How to turn a metal sign into a Marquee Light

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I don’t spend a lot of time reading lots of blogs. Mostly because I don’t have a lot of time to read anything. But also because if I do, I get a little bit overwhelmed with all of the full-on awesomeness that is on display out there, and it gets my head a little wonky. I start thinking things like, “Well, shoot, I guess I should be taking perfect, magazine-worthy pictures like Kate from Centsational Girl, and my house should always be spotless (watch this video I made in case you happen to think mine is) like Lisa from The Pennington Point (even though she has almost twice as many kids as I do), and I should paint furniture like a boss like Miss Mustard Seed, and I should complete 72 handmade projects a day like Ashley from The Handmade Home, and I should be impeccably organized like Becky from Organizing Made Fun

Still, I like to peek around the blogosphere as often as I can, and for some reason I find Instagram a much less intimidating way to do that. It’s a little more unplugged and less polished than the full-on blog posts. Plus, I get lots of great ideas in a lot less time than it would take to read 13 actual blog posts.

So, when I saw on IG (I’m @misformama, in case you were wondering) that Sasha from Lemonade Makin’ Mama (remember her MOMbassadors interview? I’ll be announcing the winner at the end of this post) had gotten the brilliant idea to turn a metal ampersand from Target into a marquee light with nothing more than the sign and a string of cafe lights, I was impressed and mentally filed it away in my “totally doable” folder.

I should have labeled it “totally rip-offable,” but my mental filing system isn’t that precise. (And, yes, I can imagine a lot of you out there are thinking, “Um, Abbie. There’s this thing called Pinterest…” I know, I know).

Still, when I was wandering through Target one day (ahem: make that pushing my cart through at breakneck speed trying to get all the things I needed before I had to go teach a class at the gym), and I spotted the exact same ampersand on clearance, and it was the only one left…I didn’t even think twice. Into my basket it went, and I resumed my headlong rush toward the checkout line.

I was emailing back and forth with Sasha at the time already, so I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about how she did hers. Turns out, it was crazy easy and straightforward. Of course, my version ended up being slightly less easy-peasy, but even so, it was still a quick project, and I thought I’d show you what I did just in case you too want to put this in your mental “rip-off” file. (Or, you know, pin it on Pinterest so you don’t have to clutter up your brain anymore than it already is).

Okay, so first up, here’s what you’ll need to make your very own marquee sign.

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  • a metal sign with wire mesh backing (I’ve seen various other versions of these different than the Target ampersand floating around at Hobby Lobby and other such places)
  • a box of cafe lights (I already had mine sitting around in the mudroom; I think they were from Target too).
  • Spray paint (but only if you don’t love the color of your sign)
  • Needle-nosed pliers (not pictured, and you might not need them, depending on your sign)
  • Hot glue gun/glue (not pictured, and you might not need them, depending on your wires)

And here’s what you’ll do:

::STEP 1::

Spray paint your sign. (Assuming you don’t like the original finish. If you do, proceed to Step 2).

The ampersand originally started out like this:

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It was fine, but it just didn’t pop enough for the space I wanted it for, so I gave it several coats with Krylon Sea Glass.

Note: don’t get halfway through your painting project then break to go make a bunch of little munchkins lunch and end up leaving everything overnight on the front porch. If you do, and the low that night is 20, then your spray paint will get hypothermia and become runny and just generally defective and obnoxious, and when you attempt to go back and finish painting, your spray paint job will be streaky and uneven, and your arm, leg (hair, clothes…) will get splattered with watery spray paint.

Or so I’ve heard

::STEP 2::

Unplug all of your bulbs from the light string…

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…and work out where you would like them to be placed on the sign. (My strand had 25 bulbs, and I used all but 2).

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::STEP 3::

This next part may not be necessary, but apparently, my cafe lights were bigger than Sasha’s because I screwed all of them in, then plugged in my brand new, super-easy-to-make marquee light and…marveled at the two lights that had actually come on. In other words, the two that weren’t screwed into the sign.

Doh.

Apparently, the wire mesh was keeping the bulbs from connecting with the sockets.

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So, to give the base of the bulb a little more room to actually screw down inside the socket, I used my husband’s Leatherman (best/most used gift I’ve ever gotten him, ladies) to snip away tiny sections of wire so that the bulbs would fit through. Then I went back and rescrewed all the bulbs back in. This time, I was smart enough to test them as I went, and even though it took a little bit of tightening here and there, eventually, they all lit up.

::STEP 4::

Screw in your bulbs.

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::STEP 5::

Unfortunately, the spacing between my bulbs was kind of big, which meant lots of extra wire and lots of ugly wire loops sticking out from the back of my sign. So, I grabbed my hot glue gun and glued the loops to the back of the sign so that, at least they were lying down flat instead of sprigging out all over the place.

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And then I plugged in my super-easy-to-make easy-but-still-somewhat-frustrating sign and marveled at all 23 of the lights as they shined in pretty, glowy…functioning-ness. (If you’ve ever felt that wonderful sensation of relief when you plug in the Christmas tree lights, and they actually all come on, then you know how I felt).

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But seriously. This really is a simple little project with a big impact, and I hope that my misadventures will help you to avoid some of your own, should you choose to keep the copy-cat chain going.

In case you need the side-by-side:

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Oh, and in case you were wondering what it looks like not lit up.

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Aaaaaand…just because I took these pictures and want to use them.

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I had already bought these letters at Michael’s on super clearance a long time before I ever considered this project, so I just had to use them.

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The “love is all you need” sign is from Wal-mart for maybe $3. And the heart box is from Michael’s as well (maaaaaabye $0.50?).

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I really love this handmade drum from Uganda. We won it at a Parental Care Ministries auction intending to let the kids beat on it when we brought it home, but it doesn’t actually work that well as a drum (which, honestly, is fine with me). They do bang on it every now and then, but mostly it’s just become a cool decoration that serves as a reminder to pray for the the orphans and the pastors and the workers of PCM when I walk past.

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So, there you have it: How to transform a metal sign with a string of cafe lights (oh, and hot glue, spray paint, and a Leatherman…if your heart so desires).

Please tell me I’m not the only one who can make a simple project more complicated than it has to be.

P.S. The winner of the “Just Do Today” print and cute apron from Sasha’s MOMbassadors interview/giveaway is:

ANDREA ELDER

(Check your email, chica!)

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5 thoughts on “How to turn a metal sign into a Marquee Light

  1. I would like this better if you Coukdnt see any wires so I’m thinking maybe poster board inside and then poke holes that the sockets would fit through. could be painted or have scrapbook paper glued to it? wonder if it would work without setting everything on fire

    1. I actually don’t mind the wires at all and would much prefer to see the wire meshing in the back than cardboard, even covered with scrapbook paper. But if you do one for yourself to your liking, be sure to send me a picture. I’d love to see it!

  2. I always make projects more complicated. I say that I always end up going with plan C by the time I’m done. And most of the time, they actually turn out better than I’d planned simply because they now have character and are interesting.

    Your ampersand turned out amazing! I love that you copycatted and openly admitted it. So cute! I LOVE Target clearance. Here in interior Alaska, I only get to go to an actual Target once or twice a year and it’s a little painful. Shopping online is not the same.

    Oh, I love that drum too!! Beautiful!

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