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Covering Walls With Fabric - Tips?


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Initial post: Jan 24, 2011 1:38:19 PM PST
Melanie says:
I previously posted "How to add color to a living room when I'm not allowed to paint?" in this forum. I have decided to cover my walls with fabric and secure it with starch (as outlined on several home design websites).

Does anyone have any experience doing this or any tips??

Any help would be appreciated!

Posted on Jan 24, 2011 9:06:18 PM PST
heidi says:
I did 3 large rooms in fabric about 10 years ago and absolutely loved the effect! So interesting and warm and vibrant, everyone who comes in your house will ask you how you did it. The fabric you choose should have some weight to it. No more than 20% synthetic fibers or it won't stick well. It's hard to find the liquid starch (WalMart?) and you will need a LOT of it (buy more bottles than you think, return any extras later). You'll also need a big plastic storage tub to dip your lengths in. The actual hanging is messy work: you'll get soaked, and the starch is itchy when it starts to dry on your skin. As you would with wallpaper, start in a corner. But unlike wallpaper, it's sooo easy to take down when the time comes - just pull up a corner and peel it off the wall - you can even re-use the fabric. You'll probably have to wash the walls to remove the starch residue and any stray fibers. I used a box knife to cut the seams and it did some damage to the plaster walls, but they're easy to repair. Not sure what your situation is but at a minimum I'd have some touch-up paint available.

Posted on Jan 25, 2011 6:12:08 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 25, 2011 6:29:14 AM PST
Kirsten says:
Hi there. I have done this technique as well (I am an interior decorator, as well as a custom couture designer and fabricator, so I have a lot of experience with fabrics, as well as custom design techniques. Here are the tips I can offer you (and highly recommend following, for optimal results):

1) Cornstarch is a GREAT substance to make your paste from! It's cheap and highly effective. What you want to do is make a heated mixture of COLD water (it eliminated any clumping) and cornstarch (start with a 10-1 ratio and work from there). I HIGHLY recommend using a blender or, at minimum, a wire whisk, to mix this initial concoction.

Cornstarch sets up as it boils, so be patient before adding more of the cornstarch---and if you find you need to, only do so by mixing it with a bit of cold water again before adding (this mixture of cornstarch will be about 5-1 cornstarch to cold water. You can use a fork to mix it). This mixture will be like a goopy glue.

You want your cornstarch paste be a bit thicker than gravy. Once it sets up, allow it to cool to room temp before using it. You can store it in a mason jar for 2-3 days or so if you cannot do your project all at once, or in the fridge for a week or more--but if you do that, you'll have to reheat it and add more water, as it will thicken up and jellify due to the cold.

2) Fabric content is VITAL to this project, as well as its preparation. DEFINITELY stick with fabrics with NATURAL content: cotton, silk, rayon, linen. You can use a blended fabric (say, cotton-polyester), but I wouldn't really recommend it and, if you have to do so, I definitely recommend staying with something 70% natural fiber to, at most, 30% synthetic. The reason for avoiding synthetics is two-fold: it does NOT absorb water and any bubbles trapped under the fabric will be difficult to impossible (depending on synthetic content) to smooth out.

Also, be sure to ABSOLUTELY pre-wash your fabric--preferably in hot water, and rinsed in hot as well. DO NOT ADD FABRIC SOFTENER--or even use a detergent with added softener. Pre-washing your fabric not only gets rid of the factory-applied starch, but it shrinks the fabric. For added adherence, I recommend adding a cup of vinegar or 1/4-1/2 cup pure ammonia to the wash (preferably vinegar. Don't worry: your fabric won't smell like vinegar, but it might smell a BIT of ammonia (I use the lemon-scented stuff). Both serve two important purposes, though: they not only help to break down any of the pre-applied starch (which often contains synthetic additives that impair adhesion), but it also makes the fabric/cornstarch paste somewhat anti- fungal and bacterial, which will prevent fungal or bacterial growth during the drying process--not a big deal if you are dealing with new walls or have a pristine environment, but there are all sorts of environmental bacteria, fungal spores and other contaminants in the air--many come from having open windows, but we also bring them in on clothing, etc.

