DIY Serving Tray Ideas for All Seasons

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.

Wicker basket tray completed with autumn leave pattern paper. White plates and brown and white napkin and rustic mug.

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.

empty wicker tray basket on kitchen counter

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.

fall paper napkins vinylized insert in wicker tray basket

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:

  1. Paper Napkins and Clear Iron-On Vinyl
  2. Fabric and Clear Iron-On Vinyl
  3. Fabric

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 basket tray completed with autumn leave pattern paper. White plates and brown and white napkin and rustic mug.

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

wicker trays and baskets found at thrift store
Thrift store wicker basket trays.
two wicker basket trays with blue and white decorative fabric inserts
round wicker tray with insert

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

patterned fabric lined tray

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.

supplies needed:

  • Serving tray with or without handles
  • Fabric or decorative paper like wrapping paper or wallpaper
  • Foam board or cardboard
  • craft or utility knife
  • Ruler
  • Packing or Duct tape
  • Scissors
  • Pencil

Time needed: 30 minutes

Step-By-Step Tutorial: How to Make a Decorative Insert for a Serving Tray

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.


  4. Place in Tray


    Flip the covered board over and place in tray.

    patterned fabric lined tray

  5. CUTTING TIP: For Circular Trays


    For a round tray, use a compass set to the diameter of the tray bottom to create the perfect circle to create the insert.


    use a compass to cut board into a circle shape

Optional Method When Using Paper and Iron-On Vinyl

supplies needed to make a wicker tray basket liner
how to secure paper napkins or gift wrap to the back of foam core or cardboard

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.

how to join paper napkins when making a decorative serving tray insert

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.

Fall leave napkins lining a wicker basket tray

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.

How to wrap fabric around a Fom-Cor insert.

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.

Blogger of DIY Decorating blog Diane Henkler of In My Own Style

Helpful Tip:

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.

Product Resources:

Decorated serving tray ideas with DIY fabric inserts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


47 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    What a great idea, Diane! I have quite a few trays that I hope to sell and this idea will make most of them more versatile. Thanks for sharing!

  2. What a great idea! Thank you for sharing and for showing us your trays.

  3. I love this idea. It is so clever yet simple. I am going to do this to my trays!

  4. Diane,
    I, like many others was a crafting nut in the 1980s and 90s! Like many others, I gave it up in the crazy days of child rearing!
    This tray idea is about to thrust me headfirst back into the world of crafting!
    Maybee……
    T.Y. great post!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Sherri – Happy that my post brought back fond memories of crafting. The tray insert isn’t hard to make so it would be a good project to get back into the world of crafting. :-)

  5. Dianne Whitehead says:

    What a unique idea — I have two wooden trays whose handles are in good shape, but the bottoms are scratched up. I am going to make inserts for them . . . today! As usual, Diane, I appreciate the clear way you describe DIY processes, and in this post, I especially appreciated the information on Heat ‘N Bond Iron-On Vinyl. I am a craftsperson, and yet, I never even knew it existed!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Dianne – Heat”N Bond is one of my favorite crafting supplies. I always use the matte finish, but I think it comes in glossy. In the past it was also sold by the yard at some fabric stores. Not sure if it still is, but buying it by the yard was great for larger projects.

  6. Another brilliant idea!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Alison :-)

  7. This is genius! I’m going to try this!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Where do you store all your trays when they are not being used. Some are quite bulky I find.
    linda

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      When you have one tray and make different inserts, the inserts are easy to store since they don’t take up too much room. I do have about a half dozen trays and store them by stacking them on top of each other – largest to smallest on a closet shelf.

  9. Ann Strausburg says:

    Great ideas Diane. You must really know your way around the thrift stores. I am not moving but downsizing in my home now that I have retired. It is a BIG job but it is now or never and I am sure that their are many people who will find joy in some of my treasures. I hope that Zoe is doing well, pray for every night.

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Ann – Someone out there will surely love your stuff. :-). I am going through my Christmas bins now. I have a lot and no longer want or need half of it and either do my daughters so I will be taking it to the thrift store. Thank your prayers for Zoe. XO She is doing well and getting through the treatments.

