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Here’s The Step By Step Of How To Use Fabric As Wallpaper…It’s WALLFabric, Y’all!

Well, the day is finally here and I hope you’re all prepared! It’s been a long time coming and I know we’ve all been anxiously awaiting it: tax day. Did you do them? If the answer is yes, congratulations! Your reward is this post, where I finally reveal just how I was able to use fabric as wallpaper in my bedroom makeover. It’s completely renter-friendly and won’t break the bank, so you can spend your return on something fun, like a tropical vacation, instead of hiring a professional installer, after paying $100/roll for wallpaper.

If you’ve been following along since last week, I sincerely thank you for your patience! Now, many of you already guessed the answer to my magic trick: fabric starch. But hopefully, today’s post will answer any remaining questions you might have about applying wallfabric. I’m offering up my full, tried and true, step-by-step process so you can recreate this look for yourself–with modifications for my lazy girls and perfectionists alike! Though this is the first full room I’ve done myself, I’ve used this technique a number of times and can fully vouch for its effectiveness in transforming a space. And if you need a reminder of just how transformative it can be, here’s where we left off:

Now, before I fully dive in, I must give credit where it’s due. I first came across this application through Apartment Therapy years ago and I’ve been experimenting with it ever since. So while I wasn’t the first to discover it, I’ve fine-tuned their instructions, based on my research, and am writing my findings here, for you. Also, they weren’t the first to discover it–I recently picked up a 1976 Sunset Magazine guide that provided a how-to for fabric walls. And I’m sure Queen Elizabeth had fabric hanging from a wall or two in her castle (not fact-checked, but seems like it). Point being, knowing this technique has spanned YEARS of decorating eras, I say you should feel pretty confident in trying it out for yourself. Let’s get started.

You will need (almost) everything pictured here. Anything labeled in white is a MUST and anything labeled in blue will just make your life easier.

  1. Your fabric of choice, enough to cover your intended walls (ideally a lighter-weight cotton) Hot tip: Check out the bedding section at the thrift for big sheet sets–an even cheaper way to cover a large surface area!
  2. Liquid starch (this one is the best bang for your buck)
  3. Bucket (or a paint tray works, too)
  4. Paint roller (make sure it’s clean!)
  5. Fabric scissors (regular scissors could also work)
  6. Painter’s tape (any color)
  7. X-Acto Knife or Utility Blade (the newer and sharper, the better)
  8. Staple Gun (this, in combination with the painter’s tape, will help a TON, especially if you tackle this project on your own. But it’s not 100% necessary (and will leave tiny holes))
  9. Step Stool (or a chair, whatever will help you reach your fabric to the ceiling)
  10. Iron (only really necessary if you plan to hem your edges–more on that later)
  11. Hem tape (used with your iron, to achieve a cleaner seam line)
  12. Measuring tape (if you want to be more exact with the length of panels needed, also helpful when measuring your room)
  13. Drop cloth (it’s nice to have a towel handy to catch the larger spills, but I’ve found that this stuff can really get anywhere and be fine)
  14. Spray bottle (filled with starch solution, sometimes handy when you need to smooth out any bubbles on the spot)

To Begin:

After gathering your supplies, you’ll need to locate a good spot for your wallfabric application. Maybe it’s an entire room, an accent wall or the just the upper half of some wainscoting–I’ve done and loved them all! Here, I’m just demonstrating on a better-lit wall in my living room, mostly so I can show you how clean the wall is after removal.

A few of you had questions about the types of walls you can apply this over. Though I’ve only wallfabric’d over typical, textured drywall, I would be surprised if it didn’t also work atop wood paneling. I once applied it to a cardboard cutout (that I then attached to my ceiling) and it adhered just fine to that, too! I think as long as the surface is flat-ish, it should stay (and remove) no problem. I would proceed with caution if applying over existing wallpaper. Since wallfabric requires a lot of wetness, I’d first do a small test spot to see if the moisture interacts negatively. If you don’t care what happens to the wallpaper underneath, you should be totally fine.