After washing the fabric, IMMEDIATELY get it into the dryer and dry on high (it's important not to allow the fabric to sit in the washing machine, because of the fabric/mildew thing. The fabric takes some time to dry on the walls, and starches feed "bad" bacteria, mildews, and fungi. Once you dry it, definitely iron it all. NO STARCH ADDED. This is all VERY tedious, I know, but it's all very important to get the best results.

I also highly recommend NOT opening any windows for a few days before and after applying the fabric to the walls. Also, if you are a smoker, you don't want to smoke in the fabric covered room, or burn candles that smoke--ever (higher-end candles are generally smokeless. Also, cutting your wick to 1/8-1/6 inch prior to burning greatly reduces it from smoking). This stuff will definitely settle in the weaves and fibers of the fabric and will not only make them quickly look dingy and also trap the smell of both things.

3) Before applying the fabric, definitely do a bit of prep-work to the walls. I'd recommend the following (even for painting, in fact):

a) If the walls have any paint on them already other than flat (even if it's only eggshell--which is usually the finish in most apartments), definitely sand them with a fine-grit sandpaper (320-400 grit). This makes all the difference in adherence. When you sand walls, do it in a circular motion. I actually recommend using a belt or rotary sander (only using light pressure), but you can also use a block sander and sand it lightly manually (the latter is much cheaper--about $3.00 for the block form). **A great hint to prolong the life of your sandpaper is to cover the back with duct tape before using. This gives it added stability and prevents ripping and folding, as well as makes it easier to mount to either the belt or block sander**.

b) Patch any holes; sand any imperfections on the wall, etc. Be sure to sand it all as smooth as possible.

c) Pre-wash the walls with a mixture of TSP (tri-sodium phosphate--which you can get at any hardware store such as Lowes) and water. Use a soft washcloth or one of those car-wash sponges. Try to wring either out really well before using on the walls--you don't want it too wet. TSP is the best thing you can use on your walls, and will improve adhesion greatly. The thing is: TSP is highly caustic if undiluted, so avoid getting it on your skin. I definitely recommend wearing latex gloves during application. Once you wash the walls with the TSP, use a wet (water only), well-rung rag to clean off any residual TSP and sanding dust.

d) Allow your walls to completely dry--even a day or so, if necessary. If you use minimal water, you can probably expect it to dry in a few hours. A good way to tell if it's dry is to feel it. If it feels at all cool to the touch, it's not totally dry. Using a dehumidifier is great to speed up the drying process. Also, while it's drying, do try to refrain from using your HVAC (central heating or AC) system. Central ventilation systems contain lots of dust, particles, fungal spores, dander, and other particles that will basically render all the prep work you've done useless.

***Having said all this, there is a way to eliminate the TSP and sanding part all in one. It's called "liquid sander". You can probably find it at the hardware store, but if not, you can definitely order it online. It's definitely a more expensive alternative to the TSP and sanding preparation, but might be well-worth it for you. You will still have to rinse the walls well with a barely-wet rag, but it's nice to accomplish two steps in one!

4) Once your walls are ready to go, you just want to apply the fabric as you would any wallpaper. Be sure to apply the fabric vertically. You really also want to wring as much of the mixture off the fabric as you can. You can pre-soak your pieces, but I don't recommend wringing them out until you are ready to hang them. Also, definitely keep a spray bottle with the starch mixture (diluted 1:1 or 1:2 with warm water) with you to spray any areas of the fabric which might dry too quickly, or are just being difficult.

