My final quarantine project was one I’d been meaning to get done since we moved into the house over a year ago. When we moved in together we bought a matching set of IKEA lamps: two table lamps and a larger floor lamp with crumpled paper shades. They were literally the WORST shades as the things that held the shades up so they looked crumpled fell out and were lost so you just had this wrinkly, torn, dusty, discoloured piece of paper sitting here and we really started to hate them. But they were cheap and they worked so we moved them across the country and back.
BUT NO MORE.
My plan was to use the wire frame of the shades to create a new surface for a slightly more durable fabric shade. So I carefully measured the dimensions of the existing lamps.
Then I took enormous pleasure in ripping the paper off.
I soaked the wires in warm soapy water for a bit to get the excess glue and paper off.
Then I measured and cut the fabric Cait and I had bought from Joann like forever ago.
I don’t own any fabric markers so I use washable Crayolas instead. I measured an inch of overlap from the edges to wrap around the frames.
Then I used pins to fix everything into place.
One side done.
Both sides done.
I left the side seams open for now just because it was easier to manipulate them with it open.
The best way to get this permanently affixed was to set it up so it hung properly, and the best way to do THAT was to put it back on the lamp.
Now I pinned the side seams.
Then I used Mod Podge for fabric and just glued all my flaps closed.
It didn’t take long. I made sure to take the pins out while the glue was still wet.
Once it was dry I sprayed the whole thing with Stiffen Stuff, which is sort of a spray starch for making things like bows and ornaments rigid. Another option would have been to wash the fabric with liquid starch and iron them flat before pinning. It might have had a more uniform look to the finished product but it would have been more difficult to manipulate.
Rule number one in food photography: ALWAYS USE NATURAL LIGHT.
You know what? Sometimes that’s just not possible.
You know dinner/supper? Generally that is served in the evening. And in the winter here, that means it’s dark out.
The solution to that is to use a light box, or light tent. Many photographers use these devices when featuring a single product. It’s a good way to get whatever it is to display without any distracting background messing up the shot.
It’s also a good way to diffuse the harshness of electric lighting and make your subject look a little bit more natural.
Professional light boxes or light tents, even the small ones, will run you at least a hundred bucks, easy. And that’s without the super-bright lighting system that goes with it. Add another minimum four hundred dollars to your total if you want to go that way.
Constructing my box cost me less than $15 and took me less than an hour. And a homemade box will give you pretty much the same results. You do the math.
Here’s what you need:
A large and sturdy cardboard box. These ones are slightly smaller than what I had originally planned, but I can always make another one when I get a bigger box.
Enough white cloth (muslin, linen, cotton, or fleece) to line the box. Tape or glue for attaching things (I like me my hockey tape, as you know, and it’s designed to attach to fabric). Double-sided tape is great if you don’t want your adhesive efforts to show. Scissors/Box Cutter/Rotary Cutter, for cutting things. White or coloured Bristol board, for your background. You can also skip the board and use your cloth, but bending the board will give you a nice edge-less angle.
At least two, but preferably more, goose-neck or adjustable neck work lamps. I already have two of these Tertial ones from IKEA, which cost $10 and come with a clamp base. I plan to acquire one more to go on top of the box. It’s important to note that these lamps support the brighter 100W (or 23W if you are using a CFL) bulbs without risk of fire.
As many bright light bulbs as you need for your lamps. I recommend using 100W bulbs (23W in compact fluorescent terms). I picked up these “daylight” bulbs, which produce a cooler, less yellow light than a regular incandescent, from Canadian Tire for $10. Halogens work well in this project, because they’re freaking bright, but they also use more energy, so that’s a judgment call for you to make on your own.
Just make sure that the wattage on your light bulb matches the maximum wattage on the lamps you are using. You can get cheap desk lamps from anywhere to use for the project but more often than not they will only support a 60W (13W CFL) bulb, and those in the know say that’s just not bright enough for their purposes. The lamp on the right is less bright.
