How To Hang Wall Fabrics

Do you want an elegant living room, a cosy bedroom or a feature wall? If so, wall fabrics are for you — they’re practical, look good and above all, they have style.

No other decorating material can match the character and warmth of wall fabrics. They may be relatively expensive, but their superior finish is well worth their extra cost. Hanging wall fabrics is no more difficult than hanging wallpapers and there’s certainly plenty of choice.

how to hang wall fabrics Choosing your wall fabric

Hessian is the most common wall fabric: it comes in a number of different shades and patterns and you can emulsion over it if you want to.. Hessian is sold either paper backed or unbacked.

  • Unbacked hessian is cheaper but the edges have to be trimmed for a neat fit and it is not so easy to hang.
  • When buying an unbacked hessian, make sure that the material is closely woven or it may distort when you put it up. Also check that it is colour-fast, shrink resistant and mothproof.
  • Felt and imitation suede wall fabrics are made from compressed dyed wool — the perfect answer if you want to combine colour with texture. They are usually paper backed.
  • Grasscloth is an original, eyecatching material made by weaving natural grasses with fine cotton weft. It’s not hardwearing but it makes an attractive backdrop for house plants and furniture in a living room.
  • ‘Cork faced fabrics are made by sticking thin veneers of natural cork onto backing paper. The great advantage of cork is that once it is sealed it is washable.
  • Silkcloth is the most expensive type of fabric and is in a class by itself. The silk is usually hacked with a coloured paper which shines through to give an interesting shimmer effect.

BUYING WALL FABRICS Estimating and buying wall fabrics

  • The secret of hanging wall fabric successfully is to have as few joins as possible so buy the widest you can get — usually 910mm.
  • The cheapest way to buy wall fabric is in 50m or 25m rolls — if you need less, you can buy cut lengths from a roll but they will cost you a bit more per metre length.
  • You may be able to get 8m rolls of fabric 530mm wide. These are easier to handle, but there will be more joins and inevitably more wastage — unless you’re very lucky.

To calculate how much fabric you need, first measure the distance around your room and divide this figure by the width of your fabric: this will give you the number of strips you want. To find out how many strips you can get from one roll, divide the length of a roll by the height of the walls plus 40mm to allow for trimming.

Adhesives

wall fabric adhesiveAdhesives for hanging wall fabrics are thicker and stronger than wallpaper adhesives but the best general purpose ones are PVA based. PVA adhesives are sold in bulk in one litre or five litre tubs.

In awkward corners and around sockets, it is best to stick the edges of the fabric down with a contact adhesive (such as Thixofix).

A vast range of colours and textures are available. Wall felts and imitation suedes have richer colours and a more dramatic look.

Tools for hanging wall fabrics

  • Paint rollers and a tray for hanging the fabric, a few marking and measuring tools and tools for trimming — knife or shears, metal straightedge and home-made edging tool
  • As fabric adhesive is thick, an ordinary pasting brush won’t be of much use: much better is to use a paint roller and paint tray.
  • When it comes to cutting you can use wall-paper shears to cut thin fabrics, but for most types a trimming knife — and a supply of new blades — is a better bet.
  • An essential aid that you can easily make yourself is an edging tool.
  • General tools that will be handy are a plumbline, spirit level, tape measure and steel rule or straightedge.
  • If you are hanging a delicate fabric like grasscloth, get a felt roller to smooth it onto the wall. For others, use an ordinary roller.
  • To support paper backed fabrics while you roll on adhesive you need a sturdy pasting table — an ordinary wallpaper pasting table will not be strong enough. Make up a simple pasting table by laying a large sheet of 15mm or 19mm chipboard over trestles or on top of an old kitchen table.
  • Unbacked fabrics are hung on a ready pasted wall so you won’t need a pasting table. However, the edges may have to be trimmed over an offcut of chipboard.

PREPARING THE SURFACE FOR WALL FABRICS

As with all decorating jobs, preparation is all important: the surface must be sound, smooth and free from greasy stains.

Wall fabrics are relatively heavy so don’t make the mistake of hanging them over old wallpaper — it is more than likely that the whole lot will fall off. To strip the old wall-paper, score the surface and then give it a liberal soaking with warm, soapy water.

Once the water has been absorbed, scrape off the paper, taking care not to damage the plaster underneath. With the paper removed, sand the wall down to get rid of any traces of dried paste and fill any holes with a cellulose filler.

You can safely hang fabrics over a painted wall as long as glossy surfaces are rubbed down with sandpaper to provide a key for the adhesive. Flaking paint must also be stripped off, but beware: there is usually a reason for flaking paint — often damp. Never fall into the trap of trying to cover up damp patches —get to the root of the problem before it gets any worse.

