From Stitches to Masterpiece: Matting

Matting is something that people see all the time but don't know what it is. It is the nice looking outer bits to most professionally framed items.

One of the nice things about using mat boards on your project, is that if you don't have a deep frame, this can help with making your frame work. You can skip the back board and yet still have a project that you don't have to fight to frame as you can use the mat board to hold it all in. Its not ideal, but it works.

Matting can be had in most good photography, art or craft shops. They will cut the nicely beveled edges for you and make certain it is the right size for your frame for a fee usually. I really prefer going to the pros for this, but for argument's sake, I'll give you a beginner's guide to cutting mat boards.

This is a longer lesson than prior ones as I'm essentially explaining two things- how to cut your mat boards and how to mount your project on the mat boards.

What you will need
Matt board(s)
Measurements of your project and your frame
Mat board cutter or Xacto knife or Rotary cutter
Masking tape

There are a ton of options here for what you cut with. It needs to be very sharp. And what you decide to use will probably also depend on how you want it to look. You can either cut your mat board straight up and down, or on an angle. If you get it done by the pros, it'll probably have the lovely angle on it. I personally love this look, but straight up and down works just as well. It gives it a different look.

If you want to get it cut on an angle, and you don't want to get someone to cut it for you, I highly suggest you buy one of these:
These are Mat board cutters. This particular model has a straight up and down blade and a 45 degree blade. The 45 degree blade is what I use to get the beveled edge look.

After many attempts, I can say unequivocally that I would not suggest trying to get an angled cut without one of these or one of the big tables that people in art shops have. Its pretty much impossible to get an even edge cut that has the same angle the whole way along without something that already has the angle cut. So if you're using a rotary cutter or an Xacto knife, both of which work fine for this work, just go for a straight up and down edge and save yourself from ruining perfectly good Mat boards.

The How-To

Cutting Mat Boards
This is mostly about drawing and cutting straight lines.

You need to decide what size your Mat board needs to be first. You'll want the outer edge to fit perfectly inside your frame, so that is your outer measurement.

Throughout this whole lesson, you should be working with the mat board face down. Measure and mark on the back. Cut from the back. This will leave the front of your mat board nice and clean.

Measure along the one edge the length you want/need and mark it. Measure a few times from the same edge and  connect the marks and draw a line between them.
Cut your mat board down to that size.

Do the same on an adjacent, non-cut side, measuring and cutting to the width that you want.

Here is the trickier part. You need to decide the size of the inside of the mat board. This will be where the inside of it will fall on your project. There are different methods for this.

First choice is if you want the mat board to come to the very edges of your project. I find that it is actually better to cut it to just ever so slightly inside your project's outer limits. This will mean it may hide the outside stitches on each side, but it will mean that you won't have gaps showing blank fabric if your project isn't exactly straight.

Second choice, and what I will be doing with this Tiger project, is to embrace the fact that you have stitched on fabric and choose a distance to have between your projects edges and the inside of the mat board. This will show your fabric, which can have a nice effect, and even if it isn't exactly straight, it'll still look well and you won't have to lose any of your stitching.

So, once you've determined what you want that distance to be, you need to do some addition.
My frame was 50 x 70 cm. I wanted the inside measurements to be 32 x 42 cm.
That meant there was going to be 9 cm along the width and 14 cm along each side.

So, from each width I measured up 9cm, connecting the dots to make a nice straight line. Don't cut at this point!!
From each side I measured 14cm and connected the dots for a nice straight line.

Only once you have a full square made, then and only then can you cut. You don't want to accidentally cut outside of the square.

Put your ruler on the outside of a line. Using the lines as a guide, very carefully cut. I find it best to make a shallow cut to get the right shape, and then go back and cut deeper.

Once you've cut on all four, if you're using an angled cutter, you'll have the corners left to fully cut out. Flip your mat board over and very carefully connect your cuts so that they meet at the corner. Be extra careful on this part as cuts that go beyond the actual corner are likely to be seen.
You should end up with a nice corner like this. If you have little bits that aren't quite right, as here, you can gently cut them off.

And that's all there is to it!

Don't be afraid to use more than one mat board. One of the tips photographers use to make a piece more interesting is to use multiple colours of mat boards, adding depth and interest. For my Tiger, I decided to use not only this nice blue to match the Tiger's eyes, but also a lighter blue as well.

For extra colours the steps are exactly the same, except that you need to make certain that you have a larger or smaller center piece so that each colour can be seen.

A note- I use the inside pieces that I cut out of my mat boards to do the lacing from the prior step- but you can only do that if you're using multiple colours. You cannot use the same size board as the hole you cut, as the fabric is not enough to give it the strength it will need to stay in its frame.

If you're using a mat board for your lacings, make certain that the coloured part is NOT directly behind your project. Not only do you not want the colour showing through, you want to make certain that it can't bleed through with time or if it gets wet.

Matting Your Project
And now of course  we have to put it all together.

The easiest way to do this is to put your project face up with one side having masking tape, sticky side up along it. You want to catch the underneath of your project, but leave enough masking tape that you can press down on the mat board once its in place and catch it.

Measure your project, and figure out how much space you will have on each side (technically you should already know this, but in case you've made a mistake its always best to recalculate anyway). Line up your project on your innermost mat board.

Once its in place, press down on the side that your masking tape is on. You don't want to press so hard that you buckle the mat board, but just enough that it catches enough masking tape that you can flip it while it holds the project in place.
Use the masking tape to tape down all four sides completely. There's no worry that folks will see this, but your project will be heavier than the average photo, so its best to make sure its well taped down so it'll stay in place.
Make certain you get your corners and that all the tape is pressed down quite firmly.
Once you have your project fully taped down, you can pat yourself on the back and claim its matted!


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