The best part about this is you can totally half-ass the project, if you were so inclined. You don’t even need to measure the holes you cut in the box and if you’re in a hurry, you can leave the interior of the box unlined and simply drape the fabric over the top.
I plan to be a bit more meticulous, however. But only a little bit. It’s sort of half-assed half-assery.
Now of course there are a million different DIYs for making your own light box/tent. Most of them are by real photographers who actually know what they’re doing, but there are some by people like me. The dabblers of the earth. I’m going to add my own to the mix, because the world needs a bit more alidoesit flavour, don’t you think? My three favourite ones in terms of method and supplies are down below, if you want to check them out, but the concept is always the same. Box. White stuff. Light. Done.
So you take your box. Grenadier was extremely helpful in the construction of this light box, as the pictures show.
Cut off the top flaps and secure the bottom ones. The bottom is going to be the back of the box, and the sides the floor, walls, and ceiling.
Cut out large holes on each of the three sides.
Line the box with white fabric, covering the holes completely. Make sure that all you can see inside the box is white. White’s a nice reflector.
Prop a piece of bristol board inside the box so that one end is wedged into the top corner.
Bend the board to make a curve and use a bit of tape to stick the bottom in place so it doesn’t slide out. This will be your photographic surface. The curve of the board means that there are no corners or edges visible in the photographs.
Put your lamps with their bright bulbs up to all the holes in the box (as I said, I plan to have three lamps some time soon) and turn them on. Make sure the bulbs don’t touch the cloth. You wouldn’t want to start a fire. You might find it easiest to take pictures of items in your light box using a tripod, but it’s not entirely necessary to your happiness.
Tada, your very own light box!
Here’s some food in a shot taken, like I normally do, in my kitchen during the day. The light is natural outdoor light through my big kitchen window at the end of the afternoon in October. Lovely.
Now here is the same food in a shot taken at night, using the electric lights in my kitchen.
And again, in my brand new light box! I think we can all agree there’s a difference!
In February of this year, as I was procrastinating studying for my exams, I decided to try to dye my dining room curtains, just to see if I could. Before the wedding last summer, the Pie and I painted both the living room and the dining room a cream colour, and the white cotton curtains (from IKEA) I had in there made the room look too stark. We didn’t have the money to purchase new curtains, so something had to be done with what we had.
I thought, why not purple? A rich, deep, eggplant. Yes.
I’d always passed the boxes of Tintex fabric dye in the grocery store and wondered how the process worked. Now was my chance to find out. While I was picking out my purple, I also picked up some forest green (in case the Pie objected to purple) and I read the instructions on the back of the box. It suggested I remove all traces of the old colour or stains on the fabric with the Tintex colour remover, so I picked up two boxes of that, as well as two each of the purple and the green. The dye amount is by weight, and I figured each curtain panel would warrant its own box.
Now, if you know me, you’ll know that I have a tendency to spill, drop, tear, break, or otherwise destroy things. The idea of me in charge of a vat of purple dye was enough to give the Pie arrhythmia, but I promised to be careful. And, to my credit, I was, very careful. Nothing got dyed that shouldn’t have been. I wore long rubber gloves, tied my hair back, and wore my oldest clothing. And I didn’t spill a drop!
In order for fabric dye to set it requires that the water in which it is dissolved be as hot as possible, boiling if at all possible. There was no way I could put an entire curtain panel in even my largest pot, so I needed a new venue. Luckily I had an extra-large Rubbermaid bin, and I set this in the bathtub to avoid spills. I boiled up some water in my big lobster pot, and poured it into the tub. I followed that up with water from the faucet. Fortunately our water heater is brand new and about three feet from the bathroom, so the water that came out of the tap was near to boiling itself. I also turned up the heat in the bathroom (which normally hovers around sub-zero). This was the best I could do.