When hanging the fabric, do NOT stretch it or pull it AT ALL. Lay it a bit loosely, in fact: as it dries, it will naturally shrink. I also recommend using a staple gun to tack it on at the ceiling and floorboard areas. I staple it at the TOP when I first lay the fabric on the wall (this also makes it easier to lay the fabric, because you don't have to try to hold it up and prevent it from peeling down). I then lay the rest of the fabric as I would wallpaper, and leave about 2" at the bottom at the floorboard area. Once that area dries (almost completely), I then staple the bottom area and then spray it again a little to ensure it adheres at the seam, then use a sharp exacto knife and a straight edge to trim the bottom.

Be sure to only use GALVANIZED staples (they don't rust or bleed onto the fabric--imperative especially in more humid climates). Be generous with the staples--I'd place them about every 2 inches (staple holes are sooooo easy to spackle when it's time to move). The stapling will greatly reduce any pulling or loosening that could easily occur with temperature changes through the season. I'd also staple along the seams if you can--but you can be less liberal and staple it every 6-9 inches when stapling vertically.

If you are concerned about the staples showing--especially if you use light or solid fabric, you can use either a trim or ribbon that compliments or matches your fabric to cover them. You can either apply the trim by:

a) using spray craft-adhesive (go lightly when spraying it, and use a tarp to lie the trim on while spraying--it has a habit of going everywhere and it's difficult to get off stuff once it's on there) or

b) with Stitch-Witchery or other hem tape. Yep--you just iron it directly onto the fabric. The downside to this is that it your staples will probably show through more.

You could also use a double-sided tape such as craft tape or, even better, double-sided carpet tape cut to size. Make sure you cover the trim in continuous strip--no areas where it doesn't overlap (but only overlap about 1/16-1/8 inch to prevent obvious lumps in your fabric at the joining point.) If you are in a humid environment, you are best off going with the craft spray adhesive, though.

You could also make your own matching trim by cutting long, thin strips of the same or complimentary fabric. This is the method I prefer best--it looks the best. Simply presoak the strips in the starch solution, allow it to ALMOST completely dry, then use a dry iron to iron the raw edges under, and then adhere them along the seams with one of the above methods. Again, be sure not to stretch the fabric as you iron the edges under.

If you have to join pieces of stripping together, use fabric glue and do it prior to soaking in the starch. You will want to pre-iron the raw edges, line them up, glue them, and after the glue sets, iron the inseam down in one direction. Be sure to apply the glue only to the outer 1/8" of the raw edge, in a completely horizontal line. Alternatively, glue the edges down, iron them to the side, then trim the glued edges to 1/8".

**A side note: Instead of a wallpaper squeegee, I definitely recommend making your own squeegee the size of the width of your fabric. It will make smoothing out bubbles much easier, and greatly reduce stretching and unevenness in the weave. It's really VERY easy to make. Simply:

a) Buy some PVC pipe (I like using 3/4", but 1" works great too) and get yourself two cheap furniture HANDLES--the wider, the better. You can usually have the pipe cut to the proper size at the hardware store.

b) Drill two holes in the pipe a bit smaller than the screws that attach the handles. For easiest handling of the squeegee, you want the handles places 1/4 the length of your pipe from the ends.

To measure your pipe, mark in pencil the half-position mark on the pipe, then measure each half and mark the half-position mark for each side. This will allow you to find the proper placing of each handle. Center your handles on those markings and mark them off, then drill them.
If you don't have a drill at home, you might be able to get them to drill the holes at the hardware store, but you'll have to measure the hole placement there at the store. It's easier to borrow a drill and drill bits from a friend.

c) Make sure you sand the entire surface of the PVC pipe--including the ends and drill holes) with the same fine grit (320-400 grit) you use on the walls. This will not only remove any burrs on the pipe, it also removes the ink on it.

d) Screw in the nobs and you are done!

