How to Paint Upholstery Fabric and Make Something Remarkable

How to Paint Upholstery Fabric and Make Something Remarkable

Painting Upholstery Fabric? Really?

Painting upholstery fabric can be a cost-effective way of freshening up your space without the added costs and hassle of reupholstering. You might have seen this trend raging through Pinterest or Instagram – it’s been a breakout style of 2018, and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Read on for an in-depth look at our own experiences, the equipment we used and the techniques we learned.

What Kind of Paint to Use on Upholstery Fabric

The sheer number of water-based paints suitable for fabric painting can be overwhelming (glossy, opaque and opalescent are just the tip of the iceberg), and that is how we come to the number one thing we’ve learned by painting upholstery fabric chairs:

Use different kinds of paint for different kinds of fabric

The good news is that while, yes the choice of paint might be a little dizzying, you can paint upholstery with lots of different kinds of paint including

·         fabric paint

·         acrylic paints

·         chalk paints

·         latex paint

While oil paint has been used to paint on fabric for hundreds of years, it needs to be primed and the fabric to set before use.

We recommend using acrylic paint because it dries much faster than oil paint and is available in an almost limitless amount of colours. If you’re keen on spraying your piece of furniture, airbrush paint is a good choice because it won’t crack or fade. You will need equipment for this option, though.

If you are just getting started, we’d recommend using paint especially formulated for use on fabrics, but this isn’t as easy at it sounds, to be honest. There’s not that many shades out there.

If you really can’t find textile paint in the colour of your choice, you can always mix a little fabric medium in any acrylic to create a completely safe and washable textile paint.

What’s Fabric Medium?

Fabric medium (also known as textile medium depending on where you are in the world) prevents the bleeding of colours during painting and converts paint such as acrylic into washable fabric paint.

Note: There is no difference at all between products sold as ‘fabric medium’ and those as ‘textile medium’.

Enhancing the workability of your paint, fabric medium also helps you achieve a finished look on your upholstery painting project by ensuring that the paint is applied evenly and smoothly (which is definitely not always the case when you just use acrylic paint on rough-textured fabric!)

Note: Texture-rich fabrics like velvet are harder to paint over

So if that shade that fits with your interior design ideas isn’t available in textile paint, branch out and buy a can of fabric medium.

You’ll find that it is relatively inexpensive and can be used for multiple home décor projects. One fabric medium we’ve seen talked about a lot online is the Martha Stewart Fabric Medium as seen here. (note: links in our blog posts are not affiliate links)

Equipment Needed to Paint Upholstery

Painting equipment depends on what kind of paint you use. We’re going to go basic and assume you’re not going to be spray painting your furniture. If you do, you’ll need masks, sprayers, an airbrush and the patience to learn to use it.

If you can’t find your shade in fabric paint, acrylic is your best choice – no masks, no sprayers, just you, your paintbrush, your paint, fabric medium and masking tape.

How to Paint Upholstery Fabric

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Here’s what we’ve learned through painting upholstery fabric.

1: For the smoothest application of paint, choose tightly woven materials.

Smooth cotton or poly-cotton blends are the most suitable type of fabrics when it comes to painting upholstery. Texture-rich fabrics like velvet are harder to paint over.

orange, pink, blue, green upholstery fabric

2: Clean your upholstered furniture thoroughly

Don’t want any snags in your paint due to dust! That means vacuuming and spot cleaning.

Don’t forget to tape the legs and any parts of the furniture you want to protect while painting the upholstery.

3: Mix one part fabric medium with two parts acrylic paint

To use the fabric medium, you simply mix one part fabric medium with two parts acrylic paint. 

The fabric medium will thin your paint out a bit without diluting the colour. Test a small area of upholstery with your paint mixture if possible, to see if you’re getting good coverage without bleeding.

Add more fabric medium if necessary.

4: Be prepared to use multiple layers of paint. If you are using a sprayer, make sure and wear a mask!

Yes, painting upholstery fabric is easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s a quick solution. Let your paint dry in-between coats.

5: Be thorough

Wet the upholstery first. It will help the paint seep in and really ‘stick’ to the fibre structure.

The more paint that gets on your upholstery, the better. Help the paint really seep into the fabric by using hard brush strokes.

6: Sandpaper (yes, really) is your friend

Don’t be afraid of using sandpaper - because you’re going to have to after every coat of paint.

This is something we learned the hard way when trying to paint upholstery for the first time.

The fabric ended up stiff and completely uninviting to sit on. It felt just awful to touch.

Through trial and error, we hit on lightly sanding the chair down with sandpaper in between coats (when the paint is dry, of course!).

We’ve been completely delighted with the results and can’t recommend this trick enough.

7: Repeat repeat repeat

As we’ve mentioned, you’re going to have to use multiple layers of paint on your upholstery to achieve an even finish. 4-5 coats is the sweet spot.

Note: If you’re feeling adventurous and want to blend different colours, mix fabric medium into acrylic paint for improved wet-on-wet blending.

Fabric medium can also be applied directly onto the fabric if you want more dramatic blending.

How Does Painting Affect Your Upholstery Fabric?

There’s a lot riding on how the paint job affects your upholstery.

Whether your upholstery has lasting good looks and an undeniable softness depends on:

1.       whether you sand your work down lightly between coats

a.       We can’t stress this enough

2.       what kind of paint you use

a.       Spray paint often results in softer fabric at the end of the day, but this softness can be achieved through the above mentioned sanding

3.       what kind of fabric your upholstery is

a.       Latex paint and textile medium, when combined with wool blend tweed, for example, results in a texture that’s hard and ‘bendy like a taco shell’ ( - Apartment Therapy found this out the hard way)

Takeaways from What We’ve Learned

While this trend has a reputation for not only being time-consuming but also wrecking your fabric and furniture piece, we’d argue that this cannot be further from the truth provided that you do it properly.

If you’re using spray paint, get a mask, and if you care in any way about keeping your upholstery fabric soft after painting, remember what we learned about the sandpaper.

We hope you have lots of fun trying this out – share your creations on social media with the hashtag #MoreFabricsProjects, and keep on making!

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