A Chair Makeover and Abject Failure with Fabric Paint

At some point, if I want to make a viable business out of my interior decorating work, I really should hone in on a few styles or techniques so that my portfolio has some sort of coherence, but right now, I’m having too much fun playing and trying out different ideas. My latest experiment: painting fabric. When my younger niece, Blythe, wanted her room redone, one piece of furniture really wouldn’t fit with her style, which my sister and I have dubbed “dramatic boho”. (It’s a thing now.) That piece was an armchair, given to her by family friends. It’s a surprisingly comfortable chair and the ornateness definitely went with the “dramatic” part of her style, but the color scheme needed an update to go with her new black, white and purple decor.

I asked my sister if I could try painting the fabric. (One of my favorite things about my sister is how she’ll let me experiment on her stuff, as long as she doesn’t have to actually do it herself.) I’d seen a bunch of tutorials on the Pinterest about how successful and easy and cheap this could be, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I knew from the start that there was a high risk of failure, because the fabric on the chair had a high nap, and that can be trickier with fabric paint. But, I reasoned, if it fails, I’ll just pull the fabric off and reupholster, so the only real risk was about $10 worth of acrylic fabric paint and textile medium. And, hoo boy, fail it did.

I spritzed the fabric with water, painted, sanded, painted some more, sanded some more, lather, rinse, repeat. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the seemingly innocuous beige fabric white. What’s more, the more layers I added, the more the fabric felt like an emery board, no matter how much I sanded, or how weird it was to need to sand fabric. Since this was intended to be Blythe’s reading chair, and not a total body exfoliator, this texture was less than ideal. When it got to the point of needing to buy more paint, I decided to invest in new fabric instead.

OK, maybe it wasn't entirely necessary to dismantle it COMPLETELY, but it was satisfying.

OK, maybe it wasn’t entirely necessary to dismantle it COMPLETELY, but it was satisfying.

I’d already painted the chair frame purple (I did it with acrylic paint because I was already buying acrylic for the fabric painting endeavor and I was too lazy to go to Home Depot in addition to the craft store), so with pliers, a flat-head screwdriver and brute force, I pulled off the welting, then the front and back oval panels, then the seat, then the fabric from the ovals and seat. I found a black and white damask print at Joann – I only needed about 2 yards total. Using the fabric I’d removed as a rough pattern, I cut out my new pieces and stapled them to their respective frames. The seat was a little tricky, because the foam sloped towards the back, but by tacking the fabric down in small sections, I got it to follow the gradation. The recovered seat got screwed back on. The ovals had been held in place by some straight copper needles that were very pointy – I’m sure there’s an actual name for them in the world of professional upholstery – but wouldn’t go back on. At this point, I was pretty tired, so I punted. I pushed the pointy, stabby copper spines flat or pulled them out (whichever was easier) then glued the ovals back in place with some E6000. The fumes were a welcome addition to my evening. Once everything had dried, the chair was finished!

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I haven’t given up entirely on painting fabric, but I would say that anything with a nap – velvet, boucle, chenille, corduroy, etc. – might not turn out the way you want it, so beware that you may end up having to reupholster in the end. And once you start painting, there’s really no turning back. Wow, that got really ominous at the end there.