How to Cover a Wall With Fabric

Fabric wallpaper
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If you are a renter, perhaps you're looking for an innovative way to dress up your walls beyond the simple repainting that is usually allowed by landlords. If you're a homeowner, then you may be looking for something new beyond paint and wallpaper.

A great alternative might be a fabric wall. Ordinary textile fabric can be applied to your walls with everyday laundry starch, and it can be removed whenever you want, without leaving any damage to the walls. It's a perfect solution for renters who may need to return the room to its original condition when moving time comes.

Hanging fabric on walls is quite similar to the process of hanging wallpaper. If you have worked with wallpaper, you'll have no trouble with this project.

Tools and Supplies You Will Need

  • Textile fabric
  • Scissors
  • Drop cloths
  • Stepladder
  • Laundry starch
  • Paint roller with low-nap roller cover
  • Paint tray
  • Wallpaper smoothing tool
  • Metal straightedge
  • Sharp utility knife

Instructions

Prepare the Fabric and the Walls

The first step in this project is to find appropriate fabric. Keep in mind that using cloth with a distinct, large pattern will require more fabric and time since you'll need to match the pattern at seams so the design appears uninterrupted.

Check fabric warehouses and bargain bins for lightweight and inexpensive fabrics. Most fabric is 40 to 50 inches wide, and you can calculate how many lengths you'll need by measuring the width of the wall. It's always better to have a bit too much cloth than not enough.

It is also important to wash and completely dry your fabric before hanging. Hand-washing is usually best, because machine washing may fray the edges.

Then cut the lengths of fabric to fit the wall, allowing about 2 inches of extra fabric at the top and the bottom, and along wall edges. If the lengths of fabric will wrap around windows, it is a good idea to pre-fit them and cut them roughly to size. Precise trimming will happen after you hang the fabric. Working with a helper makes this work much easier.

Prewash the fabric, then cut off the selvage edges (the fringe) with scissors. Wash the wall down and dry it before you begin, and remove outlet and switch cover plates.

Apply Starch

You can use starch to attach the fabric to the wall. With this method, the wall will not be damaged and the fabric can be easily removed when the time comes

Cover the floor with drop-cloths, as rolling starch onto walls can be a messy operation. It is usually easiest to apply starch to the walls using a paint roller; this method is less messy and faster than using a brush or dipping the fabric into a container of starch. Make sure to cover all wall surfaces completely. Around open light switch and outlet boxes, be careful not to slop starch onto the fixtures.

Use a plastic container with a lid to hold your starch mixture. It can then be stored away if you are interrupted.

Hang the Fabric

Hanging the fabric takes patience, but it is not hard. While the starch is still damp, apply the strips of fabric, one at a time, beginning in one corner and moving across the room. Have a helper stand back from the wall to ensure the pattern remains properly aligned and that they match at the edges. The fabric should overlap the side corner and the baseboard and ceiling by 1 to 2 inches. At the seams, overlap the fabric strips by about 1/2 inch.

If necessary, use thumbtacks to secure the strips of fabric at the top. Use a wallpaper smoothing tool to flatten the fabric against the wall. Now, roll more starch over the fabric and let it dry

Trim the Fabric

When the starch and fabric are dry to the touch, use a straightedge and sharp utility knife to carefully trim the excess fabric at the ceiling line, along baseboards, and around any wood trim. Use care when trimming around outlet and switch boxes, to avoid touching wires with the knife blade.

After the fabric is fully trimmed, put the outlet and switch cover plates back on

After Care

Whenever your walls need cleaning because the fabric gets dirty, use a tiny bit of dishwashing detergent and sponge it lightly.

When it comes time to remove the fabric, use a wet sponge and soak the corners until they fall away from the walls. The fabric should come right off in complete strips—something that is sure to make your landlord happy!

Want another idea to create a fabric wall that involves absolutely no contact with the wall? You can cover pieces of paneling with fabric and either attach them to the wall with removable tacks or velcro strips, or simply lean the panels against the wall. You don't have to cover the whole wall with fabric panels to make a big impact—even a single piece of paneling covered with fabric can be impressive.