5) Apply your wet fabric and smooth it down with your new squeegee, being sure to apply only light pressure. You also want to keep the squeegee totally horizontal, so you don't stretch the fabric unevenly. If you do, simply lift up the area that is stretched, then spray on some more starch mixture and re-squeegee it, being sure to use lightest pressure at the point where you stopped, and pushing the fabric down with your hands if needed at that stop-point. If, at any point, you use too much pressure, simply pull the fabric back up and reapply.

6) Once the fabric all dries completely (I'd give it a couple of days), if you find any areas where you have bubbling or wrinkling (more common), use your spray bottle starch-mixture, spray down the area a bit, smooth it with your fingers, or even iron it down with an iron set on "light steam".

7) The last step you want to do is to overspray your fabric with, at the very least, stiff starch--the kind used to iron clothes. I also then apply a light coating of UV protectant (you can usually find it at stores that sell upholstering fabric and supplies or, sometimes, even a place like Pep Boys or a boat-supply store). If I am working in an area that has high-humidity, I also then follow up with a very light coating of water-proofing spray (also purchased at either an upholstery- or boat-supply store).

Finally! You are done!

When you are ready to remove the fabric, simply remove the staples, spray it rather generously with plain water and pull it off slowly. If any area resists, just wet it more. Rinse down the walls with a plain wet rag, and you're good.

I will be posting this instruction guide on [Instructables.com] soon, so if you ever need them again, they'll be there. Anyhow, good luck and have fun! ~Kirsten

Posted on Jan 25, 2011 6:27:17 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Jan 25, 2011 6:28:11 AM PST]

Posted on Jan 25, 2011 7:27:35 AM PST
Melanie says:
Thanks Heidi and Kirsten. It's nice getting some expert opinions!!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 31, 2011 5:41:23 AM PST
I did this several years ago for myself and then my neighbor. I used sheets so I would not have seams. they worked great. I stapled them top and bottom, pulling tight, this way and that way. then hot glued cording to hide the staples. for a plusher look use fabric batting, sold in stores on the roll...you might want to hot glue this a little to the wall...an X would work. then staple the fabric over it...this is how a pro digit inmysisters bedroom. good luck.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 15, 2011 2:32:38 PM PDT
Hi Melanie,

Yes I do have experience in putting fabric on the walls. It looks great.

Mix in with your starch a seperate batch to put on the walls only and add wallpaper glue to the mix..

Apply that mixture to the wall first and let sit for a couple of minutes so it gets tacky, then roll on your fabric that has been soaking in the startch mixture.

Have fun! :)

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 15, 2011 2:38:32 PM PDT
Great tips!!!

I too am an Interior Designer, however I specialize in custom designed furniture and themed Home Designing. Especially Coastal Style, as I do a lot of condo's in Cancun and Florida.

I loved the corn starch idea for making the mixture, I did not know you could use that in place of regular starch, I will do that next time!
:-)

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 16, 2011 1:13:06 PM PDT
John Ron-Je' says:
I've always used a small stapler, Im talking the mini one or regular one that you can open up. you can't see them, around the edges depending on the fabric you use you may have to outline with a coordinating ribbon. Be sure to get fabric that doesn't have a white border. I go to the .99-2.99 basket at Walmart, does wonders for a room. Good luck!

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 17, 2011 3:48:47 AM PDT
the starch trick works great!! my mom(30 years as an army wife) and I(25 years as an AF wife) always had to do this since you couldn't paint government housing. I will tell you that in a sub-tropical environment you will have to take your fabric down every couple of years and wash it to prevent mold. I am talking about somewhere that has water condensing on the walls(like Thailand)- normal Florida weather didn't cause any mold. I haven't done this in bathrooms.
I recommend lightweight cotton- pay attention to the repeats in the pattern! I have had great success with old sheets also. You will find that the repeats drive you nuts if you aren't careful- a small plaid(gingham) can be easy to use. Or a tiny floral. My favorite room I did in blue/green batik quilting fabric. If you do this with shiny fabric the shine will dull.
Don't get starch with 'bluing' in it unless you want a blue tinge. Mom used a 75% starch solution, I used 100%.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 18, 2011 10:39:08 AM PDT
Sparky says:
We had several fabric-covered walls in my home when I was growing up. My mom did them herself (she was a kindergarten teacher, but has always been oddly handy). She did not attach the fabric directly to the wall, and there was no paste (or even wall prep) involved. Instead, she used a method she came up with to "quilt" the walls.

