Make your own wallpaper using papers you love

SeeingSquared studio walls are shown with wallpaper made from tissue paper sewing patterns.

Just about every person who visits my studio comments on the wallpaper. They use words like “personal,” “distinctive,” “innovative,” and “creative.” It was such an easy (and inexpensive) thing to do, I had to share it with you. After all, cheap, innovative, and personalized are core values for this blog. So here’s how to make your own wallpaper using papers you love.

Think about it

Don’t do this on a whim. It looks great but when it comes time for a change, this wall-covering will take a lot of work to undo. It won’t scrape off with a quick steaming and its texture will show through if you paint over it. (I like the texture, but it might not be your cup of tea.) You can cover it up with paneling or another layer of wallpaper. You could also sand it down before priming and painting. Alternatively, you could apply this wallpaper to a panel and then attach the panel to the wall. This doesn’t have to be a problem, just make sure you recognize what you’re getting into.

Also, it’s not well-suited for damp places like bathrooms. If you are determined, you could slather it in varnish, but that’s a lot of extra work (and gunk on your walls).

Tools and supplies

For tools you will need:

  • large paint brush (at least 10 cm (4″) wide)
  • bucket or basin
  • step ladder
  • knife for trimming up edges (optional)
  • wet rags for cleaning up
  • drop cloths to protect the floor from splatters and spills.

Supplies are very basic – just paper, glue, and water. You will need enough paper to cover the wall twice. (That lets you overlap freely without fear of running out near the end.) For details on how to select your paper, see the next section.

Wallpaper paste will not work for this job. Neither will homemade flour and water paste. You need something thin that dries clear – watered down white glue (PVA glue). I used Home Hardware’s “Natura” white glue but other brands will also work. (No, I do not get any sort of compensation for mentioning or recommending products.) The 3.8L (4 quart) jug did 55 m2 (600 ft2) of wall and I still have glue left over. Not bad for $18.

Choose your paper

This technique is for tissue paper. Rice paper, paper napkins, onion skin paper, tracing paper, and some handmade papers could also work. Some measure of transparency is important. So is colour-fast ink.

A selection of papers that would work to make your own wallpaper.  These include gift-wrapping tissue paper either new or used, and handmade paper with fried flowers embedded in it
Any of these papers would work to make your own wallpaper. The solid pink is crumpled and torn but that doesn’t matter. It came with a pair of shoes. The brand new purple and gently used floral print papers are both gift wrapping tissue. On the right is handmade paper with pressed flowers and leaves embedded in it.

I used commercially printed sewing patterns. They are transparent even before gluing, and their ink does not run when it gets wet. Their transparency let me layer them and overlap them with little regard for what was on top. Everything showed through, even four or five layers deep. Two trips to the thrift store got me all the patterns I needed, and then some.

Fabulous effects could be achieved using gift-wrapping tissue paper in its huge array of colours. Those colours might bleed when wet so test before using. Papers with printed designs also need to be tested. The background might be colour-fast but if the ink runs, you’ll have blotchy mess.

Paper napkins usually come in layers. Separate those layers before using because each layer needs its own coat of glue.

Covering an entire wall with paper napkins could be very labour intensive. If you love those butterfly napkins, consider using individual butterflies scattered over a broad tissue paper background. They are actually more likely to get noticed that way than if the entire wall is plastered with them.

Test

Not every paper will be as transparent as the sewing patterns I used. I recommend doing a small test patch to see how your selected papers look after they’ve been layered and the glue has dried. The more opaque they are, the more you will need to plan your design.

A board or a piece of cardboard will work fine for your test patch. Just make sure it has the same colour paint on it that your wall does. Seeing if/how the paint shows through is important.

Prepare the wall

Bare wood or drywall should be primed before wallpapering. A painted surface just needs a quick wash to remove dust and dirt, so long as the colour is not problematic. If the wall is not white, you really need to do the test patch to make sure you can work with that background colour.

Mix the glue

Pour some glue into your bucket and add a bit of water. Cool, cold, or room temperature is fine, just not hot. Stir the water in completely and then add more. Continue adding and mixing in more water until the mixture runs more like water than glue.

Some brands of white glue are much thinker than others so I can’t give you an exact proportion for the mix but it also doesn’t need to be exact. Somewhere around 1:3 or 1:6 ratio of glue to water is a good starting point. Too much glue, and you’ll have a crusty coating on the surface. Too little and the paper won’t stick well. (Did I mention you should test a patch first?) If neither of those is a problem, you’re in the right ball park.

Hang the paper

The method is straightforward: brush the wall with glue, stick the paper on the wet glue, brush over the top with more glue.

The glue is thin like water, not thick like paint so it will splatter and drip. It will also dry quickly. Get the drop cloths in place and keep a damp rag on hand.

Starting near the top of the wall, paint a small section with glue and then add a piece of paper. Reload the brush with glue, then use the brush to smooth down the paper. Work from the top towards the bottom and from the middle towards the edges. Push bubbles out. Let wrinkles form but make sure they are thoroughly glued down.

