You just never know… If I come across some great furniture pieces that are just ‘screaming’ for help, then I come up with a way to give them a second life. Some recent ‘new-to-me’ Louis XVI chairs gave me somewhat of a painting challenge. How do different paints and mixes work for painting fabric? Yup, I said fabric! Which should you use? I’ve done some tests before tackling, my DIY Upholstery Painting just to be safe.
Welcome new chairs, I know they look a bit sad. However, I like the simple lines of these imitation Louis XVI chairs and the fact they were quite structurally sound. I had the intention of reupholstering them but then remembered how many ‘millions’ of staples I have to pull out just to strip the ‘buggers’. ( can you tell my displeasure at staple pulling?!) So no!
I had a vision to make these into some fancy-shmancy accent chairs, not daily lounging ones. Soooo, paint just seemed to be much less painful. Oh just wait at how luxurious they will be… But first to figure out which one?
I admit I do possess a fair collection of paint since I am actually an illustrator. Generally speaking, artists paint is better quality than usual ‘wall paint’ It has much more pigment ( the colours) and less fillers. Even in the scope of artist’s paints there are quite the range of prices due to the quality of pigments. Art is meant to last quite long so I am fairly confident that it will stand up longer than I my love affair with them.
Since I tend to paint a lot I use a mid-grade Artist’s Loft Flow Acrylic Paint since it is a nice consistency and comes in large bottles.
To aid in the mixing and transparency of paint there are clear mediums available. They act as a way to thin pigment without losing the integrity of the paint and losing it’s permanence. Adding water will thin as well but will also weaken the acrylic binding in the paint. Too much water and it will start to lose the ability to fight water (as in washing or weather)
Mediums will come in various sheens such as Matt (no shine at all) and Gloss (plasticy shiny). Personally I LOVE my mediums since they can also be used as a top-coat, similar to what they used to call varnishes. I notice they started to add that on the bottles nowadays.
There are also specialty mediums for fabric. They profess to make any acrylic paint into a permanent fabric paint. I used the Demco brand but others are also available.
I tend to experiment rather than believe what others say. It’s good practice since it will also give you some hints on how it all works out before you make huge expensive mistakes.
I used some fairly heavy cotton scraps to map out 4 test areas of:
- Matt Medium Alone
- Only Acrylic Paint
- Acrylic Paint & Fabric medium
- Acrylic Paint & Matt Medium
I did not use much water at all, as trying to only use the mixes. I filled in the squares and let dry. I did this in white as well as black as I was interested to see the amount of compared opaqueness of the two.
At first glance there was not much discernible differences. I tend to suspect that the companies want us to buy more products making it sound like they are indeed different.( ‘As they used to mark medium as different than varnish)
I do notice that fabric mediums are much thinner, as to aid in the application and mixing with a paint. The Clear Mediums are a bit more dense and thick.
The Blacks all had pretty solid coverage. I was fairly confident that they would work since I have many articles of clothing that end up with permanent stains of acrylic paint on them. That’s how we figure things out sometimes; by accident!
Different Factors to consider:
I have researched many upholstery painting tutorials and have noticed that the type of fabric is a big deal. Obviously! Super thick fabrics would soak up so much paint that they end up with some ‘crunchy’ & ‘crusty’ coatings.
Suggestions of watering down the paint sounds logical but the problem is that the acrylic binders can’t work properly when so diluted. It scares me to use such watered down acrylics, even in paintings. Hence I have seen some upholstery paint jobs that end up rubbing off onto the clothing when sitting on them. Yikes!
In my opinion a thinner fabric will work better, especially if it has very little texture. It will become a more smooth finish, but not hold much paint. So to test the flexibility I would bend the fabric to see if I could get it to crack. All the tests performed quite well with no breaking or cracking!
I sent the pieces through a couple loads of laundry and they all held up. The only concern was of some abrasion through the wash and some wear from that. Upholstery will not have that same endurance test.
Many have also suggested using a chalk paint. I do love chalk paint for certain uses and I even make my own (as I did to paint everything white) But the additive in chalk paint is calcium carbonate (same as ground egg shells/see shells) so its a pretty hard material. It does harden paint quite nicely and makes it cover quite quickly too, but I don’t think I want it on my fabric. I would rather have some flexibility which would come from the presence of a lot of acrylic binders.
So there you have my rationale; I’m going to use a mix of matt medium and paint. I was pretty happy to dive in with some sense of confidence since the pieces I had gotten (for a song) were a very sleek, tight weave fabric. And if it doesn’t work out, I’m sure there could be a backup plan…
Well, here’s a sneak peak! Soon to be posted, as it’s a design that you have never seen before. If you have any upholstery-painting experiences to add please comment below.