For us, this accomplished two things -- keeping our 1909, solid-brick, northeastern, freezing-cold-all-winter-despite-thousands-in-heating-oil home a bit warmer, and adding that luxurious fabric-covered walls look.

First, she created a framework by attaching these thin pieces of 1" wide wood (cannot remember what this stuff is called, but it's very cheap, and available at any lumber or Home Depot store) -- along the top (under the crown molding), at the bottom (above the baseboard molding). I think she just put some wood glue on the backs and then nailed them in place. No big deal.

She placed the vertical pieces at regular intervals, based on the width of the fabric (e.g. if it's 60+ wide fabric, the intervals were probably 30" to prevent any seams from showing anywhere on the walls).

She used upholstery fabric, of course -- a gorgeous butter yellow moire taffeta in the formal living room (32 x 25 ft) and a rich, burgundy-based paisley (which was itself quilted) in my dad's library/study.

She then used an electric staple gun to attach to the wooden framework cotton batting (available in large, quilt-width rolls at any fabric store) on the interior walls, and actual fiberglass insulation (it was REALLY cold in our house in the winter, I wouldn't advise doing this!) on the exterior walls.

Then she simply stapled the actual fabric over the batting to same latticework, taking care to keep it smooth, taut, and aligned.

To finish it off and hide all the staples/seams, she created hundreds of yards of double welting (if you can't sew, you definitely want to farm this out, as it's a royal pain and a lot of work). She hot-glued the welting right over the staple line, at top, bottom and along each vertical.

The finished product was incredibly professional looking and really gorgeous. As a bonus, so my mom said, it helped my dad avoid brain damage when he banged his head against the wall after receiving the monthly heating bill.

I have photos of these rooms, if you're interested in seeing them.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 24, 2011 6:59:50 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 24, 2011 7:01:14 AM PDT
mdesigner says:
Bohemian Chic: Decorating with Vintage and Salvage (Volume 1)
This is wonderful! I am also an interior designer ...:) I once had a client who had been an "Army Wife" in the 1950's; and she taught me this technique! We did a half-wall up to a chair rail in a bedroom, and we also used sheets as the fabric! It came out wonderfully. Your instructions would certainly have helped, although my client certainly knew what she was doing! Thank you so much... :) FYI: I just published a book, Bohemian Chic: Decorating with Vintage and Salvage...

Posted on Apr 28, 2011 1:47:37 AM PDT
Gwen~w1 says:
Just ran across this discussion. I like watching the Nate Berkus show and he showed how to use fabric as wallpaper. I tried it on a wall in my home and it was so easy and not messy at all.
Here is the link to his show on how to do it step by step.
http://www.thenateshow.com/tipsandtools/detail/fabric-wall-art

In reply to an earlier post on May 3, 2011 5:51:08 AM PDT
Susan says:
I've decorated my walls with fabric tons of times. Personally, I like the draping effect rather than stiff stuck to the wall. I simply use a staple gun and stable it along all the sides. It gives a floating effect, super easy and quick. Also, you can move it any time. I've even draped it on ceilings before.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 30, 2012 4:18:30 PM PDT
Can you tell me if this works on wood panelling?

Posted on Mar 30, 2012 4:23:16 PM PDT
Sparky says:
FYI, I would avoid using starch (old-fashioned wallpaper paste), as an adhesive, as it can be and is readily eaten by a whole variety of different insects.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 30, 2012 4:24:43 PM PDT
Sparky says:
You would be better off covering the paneling with batting and staple-gunning the fabric, as I describe above, unless you can get the paneling very, very smooth prior to attaching the fabric directly to it (we had our painter fill and paint over paneling in our den, and it came out very good -- also, not expensive to do).

