Wallpapering Basics

Wallpaper is made in so many attractive designs and finishes that it can be used to complement any colouring or furnishing scheme, but for early attempts at hanging avoid the heavier and deeply patterned papers. Lining paper is plain and may be used before wallpaper on painted or poor surfaces, Papering a ceiling is more difficult than a wall, but may be the only way to cover cracks.

Cellulose paste is now the choice for light papers, as it does not stain. The older starch/flour pastes are better for heavier papers.

There are some self-adhesive papers that are moistened in a special trough before hanging. For most papers you will need a pasting table, preferably about 2 m (6½ft) by 80 cm (2½ft), but a kitchen table could be used.

A broad pasting brush is used to apply the paste, which is kept in a bucket. Large paperhanger’s scissors are useful, although domestic scissors can be used and a trimming knife with replaceable blades is also handy. A hanging brush is like a narrow clothes brush and is used for smoothing paper. If old paper has to be stripped, a similar scraper to that used for paint stripping can be used.

Preparing the walls Soak any old wallpaper with warm water several times or use a stripping solution. Be careful not to dig the scraper into the plaster. If the old paper has a glazed surface, break through this with a wire brush, so that the water can penetrate. Plasterboard that has not been

sealed will soften and become damaged with water. Always try a corner first. Lithe plasterboard under the paper softens, leave the paper on and put the new paper over it.

In a new house, plaster should be left at least six months before covering with paper. Glue size should be applied to an absorbent wall to prevent loss of adhesion by absorption of water from the paste. This is a thin wood glue to be painted on in the proportions stated on the packet — this is important. A painted wall should be sanded and sized before papering.

Fix lining paper horizontally with its edges butting (edge to edge, not overlapping). It may not be necessary to go all over a wall if it is generally smooth. Paper can be pasted over damaged and uneven surfaces only, but hard edges have to be avoided as they may show through the wallpaper. Paste lining paper over the affected area, allowing a small amount to be loose all round. When the paste has dried, tear this surplus away so as to leave a tapered, ragged edge. If there is still any hardness, sand so it blends into the wall.


Check the available length and width of rolls of paper. The shop will charge for trimming, which removes the manufacturer’s edge by machine, much more accurately than can be done by hand. Some papers are now pre-trimmed. Measure the walls to be covered and estimate how much paper will be needed. If the paper is plain there will be little waste. If there is a prominent pattern, adjoining pieces will have to be matched and this can mean quite long ends going to waste. Buy enough paper and ensure that all rolls come from the same batch. There may be a slight colour variation in another batch. Obviously, running out of paper could be disastrous.

It is unwise to assume that room corners are square or upright and even doors and window frames may be further from true than is expected. Use a plumb line to get a line for the first edge and not a corner, door or window which may not be truly upright. A plumb line is just a weighted string. Hold or hang it and pencil on the wall at intervals down the string.

It is usually most convenient to start papering the wall with a window in it, so you are working in the light. Always start from the middle of the wall and work outwards.

Cut pieces of paper the length required, but at the same time match patterns and trim to length accordingly as you go. Have the pile of pieces face down on the pasting table. The alternative is to do one piece at a time and match patterns as you go, but this is slower.

The paper will be longer than your table. Paste along the centre as far as you conveniently can, then paste outwards to the edges from this. Pull the paper along and fold over what you have pasted so the pasted surface is inside, while you paste the other section of the sheet in the same way. As you paste towards the edges, it helps to move the sheet so the side you are doing overlaps the table edge slightly. With most papers it is worthwhile to paste a further sheet immediately, so one sheet is soaking up paste while the previous one is being hung.

Take the looped paper to the wall. Use a small step ladder so you can reach the ceiling. Open out the looped top part and position the end against the ceiling, but with a little over for trimming. Hang one edge against the plumb line marks. Stroke the hanging brush down the centre of the paper to force out air then brush to the edges. With the top in place, open the bottom fold and do the same to the bottom edge. The paper should lie as it comes, not be stretched in any direction, or there will be creases.

At top and bottom rub the back of the scissors into the angle of the ceiling or skirting board to mark where the paper has to be trimmed. Peel the paper back and cut to these lines, then press it back. If there is excess paste, use a sponge to remove it before pressing the paper back. Make sure the whole piece is tight against the wall by looking across it towards the light to see whether air bubbles are trapped.

Slide the next piece of paper into position so the patterns match and the edge makes a neat butt joint with the previous piece, then smooth it and trim top and bottom.


At a corner the angle is unlikely to be accurate enough to allow taking one piece of paper around. Instead, cut the paper so it will reach the corner and wrap around a very small amount. Fix it, then bring the remainder up to it, checking that its further edge is upright. The slight break in the pattern in the corner should not be noticeable.

Where the paper has to be cut around doors and window frames, use a similar technique to that used at top and bottom, rubbing to mark the shape and peeling back for trimming. At a window recess, paper inside from the window and wrap over the edges, then bring pieces from the flat wall over them. When papering around a light switch, first unscrew and loosen plastic covering. Place the paper over the top. Feel for the switch by pressing on the knob, making cuts from this diagonally. Wait until the paper is hung before cutting fully to shape. Screw the switch cover back in position, hiding cut edges.

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