Paper finishes and paperhanging tools

Paper finishes and paperhanging tools

Paper finishes. The decorative styling and design features that are built into the modern dwelling differ in visual and practical ways from the basic amenities in the house that our grandparents lived in. A more time conscious lifestyle, a greater reliance on electronics and labor saving devices, the need for security and an eye for fashion have all contributed to visual change in the home.

One of the few things that has not altered, nor even updated, is the use of wallpapers as the prime means of decoration.The versatility of the wall covering, from providing a cosy decorative feel to disguising poor surfaces, ensures its continued popularity.

Designer’s notes :

Paper finishes and paperhanging toolsSelecting a suitable paper for a room surface, be it in a Victorian terraced house or a part finished loft apartment, is an intimidating task. As multiples of choice do not usually simplify selection, it is a good idea to approach the pattern books with a clear concept, otherwise you will face a bewildering array of shapes, colors, patterns and styles.

The interior designer today is faced with a huge choice in wall coverings. Hand blocked, nineteenth-century designs can be bought, but most wall coverings are descendants of machine paper runs begun in middle of that century. Factory production techniques, cost effective paper runs and new color dyes opened up the Victorian marketplace for wallpaper.

Just as paint-makers have introduced period colors to modern paint systems to allow for environmentally friendly historical colors, wall covering manufacturers have re-introduced popular papers of the past. You can find simple Georgian hand blocked designs and Regency stripes, as well as the familiar large patterns and floral designs of Victorian taste and the subtle, pale color combinations of the Edwardian’s.

The Victorian love of wall coverings often run to two different papers on a single wall, separated by a dado or paper border. Visually breaking up the wall height in this way can be very effective, provided the patterns do not compete for attention. A thin stripe and a bold, heavy stripe together, or a standard small patterned paper on top of a heavily embossed one can work well. Many embossed wallpapers are specifically made to be over painted, and they are very hard wearing on the bottom half of the wall.

Consider, too, on a half-and-half wall, wood cladding or paneling on the bottom half. It does a similar Visual job while protecting the wall from knocks, and is a useful asset in entrance halls and corridors. If this combination appeals, try cladding the base of the wall With vertical tongue-and-groove (T G V) wood strips finished with a horizontal shelf or dado. Then paper the top half in a subtle stripe that suggests a repetition of the joins in the TGV.

Visual tricks:

Unlike wall areas of flat color, patterned wall coverings use deliberate placement of designs and shapes to attract more, or less, attention. Visual illusion is caused by the arrangements on the surface area, not the area itself. Just as walls painted in different colors Will advance or recede, papered surfaces use small patterns to create an illusion of space. Larger, more powerful designs can produce a highly dramatic impact. Place a sample of a delicate small repeat pattern next to a large colorful design, and you Will see how this works.

When choosing paper, ask yourself the same questions about room sizes that you would if you were painting the walls. If your ceiling is low, heighten it with a vertical stripe. A hoop or horizontal stripe will appear to lower the ceiling and increase the width of the wall. A small patterned paper will increase the feeling of space in a small room.

Using bold colorful motifs will make the wall area look smaller and nearer. Vigorous small designs that are good at hiding wall deficiencies are also easier to hang, because mistakes are disguised. A wall that is out of true unfortunately Will be emphasized by symmetrical stripes. When hanging more than one paper in a room, consider which paper carries the dominant color, and use this color as a match or contrast for the woodwork paint scheme.


  1. Wallpapers offer a wide range of decorative effects, from exuberant floral patterns to subdued stripes and everything in between. Choose carefully to reflect the style of room you want.
  2. Many wallpaper manufacturers offer ranges that duplicate Georgian, Regency and Victorian patterns, allowing you to recreate the original look of rooms in a period property. Although more expensive than standard papers, they are worth considering.

Basic skills of choosing wall coverings :

Be aware of the job you are asking your wallpaper to do, and consider your requirements. Perhaps its purpose is to be purely decorative, or it might have to disguise a badly cracked wall. It might get accidentally wet, in a bathroom area for instance, and so need to be water-resistant, or it may get dirty and you might have to be able to wipe it clean.

Certain paper types are intended for specific purposes. Your local decorating supplier or superstore will carry a range of all the popular paper types. But if you want something a little out of the ordinary there are specialist suppliers offering proprietary papers with period designs, hand made papers and hand blocked or screened untrimmed rolls.

If you are in search of a unusual paper, start with the small ads in the back of fashionable home interior magazines. If you are starting with  pattern books, simplify the selection process by dividing the papers into two main categories, those that are made to be over painted and those that are not.

Wall coverings intended for over painting will usually have a relief design, having either a textured finish like woodchip, or a raised surface pattern like moulded 0r embossed papers. Wall coverings that have a printed pattern that is not meant to be painted can be further divided, into washable (often ready-pasted) and non-washable papers.

