December 6, 2011

painted lady: a tutorial

So I painted a chair.
Which, on the surface, doesn't sound all that exciting. I mean, chairs get painted all the time. I seem to paint chairs all the time.
Except this time, I painted the fabric of a chair.
A while ago I pinned a how-to on Pinterest on painting upholstery, just because I thought the idea was interesting. And when the slipcover on my beloved rocker ripped at the corners (living in the kitchen means the white fabric needs a lot of washing) I decided to give it a go and see what happens. I could always fix the slipcover if it turned out awful.
Because our kitchen is sort of cave-like and white, which brightened it up but always looked dirty, wasn't working, I went bright and bold. And I gotta say, I'm loving it. This chair has been hanging around since Evelyn was born. A craigslist find, it has, possibly, the ugliest fabric ever and has been draped with blankets and sheets, faux slipcovered (as in, fabric and strategically placed pins) and finally slipcovered last year. It's my favorite chair ever, and it always makes me a little sad that underneath it's so freaking ugly and dingy, so now chair and I are both happy.
The process took several coats. In fact, I think I may do one more on the seat and see if I can get the texture of the fabric to disappear completely, you can only see it now when the light is right, so maybe one more coat will take care of it. For the first few coats I used Delta Fabric Medium, mostly because I couldn't find fabric medium anywhere and ended up ordering it from Amazon, and that's what was available. Right about the time I was going to order a new bottle, our behind-the-times Michael's set up a new display of Martha Stewart crafts paints, which included fabric medium. I'm not sure if it was because I was on a later coat or because it was actually better stuff, but the paint seemed to adhere better with the MS medium. If I were dong this again, I'd start with hers.

Some of the tutorials I found used craft paint as a base and then latex paint, some used all craft paint, some used all latex paint. I went with the all latex route so that I wouldn't have to try to match paint at either end. In my experience, it never really matches anyway, so I saved myself that headache.

And one last note, the sanding step is important. I know, it seems weird to sand it. But it turns a plasticy surface back into a fabricy surface. Not soft soft fabric, but this chair was never soft soft, but comfortable to sit in at least.

Interior Latex Paint
two bottles (at least) fabric medium
Foam paint brushes
Disposable paint containers
Spray bottle full of water

Oh, and a chair, obviously

First, vacuum the chair well, get way down in the crevices. Once it's nice and clean, mix up the first Batch of paint. You'll want to set aside one full bottle of fabric medium for the later coats, so don't use it all here. Combine the paint and medium at a ratio of 3 to 1 and mix well.
Spray the entire chair with water, get it really nice and wet. You can spray a section at a time as you work, but in my experience, one area leads to another and it's easy to forget to stop and spray. Check the fabric as you work and respray as needed. The water lets the paint absorb into the fabric, so make sure the area you are working on is pretty damp as you paint.

If, like me, you want any piping on your chair to be a different color, it's probably easier to start with that. I painted three coats of white (same ratio of paint to medium) on all the piping, spilling over a bit onto the main fabric to make sure I got the white into the cracks. If I had been patient enough, I would have done several more coats and then taped if off after it dried, but I wanted to get going on the rest of the chair, so I free-handed the edges. It's not perfect, but it works.

Paint the entire surface of the chair with the main paint color, allowing the coats to set up a little before adding the next and spraying water before every coat. First it looks like this.
Then this
At this point I ran out of medium and let the paint dry overnight. Once I was sure it was really dry, I sanded the whole chair with a very fine grit sandpaper.

And then I got busy and forgot about the project for a few weeks. But you don't have to wait that long.

Once I had more medium and had a free(ish) evening, I repeated the process, including repainting the white piping again, although this time I just painted the piping. This time around, however, I used a 1 to 1 ratio paint and medium. But the process remained the same. Spray and paint, spray and paint.
I did two final coats with this round and have paint left over in case I decide to do one more on the seat. It needs a final sanding so I'm waiting to see how I like it after that before I decide. But overall I'm really happy with it at this point. I sit in the chair a lot, it's really my spot in the house, and I find the painted fabric plenty comfortable. More so than the original which was itchy, and at least as comfortable as the twill of the slipcover. Someday, when I have time and money and a house that I'm not planning to move from EVER, I'll reupholster the old girl, because I really do love her, but for now, I like the bright spot of color in my kitchen.

*PS. Forgive the poor quality of the photos, I did most of this project late at night and it's pretty dark in here even on bright days right now due to the winter sun being somewhere not near our windows, so everything is a little dark and dim. But you get the idea.