How to add DIY style, your favorite colors and patterns to any serving tray you already own to use as home decor or as a stylish way to serve guests for a special event or the holiday season.
Serving trays can be used for more than just carrying food. They can also be used for decoration. But did you also know that when you make and add a colorful DIY tray insert to a plain tray, the tray can change in an instant to coordinate with a room, event or holiday.
They can be used as a decorative dining room table centerpiece, a place to display a collection on your living room coffee table, as an ottoman tray or hung on a wall, or used on a counter to corral small items. Learn how easy serving tray inserts are to make.
They are so easy to make that you may find yourself wanting to make a few of them using your favorite fabrics or decorative paper so you can change them out for your entertaining and decorating needs.
I started to make removable colorful inserts for my serving trays when I wanted a way to carry drinks to take outside using a large wicker basket tray I have owned for years.
I loved the tray, but not the fact that when drink glasses were placed on the tray, they became unsteady because of the uneven texture of the weave of the wicker.
To keep this from happening and still be able to use the tray, I made a flat foam board insert for the tray that I covered using fabric. I even added a protected iron-on vinyl cover over the fabric to make the insert easy to wipe clean so it could be used over and over again.
I liked how the tray looked so much, that I make inserts for all my trays now, not just wicker ones.
3 Ways to Cover Removable Serving Tray Insert Liners
I have made many of these tray insert liners over the years using a few different methods depending on the fabric or decorative paper that I wanted to use to accent my home’s decor as well as what craft supplies I had on hand.
Here are the 3 Ways to Make th Inserts:
- Paper Napkins and Clear Iron-On Vinyl
- Fabric and Clear Iron-On Vinyl
The basic steps needed to make one tray insert is the same. You need to cut a foam board or a piece of cardboard to fit inside the tray, cover and secure fabric/decorative paper to the board.
The products used to secure the material to the board can be either, spray glue, brushed-on white glue, decoupage medium or packing/duct tape. I have used all of these and they all work great, so it is more about what you have on hand to get the job done.
Below are the different steps I used to make tray inserts.
1. Paper Napkins and Clear Vinyl
Wicker tray basket and removable foam board liner covered with 2 Caspari autumn leaves paper napkins. Laminated with iron-on Heat n’ Bond vinyl.
Once the insert liner is in place you can safely carry glasses on a wicker tray. If the fabric gets dirty, it can be easily wiped clean since I laminated it.
2. Fabric and Clear Vinyl
Blue and white decorator fabric laminated with iron-on vinyl allowed me to create a matching set of serving trays I bought at a thrift store.
3. Fabric or Gift Wrap – No Vinyl
I used only fabric on a large silver tray. The tray inserts don’t have to be laminated with iron-on vinyl to look nice, but adding the protective layer will keep the fabric clean so the insert can be used over and over again.
How To Make a Fabric Covered Tray Insert Liner
The way to make the tray insert liners is the same for any tray. The only difference will be dependent on the material you use – paper napkins, gift wrap, fabric or wallpaper and how you attach the fabric/paper to the foam board.
For instance, you can use spray glue, white glue or packaging tape to attach the fabric/paper to the foam board insert. As a finishing option, you can also laminate the fabric/paper with iron-on vinyl before covering the foam board. Doing this will make the insert wipeable and easy to keep clean.
Inexpensive foam boards are sold at the dollar tree.
- Serving tray with or without handles
- Fabric or decorative paper like wrapping paper or wallpaper
- Foam board or cardboard
- craft or utility knife
- Packing or Duct tape
Time needed: 30 minutes
Step-By-Step Tutorial: How to Make a Decorative Insert for a Serving Tray
- Cut Foam Board to Size
Lay tray on foam board and trace around it with a pencil. If your tray has an inset, place the pencil tip under the edge of the tray and trace around the bottom. It does not have to be perfect since it is only needed as a size guide.
Use a mat knife and ruler to cut the foam board following the traced lines.
Note: When Making an Insert for a Wicker Basket Tray
The inside of the basket may not be a perfect rectangle. You will have to play around with the shape to get it to fit in just right.
- Trim if Necessary
Place the cut foam board into the tray. If needed, use the mat knife or scissors to cut excess in the corners.
