Telling a Story with an Upcycled Antique Drawer Turned Shelf

Hi there! How’s your week been? I’ve been working on a project that I think some of you are going to love–it’s all about 50 things that I KNOW will sell at antique booths. I can’t wait to finish it and get it into the hands of all my vintage and antique sellers.

But meanwhile, I’m excited to share today’s post: how to decorate an upcycled antique drawer in a way that tells a story. It’s part of a monthly series I participate in with fellow Thrifty Chick bloggers that is always based on a theme. This month’s is drawers.

You’ll find links to the other blog posts at the end of this one–I hope you’ll take some time to visit each one. Other Thrifty Chick posts of mine you might enjoy include:  a junk angel for the garden, a farmhouse style Spring wreath, and a farmhouse sign from an old chair seat.

Telling a Story with an upcycled antique drawer turned display shelf

The Antique Drawer Before

Antique Divided DrawerAfter learning this month’s challenge was drawers, I began rummaging around my garage and workroom, looking for just the right piece, and I found it!

I picked up this workbench drawer at a garage sale SO long ago. It’s been sitting in my work room waiting for inspiration to strike. And it finally did.

I don’t have a “magic makeover” project for today because my drawer happened to come from an old workbench and contained built in “separators,” making it the perfect piece to turn into a small shelf.

But I do have some tips for cleaning grimy surfaces and some ideas on how to tell a bit of a story by filling the shelf with small family heirlooms.

Cleaning the Antique Drawer

Cleaning Upcycled Antique Drawer Turned Display Shelf adirondackgirlatheart.comOn the left you can see how filthy the drawer was. I keep a small brush on hand to get into small-ish places and nooks and crannies. On the right you see how much better it looks after I finished brushing it out.

Cleaning and Waxing Upcycled Antique Drawer Turned Display Shelf Next I wiped the entire surface with a wet rag, and then let it dry (center photo). On the right you get an idea of how a little wax can literally transform a piece, making it look healthy and rejuvenated. It really came back to life with the wax.

I used a wood salve (wax) product that I make myself, which you can read more about here. After letting the wax soak in, I removed any excess with a clean, lint-free rag and then buffed it until it was smooth and dry.

Close up of Antique American Thread Co. threadBecause my shelf is relatively small and its “cubbies” even smaller, I searched for vintage pieces on the smaller side. This American Thread Co. spool was my first find.

I use it a lot in photographs because I just love the star graphic. This is the piece that gave me the idea to tell a story with the main thread (pun intended!) related to sewing.

The spool came from a sewing box I inherited from my dear grandmother. She raised three boys, including my father, so I suspect she had numerous rips and tears to repair for many years. With my son, it seemed like every day he came home from Kindergarten and 1st grade with another hole in his knee 🙂

Close up of scissors and buttons on shelfMy great grandmother Estella died when I was just five, but I have strong memories of sitting on her lap with a button tin on my lap as we sewed buttons one-by-one onto her sweater.

She would remove them when we were done so we could sew more on another day. The buttons in this cubby came from that tin.

Close up of vintage sewing notions, pin cusion, thimbleMore treasures from my grandmother’s sewing box: a tomato pin cushion and brass thimble. I remember her wearing the thimble one summer as she replaced a button that had fallen off one of my tops.

My mother, also an avid seamstress, made matching jumpers for herself, my sister, and me one Easter. We were quite the sensation.

Not too long ago, my sweet daughter and I began to make some sewing memories together. She is a huge Comic Con enthusiast, which means she regularly puts together costumes for various characterizations.

Sometimes this involves sewing, and so we do that together. She’s learning from me as I learned from the loving and generous women who taught me.

Close up of antique Donna Conso thread and thimbleThis empty spool with beautiful graphics and thimble are recent estate sale finds, unrelated to my family, so I guess they are my additions to this “story.”

Close up of antique blossom thread and skeleton keyAnd lastly, another spool, picked up with the one above, but the skeleton key (notice the heart-shaped top) I discovered in a piece of furniture I inherited from my grandmother. It was a special little surprise.

Large General Electric spoolTo complete the vignette, I placed a couple of larger spools on one side of the shelf and a rattan-wrapped bottle on the other.

Upcycling a Divided Drawer Into a Shelf adirondackgirlatheart (8)All the wood, along with the pleasing textures of the bottle, nest, and twine combine to create an evocative scene. Or at least I hope they do(!).

Along with this collection of sewing notions, I own three quilts–prized possessions–one made by each my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. How blessed am I to possess such beautiful artifacts from the precious women in my life?

And that’s the beauty of treasured antiques, whether they are inherited or found, they elicit a feeling or memory that helps keep the ones we love alive in our hearts, even after they are gone. And as Martha would say, “That’s a good thing.”

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I’d love it if you’d pin for later! Tell a story with an Upcycled antique drawer turned display shelf


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  1. Love your antique drawer makeover and the stories about the spools, thimble, and other goodies. What a treasure our memories become. Keep these makeovers and your stories coming! My Mom sewed by hand and I remember, in particular, one winter she sewed me a red corduroy coat with lining, and leopard print cuffs and collar. That would have been in the 1950s!

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Barbara, and I will do my best to keep similar posts coming 🙂 The coat your mother sewed for you sounds just darling–

  2. This little shelf is so sweet. I love how it is stocked with all of your sewing treasures from your great grandmother to the present with you and your daughter. It is so priceless.

  3. So enjoyed your stories of your grandmother. Reminded me of mine and how I needed a winter coat when I was about 5. Grandma asked my mother if she had a winter coat she was not using. Mom gave grandma her old coat and grandma cut it up and made a coat for me. No pattern, just very talented. Mother mentioned this story to me several times while I was growing up. Never will forget it.

  4. Diana, I adore cubby holes, and find this is the perfect little drawer! Are the bottoms rounded ? The photo makes it look like there’s a curve. I always find I want to know more with your posts: I wanted to see a picture of you in the matching jumpers! I want to see those three beautiful quilts! And a picture of Estella! 🙂 Was she Spanish, do you know? It’s her name that makes me wonder.

    1. It’s a cutie, isn’t it Patty? Yes, the cubby holes are rounded. Did you see that in this week’s newsletter I posted a picture of my grandmother’s quilt?? All because of you!! Estella was French Canadian, but that’s about all we know about her. Hope to find out more…

  5. This post brought back so many sewing memories for me, Diana! My maternal grandma taught me so many creative skills and loved old things like me. Someday when I have a house where I can actually have a craft room I’d love to display some of the memorable items from her. Love your cobbled together old shelf; handcrafted items like that have so much character!

  6. I Love how the cubbies are actually rounded. I can see this would be super fun to decorate with vintage Christmas. Great cleaning tips, I have to tackle an old type tray—very soon, and will use your method!

  7. Your wood salve sure made that old drawer come alive. I’d have to put knick knacks like my minis or figurines from Japan in those cubbies as my sewing supplies would get used and not put back! I know me. Although it is supposed to work up this week, it is STILL winter here. Combatting cabin fever vs. lameness from a fall on the ice Sunday is NOT a good combo!

    1. It’s pretty good that wax! Kathy, we had 70 degrees yesterday and 35 degrees today with flurries! It’s all sorts of crazy. So sorry to hear about your fall 🙁 I took a tumble a couple of weeks ago and really should get to the chiropractor sometime soon. Hope you feel better soon!

  8. Diana, I loved reading this post! The rustic, rough-hewn drawer is divine and I found your family anecdotes charming. I think you did a great job with the challenge!

  9. Oh how I love vintage sewing things. They make my heart sing and stir. Love love love the quilt too!

  10. Do I understand correctly that your wood salve is $10.99 for 4.5 ounce jar? Quantity wise, that’s just a smidge over half a cup? How far does that go?

    1. Yes, Ruth, you’ve got it right. A tub lasts for quite a while. It’s hard to quantify. It lasts me quite a while and I use it on lots of stuff–wood, metal, and leather. Thanks for asking!

      1. Okay. “Quite a while” was the kind of specifics I wanted. I hate when I’m confused by info like actual square feet or inches.

      2. YOU are a con woman. Taking advantage of your readers and unwilling to confront a question about your wood salve scam. You won’t even post my legitimate questions about the $10.99 price for a tiny amount. I suspect you’re related to that African Prince who looks for easy marks. I see now why youre not practicing law anymore. It’s tough being a lawyer AND a scammer.

        1. Ruth, I’m so sorry that you feel that way, but rather than lashing out, why don’t we have a real conversation about what’s on your mind?

          First, I’d love to send you a free sample of my wood salve. Just give me your address and I’ll pop it in the mail.

          I’m wondering if you’ve ever read my sale’s page which contains the comments of real people who’ve actually used my wood salve and liked it.

          Would it surprise you to find out that I have many repeat customers? Followers are always asking me when I’m going to make another batch. Yes I make some money off the wood salve (about a 50 cents an hour), but I love providing a really useful product to my readers whom I have grown to love and appreciated so much over the years.

          It may also surprise you to know that I’ve been providing real value to my readers for years for FREE. I’ve been writing price guides, project tutorials, and informational posts about various collectibles with no financial benefit (other than selling a few vintage items via my Vintage Shop).

          Second, you are clearly very angry and upset about something, and I would love the opportunity to talk and pray with you so we could work this amicably. Feel free to include your phone number in the email (above) and we can chat.

  11. What a lovely idea, Diana! I love that this tells a story about your family. Both my mother and my grandmother sewed, but my mother was the one who really got into sewing garments for her family and even for others. She once made a wedding dress for a neighbor girl!

    1. Glad you enjoyed my post, Mrs. T. 🙂 Your mother sounds amazing–what a feat to have made a wedding gown!!

  12. I love how you cleaned up and decorated the little wooden drawer, it is darling! I never thought of using a wood salve for old wooden pieces. I’ve got a wooden box that I found at a thrift store, and it is in rough shape, I will try adding some salve to it, as I have made my own in the past too with coconut oil. I just loved your stories about your grandmother’s thimble and pin cushion, just a beautiful post! Blessings to you!

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