Vintage dishware doesn’t have to gather dust in the china cabinet. Outdated table settings, such as a stack of your grandmother’s old plates or a bundle of used mugs you scooped up at Salvation Army, can find fresh life with a little TLC. All it takes is a marker or a drill and a basic plan. “I always find it a bit sad when things so loved by previous generations are thrown on the scrap heap,” says lifestyle blogger Anna Nicholson, based in Yorkshire, England. “I’m always looking for ways things can be reused, upcycled and overhauled to fit in with our 21st century style.” Here are some ways to spruce up old china and dollar-store dishes:
MARKERS AND PAINT
The popular craft-swapping website Pinterest is full of plate-decorating projects that tap into the “magic” of magic markers.
Nicholson, whose blog is www.angelinthenorth.com, uses Sharpies to personalize vintage floral plates. In one set, she adorned each plate with a letter in the word “EAT,” to display in the kitchen. In another, she used four plates to spell out the word “HOME.”
She prints her own letter cutouts onto thick paper or cardstock. She traces around the letters onto the old plates with a pen, then goes over the outline with a Sharpie and fills it in.
“This is an easy project, but you do need a steady hand,” she says.
Others take the Sharpie idea to another level and — if the dishes are ovenproof — bake the marker on to make it permanent. Many crafting blogs call for drawing with a Sharpie and baking the ovenproof dish at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Christine Dinsmore, based in Portland, Ore., has used the Sharpie method for free-handing original drawings. On her blog, The Plumed Nest, she shows how she drew original monster pictures onto plates for her children.
“I would often see cute little dishes for children but they were usually made out of plastic,” Dinsmore says. She has tried to rid her kitchen of plastic “and didn’t want to purchase any more.”
That’s when she got inspired to draw her own kid-friendly characters.
Dinsmore advises using non-toxic Sharpie paint pens, found at most craft stores and online. Also, she recommends cleaning plates gently, never with an abrasive sponge or dishwasher.
Other bloggers suggest ceramic or glass paint if the dish will have frequent contact with food.
CHOP IT UP
Sometimes, old china is no longer in one piece. But that shouldn’t stop you from turning it into something special.
Do-it-yourselfer Ashley Hackshaw, editor of the blog Lil Blue Boo, was inspired to find a use for chunks of a broken Tiffany vase that she had received as a wedding gift.
“I couldn’t bear to throw away the beautiful pieces, so I decided to start making them into useful items,” says Hackshaw, of Palm Desert, Calif.
Her answer: key chains.
Once you find a piece you like, the main job is to drill a hole and smooth the edges. You can use a household drill, using a carbide drill bit to make the hole, and sandpaper and steel wool for the edges.
Make sure to wear protective eyewear and dip the piece in water to cool it, Hackshaw says.
Or you can use a rotary tool and attachment set, she says.
Then, just thread a key ring through the hole, and you have a meaningful and practical new use for an old chunk of china.
“One of my favorite gifts I’ve ever received was a keychain from my aunt that was made from one of my great-grandmother’s old silverware pieces,” Hackshaw says. “I knew it was something that I would keep forever and hand down to my daughter, and hopefully one day she would do the same. That’s what gave me the idea about the broken vase.”
BUILD SOMETHING NEW
If you have beautiful old pieces of china that you rarely use, why not turn them into something else?
Marceli Botticelli of Franklin, Mass., makes tiered stands out of old china that can be used as serving platters or “tidbit” trays for anything from jewelry to loose change or keys. She also sells jewelry and nightlights made out of repurposed table settings and teacups.
One of the biggest challenges in repurposing old china for any project, she says, is finding the right piece.
“I am inspired by many different things,” she says. “It can be the color, the pattern, a theme.”
One client brought her a plate with an extremely rare pattern; the client had been collecting china since she was 8 and had never found another plate like this one.
“I said a prayer, took a deep breath and I drilled into the plate,” Botticelli said.
“Now it has a new lease on life and is not stacked with other plates in a closet anymore. It is a beautiful piece that can be enjoyed for many years to come.”