- Cut Fabric or Paper and Vinyl
Cut fabric so it is slightly larger all around the cut tray insert. Note: If you want to cover the fabric or paper with vinyl, cut the vinyl and iron it on to the fabric before proceeding. (Steps to do this are shown below).
Apply a even coat of spray glue on top of foam board.
Place laminated fabric face down and then place foam board on top. Smooth fabric/paper with your hands and to the outer edges.
Bring the excess fabric around to the underside of the foam board. Pull taut. Use packaging or duct tape to secure fabric to the back.
- Place in Tray
Flip the covered board over and place in tray.
- CUTTING TIP: For Circular Trays
Optional Method When Using Paper and Iron-On Vinyl
I am sharing another way to cover the insert board. When I made this autumn themed insert, I used paper napkins.
The easiest way to attach them to the board would have been to use spray glue on the back of the napkins, but I didn’t have any so I brushed on matte Mod Podge to the top of the foam board and then added the napkins on top and used my hands to gently smooth the napkins down and remove any wrinkles.
Also since the napkins were not as large as the foam board, I had to use 2 napkins. I normally would have laminated them with vinyl first, then glued them to the board, but I needed to make sure the seams would be as seamless as possible, so I attached them to the board first.
I am telling you this as there is no right or wrong way to make the inserts.
I then applied Mod Podge on top of the napkins where the two ends of the napkins slightly overlapped. Do this carefully as the napkins are thin. I let this dry.
Once dry, I added the iron-on vinyl lamination over the napkin covered board and wrapped the excess to the back of the board and used the Mod Podge to secure it. So both glue or packaging or duct tape will work.
How To Apply Iron-On Vinyl Over Paper or Fabric
Heat N’Bond Vinyl is sold at most craft and sewing stores. It is inexpensive and very easy to apply. If you can’t find it, you can also use clear contact paper over fabric or decorative paper – but do not try to iron on contact paper as it will just melt.
- First, cut the iron-on vinyl to the same size of the fabric/paper you are using.
- Press fabric to remove any wrinkles. If using paper, skip this step. Once fabric or paper is smooth then apply the iron-on vinyl over the fabric.
- Peel the paper backing from the iron-on vinyl, lay the sticky side of the vinyl down on the right side of fabric.
- Next, lay the shiny side of the paper backing on top of the vinyl (the paper backing acts as a pressing cloth between the vinyl and iron)
- Then press to adhere.
- Remove the paper backing.
- Let it cool.
Now your fabric surface is laminated and protected. It can be wiped clean with a wet cloth.
How to Attach Laminated Fabric to Circular Insert
Attaching a fabric covered round insert to a round tray can be a tricky because of the thickness of the fabric being gathered on the underside of the board, but can be done.
1. Lay the laminated fabric right side down and center the foam board on top.
2. Cut a round shape around the insert, leaving a few inches all around to wrap around to the under side. You don’t want to add too much fabric bulk when you bring the fabric to the back of the insert.
3. Bring the fabric around the edge to the back side of the foam board and using your fingers pleat the fabric so it neatly follows the circular shape.
4. Use tape to hold the pleats into place while you are working on it.
If your fabric is thick, you can skip the pleating process and instead cut vertical cuts into the excess fabric and then bring the tabs of fabric that the cuts created to the underside of the round board and secure with tape.
5. Once you have the fabric attached – use packing/duct tape to secure.
Turn the fabric covered foam board over and place into your tray.
Change Out The Insert Liners for Special Events and Holidays
Once you make one insert for a tray and see how easy it is, you may find you want to make them for special events and holidays. No need to buy a new themed tray, when all you need to do is create a seasonal color insert for your existing tray.
For fall and Thanksgiving you can use a colorful leaf print pattern like I did. For Christmas you can use the same tray and change out the insert to give it a whole new look using a festive pattern gift wrap pattern.
Other Decorative Ideas Using Heat N’ Bond Iron-On Vinyl
Heat N’ Bond Vinyl is one of my favorite DIY products. It comes in shiny and matte finishes. I have used it in other decorative ways like How to Make Outdoor Fabric More Weatherproof and DIY Wipeable Kitchen Drawer Liners. But my favorite way to use the vinyl is making colorful lids for baskets so they can be stacked and stay clean.