Back in the mid 90s, there was a craft show on TNN sponsored by Aleene’s (the tacky glue people), which featured Aleene herself, her daughters and daughters-in-law and various guest designers. I used to enjoy it immensely (despite that the show was clearly intended as a vehicle for selling Aleene’s products). They always came up with such interesting and attractive projects. I was especially enamored of the “burnt brown bag” technique, wherein plain grocery bags were made to look like metal using tacky glue and a flame. Back when Dude and I used to sell at craft shows and a craft consignment mall, we sold dozens of Christmas ornaments using this technique. I had seen similar “real” metal ornaments in a catalog for $15 each, and the paper bag version could be made for mere pennies! (Note: We did not sell them for “mere pennies,” though we didn’t get nearly $15 each, either!)
So when I saw a swap on ATCs for All that was to use brown paper bags, I immediately thought of this technique. It had been ten years since I tried it, but it all came right back. Here are the cards I made for the swap:
And a close-up of one so you can see the detail:
Serendipitously, while cleaning my messy art studio (a chore that has taken on gargantuan proportions – can you believe I’ve filled four boxes for Goodwill already?!), I came across a notebook full of cards. I was quite the card-making maven back in the mid-90s! I always made an extra card whenever I joined a swap or round robin and kept them in this notebook. The first one I saw when I opened it was this card featuring a buffalo made with the burnt brown bag technique.
So I’m taking this discovery as a sign that I need to share the technique with those who have never heard of it. (Hey, I can interpret anything I want to as a “sign!” Like the fact that there are Blue Bunny raspberry chocolate ice cream bars in my freezer – which is clearly a sign that I should eat one. I think I’ll go do that now.)
Okay, I’m back. So who wants to learn the burnt brown bag technique? I see you raising your hand – you there in the third row! Step right up and get ready to get dirty. The rest of you are dismissed.
VERY IMPORTANT: If you are under 15, a pyromaniac or someone who just can’t get the hang of being safe around fire, it’s really best that you don’t try this technique. I cannot be responsible if some big, hunky firemen are forced to come douse your art studio! Carrying all their heavy gear and hoses with their big, strong hands! And their sharp, manly jaws getting all black with soot while they pull you from the wreckage with their well-muscled arms! (Whew! Is it getting hot in here?)
Um. Where was I? Oh, yeah…don’t mess with fire, kids.
So now that all the warnings are out of the way (and most of you have Googled “hunky fireman” – well worth it if you haven’t), here is what you’ll need for “part one” of the technique.
Grocery bag or brown kraft paper, tacky glue, wire, wire cutters, scissors, template (in this case a star), candle, something to light the candle. I don’t know what gauge wire this is since the label is long gone; probably 16 or 18. Choose wire that’s sturdy but not too thick.
For this tutorial, we’ll be making a star-shaped ornament. I’m redecorating my tree in all stars this year, so it seemed like a good project. A star shape is also not too detailed, which is good when you’re just learning how to do this. Also, smaller is better, because this does take some time. (The ornaments we used to sell were about 3″ long and 2″ wide.)
The first step is to use the template (you can use a stencil if you don’t want to draw your own) to cut two stars (or whatever shape you’re using) out of the brown paper bag or kraft paper. Also, cut a piece of wire about 7″ long.
Note I have put a “U” (which stands for “up”) on one point of each star. That means “this end up.” You can use a “T” for “top” if you prefer. Or a “W” for “whatever.” So long as you mark the same point on each star, you’re golden.
The next step is to spread tacky glue all over one of the stars. Then place the wire onto the star so that at least 2″ of it is on the glue.
Place the other star cut-out on top and align the edges.
Now comes the hard part – you need to let this dry. Dry means stiff and no longer cool to the touch. This will take some time, so be patient. In the meantime, you can cut and glue other ornaments, or watch some TV, or Google “hunky fireman,” which should keep you busy for the requisite length of time.
When it’s dry, squirt a good amount of tacky glue onto one side of the star and spread it out with your finger, making sure all the edges are covered. You want a good, even layer, not too thick or too thin. Experience will teach you what a good amount is. Too thin and the paper will burn; too thick and the glue will bubble up and burst. At this point, you will light the candle and begin to burn the glue. Hold the star by the wire and put it very close to the flame; nearly touching it. Move the star around slowly in a circular motion, not keeping it in one place too long so it doesn’t catch fire.
Of course that’s a cat hair in my candle wax. I don’t own a single thing that doesn’t have at least one cat hair embedded in it.
As the glue burns, it will turn very shiny. You will also get a nice layer of soot on most of it, but that’s okay. If the star does catch fire, just “wave” or blow it out. (I prefer to wave it around, because I always inadvertently blow out my candle when I try to blow it out.) Continue doing this until there is no “white” glue left and the surface of the star is a shiny beige color and/or black with soot. Be patient – this can take a few minutes.
Gently wipe off any soot with a tissue or soft paper towel.
Repeat on the other side. When you’re done, the star will be very sturdy, though still somewhat flexible.
Now we’re going to make the star look even more like metal by adding some color. Here is what you’ll need for the second part of this technique:
Copper paint pen or copper acrylic paint, “patina green” acrylic paint (I mix two colors to get the patina effect), a bit of sponge for dabbing on the paint, wire pliers, a few beads whose holes are large enough to fit on the wire. (You don’t need this many beads; I just like having an assortment to choose from.)
Start by dabbing copper acrylic paint onto the star. I use a paint pen, dab on a few spots and spread it around with my finger. You don’t want to cover the entire surface; it looks better if you leave some spots the original color.
Next you’ll add the “patina” to the copper. Since I don’t have a green that looks like patina on its own, I mix two colors together. Squirt some paint out, get a little on the sponge and dab off most of the paint.
Dab the green onto the star in various places, making sure to leave plenty of copper areas. On Aleene’s show, they also dabbed white paint sparingly here and there to add to the effect; I didn’t do this. Mostly because I didn’t remember until just now that they actually used white as well as the green. But I think it looks okay without it. (I would think that, wouldn’t I?)
The final step is to add beads to the wire and then bend the wire into a nice hook shape for hanging. (You may need to trim it first.)
The finished star ornament:
Cute? You betcha. You can try other ornament shapes (the ones we used to sell were leaping reindeer and trumpet-blowing angels) and other projects, such as weather vanes (indoor use only – mount the wire on the bottom and poke it into a block of wood), wall decorations; basically any project that calls for a flat piece of shaped metal – and you won’t need real metal or a saw!