One of my favorite gifts I’ve ever received, and one of my very favorite items in our house, is a lampshade that my dear friend Brandi gave me made of vintage slides. I love looking at the pictures she chose to use in my shade and making up stories about the people and places in them. This past weekend I went to visit her on the Oregon coast and she helped me make another one – and also helped me put together this tutorial for you!
There are other examples of slide lamps on the internet, but I’ve never seen one like this. Brandi and her husband have experience as book binders and so the tools she uses are tools from that trade, and the result is clean-lined and very sturdy.
I’ve included links to the supplies you’ll need in the list below, but Brandi said she’s been able to find all of them at her local art supply store – so that may be a better source. I’ve seen slides listed on eBay (here‘s a current auction), at yard sales, and in thrift stores. If you find yourself here in Eugene, the amazing recycled craft supply warehouse, Mecca, has a huge bin of slides for cheap. You could certainly also do this project with slides of your own – Brandi made a gorgeous one for a friend of ours using black and white slides of micrographs (picture taken through a microscope) from her PhD research.
- Slides (for an 8″ x 8″ lampshade like mine you’ll need 64 slides)
- Light box (you can do this project without one, but it’s much easier with one)
- Vellum (enough for four 7 1/2″ x 7 1/2″ pieces)
- Archival double-sided tape
- Book binding tape (we used a white 5/8″ linen tape and a 1″ thick black satin tape)
- Utility knife
- Straight edge
- Cutting mat
- Carpenter’s Square (optional, but helpful)
- Scissors (tiny ones work best)
- Bone knife
- Lamp frame – You could get one from a thrift store and disassemble it, or we used a square 8″ x 8″ frame that Brandi bought here
1.) Choose your slides. Brandi told me this would be the hardest part, and she was right! She hauled out a big Rubbermaid packed with slides for me to rummage through. It was daunting but so fun; I could have spent hours looking at pictures and imagining all those different lives.
I chose slides mostly from the 1950s, 60s and 70s of travels, animals, and – of course – interiors. My criteria was really just that it be a picture that made want to know its story.
2.) Once you’ve selected your 64 slides, arrange 16 of them in a 4×4 grid. The only rule is not to have vertical images in the corners (you can see I put the vertical photo in the second row down).
3.) Line up your first two columns of slides on your cutting mat. They should be oriented with the image right-side-up but with the side of the slide you want on the outside of your shade to be face down. Which side faces out is entirely up to you – I like to see the hand-written captions some people put on their slides so I made sure to face them down on this step.
4.) Cut strips of the 5/8″ white linen tape to connect the first two columns. The strips should be about 7 1/2″ long – just so they don’t go all the way to the edge of the slides. This doesn’t need to be exact and it doesn’t need to be totally pretty since this is the inside of your shade. Connect the third and fourth columns in the same way.
5.) Burnish! Brandi kept hollering at me to burnish (rub the tape with the bone knife). It’s the secret to a neat, tidy and sturdy shade. Don’t be shy about putting some serious pressure on the bone knife; you want that tape to stick.
6.) Repeat steps 2-5 to make the remaining three sides of your shade. Don’t forget to double check that the slides are oriented correctly and don’t forget to BURNISH!
7.) When you’ve completed step 6 you will have four separate panels. Using the same taping method described above, connect them into one long sheet.
8.) Use your straight edge and utility knife to cut four sheets of vellum then set them aside. Each side of your lamp shade is 8″x 8″ and you want the vellum to be just a little smaller, but still cover the photo part of the slides – so each sheet of vellum will be about 7 1/2 inches square. The vellum acts as a diffuser so the lamp gives off a gentle glow, and so you’re able to look at a slide when the light is on without burning your retinas. Brandi is smart.
9.) You will use the double-sided archival tape to attach the vellum. Make sure you’re attaching it to the wrong side of the slides (the side that will be inside your lampshade). Cut tape strips the same length as the linen tape (about 7 1/2″) and put them on top of your taped seams. BURNISH! Then peel off the backing. Place one sheet of vellum shiny side down and… BURNISH!
10.) Repeat step 9 until all four sheets of vellum are attached. The reason you do them separately is so the shade will fold into a square more easily – if it were a single sheet of vellum it would be hard to get those crisp corners.
11.) Use a piece of the 5/8″ white linen tape to connect the final seam to make your lampshade a square shape. This was easily done with two people, but Brandi said it’s a little tricky with only one.
12.) Place the top ring of the frame inside your shade. You want it flush with the top of your slides. Binder clips can be handy for holding the ring in place.
13.) Place linen tape lengthwise around the top of your slides then fold it over the wire ring and stick it to the inside of the shade. Then… BURNISH! Seriously, it is really, really important that you burnish the heck out of the tape. Use the pointy end of the bone knife to really get that edge along the wire ring and in the corners. It’s helpful to use your little scissors to cut a strip in the tape so it can go around the crosspieces of the frame and fold into the corners.
14.) Flip the shade over and repeat the same process as in step 13 with the bottom ring.
15.) Optional: Cover the white tape with the black satin tape (I liked the contrast of the black, but leaving just the white looks nice too).
16.) Burnish. Use your bone knife to run over every taped seam. BURNISH!
A couple last thoughts:
The color of the slides will fade over time. The more you keep it out of direct sunlight, the longer the colors will last (the images don’t disappear, they just turn to shades of blue).
If you don’t like the writing on the slides, or if you’d just prefer a more uniform look, you can color them in with paint pens. I saw some Brandi colored and it looked pretty sharp. As I said before, I personally like the handwritten notes people put on the slides and I don’t mind the variation in color and markings.
We were wearing jammies while making the lamps and I didn’t get a photo of Brandi, but it feels wrong to share this project without including one – so here’s a photobooth pic of her at our wedding:
Huge thanks to her for developing (ha!) this project and for being willing to share it here on Red House West! Please ask any questions you may have in the comments!