Prepare Your Panels

Depending on the space you’re tackling, it might make better sense to cut/prepare all of your fabric panels at once–or cut as you go. You do you. You’ll need to measure the height of the space you’re covering, and do the math on how many panels across you’ll need to complete your space. I knew I had a LOT of fabric to work with, but I still cut all the panels I would need for my bedroom at one time to make sure I had enough to complete the pattern, 360°.

Since my fabric’s motif was pretty streamlined, I could simply count the flowers vertically to find my cutting spot, and then repeated this 13 times. When cutting, make sure you leave at least an inch or two of overage at the top AND bottom. You’ll be trimming this away later. Another important note: when cutting your panels, the cuts should start and end in the same place each time (if there’s a repeating motif), so that each panel’s pattern will line up horizontally, as they’re placed side to side. Once you cut your first piece, the additional cuts should be easy to figure out (lay them next to each other as you cut, if you need). It may mean that you tack on more than 4″ to keep the same repeat, which is totally fine. You’ll cut that off later.

You can see that my fabric has a pretty noticeable, white selvage edge. Not all fabrics will have this, but if yours does, THAT is where the iron and hem tape comes in handy (I’ll get there). Regardless, your first panel can be applied with these edges showing.

Mix Your “Glue”

Arguably, the most important step is your liquid starch mixture, and it’s basically impossible to get wrong. This stuff is truly liquid gold, and you could absolutely dump the whole thing in your bucket and get rolling. But I’ve found that mixing it with water, roughly 1:1, really helps it stretch, without compromising the grip. To do my small bedroom, even after mixing it with water, I still needed about three of these bad boys, but I also wasn’t too careful with how much ended up on the floor vs the wall. It can be helpful to fill a spray bottle with this same mixture if you want to limit the mess and better concentrate the solution to certain areas of the fabric. The paint roller, though effective for most of the application, does tend to drip everywhere.

Stick ‘Em Up

Once your mixture is ready to go, start by loosely taping your fabric panel a bit above where you’ll be trimming it back later. In my case, that was roughly 4″ into the crown moulding. Tape works pretty well to hold it up–the more, the better. But if you’re okay with a couple of small holes, I highly recommend a staple gun, to truly lock it in place. Just one staple, right below your future trim line, is all you need. Any more and you might be locked into a placement that isn’t ideal. That’s why tape is your friend, because it can move with you as you plaster down the fabric. Also, it’s why you don’t want to hang it too taught right away, because once wet, it’s necessary for the fabric to shift as you smooth it. In the picture, the fabric is already a bit wet, so know that you’ll have to adjust initial loose-ness more than this.

Let’s Roll

Other people will tell you to coat the wall in starch first, but I think this is a waste of time. So long as your fabric isn’t too thick, rolling directly on top of your dry, hanging panel should totally suffice. This is where things will likely get messy. But remember, this is basically just cornstarch and water. It wipes up so easily, whether you catch it as soon as it drips or after it’s dried down. It’s never left a noticeable trace for me and is generally so forgiving. It’s meant for fabric, so if it gets on your clothes, all it takes is a wash to get it gone. Floors and furniture just require a damp rag.

Dip your roller into your mixture and begin rolling on top of your fabric panel until it’s completely saturated. It is VERY likely you’ll have wrinkles or unevenness as you do this. That’s okay. Pulling up on your newly wet fabric and re-placing it is totally allowed and encouraged.

Once everything is wet, use your hands to smooth it out, like you might with pottery or paper mache. I like to start in the middle, smoothing outward and upward, readjusting as I go to ensure that everything is straight and flat to the wall. Take a step back every so often to make sure the panel looks straight. Lift, tug, and manipulate the edges out where needed. For the “eyeballing”-ly-challenged, a level can come in handy here. Around any moulding and baseboards, do your best to push the fabric into the creases to aid in your trimming, later.

