Using Chalk Paint® on Fabric and Upholstery by RGC

By Barb Skivington for Real Girls Create

Whether you use it as a dye or paint it on directly, Chalk Paint® decorative paint by Annie Sloan is a good choice for changing the look of your fabric or upholstery.

Changing the Color of a Fabric by Dip Dyeing

Dip dyeing with Chalk Paint® is an easy way to change the color of a fabric. Natural fibers, such as linen or cotton, and even some synthetic fibers all work well with this technique. Nylon fabrics or fabrics that contain polyester, or fabrics that are treated with Scotchgard™ or another type of coating, will not take the color so well.

The intensity of the final color depends on the ratio of paint to water, the shade of paint, the type of fabric, and the amount being dyed. Start by mixing 1 part Chalk Paint® into 20 parts water, but you can adjust the amounts depending on how light or dark you wish the dye to be. Stir your mix thoroughly to ensure the paint is completely diluted and evenly dispersed. Dip your fabric into the dye, allowing the fabric to soak it in. The amount of time the fabric is left soaking in the dye can range from 5 to 30 minutes. The longer the fabric soaks the more intense the color. Agitate the fabric until the whole piece is evenly dyed. Remove from the water and leave to drip-dry, preferably outdoors in direct sunlight.

For color fastness, heat seal the fabric by tumble drying or ironing once it has completely drip-dried. You can then wash it on a warm wash setting with no color loss. Please note: If you use a stronger quantity of paint in your dye there might be some fading of the color.

Painting Fabric with a Dye Wash

If you’re looking to create areas of color then this technique is perfect. Make the dye slightly stronger than the typical dye mix (approximately 1 to 10 paint to water). This method works well on linens or cottons, particularly those with a light background. It also works well on velvet but add a bit more water to your dye mix.

Use a suitably sized brush to work the dye mix into your fabric. To create wide stripes or areas of color simply use masking tape.

The longer the fabric is left unwashed the less likely it will be to fade once washed.

Painting Directly on Upholstery

Many upholstery fabrics can be painted with Chalk Paint®, although the more natural fiber there is in the fabric the better it absorbs paint. It’s best to choose a chair or sofa that is not too soft and squishy as this makes it hard for the paint to be absorbed evenly and dry properly. Outdoor cushions that have been treated with a coating to withstand the elements may not take the color well. Keep in mind that you will be staining or dyeing the fabric, so you won’t be able to make a dark fabric lighter.

Begin by diluting the paint with water so that it is liquid enough to be absorbed by the fibers. Adding the right amount of water to the paint is crucial — the paint needs to soak into the top layers of your upholstered piece, rather than all the way through — as you are trying to avoid thick paint that clogs up the pile and feels hard and crusty on drying. Also, misting your fabric with some water is important so that the paint mixture absorbs into the fibers. To make certain of the consistency of the paint and the absorbency of your fabric is a question of trial and error. Test a small patch on the back of your upholstered piece or the underside of a cushion first before committing to painting your entire piece. If you think the paint might still be too thick or your fabric is not wet enough, add some more water and use a scrubbing motion with the paintbrush to spread the paint around.

When you are satisfied with your test results, apply one or more coats of paint for even coverage. After applying the paint, let it dry completely; this might take a day or two depending on the fabric.

Once dry, and depending on the weave, you may want to apply Clear Chalk Paint® Wax for a polished look and to give the fabric more of a leathery feel.

Painting Directly on Fabric

This is the best method to use if you’re painting fine lines or stamping or stenciling patterns. Simply apply undiluted paint to the fabric using your preferred method and heat set with a clothes iron once the paint has dried.

For more information on painting fabric and upholstery, see Annie Sloan's book, Color Recipes for Painted Furniture and More, pp. 36-39, 66-67, 152-153.


Permission to publish this article given expressly to 3PaintGirls by Barb’s estate.