Measure a panel's width from a corner, less 1/4 inch, and mark a plumb for the starting edge

How to Cover Walls With Fabric

Fabric is one wall covering that demands little in the way of patching; any reasonably smooth wall surface will do.

Tools:
  • Stepladder
  • Measuring rule
  • Pencil
  • Chalked plumb bob
  • Long table
  • Sharp scissors
  • Staple gun
  • Hammer
Materials:
  • Fabric
  • Paper
  • Straight pins
  • Heavy-duty staples
  • Household glue
  • Lightweight stiff cardboard
  • Cloth ribbon, braid, or narrow molding strips
  • Small finishing nails or brads

Time: about 1 day

Choosing and Buying the Fabric

Choose fabric as wide as possible. Figure the number of wall-height strips you'll need to cover the walls, and calculate yardage accordingly. If the fabric has a repeating pattern, it must be matched on adjacent panels, like wallpaper; add at least 2 yards to your total. If you want to edge the wall with ribbon at floor and ceiling, calculate footage and add at least 2 yards. Buy ribbon and fabric together.

Measuring and Cutting the Fabric

Start in the least prominent corner of the room -- behind the door, for example. Measure out along the ceiling from the corner a distance equal to the width of the material, less about 1/4 inch. Set the plumb bob at this point and snap a chalk line to mark the edge for the first panel of fabric. Measure the height of the room from floor to ceiling.

Roll out the fabric on a long table, face up. Cut the first panel of fabric as long as the height of the room, plus 2 inches. Unroll and cut the fabric to be used all around the room, matching it carefully to the pattern in the first panel.

To determine the exact length of each panel, measure the height of the wall where the panel will go and add 2 inches. Measure above and below windows and doors and cut fabric accordingly, being careful to match patterns on both short strips. Pin a numbered tag to each panel as you work to keep the panels in order around the room.

Hanging the First Panel of Fabric

Lift the first panel of fabric up into place against the wall at the marked corner. Turn the top end of the panel under 1 inch, holding it in place at both sides with your fingers. Stretch the panel of fabric smoothly along the top edge of the wall and adjust it so that the outside edge of the panel lies exactly along the chalk line on the wall.

Holding the fabric carefully to keep it lined up exactly with the chalk line, staple the turned-under top of the fabric to the wall. Space the staples about 1 inch apart, as close to the ceiling and as even as possible. If the fabric is very heavy or sags badly, apply household glue sparingly along the turned-under end; press into place until the glue sets.

Working from the top of the wall down, staple the corner side of the fabric to the wall, about 1/4 inch from the edge. Space the staples evenly, about 1 inch apart, and keep them straight up and down. Smooth the fabric carefully as you work to keep it lined up with the chalk line. Repeat to staple the other side of the fabric, setting staples 1/4 inch from the edge. At the bottom of the panel, fold the excess fabric under and staple it firmly and smoothly along the baseboard.

Hanging Additional Panels of Fabric

Before hanging more fabric, cut sheets of stiff lightweight cardboard into 1/2-inch-wide strips. You'll need enough cardboard to make a solid floor-to-ceiling strip at each seam in the wall. Cut the strips as uniformly as possible; their outlines will be noticeable under the completed fabric paneling.

To hang the second length of fabric, hold it against the first panel, face to face, with the wrong side of the fabric out. Leave 1 inch of fabric extra at the top of the panel. Line the edges of the panels up carefully. Set a few staples in the second panel, through the first panel and to the wall, about 1/2 inch in from the matched edges of the panels. These staples are just to tack the fabric into place; they are not a final seam.

Staple cardboard strips to hold the panel's edge; then pull the fabric over onto the wall.

Staple 1/2-inch-wide strips of cardboard over the matched edges of the panels, lined up exactly with the edges. Attach the strips evenly to form a smooth, level edge, with no gaps and no overlaps; place the staples close together.

When the cardboard seam is securely stapled, pull the second length of fabric back over the cardboard strips to form a blind seam. Stretch the fabric smoothly out from the joint and staple it into place on the wall, working from the center of the panel up and down and placing staples about 1/4 inch in from the edge. At the top and bottom of the panel, turn the excess fabric under and staple the panel neatly at ceiling and baseboard. Use glue if necessary to keep the fabric from sagging.

Repeat the cardboard-strip technique to apply each new panel of fabric, stapling the cardboard to the wrong side of the panel and then folding the fabric around and into place. To work around windows and doors, cut the fabric with about 1 inch excess on all sides of the obstruction. Turn the excess fabric under and crease it into place with your fingers, smoothing it as you go. Use staples only at the stress points -- around windows and doors, at corners or seams -- if possible, attach the fabric with glue.

Finishing the Last Panel

When the last panel has been stapled into place, turn the edge of the first panel under the edge of the last and crease the seam with your fingers. Don't use staples on the final seam; glue the folded fabric down, holding it smoothly in place until the glue sets.

Covering the Staples at the Top and Bottom

To cover the staples in the fabric along the ceiling and the baseboard, glue a long piece of cloth ribbon or braid over the edge of the fabric, all around the room. Turn the ends under carefully so they don't ravel. Instead of ribbon, you can also tack narrow molding strips over the stapled fabric along the baseboard.

Paneling is a great option for walls that are too damaged to hold a new treatment. We'll cover this in the next section.

­For more information on do-it-yourself home improvement projects, try the following links:

  • If your floors need work, you won't need to hire expensive specialists with our article on How to Repair Floors.
  • Learn how to create your own walls with our article on How to Drywall.
  • For instructions and tips on doing a good paint job, see our article on Painting Walls.

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