This is the first panel applied. Now you’re ready to repeat the process on either side, but you might have to finish (or carefully trim) the edges of your next panel. Let me explain…

Creating The Perfect Seam

As you’ll see in the pictures above, my fabric has a FAT, white selvage. I can’t apply this piece onto the last without first trimming it back to the edge of the repeating pattern–or as I prefer to do here, iron and “glue” it back. With some iron-on seam tape (and a little patience) I can hem the edge of this fabric to line up PERFECTLY. This way, you don’t risk the fabric edge fraying (which is likely to happen if you cut it (and annoying, but still workable)). It becomes a lot easier to line up on the wall with a finished edge. Just be sure that if you choose to hem the sides, your pattern still repeats seamlessly (pun-intended), side to side.

You can opt to hem just one side, leaving the other side to be covered up, again, with the next hemmed panel. So on and so forth, until the last panel, where you’ll have to hem both edges to finish it off.

Let’s Speed This Up A Bit

You’ll repeat the same steps as before, taping your newly hemmed, dry panel to one side of the pasted panel, being careful to match up the seams. Here we see Gretchen in her natural habitat, being a mess and a perfectionist, all in one.

I start by wetting just along the new seam, lining it up, and smoothing it down on top of the panel next to it. You may need to shift your panel around a bit, but you really won’t get it matching up perfectly until it’s wet and pasted to the wall. Once you like how it’s laying, continue saturating the rest of the panel, adjusting as needed. Then repeat and repeat again, until you’re done.

This stuff dries pretty quickly with just a breezy window open, but a fan can aid in speeding it up a bit. It can take as little as a few hours, but I like to stretch a project out, and usually give it until the next day to dry. You’ll know it’s dry and ready to trim when it feels a bit stiff or scratchy to the touch.

There might be a few bubbles after it first dries. I like to go in with a second-coat, spot treatment only, and roll out these spots. This is also where the spray bottle can come in handy, to wet small spots, smoothing with your hands. Rarely do I need a third pass, but will occasionally need to apply to just the edges to lay them back down after trimming.

Trim Time

To finish your wallfabric installation, take your SHARP X-acto blade and carefully cut along your trim lines. Mine was fairly easy because I just needed to press my blade into the underside of the moulding, going slowly to keep my cuts straight. A sharp blade and truly dry fabric make all the difference, but keep in mind no one will be SO CLOSE that they see all your imperfections. In some cases, it may help to peel the trim edge up enough to cut your (newly indented) fabric with scissors along the line to achieve that finished edge. Not pictured is me repeating this step along the baseboards, windows, and outlets.

You may also have obstructions you’ll need to trim around. This should be fairly straightforward, but I always like to hang the full panel, regardless of what’s behind it, be it light switches or windows. This will ensure the pattern is continuous from top to bottom. When it comes to windows, I roughly cut out the necessary holes while the fabric dangles from the wall, leaving enough space on all sides for a clean trim, taping or stapling any new top edges.

With outlets, I like to cover plugs with a piece of painter’s tape to repel the liquid starch, then cut an X in the center to each corner, later trimming the sides when dry. In some cases, you can skip the X and just trim the box out when it’s dry because the wet fabric has enough give to fully stretch over it.

When It’s Time To Move Out

Literally, peel it off the wall. Done. So long as the surface won’t come with it when you peel it off (ie potentially, wallpaper), you won’t need to wet it to remove it. Some suggest doing this anyway, so you’re welcome to try it, but I’ve never had issue with doing it dry–the paint always stays in place.

If you’re someone who really likes to deep clean a place before leaving it for good, you might give the wall a wipe down, but I never find I need to. It looks like nothing was ever there. The mixture soaks in and dries more to the fabric, than the wall.

