When we gathered here last time, we turned an uninspired coffee table into a boxed ottoman, and January brought us boxed cushion sewing. This month, I thought we’d think inside the box for a change and tackle one of the biggest upholstery projects to cross my path: upholstered walls! About a month ago, I moved into a house that my hubby and I have been renovating for over a year. There’s still a lot left to finish, but my current project is transforming the master suite into a serene, shimmery boudoir. Alas! I came across Norbar’s Monty in Silver (available at Spruce), a metallic, glazed linen that is very reasonably priced (I needed 80 yards!) and just the right amount of sparkle. I packed up the workshop, headed to the house and emerged a week later with plush upholstered walls. — Amanda
Read the full how-to after the jump . . .
- white or yellow chalk
- measuring tape
- yard stick
- sewing machine
- iron and ironing board
- ear plugs
- permanent marker
- air compressor
- stapler (preferably long-nosed)
- 3/8″ staples
- staple remover
- cardboard tack strip
- yarn or string
Don’t forget to check out Upholstery Basics: Tool Time to learn more about the tools we’re using today.
Here’s the room before I got started. As you can see, I started with unfinished sheetrock walls. The sleeping area (above) and the sitting room (below) make up about 250 square feet, with 80 linear feet of walls, and required 80 yards of fabric.
One of the most challenging parts of wall upholstery is planning where seams will go on the walls and calculating a yardage amount. Each wall should be upholstered separately, and your room will likely have several large walls that need multiple widths of fabric seamed together to stretch across the wall. Seams should be oriented vertically and centered on the wall. For the wall behind my bed, I seamed four widths of fabric together and centered the middle seam with the center of the wall. For the walls with three widths seamed together, I centered the middle panel with the center of the wall. My walls are 10 feet tall, so every width of fabric required 3.33 yards (10/3 = 3.33). My four-panel wall required 13.33 yards of fabric (3.33 x 4 = 13.33).
1. Turn off power to the outlets and lighting fixtures that you’ll be working around. Remove all items from your walls, such as switch plates, outlet covers, wall sconces, artwork, television, draperies, etc. Leave baseboards and trim around doors and windows, unless you’re planning on changing these out anyway. If you plan on painting your baseboards or trim, it’s best to do this before upholstering the walls.
2. Mark and cut out fabric pieces that are the same height as your walls. Make sure the lines you draw and cut are straight and square with the grain or pattern of your fabric.
3. If your fabric has a pattern, it’s best to match the pattern. On a big wall, the seams will be really obvious if the pattern doesn’t line up. Seam the long sides of your fabric pieces together until you have the necessary width to stretch across each wall. Label each set of panels to correspond with your walls. I have 11 walls in my bedroom, which was quite confusing until I labeled and marked the walls and fabric panels.
The first wall you upholster in the room should be one that is less noticeable and has a convex corner on the left side. We all know that practice makes perfect, and your last wall will undoubtedly be far better than your first. Consider starting with a small wall that has no seams in the fabric just to get your feet wet. We will end on this left corner, so it needs to be sticking out into the room (convex) so we can easily close it up. If you have a room without convex corners, start on any wall.
4. Once you have the fabric for all of your walls seamed together, press open any seam allowances on the fabric for the first wall so they lay flat.
5. Find the center of the top and bottom of the fabric for the first wall and mark or cut a notch.
6. Mark the center of the top and bottom of the wall.
7. Staple Dacron to the wall using the same principles we’ve used in other upholstery projects: split and staple in between the top and bottom layers of Dacron. Start at the top, then bottom, left and right sides. Stop the Dacron 1/2″ shy of baseboards, crown molding or any other wall trim.
8. For big walls, you’ll need multiple pieces of Dacron. Split and staple additional pieces of Dacron with edges touching (but not overlapping) the adjacent piece.
9. Carefully cut around outlets, switches, lighting fixtures, etc. *Did you disconnect power to that outlet? It’s easy to accidentally stick the ends of your scissors into electrical outlets while clearing Dacron. BE CAREFUL!*
10. Staple down the edge of the Dacron around the items in step 9. You can staple right on top of the Dacron instead of splitting the layers.
11. Line up the middle of the fabric with the top middle of the wall and staple. Repeat for the bottom middle of the wall.
