Yes, You CAN Paint Fabric!

Posted by Cindy Dachuk on

I have upholstered fabric chairs before. It turned out great. I hated every minute of it!

If this rings true for you or… you’re firmly in the ‘not ever gonna do it camp’… here’s a great way of updating your cloth furniture, without having to learn to sew! Paint it. The wood, the fabric… the whole thing!

For this project I used DIY clay paints from Debi’s design diary but I have also used Annie Sloan chalk paint as well. Both worked just fine. For this project then you will need…

Paint – any Clay, Mineral, Chalk paint of your choosing
Paint Brushes – there’s no magic to this and no need to invest in any super expensive brushes since you’re going to be ‘staining’ the fabric and we’re not worried about brush strokes. That said, you may want a couple of different sizes since you are also going to want to paint the ‘wood’ parts of your chair and will need some ‘smaller’ brushes for this.
Painter’s tape
Plastic wrap
Water spray bottle (any old spray bottle will do)
Wax – I used Annie Sloan wax in clear for both chair projects – it’s what I had on hand, but you could use one from another Chalk Paint line if there’s one you prefer!
Fine Sanding pad, block or paper

For the Daisy chair pictured above the only ‘wooden’ pieces I needed to consider painting were the legs of the piece. I will typically always suggest that you paint the wood first since it’s easier to tape off and protect from any of the painting you do on the fabric than is the reverse. If, however, there is a piece you’re working on that isn’t this straight forward then consider using the plastic wrap to protect your painted fabric when painting some of the wooden sections. Tuck it down into the crevasses, nooks and crannies… whatever you need to do.

Since there are often sections of fabric you may have to pull ‘back and away’ from some of the wood I typically like to use some of the plastic wrap as a barrier when I have to ‘release’ the fabric – which means it’s now touching ‘wet paint’. We’ll be painting over it when we paint the fabric but… it just makes life a little easier.

For this project I simply (and cautiously) painted the legs in a bright white (White Swan from DIY) in two coats. I sanded the dried paint lightly with a very fine sand paper only to smooth out the finish, not to distress, and then applied wax, allowed it to dry and buffed smooth. I then wrapped them in plastic wrap and taped them off with the painters tape to protect the finish.

Now for the fun part!

This is a picture of the 'before' of the chair. It was a 'damask' type raised patterned dusty rose. Though I would be covering over the rose colour, the actual texture of the fabric would come through in the final product. I liked that - it would add a bit of detail, but know when you are selecting your project that we aren't going to be altering the textured patterning of the chair. Also, heavily coloured patterns, even on a flat fabric, may create 'shade' variations in your final painted finish, depending upon the colour you choose. I like this also - you decide for you!

Remove the cushion and put off to the side. You will be painting it and treating it the same as the rest of the chair but easier to do separately. Although we are going to be applying paint, we are actually ‘staining’ the fabric with the paint. In order to get the product to ‘sink into’ the fabric we must lightly we the surfaces before and during the application of the paint. In addition, you will need to water your paint down so that it is better able to sink into the fabric.

DIY paint is very heavily pigmented and is very thick. For that paint I used closer to a 50/50 ratio of water to paint, periodically watering it down some more as the paint thickened. Annie Sloan has great colours but it not quite as pigmented and is a little thinner requiring me to use less water but you really need to eyeball this. Your paint could have been sitting around longer and be thicker than mine… you’re just looking for a fairly runny consistency while not diluting your colour too much!

Take your spray bottle, dampen the area you want to start painting (note the word ‘damp’ not ‘soak’!) and then begin painting the area. I found it useful to paint in a circular motion, rather than back and forth, which seemed to help the paint get down into the texture and nap of the fabric. Continue this over the whole piece.

The pic of the chair here is after applying one (watered down) coat of DIY's Bohemian Blue. You can still see some of the original pink showing through and definitely see the 'raised pattern' of the chair. Allow this coat to fully dry before proceeding.

Once the fabric is dry you need to lightly sand it, all over, using a very fine sand paper/pad/block. I found using the block easiest to use over the large sections but switched to sandpaper to get into the tighter areas. This is just a light sanding but is important to help your next coat adhere well and, most importantly, to sink into the fabric. We don’t want the paint to simply sit on top of the fabric – that’s what would make it feel ‘hard’ or ‘crunchy’ in texture afterward. Sanding eliminates any of the paint sitting on top, allowing your next coat to sink down in, staining and not painting, the fabric.

Once sanded I took a dry dust brush and brushed the piece all-over lightly to remove any of the paint dust. And then… repeat the painting process, using your spray water bottle to dampen the fabric and a circular motion to apply your diluted paint. Allow to dry, sand, brush the dust free and then check your piece to see if it requires more coats.

For the Blue Daisy chair I just needed some touch ups in a few areas and not a full third coat. For the chair I did with Annie Sloan, where I was using a ‘taupe’ colour, rather than the dark blue above, I required a third coat.

I chose to add hand painted daisies to my final piece, using the same white as for the legs of the piece. These were painted free hand. Once they were dry I lightly sanded and brushed any dust residue free from the piece. Again... this required a couple of coats.

The final step is to seal the painted surfaces. For this you need to use a product that allows the fabric to move and breather - Wax. Apply the wax firmly in a circular motion to get it down into the fabric. This will serve to seal the paint and prevent it from bleeding out at all. I know people are concerned that the colour might come off onto someone's clothes but if it is sealed... it stays put!

Allow the final piece to cure for a couple of days before using. The final texture will depend on the fabric of the piece itself, but will be reminiscent of leather, with a supple buttery feel.

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