Lately I’ve been working so much on the Etsy store, and on the various friends’ weddings I’ve been designing for, that I haven’t paid much attention to the house. Until last night. I arrived back home from a long weekend in Chicago with a carful of IKEA furniture, tingly-numb legs, and a burning desire to finish the alcove project. Specifically, I wanted to finish the rug. If you’ll recall, I wanted to do some kind of faux-pony (fauxny?) or cowhide rug, but obviously not something from a real animal. The look I was going for was this:

Of course, as is the norm in the luxurious life of a freelancer, the budget is tight right now. So things that seem pretty reasonable in comparison to their luxe counterparts–like this $170 faux-cowhide rug from Overstock–are still pretty far beyond our reach for the mo.

I could wait and save up for it, but that’s not the Artistic Temperament’s Way (TM), so I decided on the spur of the moment to attempt a DIY version first. I imposed a budget of $50 for myself, so that if it went spectacularly wrong at least I wouldn’t have wasted a ton of money and be kicking myself for not just springing for the Overstock version in the first place. So I vaguely mumbled something to Jimmy about how I was going out but I’d bring back ice cream (a foolproof plan for making him less agonized over my bringing yet another project into the house), stole his car, and I was off to Jo-Ann. (I noticed these same supplies at Hobby Lobby, so you could hit that up if you don’t have a Jo-Ann.)

I thought, once upon a time, that I’d seen a nice low-pile faux fur in a pony print, and that was what I intended to use. But I was foiled by the Gods of Mild Inconvenience (who also shut down a restaurant in Chicago we’d meant to go to, lost one of my favorite knee socks as I was packing, and broke the only ponytail holder I’d brought with me), and the fabric was nowhere to be found. None of the employees had any idea what I was talking about, and so I’m left to ponder whether the Jo-Ann employees are apathetic or I’m insane. It’s probably the second one.

At any rate, I’m not one to be foiled by little things like not being able to find any of the materials for the projects I have planned, so I started working on Plan B while camped out at the pattern table in the store. (I could have gone home to figure it out, but Jo-Ann is like 10 minutes away, and it’s cold, and I’m lazy, and it’s hard.) After doing some poking around, I worked out what I thought would be a pretty good plan. And it was. Go me! So I bought these things:

You need three major components. The fabric used for the background of the rug is a microsuede that’s made to look like hide. It has some shiny spots and little crackles running through it. I think it looks nice, and it’s a lot softer and more weathered-looking than vinyl. Obviously it’s not fuzzy, but it does pretty much feel like skin on the right side. I found mine for $16.99 a yard, and I had a 40% off coupon to make it even cheaper. Since the alcove is so small, I only needed one yard (another benefit of making rather than buying: I could scale it properly). The microsuede is very thin, so I also picked up a yard of neoprene. It’s the stuff they use to make car headliners. It has fabric on one side, and about quarter-inch thick foam on the other. Mine was $14.99 a yard, and again, I just bought one. To stick them together, I used 3M Super 77 Adhesive, which I already had on hand (but I believe runs around $10 for a can, which will last a while).You can use any spray adhesive that’s safe for fabric.

So first things first: stick the fabric and neoprene together. It’s best if you glue the fabric side of the neoprene to the underside of the microsuede; that way, the glue can’t eat at the foam, and at any rate the foam will grip the floor under your rug better. I just sprayed a thin, even coat of adhesive over the neoprene, let it tack for about 15 seconds, then laid the microsuede on top and smoothed out any bubbles. It’s much, much easier if you have someone (Jimmy) help you lay the fabric sheet down. Otherwise, it tends to become a bunchy, wrinkly mess. If you mess up, don’t panic, just pull it apart and start over.

Once you’ve got it stuck together, it’s time to cut out your rug. Flip it over so the neoprene side is facing up, grab a Google image of the shape you want to guide you, and freehand it. This part is pretty easy, and kind of fun.

Using good, sharp scissors, cut along the line you drew. You want to be careful here, because this is the finished edge and any little “nubbins” or scissor nicks will show.

Now you’ve got your basic shape! If you have a printed microsuede, or you just want a solid hide, you could theoretically be done here. But of course, I like to do things the hard way, and I wanted a pony look. So I grabbed a tube of acrylic craft paint and some acrylic textile medium, and mixed up a batch of fabric paint. (Alternatively, you could just buy fabric paint, but I wanted to save a couple bucks and I already had all this on hand.) Pull up an image to help you figure out a natural placement for the spots (or stripes! Zebra rug, anyone?), lay out your hide on a floor that cleans up easily (i.e. my hall bathroom), and get ready to paint.

I used sponge daubers to do my painting–one foam brush about 1″ wide, and one little round foam dauber about 1/2″ in diameter. You don’t need anything fancy. Use a brush if that’s all you have. I started by drawing an outline with the little dauber…

…then filled in the outlined spaces. As I built up more coats, I made sure to brush over the edges of the spots a little, to give the impression of fur. You’ll see what I mean later.

After one coat, a good amount of the brown will probably be showing through. That’s OK! Just let it dry and do another coat.

Or two more coats.

Eventually, you’ll build up enough that the brown is more or less covered. Mine isn’t 100% opaque because I thought it looked more natural that way, but it’s close. Here you can see how the edges are a bit fuzzy, to make it look more like short hair. Are you ready for the finished product?

Ta-da! What do you think? I’m pretty pleased with it–it’s not going to fool anyone up close, but from a short distance it looks really good. It’s nice to walk on, despite not being fuzzy, and won’t shed like a real one. And the foam being on the bottom keeps it from sliding around on the carpet.

I wish I could show you the rug in its natural habitat, but the last few pieces of Craigslist furniture are still waiting to be liberated from the alcove. I’m hoping to get the rest of it together this week, and I’ll have more posts about the other things going in (hint: the DIY lamp is 90% done, and I bought a cabinet for my LPs). In the meantime, happy cowhiding!