The bubble in this piece of tissue paper needs to be properly smoothed down.
The bubble near the Simplicity arrow needs to be smoothed down with the brush. If there is not enough glue to make it stick, gently peel back the corner and apply more glue. Loose bits like this will stick out and catch on things. Wrinkles are okay but bubbles are not.

Keep your hands as clean and dry as possible. You don’t want them to stick to the rest of the paper.

Paint another section of wall with glue and add the next piece of paper. Some of the glue may have already dried to the touch. Just paint more over it so that you always have wet glue where you want to apply more paper. Every paper should also be completely covered in glue so that it is sealed in.

Hanging large sheets of paper

A large sheet of tissue paper is being glued to the wall.  The top is attachd and the rest of it hangs loosely.
The top edge of this full sheet of pattern tissue has been glued to the wall. The rest hangs loosely, waiting for more glue to be painted on the wall under the paper.

To hang a very large piece of paper, paint glue where the top edge of the paper will go. Attach that top edge to the wall and smooth it over with the brush. Then roll up the the paper from the bottom edge and lift that loose lower portion away from the wall. Now you can paint another patch of glue under the paper and smooth some more of it down. Keep working in sections like that until the whole sheet is done. The trick is to make sure you don’t end up with dry patches on the wall under the paper.

Clean up

One of the beauties of working with white glue is the very simple clean-up. Wash your tools with warm water, pack up the drop cloths, and you’re done. Parts of the wall are probably already dry to the touch and the rest soon will be.

High touch areas, like a cupboard door, would benefit from a coat of varnish after the glue is fully dry, but for most walls, that’s not needed.

Other applications

Styrofoam head covered in tissue paper sewing patterns
Styrofoam display head covered in sewing pattern tissue paper.

I have used this same technique to cover display items in my studio. Small curved items like styrofoam heads worked best when I tore the tissue paper into strips like for papier mache. I also painted two coats of varnish on them because they will have to withstand a lot more handling and friction than my walls will.

Whether it’s walls, panels, or furnishings, this layered technique lets you “wallpaper” items with papers you love. I’m still having fun with it. I hope you do too.

Going to market at Open Streets Festival, Waterloo

Preparing for an Arts Market booth at the Open Streets Festival in Waterloo, the picture shows a rack of clothing on the right with several garments hung on display mannequins on the left

What a scramble! The last time I was part of an in-person public event was pre-Covid. I’m out of practice. The City of Waterloo hosts Open Streets Festival on Saturday, June 11 and I’m excited to say I’ve got a spot in the Arts Market that day. With only three weeks to go, it’s time to make decisions on what I take and how I set it all up.

Open Streets Festival is an annual outdoor event in Uptown Waterloo. Access is easy by public transit, bike paths, or on foot. There is also free parking nearby for those who need to drive. Waterloo Park is a lovely spot for a wander or a picnic and it is just a few minutes walk away. (So is the public library – my favourite uptown destination.)

So come on over to Uptown Waterloo on Saturday, June 11. The Arts Market will be set up at Waterloo Public Square/Willis Way. It’s open 10 am – 4 pm and I’ll be there, rain or shine.

The City of Waterloo, Open Streets Festival official link is here.

Make your own dryer balls – no special tools required

Six handmade dryer balls are shown with a variety of decorative stitching on their surfaces

My first set of dryer balls was the bumpy plastic kind that left blue streaks on the inside of the dryer. Eventually they cracked and were relegated to the recycle bin. By that time, felted wool dryer balls were making their appearance on the market. They were certainly quieter than the plastic ones, and I knew they would last longer. But they were beyond my budget so I invented my own using fabric and yarn scraps. Here I’ll show you my version so that you can make your own dryer balls for yourself or as a gift.

Tools and materials

A selection of possible tools used to make your own dryer balls: includes three large-eyed needles, a bodkin, and a crochet hook
Possible tool options: A – large-eyed needles, B – bodkin, C – crochet hook.

As promised, the necessary tools are pretty basic. You will need a large-eyed needle or a bodkin or a medium size crochet hook (somewhere in the 2-4 mm range a.k.a. US sizes B-G). Scissors could also come in handy, but they aren’t absolutely necessary.

A selection of possible materials to go in the dryer ball core.  Samples include threads, fabric trimmings, worn out socks, and a variety of wool fabrics in different  weights and textures
Any and all of these materials can be combined to form the core of a dryer ball. Threads, fabric trimmings, and old socks will all work as long as they are clean and 100% wool.

Your materials need to be 100% wool and they need to be clean. You will need yarn for the outside layer. However, the core of a dryer ball can contain woven or knit fabric scraps, yarn pieces, or even unspun roving. As long as it is clean and 100% wool, it can be used. My dryer balls have sewing scraps and bits of worn out socks in them.

Make the core

Roll your core materials up into a fairly smooth ball a little smaller than your fist. Start with the smallest pieces and roll them up in the larger pieces. Loose edges and flaps will disappear when the ball is wrapped with yarn.

