is ideal, but I decided to simplify with spray paint. I’d eventually like to try something like this technique that strategically varies the bole color in the highlight zones.
I chose shellac as my adhesive (or “size”) and splatter sealer. I used to use acrylic spray adhesive. It’s easy but has downsides: 1.) a long drying time (24 hours), 2.) you can’t spray inside and when it’s too hot or cold, 3.) it dulls the base color, and 4.) you can only seal it with a clear acrylic sealer, which dulls the shine of the gold.
I started researching and it seemed that most experienced gilders used homemade shellac. It sounded like a huge upgrade! It’s 1.) non-toxic (made from lac beetle secretion – it’s technically edible), 2.) has a quick drying time (1 hour), 3.) used indoors (not the spray kind) 4.) comes in many pretty colors and 5.) nicely ages the gold leaf.
Mixing the size was relatively easy. I used this recipe: 100 ml denatured alcohol to 25 grams Garnet shellac flakes in a sealable bottle and let sit overnight. Only the first batch was a little tricky – I needed a kitchen scale. After that, I always used this 4 oz bottle, filled the shellac to the 4th dash line & the rest with alcohol.
I was surprised at how easily the shellac paints on. It was just like painting on a thin coat of paint. After waiting a few minutes for it to become tacky, you apply the leaf and after an hour it’s dry! It helped that I had a good brush. I splurged on an escoda brush. With cheap gilding brushes, like these, the bristles come off too easily and get stuck in the glue. Tip! don’t use a foam brush. Apparently, foam dissolves in shellac and you end up foam bits everywhere.
I wont go into much detail on applying gold leaf because there are some many excellent resources on it already. You will want to learn from the experts! I found these resources helpful: the gold vault, amy howard’s tutorial, and these impressive masters.
I learned about french washing through amazing frame maker Marty Horowitz. Horwitz uses this technique from Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda and water. You are essentially making a caustic acid wash and Horowitz cautions to be very careful. once the wash dries into a solid form you can sculpt the wash to the most beautiful effect.
The recipe combines 2 ounces of water (1/4 cup) to 2 tablespoons of washing soda. Mix thoroughly and apply with a brush. it goes on easy but make sure you really get it into the fine grooves. At first it’s a little scary because it looks like you applied dirty water all over the frame. But soon it becomes a translucent pink and hours later it’s dry and ready to refine!
Refining is fairly easy with the right tools; I had the best luck with soft rags, industrial q-tips, and occasionally steel brushes for stubborn parts. A little water was helpful for stubborn areas.
This post is broken into two parts. For the second part of the post click here.