Cheap to Choice: Recovering Lampshades

Here’s a post on recovering lampshades that I did last Fall for BackGarage, when Katherine was kind enough to let me get my feet wet in the blogosphere by doing some guest posts on her blog. I thought I would re-post in light of my recent post regarding my new lampshades.

Great merciful heavens, it has been dark and gloomy in Chicago lately – Sunday’s lovely weather notwithstanding. This seemed like a really good time to dive into the metric ton of old lampshades I have lying around, earmarked for recovering. There’s nothing like lamplight to warm up a room now that the Chicago fall is settling in. I’ve been lucky and  have found several charming old lamps lately – especially chunky glass ones, of which I am particularly fond – but they’re rarely partnered with attractive shades. My daily walk through Andersonville takes me right by the windows of White Attic, where the most amazing, graphically colorful lampshades are displayed. I started wondering how hard it would be to recover lampshades, and a new collection was born.

This is what happens when I decide to start a new project: I start collecting. And collecting. And then I collect some more.  And then I start thinking of other things that I need for the project, like glue, fabric, and information. Years pass, and my friends start secretly talking about me behind my back, wondering what the hell is up with the pile of old lampshades in my apartment.

This project was particularly difficult for me to dive into, because it involved using some of my stores of fabric. I have a thing for fabric. I love vintage textiles, tablecloths, bedspreads, curtains, and so on. I’m always looking for a way to display them in a useful manner, but then when it’s time to cut into them, I balk. Not this time! I was going to start whittling down my stack of lampshades, and my vintage fabric treasures were my ticket to success.  This is how I did it.

1.  I have a great article from an old Martha Stewart magazine that tells how to make lampshades from scratch by buying the lampshade frames and something called “self-adhesive styrene.” I did a bit of investigating, and it appeared that it would be quite costly, so I figured I would start by recovering lampshades already built by someone more diligent than myself. I found lampshades at yard sales and thrift stores, such as The Brown Elephant, Village Thrift, and the Salvation Army. I didn’t spend more than $3 on any of them. Things to consider while shopping for shades to recover: only white or cream-colored shades will work, since any older patterns will shine through once the lamp is turned on. Also, check for brittleness; older shades crack quite easily. The shade should be in very good shape, without dents or tears.

2.  The fabrics I used on the two smaller shades were purchased in thrift stores; the fabric on the largest shade is a micro-suede that I bought at the Textile Discount Outlet for $9.95 a yard. (By the way, do you know about the Textile Discount Outlet? It’s at 2121 W. 21st Street in Chicago, and it is fabulous. Three stories of the biggest selection of fabric and trim that you have ever seen in your life. I have rarely noticed any fabric priced over $14.95/yard; the majority of it is under $10 a yard.) You can also use any other fabric you like – curtains, sheets, anything that has a print and catches your eye. I even have a skirt with a wild graphic print that I plan to use for a shade. I used a suede, a chintz, and a cotton print for these three shades, and I didn’t notice that one worked better then another.

3.  The first step is to create a pattern with your lampshade. You do this by spreading out a huge piece of paper, laying the lampshade on its side – seam down – and rolling the shade across the paper. (Kraft paper works well, and you can buy a huge roll of it for $9.95 at Home Depot. I use it for many different things around the house, so it’s really nice to have a roll on hand.) Trace the top edge of the shade until the seam is in the same position as when you started (i.e. a full revolution). This next part is vital: don’t lift the shade up when you get back around to the seam. Instead, without moving the shade, move your pencil to its bottom edge. Then roll the shade backwards along the same path, and trace the bottom edge until the shade is back to its starting position. If you move or lift the shade, you’ll mess up the pattern, so be very careful.

4. Cut the pattern out, allowing an inch or two extra on the sides. This is important, because you’ll need that extra fabric to fold over the top and bottom edges of the shade in order to leave a clean edge.

5. Pin the paper pattern to the fabric. Do not be lazy and try to cut the fabric around the pattern without pinning. This will not work. I cannot tell you how I know this, but trust me. Also, if you are using a fabric with a print, make sure you are cutting the fabric so that the print is right-side up. Again, I cannot tell you how I know this, I just do.

