How to create custom upholstery fabric with latex paint

Some of you might remember that I used to have a set of four upholstered parsons chairs in my dining room with burgundy toile slipcovers.

I love a classic, slipcovered parsons chair, and I had originally planned to purchase four white slipcovers from Ballard Designs. But the kids soon demonstrated to me (on the toile slipcovers, which had an ivory background), that that would be a terrible idea. The Ballard Design slipcovers are pricey, and I knew they would be stained every week. I briefly considered Ballard’s charcoal gray slipcovers, but something that dark wasn’t the look I was hoping for in this room.

Enter Facebook Marketplace.

I was browsing on there one day when I saw this set of six cane dining chairs. I drove 40 minutes to see them, and I was a bit disappointed to see that they had a little damage to the caning at the very bottom of each seat back (why do people say perfect condition when it’s not?). I still got them because the price was great, and I am going to try to fix them.

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As you can see, the upholstery fabric was quite hideous. My first thought for reupholstering them was a saturated yellow, because I think it would be a great modern twist on classic chairs and pop in such a great way against the wallpaper. Like so:

I bought this indoor/outdoor fabric below from Joann’s a while ago, but in the dining room you could really see that it leaned orange (my sister called it school bus yellow! hah). I picked up a few other samples and I just couldn’t find the saturated but non-orange yellow that I was looking for.

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My next thought was – too bad you can’t get custom fabric colors just like you can with paint. And then I was like, WAIT. You can paint upholstery fabric!

I have seen tutorials for painting upholstery fabric many times — usually someone is painting right over the existing upholstery fabric on a large upholstered piece like an armchair or sofa. And I have heard mixed reviews about the feeling of the fabric once it was finished.

For these, however, I preferred a more wipeable, durable surface, as a softer fabric would be more prone to stains and other damage from the kids.

As soon as I decided to paint them I started to feel dubious about the yellow, because I was picturing a more lineny yellow fabric, and this definitely wouldn’t be lineny. I was also still having a lot of trouble finding the right yellow in the paint swatches. If I ever go to a large fabric store, finding the perfect, slightly golden yellow fabric will be my first order of business!

So I changed courses to another look I love — perfectly color-matched fabric and wallpaper. (I’m going to bring in that modern yellow in art instead). I love it when curtains or upholstered furniture perfectly matches the wallpaper in a room. It makes it look so clean, luxe, and custom.

So I took one of my many leftover pieces of wallpaper and brought it to Home Depot to be color matched. This is what they came up with:

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It was a perfect match!

Then, I went to Joann’s and purchased a few yards of their plain white canvas duck cloth. I chose it because it is very thick and durable, and also inexpensive. I think I got it on sale for $6.99 a yard.

First I tested out two mixes – the first was one part fabric medium to one part paint, to 1/4 water or less.

The second was one part fabric medium to one part paint to one part water.

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Both had similar coverage in the end, but the mix with more water was more difficult to achieve the coverage and took a lot more paint/work. Both felt exactly the same in the end, so I decided to go with the one with less water (on the right in the above photo).

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I just used red solo cups to measure out the amounts so I didn’t have to use my measuring cups!

Before I began, I laid the seat cushions out on the duck cloth and cut out squares that would be large enough to upholster each seat.

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Then, I painted each of them, let them dry overnight, and painted them with another coat. I ended up buying a quart of paint for six chair cushions.

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Even though I had ironed it beforehand, the fabric showed a lot of wrinkles once it was painted. After I pulled it tight while I was upholstering the seats, the wrinkles all went away.

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Here is a close up of the texture after it was painted. It’s so interesting because the fabric still has the same texture but has almost vinyl-like properties that make it super durable and scrubbable if something gets on it.

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This is the back of the fabric after it was painted. There is not much bleed-through, but I would still recommend doing this on a tarp or dropcloth just in case.

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And here is the finished product! I still have to do something to the frames (paint? whitewash? some kind of waxed finish? fix the caning?), but I’m really happy with how these are looking in the room so far. And, like I said, the fabric is SO durable. There have been crusted on food, smeared berry, and rogue crayon incidents, and all have been scrubbed off with a little bit of water and a kitchen towel.

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I just love the shape of the chair arms.

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The fabric was definitely stiff to work with while upholstering, but if you work with it you can get the corners to lay the way you want before stapling.

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I kept the originally foam because it was still in surprisingly great shape, but I removed two layers of upholstery fabric and all the staples, and added a layer of batting that went around the corners to prevent this fabric tearing (the old fabric had torn at the corners because it was right against the wood seat frame).

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I’ll be back with an update when I finally get around to doing something to the frames!

Let me know if you try painting upholstery fabric– I’d love to see your results!

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