The best part? Now you have huge, starched panels of fabric ready to re-use in a new project! Take your wallfabric with you to apply in your next place, or make a pair of overalls to wear and remember your past room fondly. My mom says she’ll sew me a pair with my leftover fabric scraps, and the EHD crew told me I should ‘go as my room for Halloween’–I’m kind of into it.

design by gretchen raguse | styled by gretchen raguse and emily henderson | photo by kaitlin green | From: gretchen’s bedroom moto reveal

So that should be all, folks! If I’ve somehow managed to not address your burning questions in this girthy, Monday post, please feel free to ask away in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer, though I will NOT be giving out tax advice. You wouldn’t want it, anyway. As always, thanks for reading! And if you try this yourself, I’d love to see it! DM me or something, @gretchenraguse.

Sincerely, Gretch

Opening Image Credits: Design by Gretchen Raguse | Styled by Gretchen Raguse and Emily Henderson | Photo by Kaitlin Green | From: Gretchen’s Bedroom MOTO Reveal

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Sarah
1 month ago

Great tutorial!

Awulknitter
1 month ago

That looks so good! I bet it’s one of those processes where practice (not to mention patience) makes perfect.
I wonder if a fabric rotary cutter (as used for patchwork and dressmaking) would work for trimming at the end? It might be less likely to snag than a knife.

MBJ
1 month ago
Reply to  Awulknitter

That’s what I was thinking, too! I use rotary cutters for quilting and it’s basically just a super sharp pizza cutter and it would work great here.

T.
1 month ago
Reply to  Awulknitter

I’ve used rotary cutters for wallpaper, and we know they’re made for fabric, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t work for this application.

Brenda
1 month ago

Thanks for sharing the detailed tutorial. I would love to try this in my bedroom! Great idea to use a large sheet, and I’m glad it works on textured walls.

Selena
1 month ago

I have been waiting for this post since your MOTO reveal last week! I can’t wait to try this in my rental home. Our library needs pattern on the walls!

ZOE
1 month ago

LOVE THIS! Do you think this could work in a bathroom?

Jessie Light
1 month ago
Reply to  ZOE

I have done this in my bathroom and it has been three years now and no problems at all!

Sr. Crow
1 month ago

Thanks for this amazing tutorial! Quick question: what are your thoughts applying it in a (fanless) full bath? How do you think the fabric and starch would perform up against consistent steam?

Kimberly
1 month ago

I love this, hands down my favorite tutorial yet. So informative and clear, thank you

Pearl
1 month ago

Can’t wait to try this! Thanks for all the details!

Molly
1 month ago

Love, love LOVE! Offers so many more options than expensive wallpaper. When it’s placed on textured walls, does the texture go through like it does with wallpaper? Or is the thicker cotton better at concealing it? I have an imperfectly dry-walled ceiling that I want to cover and I’m into the least amount of work for my shoulders’ sake. And if you attach fabric to cardboard first, how did you attach the cardboard to the surface?

Angela
1 month ago
Reply to  Molly

I’ve done it on textured walls with a heavy-ish linen/cotton blend and it looks pretty good! If you’re 6 inches away, you can see a bit of texture, but most people in my home aren’t gonna be putting their noses to the wall. 🙂

Michelle
1 month ago

Totally amazeballs. So what I heard is you can use a single staple to tack the fabric in place while installing, but really you want to remove the staple once the fabric is dry – so when you go to uninstall you don’t rib or tear your panel. I’ve been wondering if you suffer any peeling edges or adjustments needed overtime. Maybe this would be more like to happen in parts of the country with more extreme temp and humidity fluctuations? But also, I guess, you just do a little repair as needed. I don’t have an immediate place to apply this but I love knowing how. Thanks so much for sharing and BTW I LOVE the pattern you chose.

Kasia
1 month ago
Reply to  Michelle

I’ve done a little repair on some edges in my kitchen. Just brushed on more liquid cornstarch to get it wet in that area, then smoothed it out with my fingers.