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 24, 2012 2:47:03 PM PDT
I would be interested in seeing your pictures you described here of the fabric covered walls. My email is: jedwards601@mac.com

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 24, 2012 4:26:04 PM PDT
Sparky says:
I will email you a photo that shows the walls. My mom recently moved and took the photo albums with her, but I believe I have a few photos of my own taken in those rooms and I will try to find/scan/send them to you...

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 27, 2012 7:52:36 AM PST
I would like to see pictures of your mom's fabric walks too! My email is mrskammer@aol.com thanks for the tips!

Posted on Jan 2, 2013 3:36:23 PM PST
Harrison Lee says:
http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Smart-Mural-Stix/115155908578349

You should check this facebook. That is all Fabric wallcovering and shows before and after photos.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 6, 2013 5:20:54 AM PDT
Teresa Davis says:
Hey Susan, Can you elaborate more on the what you did. I don't understand the floating effect. Did you just let it stay however it landed on the wall?

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 28, 2014 8:16:05 PM PDT
rohan says:
Hi Sparky,

I know this was posted in 2011, but if you're still interested on giving advice on this method I'd love to hear it! I'm about to do the same thing to my (rented) apartment, but I'm not quite sure how to accomplish it. Pictures would be incredibly helpful.

Thanks!

Rohan

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2014 3:15:14 AM PDT
Teresa Davis says:
I recently did a bedroom using flat sheets that I purchased at Walmart. I made my own starch. I started out using the already prepared starch you can purchase in the bottle, but it irritated my hands so bad I did not use any more. I made my own molding using the sheets and fabric glue. I have to admit that I don't think I will be doing this again any time soon. It goes on great wet, but when it dries you have a lot of air bubbles and you have to rewet and smooth out. I never did master how to hide the drywall seams. It was a fun project. If you use this method for your apartment, when you leave you can easily remove the material, but you will have to wash the walls. I hope this helps.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 29, 2014 8:08:51 AM PDT
Sparky says:
Hi Rohan,

I don't have any photos available of the process, but I can certainly remember it very clearly. My mom used a nail gun to attach thin strips of wood (I'm not sure what they're called, but they're cheap and readily available in lengths at the hardware store) horizontally along the bottom edge of the crown molding and the top edge of the base molding. Then she attached vertical strips at intervals along each wall, as follows:

To make your life easier, measure the width of your chosen fabric, and then place the strips so that you can staple-gun the fabric at the selvedges (the woven edges on either side of the fabric).

Once you have your framework in place you can begin.

First, use cotton batting to create the "puff" behind the fabric. On the exterior walls she used fiberglass insulation, but it was a very old, freezing cold house! You can just use rolls of cotton or polyester batting (available at any fabric or larger crafts shop). They need to be as wide as the fabric.

Staple (invest in an electric staple gun or your arms will drop off) the batting in sheets to the horizontal and vertical slats. Don't overlap.

Once the batting is in place, you can add the fabric. Same method. Staple-gun to the top strip, let it hang down. Staple-gun to the bottom, and then the sides, making sure it's smooth and not rippled.

When you're finished, you'll have a quilted, messy-looking room. Now you need to make yards and yards and yards of piping. Get ready to cut bias strips and create piping to cover all the joining points (top, verticals, and bottom). This was the most tedious part. She made hundreds of yards of double piping. Then, you can hot-glue it in place. And that's that.

I'm not sure how to attach a photo here. I do have images of the finished rooms. In the formal living room she used a pale yellow moire taffeta. In the library she used a richly colored, pre-quilted paisley. Both looked great. But what fabric you use is a matter of taste. Use something with a bit of heft and weight, so it lays flat and is less likely to pucker and show the batting beneath. The pre-quilted stuff worked great.

Hope this helps.
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