chalk painted chair

An Easy How to Paint Upholstery Fabric Tutorial

Cottage Craft, Cottage Craft DIY Tutorial, DIY

the blog:

If you’ve wondered about how to paint upholstery fabric with chalk paint: without a dry, rough or cracked look…. Or, will it work? I’m here to share with you my experience and an easy how to paint upholstery fabric tutorial.

chalk painted upholstered chair

This all started as a “let me show Dearest how I can do this without dry fabric demonstration, or cracking and that it will LOOK GOOD“! You see, he has this large, chunky recliner that he won’t part with. The fabric was great for when we had our English Cottage – greens, golds and red days. But now, the living room is all serene with blues and grays…it just doesn’t ‘fit’! So, I started to make a slipcover – I didn’t choose enough fabric and the wrong weight. I had painted a chair before and knew that it worked and that it would look good. But, still, Dearest is skeptical.

upholstered chair - beforeThe original upholstery


So, I thought…what do I have that I can paint so that he can see just how great it will look…there was MY chair! When we purchased our living room furniture many, many years ago, Dearest got his recliner and I got my pretty chair. It’s large and I can curl up in it with a good book and a cup of tea. Or it just looks pretty in the corner…then the color scheme change happened. I easily slipcovered this chair – loved it! So, I thought, I could paint this chair…if it doesn’t work – I have a pretty good back up! But, I wanted it to work…

slipcovered chair

the slipcovered chair

So, I did some research. I found that the problem of and concern of dry, cracking fabric is a big one. There are several who have tried chalk paint on fabric and have had great success. It comes down to four basic steps to achieve success in transforming furniture – the fabric….with chalk paint. But first…let’s consider some things….

Chalk Painted Fabric Demo:

demonstrate fabric selections

using three swatches of fabric and three colors of paint

The Choice of Fabric

Just about any type of fabric can be painted. The smoother the fabric – the better the transformation. If you have suede, velvet or textured fabric you can still paint it with chalk paint with beautiful results.

As for my chair, I knew it had a very prominent pattern, but I didn’t realize the texture difference until I began painting. I initially had in mind of recreating a French grain sack appearance with the pin stripes and perhaps a monogram. You know how it is when you see something in your imagination and wish to accomplish it. Well, with the pattern of this fabric I had to do a very different route.

painting the fabric

The Choice of Paint Color

Well, this is the easy part – it is as wide as your possible imagination! If you want a creamy white chair – as mine turned out – you can accomplish that! If you want a rich wine color or deep green – you can do that too. From soft to deep coloring – it is very possible to transform your furniture to fit any decor style!

upholstered chair - before

The Choice of Furniture

Make sure the choice of furniture is worth your time and effort. The chairs need to be sturdy and the fabric clean, well at least clean enough from odor. If you have a pretty, well built chair, but it has seen better days…you can give it a whole new life with paint!

The First Step

Clean it! If the arms and the legs are wood, like mine, make sure there’s no trace of dirt or grease on the wood. Clean it very well. You can do that with the fabric too – mostly make sure there’s no dust.

How to Paint a Chair with Chalk Paint – The Tutorial

O.K., here we go! Here’s my first and most important instruction. Don’t rush yourself! This will take time as you will need to lightly apply several layers of paint – potentially.

Step One: Spritz the fabric with water. The key to not have cracked or dried fabric is to not put too much paint on all at once AND to prepare the fabric before painting by spritzing it with water. Some advise a light spritz and others almost drench the fabric. It depends on the fabric, I believe. What the water does is open the fibers so that the paint goes into the fabric and doesn’t sit on top – this is one of the main causes of drying and cracking.

watered down chalk paint

Step Two: Water down your chalk paint. The suggested ratio I’ve found is from 20 to 30%. Some have even gone a bit farther to where the paint is very liquid almost a dye rather than paint. I did mine at about the 20 to 30% range. Mix thoroughly. Apply the paint with a flat nylon brush carefully. Remember this paint is thinner and will splash more and drip – be prepared for that. – (use basic paint prep with drop cloth and cleaning supplies nearby) Now here’s an important tip – do not apply too much paint. You will want to do thin layers of paint and it will depend on the fabric just how many layers you require. As for this chair it took about 4 because I was attempting to cover up the raised pattern. Then, I decided to play up the pattern because no matter what – it was going to show. Allow to completely dry.

sand painted fabric

Step Three: Sand The Fabric – before next application of paint. I used between a 220 and a 400 grit sand paper. We’re not trying to distress the fabric – just smooth out any roughness. This also prepares the fabric for the next application of paint. Do the sanding between all applications and after the final application. This helps ‘soften’ the fabric.

wax the fabric

Step Four: Wax the Fabric. Yep! You read that right. Wax the fabric. I’ve read several recommendations from straight liquid beeswax to mixing the wax with mineral spirits. I used Amy Howard at Home’s liquid beeswax, Mind Your Own Beeswax. You don’t need to apply a lot. Small amounts all over the fabric and I found that going with the grain of the fabric made it easier.

chalk painted side chair

There you go! Now, your fabric will definitely feel different. I compare it to how prepared canvas feels. But, it is quite pliable so when you sit on it the fabric moves and doesn’t flake off or crack. The added benefit of applying wax is it helps with spills and stains! Isn’t that great!

different types of fabric

Now, going back to the method where you water down the chalk paint to almost a dye – I observed that the person worked the paint into the fabric with a sanding sponge – almost scrubbing it in. She was working with velvet fabric. She also applied a different type of coating at the end – and she shared that her fabric felt great afterwards. The method where you combine wax with mineral spirits changed the texture to almost a leather feel. It all depends on what you want to achieve.

chalk painted chair

The great thing is – you can take a thrift store chair that is pretty in style and structure but not so pretty in fabric that may be stained or dated…and give it a whole new, custom look.

What I did with the raised pattern was play it up with a light gray. This gives it an almost damask fabric appearance…and I love it.

Painting the Wood on the Arms and the Legs of the Chair

chalk painting fabric legs

I had an inspiration picture that I envisioned I wanted my chair to look like…but then I saw another image of a chair with gray stained legs….hmmm…this might look even more stunning in my greige-serene living room…So, I used Amy Howard at Home’s A Good Man is Hard to Find (this is actually the color I’m hoping to paint Dearest’s chair…)

chair legs and arms chalk painted with dark gray stain

The first coating is a creamy white chalk paint – the actual color of the whole chair now. I applied two coats to completely and thoroughly cover the arms and legs – aren’t they amazing in their detail! Then I painted on generously the A Good Man is Hard to Find making sure the paint went in all of the crevices. After completely covered I wiped off the paint with a rag. The effect was a grey stained look. I am in love with this look! Once all of the paint was completely dried – I brushed on Amy Howard at Home’s Beeswax allowed it to cure then buffed. Voila! My new/old chair!

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chalk painted chair tutorial

So, give it a try! Remember to follow the steps – don’t overload the paint – it is tempting…and protect all around you, remember the paint is thinner! Let me know if you give this a try or if you have any questions!

More Painted Furniture Inspiration from A Delightsome Life

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