I used the clean side of our pizza box (the top), but you could certainly cut up a cardboard box or use foam board. And, of course, you can use a pre-cut mat which isn't expensive at chain craft stores, but can be pricey at framing shops.
What You Need
cardboard, foam board or pre-cut photo mat
pre-cut photo mat to use as a template (optional)
glue (pretty much any kind)
self-healing cutting mat
1. (If you're using a pre-cut photo mat, skip to step #3.) Trace photo mat template onto cardboard. If you don't have one to use as a template, use a ruler to draw one to fit your desired frame.
2. Cut out your cardboard mat. I used scissors for the outside and an x-acto knife for the inside so the inner edges would be clear and straight.
3. Cut your fabric so it's about an inch to a half inch larger than your mat.
4. Spray one side of your mat with spray adhesive following the instructions on the can. It's quite tacky so put a newspaper or something under it. I used the other half of my pizza box. (You could also try using Mod Podge or glue here instead.)
5. Invert your mat onto the wrong side of the fabric. Then turn it over and smooth it out if you have to. If you don't want your hands to get any adhesive on them, you could also hold the fabric with both hands and place it on top of the mat. This can be a little trickier, but certainly works.
6. Apply glue to the outer edge of one side of your mat. I used the only glue I could find in the house - a gel school glue. I think you could use many different glues and even tape in a pinch. Although not shown in the photos, I used a Q-tip to evenly distribute my glue and form a thin layer.
7. Repeat step 6 on all four outer sides.
8. Where two ends meet (photo #7) I snipped the fabric a bit so it didn't bunch up. There are surely fancy ways to make this look nice, but I promise it doesn't matter - no one will see the back!
**ALTERNATIVE TO STEPS 6-8: You could also just trim your excess fabric as close as you can to the outer edge of the mat with scissors, an x-acto knife or a rotary cuter without folding it over the edge (which will not be visible). I remembered this after I'd done it. Either way is easy and works.
9. Using your X-acto knife (you could also do this with scissors), cut a diagonal line close to one of the inside corners of the mat and continue diagonally to the opposite corner. Repeat for remaining two corners. Note: If you love your fabric and want to preserve as much as you can, first cut out a rectangle of fabric in the middle, leaving about 3/4's of an inch around the mat edges and then cut your diagonal lines in the corners from there.
10. Apply a thin layer of glue to the inner edge of your mat and adhere your fabric by pulling it tightly and sticking it down. (You'll need to trim the fabric ends a tad so they're not longer than the mat.) If you didn't cut your diagonal line in the fabric close enough to the corner to create a smooth right angle when both sides are pulled up, you can adjust that now.
11. Once you've glued all four fabric flaps, allow to dry (15-30 minutes depending on your glue). Place inside photo frame and insert your photo.
Fabric Considerations: I chose a solid color so it wouldn't compete with the photo. A small-scale print would also work nicely. If you want to use a larger print I would consider using a black and white photo or using adhesive to mount your photo to a white background and creating negative space between your photo and the mat. Also, if you do use brown cardboard, chose a medium to a dark fabric as the cardboard may show through white or light fabrics.
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(Images: Carrie McBride)