Lining paper :

This is used to line the wall, providing a sound, uniform surface prior to hanging top-quality decorative or heavy-duty embossed papers. It is useful for improving uneven walls and disguising recently repaired surfaces. It carries in various weights and can be easily painted.

Machine printed paper :

Multi colored and available in different weights and qualities, this is the most common wall covering. Pulps are cheap papers where the printing inks sit on the paper surface. Grounds , are more expensive machine Papers Where inks sit on a prepared surface, Coated With a ground of color. These are both Produced in bulk and are therefore more economical to buy.

Hand printed paper :

Whether block~printed by hand or screen-printed through a frame, this is more expensive because of the labor cost. Large-scale designs and special colors can be incorporated on very short runs.

Woodchip paper :

The cheapest of the relief papers, this has wood shavings sealed between two layers of paper. The rough textured finish works well on substandard surfaces, disguising cracks and imperfections. It is sometimes called oatmeal paper.

Embossed paper :

This has a relief pattern pressed into it when damp. A pattern is produced by pressure from an embossing roller. C 010m can be added simultaneously, or the paper produced with a white finish for over painting. Damp embossing, as opposed to dry, enables the relief to retain its shape better when receiving paste.

Vinyl paper :

Also available in heavy-duty, hard-wearing formats, vinyl paper consists of simple designs printed onto plastic or vinyl film With special inks, bonded onto a backing paper. It is tougher than washable paper, but more expensive. Some varieties need a heavy-duty wall adhesive. This paper can be difficult to remove. If you can lift a corner, it may be possible to peel off the top layer to leave the backing paper behind, which must be stripped in the normal manner. Otherwise, they must be scored to allow moisture to reach the backing a laborious task.

Flock paper :

Originally an expensive hand made paper where a blocked adhesive print had wool or silk fibers dusted onto it, it is now available as a more economical machine paper. The elaborate design has a velvety, raised pile on a backing paper, and synthetic fibers are used to produce Vinyl papers With a flock pattern effect.

Washable paper :

Machine-printed designs With a film of protective, transparent plastic on top, this wall covering is often found in ready pasted form.

Tools and equipment :

Paperhanging equipment is not expensive or difficult to source, and many items serve other decorating purposes too. Only specialist brushes, 3 pair of paperhanger’s scissors, single seam roller, plumb line and paste table are unique to this job. The remaining multipurpose items will form a useful part of your household tool kit.

If you are painting, a stepladder or extension arms will give you access to ceilings or high wall areas. Paperhanging is a more difficult task. You need to be able to reach the top of the wall safely while carrying the pasted paper roll. For ceiling work you need a platform giving 20cm / 8m head clearance that allows you to hang an entire length without getting down.

A stable stepladder will suffice for the wall, but a sturdy platform is required for the ceiling. Use two scaffold planks tied together side by side across adjustable trestles, which you can hire. For stairwells, a combination of extension ladder, plank and adjustable stair or multipurpose ladder will be needed. Cover the area with protective dust sheets, and use a retractable measure, spirit level and pencil to mark starting points and horizontals.

You Will also need a plumb line to line up your first roll, a bucket for paste, a stick to stir the paste and some string stretched across the top of the bucket to wipe off excess paste from the brush. If your paper is ready pasted, you simply need a wallpaper trough filled with water.

Measuring up:

There are several ways to count up the number of rolls you will need to paper a room or wall, and one or two extra factors to consider. Use a roll of paper to measure all around the skirting board, and count up the number of full lengths, ignoring short lengths under windows and above doors.

Now measure the room height, to see how many full lengths can be cut from each roll, allowing for pattern wastage. Now divide the first figure by the second, the number of full lengths by the number cut from each roll, to give you the total of rolls required. Part of a roll must be reckoned to be a complete roll.

Or you can work out the surface area in square meters (multiply height by depth) and calculate one standard roll per 5m 161/2ft square, or use the standard table for your wall height and length. The chart (see page 257) assumes the roll is 10.05m, 33ft long and 52cm 20/2in wide. Handmade papers vary, so check the total surface area a of the paper you are using,I and adjust as necessary.

The standard chart assumes an average door and window area per room. If you have large windows reduce the quantity accordingly. Papers with a repeat pattern or design will produce more wastage as you line up, so add the pattern depth to the height of the room when calculating. m Very large patterns will need an increase of one roll for every five.

When calculating the number of rolls for a ceiling, use the first method described above,measuring the length of the ceiling and working out how many of these lengths can be cut from a single roll. Using a roll of paper, count up how many lengths will be needed, and calculate the total number of rolls.

When the mathematics are completed, buy your rolls at the same time and from the same batch a batch number is included for this purpose. This is important because slight color variations are possible between batch numbers. Your retailer can also supply the manufacturer’s recommended adhesive, which may be heavy duty.

