I remember getting string art kits as a kid in the 70’s. They had burlap fabric backgrounds in brown or rust, with little brass nails. I had one that was an owl and another that was a ship. The ship one was neat because it used fine gold and copper wire instead of string. If you google “string art from the 1970s” images you’ll probably see the patterns I did.
String art seems to be making a bit of a comeback, but with cooler designs and more varieties of colors. Drop the “from the 1970s” in the image search and you’ll see vibrant colors and and more modern designs. You can even find printable templates. The “in” patterns now seem to be doing a heart, or your home state with a heart where you live. Also popular are monograms and words like LOVE, DREAM, etc.
Since Em had school vacation last week, we thought we’d try one. We originally had planned to do a heart one, but Em had a change of plans. She wanted a more random pattern. Hey, she’s 6. And I told her this was her project.
And the best part of this project was that it was made completely from things we had lying around the house!
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I found a scrap piece of 1/4″ plywood we had in our stash. I think a little thicker would have been better to make sure nails won’t go through to the back. To cover the wood, you could paint or stain it, but we chose to cover it with fabric. Normally, you’d choose a solid or very subtle pattern for the background because you want the string to be the focus. Felt or burlap is often chosen. But Em had different ideas. Whenever we go to the fabric/craft store, I let Em pick a couple of fat quarters (usually about 18″x22″ or so of quilting cotton fabric) or remnants. She loves choosing fabrics which she then wraps, ties, tapes, and pins on her dolls to make her “fashions.” She went to her stash and picked out a bright abstract pattern. She hopes to paint the walls in her room bright pink, so she thought it would look nice on a pink wall. (We’re still in the negotiating stage on the color of her walls…)
Instead of a piece of plywood, you could use a wood plank, part of a pallet, driftwood, particle board, or a plain wooden plaque. You could even use a thick piece of styrofoam. You’ll want it to be pretty thick (maybe an inch?) and use longer nails so the nails are firmly embedded in the base and won’t come loose when stringing.
I stapled the fabric onto the wood, just as if I were reupholstering a chair seat. I first tried using my staple gun, but the staples I had were too long and went through to the other side. But I found the wood was soft enough that I could just use my regular stapler. Just slam it quick and hard to get it through. I took the picture below before finishing the corners. I did “hospital corners” just like when making a bed.
As for the nails to wrap the string around, you need to make sure they have big enough heads so the string doesn’t slide off, and they should stick up above the surface at least a half inch. And they need to go into the wood enough to make sure they won’t give under the tension of the string. Paneling nails work out well and they come in different colors. Brass escutcheon nails have a nice look too. nickel, brass, black, white, copper… your preference. We used 3/4″ black ones that were in a little nail assortment kit I got Em for Christmas as part of her own tool bag. She sees us using tools and wanted her own, but not the “play” ones, real ones. FYI – I found a great little pink and gray tool set at Menards, with stubby (short-handled) tools, good for small hands. It included a stubby-handled hammer, screwdriver with interchangeable bits, and adjustable wrench, plus a small level and a tape measure. I can’t find that exact same set anywhere now, but I did find a similar set that doesn’t include the tape measure or level, but instead a flashlight and tool belt pouch. Or, if you don’t mind spending more, there’s a more complete set that includes a case. I bought her a separate little tote for the tools. (I loved this tote so much I also bought one for myself for my jewelry-making tools! You can see hers in the background of the picture of her hammering below.) Em is so thrilled to have her own tools! And since they are pink, we know Daddy won’t borrow them. 🙂
We hammered on a foam core board just in case we hammered too hard and poked out the back. For those nails that did go through, we just hammered from the back side to make it flush on the back. But then we got smart… to help get the height of the nails correct, I held them with a pair of needle-nosed pliers as we hammered, which was just the right size to leave the correct amount exposed without going through, plus it saved my fingers from inexperienced hammering.
Em only hammered a few of the nails before getting a little frustrated, but she enjoyed handing me the nails and telling me exactly where she wanted them to go.
We’re finally ready for the string! We chose to use embroidery thread, since I have an abundance of that in every color imaginable. Em wanted multiple colors. She chose the same colors as the background fabric, with the addition of yellow, for “extra pop” she says. You could also use twine, craft or jewelry wire, yarn, crochet thread, or whatever you have around. I made a double knot on one of the nails to begin. I later trimmed the tail thread and put a dab of glue to make sure it would hold. Often you’ll see nice orderly patterns with the thread, similar to a Spirograph pattern. But Em chose a more random pattern.
We started with black, then pink, then yellow, and finally green. She had a bit of trouble keeping the string taut, so after a while, she handed that task over to me, and just as with the nailing, she told me where to wrap the threads. I was a bit worried that she would tire of the project since she didn’t get to do as much of it as she planned, but she stuck with it, thoroughly enjoying the process and the outcome. Can you see the little note she wrote in the lower left corner while I wasn’t looking? “Love it!”
While it wasn’t the project I was planning in my head, we still think it turned out pretty and it will make a nice addition to her room, pink walls or not! I may try doing one with my own design sometime.
What do you think? Have you tried a string art project?