I have been falling back onto Con-Tact Paper since childhood whenever there is a decor dilemma, a giant OOPS to disguise, or a little extra touch needed on a craft. I guess I learned it from my mother, who turned a two-bedroom tenement apartment into a home with a roll of Con-Tact Paper for the walls and a bottle of Rit Dye for the slipcovers. I watched her paper the entire bathroom with a cheery 1890's style newspaper print. No one would ever guess it was contact paper. She'd recover lamp shades and furniture.
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While I believe my mother was a creative force and could have been a professional decorator, the reality is that she couldn't have done all that without Con-Tact Paper. Because it's removable, she could use it on an apartment wall without attracting the wrath of the landlord (who collected the monthly rent in person). Because Con-Tact Paper is inexpensive in any economy (my last roll cost $5.48), she could afford to experiment with it. Because the results are washable, she wasn't concerned about upkeep on the masterpiece.
It's almost a misnomer to call it Con-Tact Paper because the material is actually a thin plastic. The roll is 18 inches wide and has 24 feet of magic. It is self-adhesive, so your work is always clean and dry. You can cut it with small or large scissors, Exacto knife -- practically anything with a blade. The paper backing has a grid of half-inch squares that really help when cutting straight lines and keeping to measure.
Using Con-Tact Paper
The only problems to avoid (especially important if you've never worked with self-adhesive materials) are:
The paper sticks to itself before you put it on the surface -- It can easily become a tangled mess if it sticks to itself. To prevent the crumple-and-stick issue, don't cut a bigger size than you can handle. While it's time consuming to match the pattern on a big job, trust me, it's nothing compared with the frustration and waste of having to constantly cut new pieces. Also, if you're working in an open or drafty area, try not to let the Con-Tact Paper catch the breeze when you're carrying it. Cut close to the spot you're covering -- the shorter the distance to travel, the few things that can go wrong -- especially on your first project.
Difficulty starting to peel off the backing -- The key to starting the peel is to work one of the corners on the sides where you didn't cut. It will take a couple of tries, but you'll find the edge where the backing sticks out just a bit. Once you have that edge, the backing will peel right off.
Air bubbles -- Most air bubbles can be squeezed out without having to reposition. If the bubble is stubborn, make a tiny hole with a straight pin to release the air bubble.
The best way I can tell you how perfect Con-Tact paper is would be to tell you about the variety of miracles I created with just a couple of rolls here and there:
Nightstands -- This was my first project as a teenager. My father thought he was doing a great thing when he sawed off the two ends of my grandmother's vanity. Although the little two-drawer stands he created we sized well for nightstands, They each had one side that was raw wood. I bought a wood-grain color Con-Tact Paper and within minutes, I "refinished" the raw sides.
The Nursery -- When I was pregnant with my third child, I wanted a real nursery. It was the first time we were in a house that actually had as many bedrooms as there were (or at least soon to be) kids. It was also the toughest pregnancy I had. I was in bed for most of the last two trimesters, first with the flu and then with chicken pox. Because the former residents had created a massive storage rack in the already tiny fourth bedroom, there was also a design problem to deal with when I was up and around.
Taking care of the storage rack was easy with Con-Tact Paper. I bought coordinating baby prints, one with a little heart-shaped wreaths on a white background and the other a white floral gingham-style print on a sky blue background. Since we didn't know the gender, I felt that a feminine print on a masculine background would equalize things. People would see what they want to see. I covered the storage rack with the white paper and put a dressing pad on the waist-level shelf. Diapers were stored underneath, diapering supplies on the shelf above, and the top shelf held too-large clothing. Voila! Built-in dressing table!
I also had my mother's rocker in the room and decided it needed a facelift. I covered the headrest with the white background paper. To make a good close fit along the curved contours, I cut little slits at the bottom.
During the months when I was in bed, I used the blue Con-Tact Paper to cut silhouettes of kittens and teddy bears and used a black permanent marker to create features. They were in the 5x7-ish size, but I didn't really measure. It was more of an instinctive process. I made the patterns out of brown paper bags so they would hold up for a while. Some of the features I drew on the kittens were fur tufts at the ears, definition for the tails, fluffy tails, slinky tails, whiskers, eyes, nose, expressive mouths, etc. The teddy bears got stitch marks, clothes, eyes, smiles, and tears. Then when I was back on my feet, all I had to do was peel off the backing and place the menagerie! Voila! Personally designed appliques!
Stove Backsplash -- That patch of wall behind the stove gets a lot of punishment. Worse than that, it's difficult to clean without having the dry wall melt onto your sponge. I used Con-Tact Paper in a small ivy vine print to wallpaper the backsplash. It was not only easier to clean, but the pattern gave the kitchen a French Country look.
Destroyed Brass Trivets Reborn -- In our old house, I had brass Japanese symbol trivets that I used as wall hangings in our bedroom. When we moved into our new apartment, I noticed that they were stained and dingy. I made the mistake of using a caustic cleanser on them and destroyed the finish. I was ready to toss them when I remembered my teddy bear and kitten appliques. I found a beige marble pattern on a white background and started cutting. I trimmed it to cover Japanese symbols and outlined the shapes with black permanent marker. They are now ready to be hung as accents to my Asian art collection. Nobody will ever know what a mess I had made of them.
There are many more things you can do with Con-Tact Paper -- book covers, cover damaged laminate cabinets, handmade gifts like recipe boxes and lamps. The only limit is your imagination!
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