Painting Otomi Patterns

Otomi is a folk art pattern that’s embroidered in bright colors by the Otomi people in Mexico. To learn more and see lots of colorful examples of it, visit a great article about Otomi at Paint + Pattern. And here’s a few ideas of how and where to use Otomi textiles:

How and Where to Use Otomi

Sources: Design*Sponge headboard (Grace Bonney seems to have gone on an epic search for Otomi back in 2006 but nowadays it’s very available as you can see), Stray Dog Designs pendant lamp, Joss & Main table lamp, Land of Nod pillow, Marshall Watson Interiors bed throw

The above examples are all embroidered and embroidered Otomi can get quite pricey.

Did you know you can paint an Otomi pattern yourself with stencils? You can use an Otomi stencil to paint a table runner or even paint an entire small table, like this inexpensive Ikea table that was painted with stencils (see the whole story and how-to here):

Ikea Table Painted with Otomi Stencil
This is why I love stencils. I unfortunately don’t have the skill to draw or paint a pattern “from scratch.” But I can take things that already exist and put them together. And so can you! Stencils make it really easy to do that. For example in the photo above of the little Ikea table, you just 1.) look for stencil patterns that would fit on the table top, sides and legs and then 2.) paint them which is so easy to do.

So I had the idea to put Otomi pattern on tote bags for totin’ to the summer farmers markets. With the color and joyful dancing patterns, doesn’t this feel summery? I used Royal Design Studio’s Otomi stencil — the same one used on the table above — in the smaller size. And here’s the final result — a colorful tote bag that I created for an article at Paint + Pattern blogzine about how to DIY a bag like this:

DIY Stenciled Otomi Tote Bag Featured at Paint and Pattern Blogzine

Seriously, this was so fun to paint, I made two in different colors!

Stenciled DIY Otomi Tote Bags via Paint and Pattern

All the how-to steps and supplies to make this are in my article over at Paint + Pattern — check it out!

If you like the embroidered examples above — the headboard, lamps, pillow and bed throw — you can paint fabric to turn in to these things. And when you paint, you can choose whatever color you want.

You might have noticed I’ve done a lot of stencil projects lately. And there’s a reason for that. With stencils it’s so easy to get a really impactful look that looks like it took a lot more effort than it really did. Of course when you’re painting there’s some preparation time (I even pre-washed and ironed the tote bags to avoid shrinkage later), and you get a better result when you paint slower rather than faster. But would you be able to create this Otomi pattern yourself? Most likely not. And if you tried, it would take a ton of time. With a stencil, the pattern is already done for you. So that’s what I mean about getting a lot of impact for the time you put into a project.

This blog might make it look like I have unlimited time to do DIYs and write about decor, but I really don’t. I have a full-time job, a Chicago-style commute, a house that needs work, and in the spring/summer a big property that needs attention so it’s not over-run with out-of-control plants. Plus, you know, we do fun stuff not just house stuff too!

But I think this just proves my point — the reason I love stencils is you can get a stylish and satisfying project done that looks like it took a lot more to do it than it really did!

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DIY Chalkboard Menu + Don’t Forget the Plastic Rooster

It was spotted at Hobby Lobby – a red chippy paint chalkboard menu. I have no need and no place for a chalkboard menu every day. But it could be a good occasional decoration for a dinner party or holiday meal. So I wanted to “DIY it” on the cheap. Here’s the finished DIY chalkboard menu:

DIY Chalkboard Menu

Breaking the menu down into its parts, it’s very easy to put together yourself. Here’s the supplies (some I already had):


All supplies passed inspection by Chaai the Crafty Cat. From the bottom-up, the menu is built with:

  • A wood base
  • Candlestick
  • Small wood dowel
  • Two picture frames glued together back-to-back
  • Chalkboard painted inserts in picture frames
  • Plastic animal

Before I continue, you’re going to see some lack of continuity in the photos here. Because I tend to break things:


Yeah, two candlesticks fell over and broke! After that I decided not to try again with this candlestick style, and got a different one instead. The base of the new candlestick was too wide for the wood base you’ll see below, so that’s why a wood base is not in the final photo/finished project.

