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 to place removable fabric on your walls instead of paint. Ordinary textile fabric can be applied to your walls with everyday laundry starch, and it can be taken down whenever you want. It's a perfect solution to put fabric on walls without damaging them—especially for renters who may need to return the room to its original condition when moving time comes.
Decorating with 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.
Before You Begin
The first step in this project is to find appropriate fabric. Keep in mind that using a cloth with a distinct, large pattern will require more fabric and time since you'll need to match the pattern at the seams so the design appears uninterrupted. Opt for a simple textile fabric without any cushioned backing, as padded fabric on walls must be attached with hardware.
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 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. Let the fabric dry completely.
Equipment / Tools
- Paint roller with low-nap roller cover
- Paint tray
- Wallpaper smoothing tool
- Metal straightedge
- Sharp utility knife
- Tape measure
- Textile fabric
- Drop cloths
- Laundry starch
Prepare the Fabric
The best removable fabric for walls is textile fabric, which is often used for items like upholstery. 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 again, then cut off the selvage edges (the fringe) with scissors.
Prepare the Wall
Wash the wall down and dry it before you begin. Remove cover plates from outlets and wall switches. Cover the floor with drop cloths, as rolling starch onto walls can be a messy operation.
Apply the Starch
You can use liquid 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. Use a plastic container with a lid to hold your liquid starch. It can then be stored away if you are interrupted.
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 switches and outlet boxes, be careful not to slop starch onto the fixtures.
Hang the Fabric
Hanging the fabric takes patience, but it is not difficult. 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 it matches 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.
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, wipe the baseboards and wood trim clean, then put the outlet and switch cover plates back on.
Cleaning and Caring for Fabric Walls
Whenever your walls need cleaning because the fabric gets dirty, use water mixed with a tiny bit of dishwashing detergent and sponge the walls lightly to remove dirt.
When it comes time to remove the fabric, use a wet sponge to soak the corners until they fall away from the walls. The fabric should come right off in complete strips.
Alternative Ideas for Fabric Walls
Want another idea to create a fabric wall that involves 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 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.
How can I make my walls look expensive?
How do you hang decorative fabric on walls?
How can I dress my walls without paint?
Hanging wallpaper or fabric on your walls is a great way to dress them without using paint. Peel-and-stick murals can also be purchased to create a large impact on your space that's easy to take down in the future.