Painting Upholstery: Revisit | Maine Country Home

We’ve painted quite a few upholstered pieces since our original post last year…and boy have we learned a lot! So now it’s time to pass all of our insight on to you. Here’s the skinny on painting fabric and upholstery with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint…

1. Look for a piece that has a higher content of natural ingredients.

What does this mean? Stay away from poly-blends and scotch guarded fabrics. Chalk Paint wants something to absorb into, it wants to dye the fabric. It has a harder time doing that when the medium it’s absorbing into resists it. We’ve had really good luck with cotton, linen, silk, velour, and velvet. What we’ve found with painting “unnatural” fabrics is that they feel like plastic once they’ve dried, they’re hard and rigid. They’re also more prone to cracking since the paint isn’t absorbed into the upholstery, it sits on top.

An example of a failed upholstery painting…see all the cracking? No bueno.

painting an upholstered chair painting upholstery with chalk paint updating chairs

2. So what about leather and vinyl?

We’ve painted vinyl and leather with ah-mazing results! In this case the paint will sit on top because there is nothing for it to soak in to. You should still water down the paint to avoid brush strokes. This can be achieved by watering down your paint a bit, more like 90% paint and 10% water, there’s no hard-and-fast rule in this instance. Or you can start with a wet brush to apply the paint with, and just dip your brush in water every few applications. I like this method because I can manipulate how much paint/water I’m applying to any given area. Try to brush all in one direction too (just like you’re doing the smooth/modern technique) as this will also cut down on brush strokes. You’ll always want to wax in this instance with Clear Wax to seal and protect the upholstery. And make sure you clean the vinyl or leather really well to get any oils off of the surface.

Painted vinyl.

painting vinyl with chalk paint

Leather chairs before.

updating leather chairs

Leather chairs after! Note – just the backs are painted leather. I’m good, but not that good! The seats are Annie Sloan fabric in Nuits et Rouge.

painting leather with chalk paint updating leather chairs

3. Follow the 80/20 rule.

Last post I couldn’t remember the ratio for water to paint, I now have it down to a science. Mix 80% water to 20% Chalk Paint for optimal results. This sometimes means that you’ll have to apply more coats to achieve the look you’re going for, but trust me, it’s worth it! This chair needed 4 coats of Aubusson Blue to be fully covered. I was also painting a dark color over white, which sometimes needs more coats anyway, so don’t let that dissuade you!

Chair before:

painted chair before

Chair after! Ooh la la!

painting upholstery after

painting upholstery with annie sloan chalk paint

4. I’m sorry, but you have to follow the rules of dyeing.

*Note: you don’t have to follow this rule with vinyl or leather*

Because you’re dyeing the upholstery with Chalk Paint, you therefore have to follow the dyeing rules. You must paint in the same color family, or a darker color. A perfect example of how the original color can change your end result is in Annie Sloan’s book, Color Recipes, when she paints a mustardy-yellow velvet chair Paloma. It turns out looking more like a brown/purple/grey, which isn’t bad! But it is certainly something to keep in mind when choosing the piece and the color. As I told a customer today, you can paint your yellow chair blue, but you’re probably going to end up with a green chair. It’s always a good idea to test an inconspicuous spot to see what will happen.

Annie’s beautiful chair painted in Paloma. See how the fabric has a completely different look than the color used?

annie sloan painted chair

5. Sometimes the upholstery will feel a bit stiff after painting, there’s an easy fix for that.

The Aubusson Blue chair, once it had fully dried, did feel a smidgen stiff. To bring that softeness back I lightly sanded the upholstery with 220 grit sandpaper. You can use 320 or 400 also, but 220 was what I had on hand at the time. And I can’t stress lightly enough. You don’t want distressed fabric (or maybe you do!). Be especially careful around any edges or piping. Once you’ve given the surface a light going-over make sure you remove the dust! You can vacuum with a shop vac, or take a slightly damp microfiber cloth and wipe down the piece. Easy right??

6. Stenciling with Chalk Paint is equally rewarding.

The amazing Kristy has done a runner and a pillow with Chalk Paint, both turned out beautifully! We used 100% linen fabric to make both. She used full-strength paint, but you can always use the aforementioned ratio when stenciling, and either brush on or use a roller. Now here comes the fun part…The pillow pieces we ran through a washing machine just to see what would happen. We weren’t disappointed! Where that paint was applied became soft, just like the rest of the linen. We washed them separately, used regular detergent, and dried them in the dryer. Don’t let anyone tell you this isn’t miracle paint.

The pillow in Barcelona Orange, and the runner in Scandinavian Pink. Both are Artisan Enhancement stencils.

stenciling fabric with chalk paintstenciling fabric with chalk paint

Phew! That was a lot of information to get out there, I appreciate you sticking with me until the end! Hopefully this has taken a lot of the mystery and apprehension out of painting upholstery and fabric with Chalk Paint. Painting should always be a fun and enjoyable experience, so if you ever hit a road block or have questions shoot us an email or give us a call. We’re always happy to help, no matter where you are!

Happy painting!

Samantha & the Maine Country Home team

Life on the coast of Maine

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