The instructions on the box also recommended that I dye each piece of fabric separately, but I didn’t trust myself to either time it properly or get a uniform water level between the two batches, and I needed these panels to come out the same colour, so I did them at the same time.
First, I boiled the water and dissolved the colour remover in the tub. I plopped in the curtain panels, which were white, but which did have a few stains and marks on them that could have stood to be removed. I sat on the edge of the tub for the time allotted, stirring my cauldron of smelly, steaming liquid and poking the fabric back below the surface with a long metal slotted spoon (from Lee Valley – I highly recommend them).
When my time was up I tipped out the liquid and rinsed the curtains as best as I could. It is really backbreaking work, and quite hard on the wrists to bend and squish (but not wring) a huge pile of wet fabric from your knees.
I repeated the boiling water process with the purple dye. The powder itself looked black, and billowed up in a multicoloured cloud as I poured it. I was wiping red, blue, green, and black dye particulates off the walls of the shower for a week afterward. Once the dye was dissolved it made an opaque, wine-like liquid that steamed and smelled quite evil. I dumped in my wet, rinsed curtains and poked at them for the requisite amount of time.
Already tired from my rinsing of the colour remover, and solidly bored from having to sit by myself in the bathroom for over an hour, I was not all that enthused about rinsing the newly dyed curtains. The Pie, bless him, helped quite a bit, running the removable showerhead over the fabric as I worked it with my gloved hands. Eventually, after about the ninth rinse, I gave up and put them on an extra rinse cycle in the washing machine.
I figured there wasn’t enough dye left in them to do any real damage to the machine (we had a residual bleach accident when we first moved in that made us reticent to put fabric altering substances in the washer), but there was enough still in the fabric that it might rub off on something else when it was dry. The nice thing about the rinse cycle is that it did a better job of wringing out the fabric than I ever could, so I didn’t have to worry about drips while it was drying.
I hung the fabric to dry, and the next day I hung them in place in the dining room.
They weren’t a perfect job, by any means. There are several patches of white remaining on the fabric. I think this is either the result of me not rinsing them enough after the colour removal stage, or the dye didn’t penetrate that far into the folds of the cloth while it was in the tub. Next time I might just time and measure it better and do each panel separately to ensure better coverage. But for a first attempt, I’m quite pleased with them. They turned out the colour I wanted them to and they really make the dining room much cozier.
Cleanup was nearly a breeze from this experiment. I was very careful to have no spillage, so anything and everything was fortunately contained within the tub. The tub, however, is very old, and a lot of dye worked its way into the tiny scratches on its bottom and sides while I was doing the rinsing. It took some scrubbing with vinegar, baking soda, and borax to get it out, but it was easier than I had expected.
Flushed with my success, I took the remaining dye (the forest green) to one of the lampshades in our living room. This lampshade is one of the cheap ones from IKEA, and is made of paper overlying some sort of plastic. It was getting dingy and dirty, and during the day, when the light was off, it looked quite yellow. I dusted it off with a clothes lint brush and took it into the kitchen. I laid down a garbage bag and then several layers of newsprint on top, and took one of our sponge brushes from the closet. The lampshade was too wide to fit into a pot, and I was concerned that the paper part of it might dissolve if I were to submerge it. Instead, I planned to paint it.
I filled a 4-cup measuring cup with boiling water and emptied in the green dye, which also looked pretty black, and dissolved the whole thing. I let it cool slightly, and then set to painting. I let the sponge brush fill with dye and ran it gently up and down the sides of the shade. I had to let it thoroughly dry between coats so that I didn’t destroy the paper, but I managed four coats before I was satisfied. An unexpected effect was that the paper on the shade was actually crinkled, with wrinkles running here and there along the sides of the shade. The dye darkened the wrinkles more than it did anything else, and so now the shade looks sort of like dark green leather. When the light is on, the lines stand out even more. It’s quite nice, actually. Another decent first effort.