12. Stretch your fabric to the left and staple down the seam to the left of the middle. Measure the distance from the edge of the wall to the left seam. If you only have one panel or two panels seamed together, skip to step 16.
13. Now stretch the fabric from the middle to the right and staple the seam the same distance from the right edge of the wall.
14. Repeat steps 12 and 13 for the bottom of the fabric.
15. When you have your seams evenly spaced and stapled in place, staple a long piece of string or yarn at the top and bottom of the wall lined up with every seam. Stretch the string pretty tight so it will stay nice and straight.
16. Go back to the top and staple all the way across.
17. Before moving on to the sides, reach behind the fabric and make sure all of the seams are laying flat on the back side.
18. Stretch the fabric tightly to the right until the seam is just past the string line. When we stretch tightly in the other direction, the seams should straighten out and line up with the string. Staple the fabric to the next wall. Sheetrock is porous, so you may need to put several staples in at each attachment point as you’re getting started to keep the staples from pulling out of the wall. This part is a lot easier with a friend who can help watch your lines and stretch the fabric. If you don’t have any seams, stretch until the grain/pattern of your fabric is straight up and down.
19. You can see that I’ve stretched the fabric about 1/4″ past the string line.
2o. When the right side is stapled from top to bottom, repeat step 18 for the left side. This time, we’ll be stretching until the seams are lined up with the string lines. Getting the seams straight may be the hardest part of wall upholstery, so you may need to adjust a little from right to left to get them straight. Be patient, and embrace the walls without seams!
21. When the top, right and left sides are stapled, pull any excess out toward the bottom and staple. I’m putting on my baseboards later, but if you already have them installed, staple right next to the baseboards and any other trim you have on your wall.
22. Use a utility knife or scissors to cut off excess fabric.
23. For the next wall, repeat steps 4–6.
24. Stretch your fabric to the left and staple at the top of the seam to the left of the middle. Measure the distance from the edge of the wall to the left seam. If you have no seams to the left, stretch the fabric all the way to the left edge of the wall; then make a mark where the fabric lines up with the edge.
25. Take your fabric down and lay it on a flat surface. Measure out from your left seam the distance that you measured in step 24 plus an addition 1/2″. If you have no seams, draw a line 1/2″ beyond the mark you made in step 24.
26. Remove excess fabric by cutting on the line drawn in step 25.
27. Now we’ll blind tack the left side. Starting at the top, attach 1/2″ of fabric with staples, good side against the wall, all the way down the left edge. While doing this, the rest of the fabric should be out to the left. You may need a helper or an extra ladder to hold the excess fabric while you staple.
28. To reinforce this edge and keep it tight to the wall to the left, staple a piece of cardboard tack strip on top of the 1/2″ you stapled in step 27. As you staple, push the cardboard tightly against the wall to the left. If the left edge of your wall is a convex corner, line up the cardboard tack strip with the edge of the wall.
29. Follow steps 7–10 to attach Dacron.
30. Now stretch the fabric to the right, and repeat steps 11–17.
31. Stretch to the right until all seams are lined up with the string lines and staple to the next wall.
32. Repeat steps 21 and 22.
Meet me here next month as we complete our upholstered walls and put the room back together. It’s worth the wait!
Tips for Part 1
- Keep tools and extra staples in your apron or in a bucket on your ladder so you can grab them as needed instead of climbing up and down the ladder over and over.
- Tape a piece of fabric around the head of your staple gun so you don’t scuff your ceiling as you staple.
- Work with a drop cloth beneath you so falling objects don’t scratch or damage hard floors. A measuring tape falling from 10 feet will put a considerable ding in hardwoods; I learned this the hard way!
- The convex corners in my room are covered with a metal strip to prevent damage. If you’re having a hard time getting staples to go in at these corners, the metal may be repelling the staples. When this metal corner is on the right side of your wall, stretch the fabric a few inches beyond and staple. When the metal corner is on the left side, leave the fabric on the left edge loose instead of blind-tacking. You’ll only staple the top, bottom and right edges. Next month, I’ll show you how to hand-sew these corners.
- Fabric is often more cost effective than wallpaper. I have found that patterns that come in fabric and wallpaper versions are often less expensive by the square foot in fabric.
Dying for more upholstery? Check out more Upholstery Basics!