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

Make your own wallpaper using papers you love

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.

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