We Tried Painting A Fabric Chair With Chalk Paint — Apartment Therapy Test Lab


As we’ve talked about before, chalk paint covers a multitude of sins. You can use it pretty much anywhere, with no primer or advance prep required. So when I heard that it was also good to use on fabric, I had to give it a test.

For this project, we used a fairly basic chair with off-white upholstery fabric, which also had a bit of texture.

What You Need

Materials

Tools

Before you get started, vacuum the upholstery, or take a lint roller and run it all along the surface. You don’t want to apply paint to a dusty or dirty surface. Then, cover or tape off any areas you don’t want painted. If paint finds its way to the wood surface, just wipe it off quickly with a damp towel.

Testing & Painting

Each type of fabric will absorb paint differently. It’s always a good idea to test an inconspicuous spot of fabric, before committing to the entire piece. Play with the ratio of water to paint until you reach a good consistency and coverage.

Most chalk paint manufacturers suggest that you use the chalk paint on upholstery sparingly, in thin coats because the paint has a tendency to crack if applied too thick and may flake away over time. So, when I first started, I mixed three parts water to one part paint. While it went on easily, the paint was also very splotchy and it was difficult to keep the color consistent across the fabric. I quickly upgraded to a ratio of one part water to one part paint, which had the thickness of chocolate milk. You can see where I switched over in the photo above. On the left hand side is the lighter, more watery version. On the right side of the chair is the 1:1 ratio, which covered the surface much better.

After my test, I applied the paint in steady strokes with a wide paint brush and worked quickly to avoid dry lines. Since the textured pattern on my fabric had straight lines, I painted in the same direction. If your fabric has a textured design, you will have to work all around it, pushing the paint into the fabric from different directions.

Paint Coverage

I let the chair dry completely overnight, then went back the next day to touch up any areas that needed more coverage. I also did another coat on the seat bottom, thinking it would get the most use, then let it completely dry again overnight. There’s a slight color variation across the fabric, but nothing that is really noticeable or troublesome, and there’s no white showing through the new blue paint.

If you have a chair with darker upholstery fabric, or a bright obnoxious print, you will mostly likely need to either choose a darker paint color, or apply more coats to get the coverage you need.

Softness and Feel

Once the paint had completely dried, my once soft, comfortable cotton felt scratchy, almost like outdoor fabric. Since this is more of a decorative chair, only used occasionally, it’s not awful or unbearable. But I’d be unhappy if it was an armchair, used regularly for lounging and watching television. It definitely wouldn’t be as cozy and comfortable.

Protecting the Finish

Once it’s painted, you can seal the fabric several different ways: 1) Place your furniture in the sun for a few hours; 2) Heat seal by ironing; 3) Heat seal by tumbling the (not yet upholstered) fabric in the dryer on low; and lastly 4) Apply a coat of soft wax (Annie Sloan and others sell it on Amazon, as do other companies). I read several tutorials that recommended finishing painted leather upholstery with a protective wax coating, but because I was working with cotton, I opted for the simple “heat seal” option, which meant putting it in the sun for a few hours. However, some people still use a clear wax to seal their painted upholstery, no matter what the material.

Durability

Just how well does the paint hold up? The chair has been painted for about a week, and gets little to no use, but I’ve been letting my toddler use it as a climbing gym to see if any paint wears off. So far it looks just as good as when it was first painted.

Conclusion

This is a good “quick fix” for a chair you kind of like, or think has potential, but don’t want to spend a lot of money on having it reupholstered. The paint goes on fast, so it’s a quick project that’s easy to pull off. It’s also a great way to get creative by adding stripes or patterns onto plain fabric, without a huge investment. Proceed with caution if you are thinking about painting a beloved chair. Testing and experimentation is essential, with no guarantees of perfect coverage —especially with bright or dark fabric.

And no matter what, in the end, know that it doesn’t feel anything like upholstery fabric. So, if you wake up one day and decide your yellow living room sofa would look pretty turquoise instead, chalk paint isn’t necessarily your answer because you probably don’t want to sit on it daily.

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