6. Do not use your favorite piece of fabric for your first lampshade, for you will make mistakes and ruin your favorite piece of fabric. Let us pause for a brief moment while I weep.

7. Once you get the fabric cut, you are going to take it outside, OUTSIDE, I tell you, and coat the back of it with a spray adhesive.  I used 3M  multipurpose adhesive . It got over everything. I had it in my hair. I had it in my eyelashes. I’m still peeling it off of my fingertips. You do not want to spray this in your house. Also, beware of sudden changes in wind direction. The good news is that IT WORKS. So well that your fabric will stick to itself. I would recommend getting an extra pair of hands your first time through on this, because it’s not easy to make the fabric do what you want it to do once you’ve sprayed the adhesive. I found that the easiest thing to do was to lay the fabric (print down, glue up) on a clean surface while you move on to the next step. (Edited to add: after a little experience, I discovered an easier way — spray a small portion of the fabric at a time — say, four to six inches, at most — adhere to the shade and then move on to the next section. Much less unwieldy.)

8.   It took some trial and error, but I think the easiest way to get the fabric on the lampshade is to roll the lampshade onto the sticky fabric, much like you did when you made your pattern. The tricky part here is to make sure that you’re rolling it on as straight as possible, leaving the fabric overlapping equally on the top and bottom. The first lampshade had me tearing my hair out, because I kept running out of fabric on the top of the shade and having excess on the bottom. It is hard at first and quite frustrating, but, by my third attempt, I had already gotten better at it. The good news is that the spray adhesive doesn’t bond permanently right away; if you need to, you can peel the fabric up and reposition it. Even reapplying the adhesive twice on the first shade didn’t seem to interfere with the eventual bonding of the fabric. The spray adhesive, as it turns out, is a very forgiving glue.

9.  Now smooth the fabric over the shade, because there will be air bubbles. Then smooth the fabric some more. And when you’re through smoothing the fabric, smooth it a little bit more. Let me just say that my first shade attempt is currently sitting on my kitchen table with tons of air bubbles in it. Smooth, people, until your fingertips are bleeding from your efforts.

10. If you went a little crazy and have three or four inches hanging over the edges of the shade, trim those to no more than two inches. You want the inside of the shade to be neat, as it will be visible from certain angles. The light shining through your shade will also illuminate any messy work.

11.  I used Aleene’s Fabric Fusion to fold the edges over and glue them to the inside of the shade. Once again, my handy-dandy binder clips  held the fabric in place while the glue dried. (I’m recommending a new marketing campaign for the binder clip folks – “Binder Clips: A Crafter’s Right Hand.”) Drying  is a lengthy process; I would clip the fabric for at least an hour to make sure it bonds. (Edited to add — I discovered that it looks much neater to leave even less fabric to fold over — just enough to tuck under the little roll on the inside of the shade. It gives a much more finished appearance.)

And there you have it. I could have used trim on the shades – again, Textile Discount Outlet has bazillions of trim options – but  I decided to go simple with them the patterns were pretty busy. Also, fringe and ball trim tend to gather dust, and I haven’t quite figured out how to combat that.

Three down, fourteen thousand to go… bring on the dark Chicago winter! I’ll be ready.

Originally posted on BackGarage on October 20, 2009.

November 20, 2016 - 8:12 pm

stevezuks i like your work and i am trying to start up a small bedside and table lamp project from where i come from, it is every hard and expensive to get this things.
while trying to get supplies for my own lamp project i realized that things like fabric glue and styrene are not readily available in this parts so i do need some advice on ways to improvise and still get great output of commercial value.

November 27, 2016 - 8:41 pm

Lara Jo Hi, Steve! Honestly, you can easily recover a lampshade using just spray adhesive and an old lampshade, as long as the lampshade doesn’t have a bright or distracting cover already on it (the best ones are white or beige). That’s how I made mine — check out the instructions on this post. Styrene would be nice, but I never was able to find it, either! Good luck!