Summer
1 month ago

This is SO amazing. Thank you! … Being a mess and a perfectionist at the same time is my natural habitat too. Ha, ha.

Cici Haus
1 month ago

Love this! I’ve used the starch method with regular non-pasted wallpaper to make it “temporary” (in a bathroom nonetheless!) and it’s held up great.

Bridget
1 month ago

Did you use Spoonflower’s signature cotton for this project? Do you think the recycled canvas would be too heavy? I’d love to try this in the sink area of my kids’ bathroom and thought the canvas might be a bit hardier for splashes.

Angela
1 month ago
Reply to  Bridget

I used a pretty thick linen upholstery fabric in my bathroom (like almost a burlap) and it went up really well. I bet canvas would work.

Kasia
1 month ago

I just did this on an accent wall in my kitchen! I had done it years ago, but only small pieces. My kitchen wall came out FANTASTIC and you can’t tell it’s not regular wallpaper! The only tip I would add to your directions (I didn’t roll it on underneath either, just saturated the top), is to WASH the fabric first. It could shrink in the water cornstarch solution otherwise, making your measurements off. This is such an eco-friendly way to live the wallpaper moment…the fabric comes off super super easy and can be washed and used for something else. Highly recommend this to anyone wanting wallpaper but little commitment! Thanks for spreading the word 🙂

priscilla
1 month ago

Even as an ex-diy wallpaperer, this sounds hard. Or maybe I’m just crotchety right now?
When applying wall paper, the use of a wallpaper-specific primer make a world of difference (being able to move the paper around easily once applied to the wall), I wonder if it would make a difference with fabric.
Oh, and a plumb line to start wall paper is a must have. I would think it would also help in fabric application, too.
The room is beautiful, I love the fabric choice. Good job!

Gretchen
1 month ago

From one Gretchen to another: wow! Now I just have to figure out where to try it my house (I think I’ll start small…) Thanks for the clear guide.

Jan Jessup
1 month ago

Hi, everyone! I wrote about using starch to cover walls with fabric in the Calico Corners Guide to Do-It-Yourself Decorating, a 40-page booklet published in 1974. I learned the technique from Judy Lindahl who published some do-it-yourself booklets in the early ’70s in Portland, Oregon. My instructions contain much more detail about fabric selection; how to figure yardage; how to establish a plumb line to hang the first panel of fabric (absolutely critical!); and the overlap-and-double-cut technique which will result in a perfectly butted seam, no selvages and no bulges. Since the Calico Corners booklet is out-of-print, I will be happy to send a 6-page scan of the pages that deal with Fabric Walls and Liquid Starch. Contact me at: jjessup@calicocorners.com
And if you need a great fabric, there are 50+ Calico stores across the country, as well as an extensive selection online at: http://www.calicocorners.com


Molly
1 month ago
Reply to  Jan Jessup

Thank you for your generosity! Most of Em’s readers probably weren’t alive in 1974 so it’s cool they can see how everyone old becomes new again (and old saying that this 51yo learned from her mom).

Jan Jessup
1 month ago
Reply to  Molly

Thanks, Molly! The saying is that everything old becomes new again. How I wish that everyone old could become new again!

Ellie
1 month ago

Very cool! The part I’m not quite understanding is how to make the pattern match exactly the whole way down the fabric. Is it the case that fabrics are generally designed to match up in the same way wallpaper does or do you have to carefully select a fabric with a suitable repeated pattern? Sorry if this is a daft question! I’m imagining having to painstakingly measure to find where to create a seam along the exact midpoint of a flower, for example.

Jan Jessup
1 month ago
Reply to  Ellie

Decorative fabrics are designed to match at the selvage–which they have to do across the back of a sofa, or across the seams of window treatments. Most fabrics have repeats that match from panel to panel at the selvage–occasionally there is a fabric with a drop repeat; the panels will still match, but the cuts will be slightly different. To check the repeat on a fabric, bring the two selvages together and you will see the match at the selvage. Remember the old carpenter’s rule: measure twice, cut once!

