Sunday, April 26, 2015

Mosiac Madness

Hello, my dear sweet followers:

I haven't blogged in a long time, and I thought that now was a good time to start. The fog is lifting after the sudden, shocking death of my DSH. I am coming back to myself.

I'm starting to feel better in my skin. 

I've started cooking again, finding joy in the nourishment that creating dishes gives me and the nourishment that eating them gives others.

In November, I started a crafty project. I decided that I would make some mosaic tile mirrors for my three nieces for Christmas. Something that they could keep forever: that would be cool at age five or twenty-five. My mom always made hand-crafted gifts for us, and I wanted to do something like that for my five favourite kiddos!

I gave myself just over six weeks to complete five mirrors: 2 small ones that I eventually gave as a Christmas gift, and one large mirror for each of my nieces, ranging in age from nine to five.

I figured that six weeks would be enough time, that it couldn't possibly be that hard - the people on Pinterest and YouTube make it look so easy that a monkey could do it - I could do it, too!

I started with five mirrors, all found at the Goodwill, and luckily all the same size (3 large, 2 small). They were all Ikea mirrors with a large wood framing, like this:
This mirror is called the "Rakuten". It came in a package of two, and was unopened. I paid $2 for both. I used this model for the smaller ones I gave to my co-worker.

The three larger ones were decorated already and I had to spend a bit of time cleaning off the old stain and some stickers. But I was thrilled to find three the same size. I paid $4 for all three large mirrors.

I used recycled dishes (20 plates @ $1 per plate, purchased on 50 Friday. I paid $10) in shades of blue, green, red and yellow. I purposefully chose plates with texture - I thought that they looked cool and added some interest to the pieces.

I broke them up with a hammer. I folded an old shirt over the dishes as I was breaking them to keep shards off of the floor (and your eyes and other bodily orfices Pinterest fails to mention.) I discarded the shirt when I was done.  I suggest using a stainless steel bow to keep your pieces in, as I have done here.
 I used LePage "No More Nails" construction adhesive, which can be purchased for approximately $7 per tube at any construction store. The product I used comes in a tube, so it's good for applying to tight spaces, or precision application. I used 2 tubes.

I used this because it seemed like a stronger option to plain white glue, which the professional and well-spoken web videos suggest. I was worried about having pieces of tile fall off knowing it would be going to little kids. It held rock solid after 24 hours. I was very impressed.

If you are a person who shops by what labels look like, this is for you, in solidarity (the people at Home Depot certainly don't shop that they were no help):
I pre-planned the design on each of them, drawing directly on the frame with a permanent marker. I drew over a design if I didn't like it, and just darkened the lines.

I deliberately used a dark color contrasting to my tile color scheme. I found it made following the pattern easier as the mosiac got fuller.  Someone suggested using a design program, but that seemed kind of technical to me, and a lot less fun.

Fitting the pieces together was kind of like doing a puzzle. I wasn't very precise about breaking my dishes, I was just wailing at them with a hammer (which turned out to be exhausting...but still kind of satisfying. Now I know why everyone likes to smash dishes in movies!) and so I ended up with a lot of random pieces.

I did learn how to go gently with the hammer to kind of "make it" break, sort of the way I wanted it to. Here's an example of the pre-dawn pattern and piece-working it together:
When I drew the pattern the first time, I didn't like it, so I turned the mirror.

This is an example of the pre-drawn pattern on the smaller set of two mirrors:
The completed, ungrouted mosaics looked like this (these were the two smaller ones, meant to go together):

 Who can tell what this says? Little poll. See the difference grouting makes...

Shaelene loves to wear pretty dresses...every day. She's my favourite pretty princess! I wanted to make her a pretty princess mirror, so I used mostly red and gold on this one. I tried to make the corners pointy, like jewels. This one took some planning, because her name is the longest.

Hannah's was the only one I used the dark green on. The plates are textured to look like leaves. I wanted her to have something special and distinctive about her mirror. Also, I felt like the darker colors gave it a little bit of "grown-upness".

All told, the tile-laying process took about 20 hours total for all five (spread out over approximately 10 days). The adhesive I used allowed for re-placement of tiles for up to five minutes. After 24 hours, the bond is permanent.

I didn't take any photos of the grouting process because I didn't want to dirty up my camera. The crusty old guy at Home Depot who told me that it was too dangerous for a person in a wheelchair said that I would be foolish to take pictures unless I wanted concrete on my camera (which I did not), so I left it.

But I have never grouted (ever) before this project, so I had no idea what to do. I watched several Youtube videos that made it look just as easy as pie, so I figured, "okey doke, no worries. I can do that".  If you'd like to have a look at the videos I used to teach myself:

This is Karen Silton's, "How to Grout A Mosaic Piece of Art". I was very jealous of her tiling room, and wished that I'd had one. I also noted that her grout wasn't "the consistency of runny peanut butter," like the guy at HD said... 

And neither did this guy's....until the end. I wished I'd watched this one first. I actually used his method of mixing grout the second time around and had much more consistent results.

He was also joking around with the camerawoman while mixing his grout, which made me feel better.

I didn't use any of the tools recommended for the application of grout. The tiles were uneven and I found it was more effective to use my fingers to push the grout as deeply into the cracks as I could get it.

I used "PolyBlend Sanded Grout". Here is what the box looks like:

I chose "Pewter" originally, because I thought it would be dark, to make the letters 'pop', but not too dark. It actually turned out a medium grey as opposed to the metal color I wanted.

