With Valentine's Day and maybe a few days of springlike weather around the corner, it's a good time to revamp your trusty old picnic basket so you are ready for picnic season and poised to prepare a charming, mobile lunch.
The look and feel of the picnic basket can set the tone for the whole outing, so dust off your old baskets and enjoy these ideas for making them ready for outdoor gatherings.
I was scouring a thrift store and saw the most pathetic lidded basket. I think it once housed a Christmas gift of sausages and sharp cheddar cheeses. It had some holiday decor, but clearly the gift recipient couldn't find another use for the rather "cheesy" container that just so happened to have a handle.
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I knew it would end up in the trash after it was marked down to 39 cents, but something about it struck me as sweet. After all, it was in the shape of a little cottage and, gosh, it came with tiny cottage windows. I figured it just needed a full remodel.
So I brought home the sad basket with a pitched roof and stared at it for a while before pulling the holiday ornaments off with some pliers and sanding down the raised glue spots. The only way to salvage this basket was to layer it in a light paint to quiet it down a bit.
Any small basket that could be used to tote a lunch, with a lid and handles if possible
Craft paints and a variety of small brushes
White paper flowers
Low-heat glue gun and glue sticks
Krylon Clear Sealer spray paint
1. I gave the basket a couple coats of white/cream paint and hand-painted new brown-black shutters around the windows. I had to add flower boxes, too. Grass and landscaping went around the perimeter of the basket.
2. I glued on paper flowers to show something growing in the cottage garden. To do this, from the green grassy area, paint simple flower stems in a lighter green. When the paint dries, glue white paper flowers onto the stems. (Tip: Sometimes I find paper-flower packets in the bargain bins at Michaels for a dollar or less.)
3. I clear-coated everything to lock in my designs. This can even help the paper flowers to "bloom" longer.
Suddenly, the hopeless, used-up sausage-and-cheese gift basket made a lovely comeback as a white, Cape Cod-style cottage. It can hold lunch for one or two, and best of all, it's more fun to carry around neat delicatessens like Eatzi's or Carshon's. I trot around with my 39-cent, super sweet picnic basket wondering what to fill it with and conversing with others in line who can appreciate a good recycling story.
Tip: You might wonder how you'll find a similar-shaped basket. If I stumbled onto one, there are likely more out there in thrift-store heaps, but really, this is inspiration. You can accomplish creative designs using many shapes of baskets with handles. Baskets without lids work, too. Just paint the sides of any open, woven basket that has a handle to look like the side of a house, or make a cottage garden around the perimeter of the basket using the paper flowers. Lots of baskets can be converted to boast charming details for a picnic.
Picnic-basket paint job
You've got a vintage brown woven picnic basket and it's sweet, but time and dust make it dull and uninspiring. Pull out the paint and stencils, because it's time to give it a new lease on life. If you improve the basket, you'll be more likely to fill it and use it. This isn't a bad project to tackle while the weather is cool and dreary one day so you are ready to go on the first warm snap.
Cleaning rag and solvent cleaning spray
A variety of small to medium paintbrushes (and stencil brushes if you are using stencils)
Latex or exterior paint
Stencils and other decorative items (optional)
Krylon "Make It Last!" clear sealer
1. Picnic baskets are often stored on a top shelf in a pantry or garage. They'll need some spring cleaning before they are ready to be painted and are food-safe. Use the cleaning rag and solvent spray to scrub your basket clean.
2. Sand the finish to roughen it slightly. Clean using the solvent one final time. Let it fully dry, for a few hours, before you paint.
3. Even if you are painting the basket its existing color, a fresh coat will make it feel new again. Change the hue, and you'll create a whole new picnic basket.
If you have exterior-grade paint left over from a household project, use it. This type of paint works for picnic baskets because it offers a quasi-water-resistant barrier for unexpected spills, pool splashes and sudden rain showers. But a durable, wipe-clean latex paint will work, too.
Give the basket two coats with drying time in between, or follow the instructions on your paint product. Work the brush into the basket weaves and crevices. Sometimes it takes looking at the basket from many angles to make sure that you have covered the nooks and crannies.
4. Now you have a blank slate to work with. Consider wiring silk, velvet or vintage flower sprays to the handle. Sometimes extra accoutrements like silk flowers or even attractive ribbons can really perk up a basket.
If you want to put an artist's touch to this and you're good with a paintbrush and drawing, paint the basket creatively with flowers, garlands or another motif.
Or try a stencil. Online resources offer fabulously detailed stencils, and craft stores have many easy-to-use options for creating designs that look like complex paintings. Look for furniture and craft stencils, which will often produce the right scale, as opposed to wall-art stencils. Follow the directions on your stencil and make your design using the appropriate brushes.
5. After the designs dry, seal the lid with a couple coats of a matte clear-coat spray, like Krylon's clear sealer. You can also coat the basket with a coat of clear spray paint.
An advanced art idea: If you have a sturdy lunch basket with a hinged lid, consider using broken china to grout in a mosaic-covered lid. There are many basic mosaic techniques online to walk you through covering this surface.
Retro-inspired picnic bags, baskets and containers
Sometimes the cutest picnic baskets can come from repurposing. I have always cherished my grandmother's large, woven sewing baskets. I have collected a few others over the years too. I converted them to picnic baskets, and I get to share their incredible embroidered designs with people as I fill them up with delicious lunch items. No longer must these historical beauties lurk on a dark shelf in my home.
Step 1: Gut the sewing basket.
Take out all of the plastic spool and needle separation trays to make room for your cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches without the crusts.
Step 2: Pack well!
Don't pack the sewing box so full with heavier picnic items that you risk breaking the handles. Carry your drinks in a separate cooler or insulated bags to keep them cold. Put lighter items in the basket, like sandwiches, cookies and chips.
Tip: Find bygone lunch kits, baskets and bags.
Plaid picnic and retro bags are uber-collectible and can be found in antiques malls, online shops and flea markets. If you don't have these in your stash, look around. The styles never seem to lose their allure. I posted a photo of my red and black 1960s tartan picnic set on Facebook recently, and several people chimed in to remember the set and to talk about their memories of the beloved picnic gear. The mid-century picnic baskets and bags remind us of a bygone era that sometimes we miss, but the joy we may miss can certainly be found again or re-created.