Ellie
1 month ago
Reply to  Jan Jessup

Oh that’s really helpful to know. And makes sense. Thanks so much Jan!

Rebecca Burnham
1 month ago

This is fantastic. I’ve been in a long term rental & would love to try this. My landlord’s very cool. There are no moldings around my ceiling, do you think this will be an issue

Jan Jessup
1 month ago

Hi, Rebecca–
The lack of moldings should not be an issue. Hardware stores sell a metal-edge tool about 18″-24″ long (with a plastic grip) for wallpapering. This would give you a hard edge to cut against in the joint between wall and ceiling.

Stacey
1 month ago

The first time I heard of this was from my war bride mother in law. This was a very popular decorating hack for military wives as they moved a lot and had to pass inspection–no wall damage– when they moved out of base housing. Love that you are bringing it back!

Marisa
1 month ago

I’ve been wanting to wallpaper a feature wall in my dining room forever but have been putting it off due to the cost (over $500 for one wall?!). I would love to do this, but I have messy kids and I’m wondering if it’s possible to wipe down a wall and not have the fabric peel off? Does anyone know?

Jan Jessup
1 month ago
Reply to  Marisa

Hello, Marisa–
If you select a cotton or cotton/linen blend fabric, you should be able to clean it with a sponge and a little dish soap/water solution. If it becomes a bit loose, just sponge on more liquid starch to make it reattach to the wall!

Kirsten
1 month ago

Does this work well in Humid environments (aka, South East USA)? I know humidity can affect peel and stick wallpaper and you are saying that some people choose to wet the fabric to assist removal…I am wondering if constant exposure to humidity would also cause this to pull off the wall.

Jan Jessup
1 month ago
Reply to  Kirsten

I think it’s highly unlikely that humidity would cause the fabric to pull off the wall. As long as you use a tightly woven cotton or cotton/linen blend that’s not too textured or heavy, it should be fine. Even where I live (Mid-Atlantic), we have summers that are quite humid, and my fabric walls were fine!

KW
1 month ago

Can’t wait to try this and I have many questions but the first is: why was the middle panel the first one hung? Is that typically standard in wallpaper hanging?
Thanks!

Jan Jessup
1 month ago
Reply to  KW

Whether working with fabric or wallcovering, professionals would center a panel on the most visible or on the most important wall and then work around the room from both sides of the centered panel. This insures that there will be an equal number of seams on each side of center. If you don’t have a particularly important wall–or if the seams won’t show (as in a busy print)–you can begin near a corner, but do NOT start in a corner. Start with the wall that has the fewest windows and doors. Hope this helps!

KW
27 days ago
Reply to  Jan Jessup

It does help! It mostly helps in showing me I know nothing about the process and I should do some more learning before I leap into it!

Thank you!

Danielle
1 month ago

Do you know, would this work over any kind of surface? (I’ve got some large wood panels in my basement I am interested in painting or wallpapering).

Jan Jessup
1 month ago
Reply to  Danielle

Danielle, you could try a small piece of fabric (a remnant?) and see if liquid starch will hold it to the wood surface. If the paneling has grooves in it, these may be visible, even if the fabric adheres. The grooves may also complicate the placement of fabric panels, in trying to avoid starting or ending on an indentation. It may also be hard to cut/trim on a wood paneled surface. If you do a test application, do it in an inconspicuous area and also try to cut the fabric using a single-edge razor blade or a rotary fabric cutter. The results will help you make a decision as to whether this is a viable solution for your basement walls.

Jan Jessup
1 month ago

Actually, a king-size sheet is much more difficult to handle than a 54-inch wide decorative fabric. A sheet is so large and heavy when it’s wet with starch that it can be a headache to manage. I also recommend using push pins (not tape) to hold panels in place temporarily while you apply starch–much easier!