So here’s the first steps:


  1. I used two pieces of square beveled wood that are in craft store woodworking aisles for 79 cents. These two pieces were glued together. (Is the clamp overkill? Probably. But it was nearby, might as well use it! Made me feel like a super serious DIYer.)
  2. I chose a heavy resin candlestick because the menu should be bottom-heavy so it doesn’t tip over. I put wood filler in the top of the candleholder to make more surface for glue. Then I glued the candlestick upside down on the wood base.
  3. The frames did not have glass, so I cut heavy chipboard to make the chalkboard.
  4. Then the chipboard was painted with chalkboard spray paint. If you use two frames as I did, put the chipboard back into the frames before you glue the frames together. Sounds obvious, but I almost didn’t!
  5. Choose very lightweight picture frames so the menu doesn’t get top-heavy and tip over. Two $1 picture frames from Michael’s were glued together to make the menu two-sided. The frames were not exactly the same size (hey do you expect quality control for a buck?!), and this left obvious seams along the sides. I added some wood filler to blend the size difference.
  6. Next I glued the finished picture frame assembly to the candleholder.

See how using the candleholder upside down gives more surface for gluing the frames. This gives more stability because there will be pressure while writing and cleaning the chalkboards:


The frames came with tiny wood dowels. I wanted to cut a dowel to hold chalk in place. But looking at the options around here … there was a chainsaw … and there were  Xacto knives. Nothing in between that’s just right! It’s like the Cinderella story of tools around here. So I hacked at a dowel with a kitchen knife. After that chop job and sanding, I glued the dowel to the candleholder, leaving space to hold chalk:


Then I glued a lightweight plastic rooster to the top of the frame. Because the Hobby Lobby menu had a rooster there. So I guess I was stuck on the idea that a rooster must be there. It’s better than other plastic animal options at craft stores: tiger, dragon, pterodactyl … those are not exactly charming. Our menu shouldn’t include animals that would eat us. But hey if pterodactyl is your style, go for it. A rhinestone skull? Go for it! I should have been more unique! There was a turkey at Michaels – perfect for a Thanksgiving menu.

Now this whole assembly looks so weird, right? Like a Franken-menu:


What if I stopped here, and said “wow, isn’t this great looking!” You’d tell me honestly what you think, wouldn’t you?

We’ll fix this so it looks good. This was very simple to do with paint. I painted two coats of Annie Sloan Emperor’s Silk chalk paint. Then I dry-brushed brown and ochre colors of acrylic paint to make distressed highlights here ‘n there.

Antique Effect with Dry-Brushed Paint

Painted Plastic Rooster

Candlestick Painted with Antique Effect

Finally, to protect the chalk paint, I buffed the red painted areas with Annie Sloan clear soft wax. Obviously you don’t want to put wax on the chalkboard paint.

And here you have it, a chalkboard menu!

DIY Country Chalkboard Menu

Isn’t this something to crow about?

Shared at:

DIY ShowOff | My Paper CrazePinkWhen | Share It Sunday | SNAP!Thistlewood Farms

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Painting and Stenciling in India

A few months ago I was sitting in my in-laws’ home in Chennai, India and kept staring at a big blank wall just inside the main entrance of their flat. It’s visible from the entire living room/dining/kitchen area. And I imagined, what if? What if it was a bold color? What if it had a design on it? Wouldn’t it make the place feel different? It would  welcome people as they stepped in. It would embrace people with color. But no one we know does things like this to their walls there.

But now they have this wall:

Stenciled Wall in India

I chose deep red to coordinate with the textiles found around the room.

Painting supplies from the U.S. were already stashed there, waiting for when they’re needed to decorate our own apartment. And I know my way around Asian Paints locations near T Nagar neighborhood in Chennai very well! Better than anyone who lives near Chicago should know about paint sources in Chennai! Because when I wasn’t looking, I somehow turned into a painting addict.

That’s why I got the itch while sitting in a chair. Staring at a blank wall. In India.

It so happened my father-in-law said he’d like birds on the wall. And I knew that Asian Paints has a stencil with branches, foliage and birds (they call stencils “wall fashions”). So we visited our local friendly Asian Paints dealer, who is within walking distance down dusty Usman Road:

Asian Paints in T Nagar Chennai

Asian Paints Store in Chennai

Yes, this the dealer of my painting drug when we’re in Chennai! Don’t be fooled by appearances. If you haven’t been to India, a lot of places are not like our Home Depots, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have good stuff. They can mix anything you want here. Even rich gold shiny metallic paints! I have some. They said that only designers buy that kind of paint. My husband assured them that I’d know what to do with the shiny gold metallic paint. People aren’t really into DIY there. Labor is affordable so you pay people to do many laborious things. Except, what if you enjoy doing these things?

It was a spectacle for awhile. Relatives stopped by.  My husband’s cousins. Many cousins dropped by, curious to see this painting going on.

Painting Wall Stencils in India

If that tube light is bright for you in the photo, imagine your eyes up next to it!

