“Burlapped” Wainscoting in Arts & Crafts Homes

You can restore your wainscot to their original appearance. Sometimes the ‘burlap’ has been removed, leaving rough textured plaster in its place. Other times, the ‘burlap’ has been painted over the years.  If so, the painted fabric needs to be removed, and the fabric replaced with new Linen Union.  Original scraps of the fabric (for guidance in restoration for colour and texture) can often be found behind the wood mouldings that surrounded the panels where fabric once had been installed.

Fortunately, it is possible to buy plain colours of Linen Union fabric today. Sold for upholstery or drapery uses, it usually comes in 54” wide material, in many appropriate colours. This fabric also matches the texture and thread count of the original ‘burlap’ that was used on the walls of the Arts & Crafts bungalows.

“Linen Union” refers to fabric that is woven of a combination (or “union”) of linen and cotton – usually in about a 55% to 45% mix, though this can vary by manufacturer.

Your walls can be “burlapped” to look just like the original version! Using a roller for the main areas, and a brush for the edges, and approved clear fabric paste, gently spread the adhesive evenly and thinly onto the wall, then gently hang and smooth the fabric by hand on the wall. Do not apply too much adhesive, as it will squeeze through the slightly open weave of the fabric if there is too much adhesive on the wall. Test a small area to check how much adhesive will work properly.

Most wainscot is shorter than 54” which is the width of the fabric. The 54″ width fabric usually allows the fabric to be hung horizontally along the wall without the need to cut it into small panels. The vertical wood strapping can be nailed over the fabric, as it was originally, reducing the need for cutting and/or seams.  If the wainscot is 48” tall (for example), and the fabric is 54” wide, cutting 6” off the edge of the fabric along the length will of course be required.

Alternately, the fabric can be carefully measured, cut and placed between the wood strips, but due to the fabric being able to stretch slightly, it may be tricky to get well-finished, smooth edges alongside the wood mouldings. If you have to apply it like this, (because you do not want to remove the wood strips from the wall) it may be good to carefully first paint all the inside edges of the panel – next to the wood – with a paint colour that matches the fabric colour. Then, after applying the fabric, if the fabric does not make an absolutely straight edge against the wood, leaving a slightly uneven edge or a few small gaps along the edges, you will only see matching colour, and not bare white plaster showing through.

The Linen Union fabric can also be used for curtains, cushions or upholstery to further coordinate your room design, using matching or coordinating colours.

Decorating suggestions from a 1914 magazine for a “Panel Effect” in your room.

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