Preparation of surfaces :

If your wall surface is not stripped plaster in good condition, you have a job or two to complete before papering. First, place dust sheets on the floor to collect debris and protect the carpet.You may need to strip off old paper, make good parts of the surface,wash down and key a painted surface, or simply seal and stabilize the plaster.

Previously papered finishes :

Papered walls have to be taken back to the plaster. Leaving on old paper or vinyl backing leads to an unsatisfactory finish, because it may not bond well to the wall. Over-papering can cause it to lift away and form small air pockets. If the existing paper is vinyl or washable, it won’t adhere properly. Stripping printed wallpapers is time consuming and messy, but is not difficult. In older properties you may find yourself removing several layers of paper at once, and a great deal of patience is needed. The greatest danger is that when the last layer comes off, it pulls off old plaster with it, so try to avoid digging the scraper into the wall. Be very careful at this point; it may save you a lot of time spent filling and sanding later.

Soaking or stripping with hot water :

Hot water will penetrate and soak printed wallpapers, but to speed the job up, mix stripper, in powder or tablet form, with the correct amount of hot water in a bucket. To aid water penetration, run a spiker or scorer over the surface of the paper. Wearing eye protection and gloves, soak the wall, a little at a time or it will start to dry out before the scraper gets to it. Allow the solution to penetrate fully and then remove the paper gently with a broad-bladed scraper. On stubborn areas you will have to repeat the process. The scraper has a stiff blade, not to be confused with a flexible filling blade, so try not to scratch the wall surface. It’s a good idea to clear up the mess as you work, otherwise it dries out where it falls and sticks to the dust sheet and your shoes.

Dry-stripping vinyls :

The two layers making up the paper can be separated fairly easily by carefully lifting the top layer at the corner, and pulling up and away from the wall to free it from the backing paper. It is inadvisable to leave the backing paper on the wall. It doesn’t double as lining paper, so you should ideally strip it off the wall using hot water.

Using a steamer :

This speeds up the process. Steam penetrates the surface under the pad, lifting the paper away from the wall. You can hire a steam stripper fairly cheaply, but familiarize yourself with the machine before you start. Prime the reservoir with hot, not cold, water, switch it on and wait for it to come to the boil. Wear protective gloves, a long sleeved shirt and glasses or goggles. Position the steam pad on your starting point. Hold it for about half a minute, then move along the wall to the next position while scraping off the steamed paper. The best results will be achieved by scraping with your writing hand and holding the steamer pad in your other hand.

Wall furniture:

Permanent wall furniture, such as a radiator, is best removed, if possible. Isolate the radiator from the water supply at the valves, drain the water into a shallow bowl and lift it off the wall supports. If this is not possible, however, a long-handled radiator  roller can be used to press the pasted paper into the problem area. Electric switches and sockets mam be isolated from the supply before the face plate screws are loosened, if this is necessary to strip away the paper behind. Curtain rails can be left in place, and pelmets need be removed only if they interfere with paperhanging around the window area.

Repairing walls :

Once the wall is back to the plaster, inspect the surface. Look out for cracks, holes and deep scratches in the plaster surface as a result of the stripping, or because removal of the paper has revealed previous damage. All these imperfections “ill have to be made good. Mark them all clearly as you find them using a watercolor felt-tip pen. To prepare the crack for filling, carefully rake it out with a scraper blade, so that no loose debris remains, and clean the damaged area with a dusting brush.

Using a small paintbrush, dampen the entire area with water so that your filler bonds with the wall plaster, and ensures that the wall does not draw too much water out of the filler too quickly, causing it to shrink and fall out. Mix up your filler, using a proprietary ‘decorator’s pack’. Following the makers’ instructions, try to achieve a smooth, but firm, consistency.

Don’t mix up too much at once; the makers claim a workable time of one hour, but this is less on a hot day. Fill the damaged area using a flexible filling knife, overlapping the edges slightly and leaving the filler raised proud of the surface. This allows for shrinkage when drying, and for sanding back. Make sure the filler is completely dry before you abrade the surface.

Deep cracks will be dry on the surface long before they are dry all the way through. Sand back with the abrasive of your choice until the filled area is uniformly smooth and flush with the wall surface.

Decorator’s packs and other general purpose fillers are suitable for all peripheral wall damage. Deeper crevices can be Filled if they are layered. Apply a little at a time and allow each layer to dry. Don’t attempt to save time and try to fill a deep crevice all in one go. The filler will be unable to bond properly, and will slide out, forming a bulge.