Stenciling a Wall in India

That wooden bench is said to be about 100 years old and belonged to my husband’s grandpa. Apparently the bench had a beautiful old worn wood patina. But they wanted it to look new so they painted it “new brown wood” color. We joked that we’ll strip the paint off of it on the next trip. Okay maybe we are serious about that …

Sometimes I had to improvise because supplies aren’t available like they are in the U.S. So a Q-tip (AKA earbud) became a touch-up brush. It worked fine. I didn’t have a stencil brush or sea sponge, so I used edges of paint rollers to “pounce” paint color onto the stencils. The only paper towels I had were from a roll brought from the U.S.

Painting Stencils in India

The best thing was seeing the pride in my father- and mother-in-law over their new wall! Smiles all around! They even sent roses to our Bangalore hotel (we had to move on to our next city the next day) because they were so happy about the wall.

Asian Paints Wall Fashion on Wall in India

I’m starting to think it can be even better to paint for other people, than to paint only for myself.


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DIY Sari-Inspired Stenciled Art

When I see Royal Design Studio’s Indian stencils, I see a sari! The patterns of India’s saris are so gorgeous, I could drape all the walls and windows in my house with them, and live inside a silken sari tent. But I don’t do such craziness because I live with a guy, and he wouldn’t be happy living in a tent made of women’s clothing. He’s already told me that his male business associates who stay in our guest room sometimes might feel funny sleeping under a sari bedspread.

So instead, I indulged in lust for sari patterns by painting sari-inspired art with Indian stencils:

Stenciled Sari Pattern Wall Panel

I used the doors removed from the closet I recently turned into an exotic sitting nook! So this art panel is big — 7 feet tall and 3 feet wide. But you can do this on canvas, directly on a wall, on furniture. I think this would be fantastic painted on screens to divide a room or make a big decorative accent in a room!

To get all details on how to paint this, visit to see my tutorial post. There I show how to lay out the stencils to get the backgrounds and patterns lined up just right.

Paint looks like sari silk

To get this look, I recommend using Royal Design Studio Stencil Cremes. They have a shimmer that’s just like silk! To create a silken look, as you can see in the photo above, I created vertical “strie” lines by drawing the paint brush down in long continuous vertical strokes. Yeah my arm got tired, and five-foot tall me had to stand on a step stool, but don’t lift that brush off the panel! Keep making long unbroken vertical strokes the entire length of each background color. This way, the stencil creme looks like the threads of silk. So cool! I didn’t expect that when I started painting, but was thrilled when I saw it happening.

And would you believe, there are only three colors of paint used here? It’s true! I used Peacock Fancy, Patina Green and Smoked Oyster stencil cremes. Often the patterns of saris are woven with only a few colors. You just switch the colors of backgrounds and foregrounds/patterns to make it look like there are more colors. Here is my “formula” for choosing stencils and paints to make a sari panel:

Formula for Creating a Painted Sari Look

Choose the darkest of your three paint colors for “Color #1.” This will be the background color at the bottom of the panel, and will visually “ground” your sari panel. Then choose a medium and a light color for Colors #2 and #3. Make sure you have strong contrast between the colors so your stenciled patterns will show up well. I think it looks more like a sari if one of the paint colors is a metallic like a gold or a silver.

Painted Stenciled Sari Panel

India-inspired patterns

Can I take a moment to rave about the Annapakshi Damask Stencil? It’s the pattern at the top of the sari panel:

Annapakshi South Indian Motif Damask Stencil

I especially love the Annapakshi motif because it’s a South Indian motif often used on Kanchipuram (or Kanjivaram, spelled different ways) silk saris that are hand-woven in a village by the same name in South India. These saris can be woven with real gold and are very fine. They’re often worn by brides and for very special occasions. Here’s an example:

Kanchipuram Sari

Hmmm, can you see my color palette was probably influenced here?

The Annapakshi, as explained by Sarangi, a Kanjivaram sari shop in Chennai that often uses this motif in its designs, is a mythical swan bird. You can find it carved into the columns of ancient temples in India. Today it’s often used in brass lamps that are lighted for important events. It’s auspicious to light a lamp with an Annapakshi which symbolizes purity:

Annapakshi Brass Lamp

And the motif is often woven into South Indian saris like this one from Sarangi:

Sarangi Sari with Annapakshi Bird Motif

They do look sort of like peacocks, but they are not peacocks. They are said to be white birds like swans, and they can separate milk from water when they drink, so that they drink only the purity of white milk.

I will definitely be on the hunt for brass Annapakshi lanterns on a future India trip. In the meantime, I was happy to paint with the Annapakshi stencil!


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