Porous surfaces like new plaster must be sized with a thinned out mixture of adhesive before you start hanging the fabric. Other porous surfaces such as asbestos or plaster-board must be primed with a proprietary oil based sealer.

Some wall fabrics are semi-transparent so stains and patches will show through — nicotine is the most common offender. Make sure that you wash off all blotches for a uniform finish.

Make your own edging tool from a sheet of hard plastic — you should be able to get an offcut cheaply, if not for nothing, from your local builder’s merchant. Don’t use wood: it is too soft and will snag on the fabric — acrylic sheeting is best.

  • Snap along the scored line by bending it over a straight edge. Try to press down all along the scored line for a clean break One side of the tool is angled to force fabric into tight corners but start by drawing out a 200mm X 100mm rectangle on the sheet.
  • Then mark a point half way along one of the long edges and draw a line from it to one of the corners.
  • Smooth the edges of the tool with glasspaper wrapped around a sanding block. Smooth the point to a slight curve
  • With your steel rule as a guide, score the surface of the plastic with a trimming knife along your lines. Place a straight edge directly underneath the scored lines and snap off the edges.
  • Finish the tool by smoothing down the edges with glasspaper.

HANGING WALL FABRIC

Joins in wall fabrics are impossible to disguise completely so, before you start hanging, mark off on the wall where each join is going to fall — ideally you should get an equal balance of narrow strips at either end.

Once you have decided how to arrange the strips, plumb a chalk line for the first one in the middle of the wall — you will work away from it on either side.

Cut strips of fabric to the height of the wall — not forgetting to add on 40mm for trimming (20mm top and bottom). There may be slight colour variations in the fabric from edge to edge and for this reason, most manufacturers recommend that you reverse alternate strips. So, when you cut the strips off the roll, mark each one top and bottom so you know which way up to hang them.

Tip: Always use a pencil to mark the fabric as ink may stain through to the surface when mixed with the adhesive.

Most paper backed fabrics have straight edges so the strips can be butted together. However, the sides of a few, like grasscloth, need trimming. This is not as easy as it sounds as both sides must be parallel, not only to each other, but also to the direction of the cotton weft. Make careful measurements from side to side and trim the edges back by about 10mm. Use a steel rule as a guide for the trimming knife.

Unbacked fabrics are best left untrimmed until they are in place on the wall.

Paper backed fabric

Apply the adhesive in the way used for wallpaper — cover one half of the backing at a time, hanging the edge you are pasting over the edge of the table.

Smooth the fabric to the wall with a clean roller. Butt-join subsequent strips — stick down obstinate edges with contact adhesive.

Unbacked fabric

Apply adhesive to the wall with your roller — cover the area of one strip at a time. Roll up a strip on a length of stick or cardboard tube with the backing facing outwards. Line up one edge against your chalk mark and, starting from the bottom, unroll the fabric and smooth it into place. Just in case there is any shrinkage, leave the adhesive to dry before trimming off.

Hang the next strip so that it overlaps the first one by about 20mm. When the adhesive is nearly dry, make a cut — using a spirit level as a guide — through both layers of the overlap. Peel off the excess and smooth back the edges for a really clean join.

DEALING WITH TROUBLE SPOTS

When you come to problem areas, don’t make things more difficult for yourself by using old tools — sharp, clean tools make life easier.

The main problem areas are corners — and ceilings and skirtings — and obstructions in the wall like light switches or plug sockets.

  • Corners: Treat internal and external corners in the same way. The golden rule is to have 40mm of fabric to turn the corner. Never butt the edge of a strip into a corner — they are rarely plumb and you will end up with gaps.
  • The procedure is the same for both backed and unbacked fabrics. If necessary cut a strip lengthways to the correct width and then hang and crease it into the corner with your edging tool.
  • The next strip of fabric overlaps the first by 20mm and must be hung against a new chalk line. Measure back where to plumb the line and hang the strip against it. When the adhesive is dry, make a vertical cut through the two layers of the overlap and peel away the surplus.
  • It is a good idea to stick the edges down with a contact adhesive, particularly if you are hanging a heavy hessian.
  • Sockets and switches: Always turn the electricity off at the mains before you tackle either sockets or switches: adhesives contain water. Hang the strip in the usual way and when you reach the fitting, press the fabric around it to make an impression.
  • Pierce a hole in the middle of the indent and cut from there to the corners. Crease the fabric tight against the fitting and trim off the flaps — stick them down with contact adhesive.

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