Polyblend has a range of colors to choose from. Most of them are available at HD in stock, but you can special order them if you wish. Here is the PolyBlend color chart:

Here is an example of what the grout looks dry, before it is mixed:

Here is an example of what the Pewter-colored grout looks mixed, applied and dried. These are the smaller mirrors.

I wanted to use a different shade of grout to more closely match the black finishing paint I already had. So I went with a black shade for the second round. PolyBlend - charcoal. Here is an example of what the charcoal-colored grout looks mixed, applied and dried:

It took approximately 1/4 of the pewter bag for the two smaller mirrors and approximately 1/2 of the charcoal bag (20 lbs. each; available @ $20per box.  Both of my boxes of grout were leftovers from a professional job done by a friend's dad. I got them for nothing).

It was mixed by 'guestimation' because the directions included were for the whole box, which I knew I wouldn't need.

I used plastic dishware from the dollar store, which I threw out afterward.

I applied the grout liberally in handfuls, spreading it into the cracks with my fingers. All of the videos said to wear gloves. I did at first, but found that they tore very quickly and easily. It was also just easier to apply with my bare hands.

I taped off the glass of the mirror before I started (with green painter's tape) because I was worried about scratching the glass. It turned out that I didn't have to worry about this at all.

I made sure that the tiles were completely covered. Like this:

The entire grouting process for all five mirrors took about an hour, spread out over a week or so (plus a trip to HD to talk to the tiling consultant, which turned out to be an incredible waste of time)!

I failed to understand that you are not to allow grout to completely dry.  Because when it does, it dries as hard as concrete.  It is impossible to 'wipe off'...went to the bathroom...had a snack. Bob's your Auntie and it was dry. So I went to bed.

I figured that the grout wouldn't get any harder now, so I left them. It was exhausting and I was tired of looking at it. I needed a break from mosaic-ing. But I had nowhere to put them, and didn't want to spread the mess around. And so they sat, monopolizing my kitchen table for several weeks. I lived around them. The bustle of Christmas came and went; I was absorbed by other projects.

Shaelene's birthday came. And I decided I was going to get them done...come hell or high water. I wanted these things out of my kitchen. I wanted them gone.  The plan was to give it to her for her birthday, along with a box of Easter care packages for the other kids. You may have seen it on my facebook page:

I was very motivated. But the grout was very stubborn. It was hard to get off. So I used the photo of the pre-grouted design to clean each singular tile, individually with a paring knife and a toothbrush.

It took hours; I was exhausted. Shaelene did not get the mirror for her birthday and I was crestfallen: I was never going to get these done....

Then, I went to "Google" and searched 'remove grout from tile'. And I found this video...he talked about the cup brush and I nearly cried with relief:

Then I watched this second one. He talked about not being able to find the Nyalox brush at any hardware store.

I had no idea where I would get this brush - I didn't even have a drill. And what was I thinking? I was going to drill something? Yeah. Okay. But, it seemed that this was the only way that these mirrors were going to make it off my list.

I borrowed a power-drill and ordered the brush from Amazon ($14, shipping included). The guy in the video  was right. None of the big guys (Home Depot, Home Hardware or even Wal-Mart - shock of all shocks! - ) had this brush.

Then I had to wait for it to arrive. So they sat on my table for another three weeks while I waited for this brush.

And then it came. I nearly shrieked with joy - I was going to finish these things! The end was near! - I had waited so long. And I just wanted my table back. I was not giving up...

I got the drill, an N95 dust particulate mask, and went to town.

I got the mask from the dollar store and strongly suggest you don't go rogue like I did. Buy it. The cold/sinus infection you get from breathing the dust is not worth it. Here are some photos of me, using a power drill for the very first time, ever, in my whole life:

Grout removal underway! I plugged in my headphones and went to town. It was actually kind of fun! I learned the hard way to tuck my headphones into my shirt. I lost a pair of purple earbuds that way. Lesson learned.
There was a lot of kickback from the drill. My arms were very sore afterward (and still are). It was quite awkward positioning. I was constrained by the cording. It didn't allow me the flexibility of movement that I wanted, but a cordless drill relies on batteries, and I wanted to get this finished. The thought of waiting for a battery to charge between rounds was enough to help me get over the annoyance of the corded drill.
License to drill, baby!
All told, the process of using the drill to remove the excess grout took about 4-5 hours for the three large mirrors.  Here are before and afters, for the buffed mirrors and the unbuffed mirrors:

Finished buffing

Mid-way through.
Completely un-buffed
When the mirrors were finished, I cleaned the mirrors with a tile haze remover.  I used AquaMix Professional Tile Haze Remover. Purchased at Lowe's for $4 (who also had the cup brush you apparently couldn't get in Canada!). It looks like this:

It's easy to use and took no time at all. Worked like a dream. I have more than 1/2 of the bottle left after using generously to clean all of the mirrors well.  The entire process took half an hour.

I painted the edges (of the frame and any exposed tile) with a "wet black" water resistant paint. I got paint everywhere. Like this:

Wear something you don't mind throwing away when using waterproofed paint.

It was also my first time using solvents to remove paint from my hands. Varsol. My house still stinks.

Once they were dry, I signed them all with a silver Sharpie and took photos to remember.  I wrapped them generously with star-patterned paper and stowed them in the car for delivery. I felt like I was sending my babies away.

Here are the photos: I wrote personalized notes on the back of each of them, for each of my special girls.

I gave them to the girls today. I literally did a happy dance, walking out of The Market.

They're done. I did them, and they are beautiful. I am so proud. Here is a shot of all three, together: