Written and photography by Cheryl Fallstead
1. Start by deciding where you want to hang your triptych and how large you want each piece to be when complete. This will tell you how much fabric and wood to buy. Our project is 20 by 36 inches for each panel and I purchased a yard of fabric (36 by 44 inches) for each panel. We used four, eight-foot pieces of wood, which you can cut at home or at the hardware store. (Lowe’s and Home Depot both have do-it-yourself box saw stations in the molding department to make right-angle cuts simple.) It’s also easier to transport your wood home when it’s already cut, and you don’t need as many tools to complete the project. DIYer Tip: Be sure the wood is fully dried since wet wood will warp in our dry climate. Rough or smooth wood is fine since it will be totally covered, but make sure it is straight. You may sand rough wood if desired.
2. Gather materials and tools:
Fabric of your choice sized at least six inches taller and wider than your final project
1-inch by 3-inch, kiln-dried fir or pine
2 packages of 3/8 inch by 1-5/16-inch wood joiners
(you’ll need a total of 24 for a triptych)
Measuring tape or yard stick
Clean putty or butter knife
Sawtooth picture hangers
Sandpaper – if needed
Iron – if needed
3. If cutting your wood at home, measure the correct length and use a hand saw and a speed square (like a triangle) or any other item with a right-angle corner to make sure your cuts are perpendicular to the edge. For our project, we cut a total of six 36-inch pieces and six 15-inch pieces to go between them. (Measure your wood precisely; while the wood is called “one by three,” it likely isn’t quite that width). You can use your first cut piece of each length as a guide to cut the rest to same length.
4. Lay two of each length wood on a firm and flat surface and place your shorter pieces inside the longer pieces. Hammer the wood joiners at each corner to connect the pieces of wood, then flip the frame over and do the same on the opposite side for extra stability.
5. Now it’s time to prepare your fabric. Depending on what you have chosen from the wide selections of fabrics and prints available at local stores such as Jo-Ann, Hobby Lobby, or Wal-Mart, you may need to wash and iron the fabric before mounting it. I did, as wrinkles and creases in the 100-percent cotton fabric were too apparent. Once ready, lay your first piece out on your clean, flat surface and lay a frame on it. Be sure to check if your fabric has a right and wrong side and if so, have the right side facing down. Also, if the pattern has straight lines, be sure your frame is properly positioned. Place the smoothest side of your wood face down on the fabric.
6. Get your staple gun ready to secure the fabric to the frame. Fold the fabric over a short side. Make your first attachment in the center of the side. Work from the center toward the edges, alternating sides, placing a staple about every two to three inches. Then move to the opposite side and, pulling gently to tighten the fabric, again work from the center and then alternate sides until you get to the edges. Now go to your first long side and work from the center while again gently tightening the fabric.
7. The most challenging part of the fabric attachment will require your hospital corner or package-wrapping skills. You want to create clean corners with no bulges. Experiment with a few techniques to see what works best for you. You can use a putty or clean butter knife to push the fabric down as shown, then fold over the corner piece as you would wrapping a present, trimming and tucking the outer edge under as needed to keep it showing on the right side. Then work on the last open side and pull the fabric tight as you staple, again moving from the center out and finishing your corners.
8. With all sides and corners securely attached, your panel is ready to prepare to hang. Find the center of the top of your frame using a measuring tape and place your sawtooth hanger about an inch from the top with the center of the hanger on the center of the piece of wood, then attach it with the provided nails while ensuring the hanger stays straight.
9. Repeat until you have created the number of panels you desire. Finally, prepare your wall space for your new art. Decide how much space you want between panels and if you want them to hang in a straight line or offset up or down from each other. A hanging tip is to measure from the floor to the hanger position so that they are all placed evenly. Your measuring skills will also be essential to ensure that you have even distances between each panel. Hammer nails with heads into the wall, hang your panels on them, check for straightness with a level, then stand back and admire your work!