Updated: Aug 7, 2019
I have so many grand ideas for my home décor, however can never seem to get what’s in my head – or on Pinterest – to match up to real life. Or, more specifically, match up to my real life budget. I seem to spend hours trawling through the internet (mum of two toddlers – no way am I going to get to the actual, physical shops!) looking for the ‘perfect’ furnishings and decorative pieces, only to dismiss things for being either too expensive, or not quite right. I’ve therefore decided to try my hand at gilding – the art of applying super-thin sheets of real or imitation gold, silver or copper to an object.
Seeing as I am by no means a professional gilder, or even remotely skilled in the creative arts, I wisely decided to start off with a project that I didn’t mind going tits up. My husband and I found a wooden framed, oval mirror in a charity shop for £6.50 that would be perfect in our downstairs cloakroom. Here is a brief summary of the trial by fire I undertook in order to create a gorgeous, ever so slightly too distressed, gilded copper mirror.
Stage One – Enthusiasm
I ordered a starter kit from eBay for £7, which included gold, copper and silver leaf, a brush and adhesive (called size by proper gilders). Waited eagerly for it to arrive. My first piece of advice would be – spring for a proper kit, even if it costs a bit more. I’m pretty sure the size in my kit was nothing more than PVA glue, the sheets of leaf were very small and I didn’t realise you really need two brushes, one to apply the adhesive, and one to burnish the leaf/brush away the excess leaf. I’ve since found this https://www.stonehouses.co.uk/imitation-gold-basic-starter-kit-7720.html that I’m going to purchase for future endeavours!
Stage Two – Confidence
Not to be deterred, I applied the glue and started to stick the leaf on. I soon realised that the sheets were way too small and would have to be overlapped in order to cover each section. They also ripped at the slightest touch. A slightly panicky Google informed me that I needed to wait for the glue to get ‘tacky’, however my starter kit had come with no instructions on how long this would take. I decided to carry on regardless.
Stage Three – Despair
My mirror looked rubbish. Sheets of leaf were overlapping each other all over the shop, crinkling up, it seemed like every time I touched it another bit would tear and reveal the wood underneath. I had definitely done multiple things wrong.
Tiny flecks of copper magic!
Stage Four – Powering Through
I stubbornly continued and left it all to dry overnight. The next day, I got a make-up brush and started gently (learnt my lesson!) buffing at the mirror. This is by FAR the most satisfying part of gilding. Beautiful flecks of copper were flying everywhere, and the mirror slowly began to look slightly more attractive. It wasn’t the smooth finish I had been hoping for, there are plenty of bits of wood showing through, but it certainly looks ‘bespoke’ (ha!), handmade, and hopefully will give our bland new-build bathroom a bit of character!
I found the very edges next to the glass impossible to cover
Things I have learnt (through error!) about leafing–
Google BEFORE you start.
You need the proper equipment – except for the ‘gilding mop brush’ – a fluffy make-up brush works just as well.
Leaf is VERY thin – you need delicate, patient hands (and mind!), not giant sausage fingers.
When gilding large objects, like a mirror, the sheets need to be wide enough to cover the width of each bit you are leafing, otherwise you will have lots of cracks and the material that is underneath shows through.
Waiting for the glue to tack is important!!! If it is too thick and wet when you apply to leaf, it wont ever dry underneath and the leaf will crease.
It is MESSY.
The gilding process is frustrating, demotivating and FUN!
If you have tried or are inspired to try your own gilding project, please share your experience with me in the comments below! Would also love to see your pictures, tag me on Instagram @our_layton_life .