  10. Really love this idea! Great hostess gift as well.

  11. Elaine Williams in Baltimore, Maryland says:

    Diane! You have opened up a world of possibilities for us all! The fact alone that you scored all those pieces for little more than $3 is spectacular in and of itself and then turned them into useful everyday items — what can I say! Who knew about heat and bond vinyl! This has inspired me to look around at what I have already and see what I can transform. Fabulous post!

    1. Hi Heather-
      Just visited your post. The plexi works great. It really turned out well. It is a nice big tray -perfect on an ottoman. Thanks for sharing it with me. I am going to put it up on my DIY page tomorrow.

  12. abeachcottage says:

    Love the wicker trays and what you’ve done to them. Thanks so much for linking to Beach Cottage Good Life Wednesdays.

  13. Oh what a fantastic idea! I’ve never heard of heat ‘n bond vinyl, but this might just open up a whole new world for me! Thank you SO much for your sweet comment on my blog and I’m happy I was able to bring a smile to your face! I was planning on just hopping over here quick to say thank you, but your posts just draw me in and blow me away!

  14. DijanaGALLERY says:

    I love this! Great idea. I may try this.

  15. Neat idea…thanks for sharing. They look so pretty. Thanks also for coming by my blog and leaving such a nice post.

  16. karen@strictlysimplestyle says:

    What a great idea, you could switch it out seasonally for a completely new look.

  17. Where do you come up with all these smart ideas? (and, perhaps even more intriguing, where do you find the time for all of this?!)
    I love the colors in your home :)

  18. Oh, I love this idea! I know we all have these trays and your inserts are the perfect solution! Love the fabric you chose too. Great job.
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia ;)

  19. Caitlin@CaitlinDomanico.com says:

    Oh my goodness I LOVE this!!!

  20. Ashley@DesignBuildLove.co says:

    How cool is this project?!?!? LOVE it! Never knew an iron-on vinyl product existed! Totally going to have to try it out!

  21. Linh @ La-La Linh says:

    You are so incredibly talented! What a great DIY project for the summer :)
    -Linh

  22. These are gorgeous Diane!!!

  23. Lisa @celebrate creativity says:

    Stumbled here while looking for craft room islands online. What a lovely site and so many wonderful projects. Everything is a pleasure to browse.

    I’ve bookmarked you so I’ll definitely pop by again.

  24. I’m going to have to try this as well. I recently bought a round wicker tray from HomeGoods and I’ve debating about what to do with it and this would be perfect!

    1. Hi Holly-
      The fun thing about the inset is that you can totally change the look of the tray 123… It can go from glam one day depending on the fabric you choose to casual the next.

  25. Erin @ Out on A Limb... says:

    What a great idea! I definitely have serving baskets and fabric remnants. One more thing to add to my project list!

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Erin-

      If you do make one it won’t be on your list for long as it is a quickie project. Getting the ironing board out to adhere the fuse took the most time. The circle took a few more minutes than the rectangular basket because of the pleating needed to attach the fabric. You will be done in no time.

      1. Erin @ Out on A Limb... says:

        Sounds great. Can’t wait to try it!

  26. Donna at Mourning Dove Cottage says:

    How clever and so pretty. Love it!

  27. Roses and Rust says:

    What a clever idea. Now I can make my pretty wicker trays practical as well. x Sharon

  28. CUTE CUTE CUTE, Diane!!! I’m definitely saving this great idea! Thanks for sharing it today! :)

    xoxo laurie

  29. Michelle @ Sweet Something Design says:

    Fantastic idea, and I love that fabric!

  30. The inserts for the wicker baskets look great and make them more useful. Great idea!

    Be sure to stop by to enter my giveaway. The winner will be drawn on July 6.

  31. Your trays are a great idea – what a good way to make them useful and beautiful.
    – Joy

  32. What a pretty, practical project! Even I could do it…just wouldn’t have thought of it!
    Blessings,
    Haven

    1. Hi Haven-

      Thanks – I love finding easy ways to update stuff or in this case find an easy fix so I could carry glasses safely on the wicker trays.

  33. Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions says:

    Great wicker trays, Diane! What a find! I love all of them and that’s a great idea to give them a stable base for serving.

  34. Diane, love the trays and they look great with the inserts. Great fabric. I have never done that before, but may have to give it a try. Thanks for the tutorial.