The smallest bitsof wool are bundled together in the centre of the core.
The smallest bits go in the centre of the core.
Larger scraps are wound around the innermost layer.
Larger scraps are wrapped around the initial bundle.
The biggest piece going into the core is saved for last.
The biggest scrap was saved for last. It will cover the bundle nicely.

Take one end of the wrapping yarn and hold it under your thumb while you hold and wrap the core. Once the yarn end has been wrapped over a few times, it will stay in place without needing to be held. (This layer will be barely visible when the ball is done so if you have some “less-preferred” yarn, use it here.

How to start the wrap by holding the yarn end under your thumb and then wrapping over it .
Starting the wrap. Note that the core bundle looks rather blocky at this stage. The wrapping will soon change that.

Wrap all over and around the core, working in all directions for an even layer. The wrapping should be snug but not stretched hard. If you need to add a new piece of yarn, just start it the same way you did the first one. There’s no need to tie knots.

Early stages of the first layer wrapping.
Early wrapping and already the blocky core looks rounder.
bare patches along the sides need to be filled in.
Rotate the core while you wrap so that bare patches like this one get filled in.
Inner wrapping about half done and the round shape is well established.
The wrapping in about half done and the ball is well rounded now.
Inner wrapping is done.  The core is completely obscured.
The inner wrapping is done and the core is fully obscured. No hint of holey socks now.

Outer wrap

If you used ugly yarn for the core wrapping, now is the time to switch it out for a colour you like. Keep wrapping, working smoothly and evenly. Unlike a commercially wound ball of yarn, you don’t want the strands all lined up side by side. You want a network of crisscrossing lines that are not easily disturbed. Continue wrapping until the ball is tennis ball size. Use the need;e/bodkin/crochet hook to tuck the yarn end under.

Starting the outer wrapping layer.
The outer layer of wrapping is underway.
Using a needle to tuck in the tail end of wrapping yarn.
Using a needle to tuck in the tail end of the wrapping yarn.

Secure it with stitches

One snag is all it would take to unwind the whole ball and leave you with a real mess in the dryer. This final layer is not just decorative. It holds the ball together. The way it looks, however, is up to you.

You can cover the ball in random stitches or design intricate patterns. Sometimes I embroider, like in this sample, but I often use a crochet hook to chain stitch instead. You can be as plain or fanciful as you like so long as when you’re done, there are no large uncovered patches left. If you can follow a piece of wrapped yarn for more than 3 cm (1″) without it being stitched down, it needs to be secured.

starting the stitching thread by running it through the ball before stitching.
The stitching yarn was pulled through the ball to hide the end before starting the actual stitching. Hold onto that short end while you make your first few stitches, then trim it flush with the ball’s surface so it disappears from view.

This step can be the most fun. It also takes the longest. You may want to start with a basic design for your first ball before you tackle a series of family portraits on the next ones. Monogrammed dryer balls make nice gifts for students moving away from home or for bridal showers. The lettering doesn’t need to be fancy to feel personal.

a variety of stitches shown on the sample ball - a chain stitch swirl, a straight stitch starburst, and some parallel lines of running stitch
A chain stitch swirl, a straight stitch starburst, and some parallel rows of running stitch form a casual design on this sample ball.

Alternate uses

This technique would work to make unbreakable Christmas tree balls. Take a look at Temari balls for extreme design inspiration. Design options open up when the balls don’t have to be dryer safe.

Closely stitched balls are also ideal as baby gifts. When baby becomes toddler and starts snagging the dryer balls for play, (s)he might as well have a personalized set that doesn’t keep disappearing on laundry days. A quick surface cleaning followed by a trip through a hot dryer will take care of just about any dirt that accumulates.

These balls are not recommended as pet toys because teeth and claws would quickly expose the yarn wrapping and create a choking hazard. (I have not found this to be an issue with children because the balls are too big to fit in their mouths. Besides, the fuzzy wool is not pleasant for human chewing.)

Whether they’re for yourself or to share, dryer balls are another good way to put your scraps to good use.

This one’s for me – a re-woven shirt underway

This one's for me - a re-woven shirt underway. It is pinned to the weaving board and the first half of the weaving is nearly complete.

I make (or remake) a lot of stuff but it rarely gets diverted to my personal closet. That was made all too clear when I was mentally preparing for an event and realized that none of my made-by-me, made-for-me options were right for spring. So this one’s for me – a green with green re-woven shirt that can serve as a comfortable extra layer.

At the studio there’s a gray and black one that I really like but I need a different colour scheme.

Gray and black tunic made from a man's gray business shirt with black bands woven in for shaping and neckline trim.
Gray and black all-cotton tunic made from a man’s shirt and black cloth strips.

There’s also a sunny bright surfboards shirt that’s a lot of fun, but it’s more casual than I want for this event.

Re-woven shirt with yellow background, palm trees, and bright surfboards.  Made from a man's shirt and t-shirt pieces.
Re-woven surfing shirt. The waistband is woven with t-shirt yarn so it’s a bit stretchy.

So I’m at the weaving board for my own custom made re-woven shirt. That doesn’t happen often. I hope it gets done in time!