Larger cracks and holes are best filled with plaster. You can buy small amounts 5kg/l 11b of multi finish from your local builders’ merchant. Don’t assume plaster is like filler and apply it the same way. Plaster is stronger and must be applied with a trowel, not a flexible knife. Plaster surfaces are not meant to be sanded, either, so a flush, smooth finish must be your aim. Old wall surfaces will be very dry. If you apply plaster without a sealer, the wall will draw all the water out of the mix and the plaster will fall out. Splash a solution of one part PVA diluted with three parts mater liberally in and around the damaged area, and leave it to dry, preferably overnight. Repeat this just prior to plastering.

Now you have sealed the wall, the area is keyed and the plaster will bond better. Use a trowel to smooth the surface flush. If you are not confident you can do this, leave the plaster just shy of the top surface, and finish the job With decorators’ filler, which you can sand back When dry.

Cracks caused by movement around doors, or where skirting boards meet the wall, particularly on the stairs, should be tilled 2th a flexible filler.Flexible fillers are available in ready-mixed tubes

and are applied with a dispensing gun. Once dry, they are easy to sand back.

Finally, as with all home decorating projects, it is important to consider the health and safety aspects. Remember that sanding filler will produce a lot of dust, so protect adjacent surfaces with dust sheets and wear old clothes. Wearing a dust mask and a pair of protective goggles is a good idea, too in order to avoid irritating or damaging your eyes while you are working.

Washing, sealing, stabilizing and sizing :

The wall surface should be cleaned thoroughly, using a solution of sugar soap and hot water. Wearing gloves, sponge down the wall. Rinse it with clean water and allow it to dry overnight.

Old wall stains can eventually show through the wallpaper, so they need to be sealed with a coat of oil-based primer to stop them ruining your finish. If the stains are a result of an old (and cured) damp problem, oil-based primer or a damp sealant will prevent further stains from appearing. However, if the patch is still damp to the touch, or you suspect it is still active, investigate the cause of the trouble before proceeding. Don’t attempt to seal over it, and don’t ignore it. Consult a professional builder.

Stabilizing the surface results in an equal amount of suction on all parts of the wall, preventing problems caused by shrinkage due to patchy, uneven drying. Walls that are very dry, and therefore very porous, should have a thin coat of PVA adhesive diluted with water. Mix this up one part to five. Once it has dried, run the palm of your hand over the surface. If white powder comes off onto your palm, the wall needs a second coat.

When the wall is ready, apply a size to the surface. A coating of size will allow you to manipulate the paper on the wall, enabling you to slide it carefully into position and line up the pattern. Without size, the paper will stick to the wall immediately, and moving it on the surface will be difficult, often resulting in a tear. If you are working on a lined wall, size the lining paper just as you would a bare wall, before you wallpaper over it. A coat of thinned-down wallpaper paste can be used instead of size.

Wall defects :

While damp areas that are still active demand professional advice, areas of mould or fungus caused by moisture can be cleaned using a fungicidal wash. Investigate the cause of the moisture before proceeding. It is most likely to be poor or non-existent ventilation. If mould containing live spores is present on the underside of the paper you are stripping, you must take precautions to stop the mould infecting the new finish. Parcel the old paper up and discard it immediately, or preferably, burn it.

Condensation encourages the growth of mould, particularly m older properties not built for today’s central heating systems. Make sure you have adequate ventilation and air circulation. It is interesting that wall paints that breathe, like distemper, are becoming popular again in older houses because they do not trap damp below the wall surface.

Fluffy white deposits on plastered walls are the result of soluble salts coming to the surface as the wall dries out. Called efflorescence, this surface problem can simply be brushed away, but it must be done with a dry brush. If you use water, the salt will dissolve, become re-absorbed into the wall and the problem will reappear later. If the wall suffers from flaking paint, either the finish cannot adhere to the surface because of under preparation, or a damp area has been painted over. Once the cause of the damp has been determined, the wall area must be properly sealed.

Water penetration causes brown stains on ceilings and walls. They remain even when the cause of the problem has been dealt with.They may show through paintwork and light colored papers, so cover With an oil-based paint to seal them before papering.

Lining the walls:

If the surface is still not ideal for hanging the patterned wall covering directly onto it, you need to line the wall. Use a plain paper roll, about 3.5 cm/13/8 in wider than the standard patterned roll. It is hung in the same way as the fun paper.

Lining paper is available in several weights, either as an uncoated pulp or with a smooth finish. It helps to disguise wall imperfections, and some particularly rough areas can be lined twice. If you do this, make sure the seams are not in the same place, or hang the first paper vertically and the second horizontally. It is better to butt j0in lengths at a room corner, rather than take a narrow strip the height of the room around the corner.

If the walls are not square, there will be a slight, uneven gap where the vertical lengths 0thin a don’t quite meet. Disguise this by smoothing a length of flexible filler into the corner.

You will need to take a narrow strip around a chimney breast. The breast face should be lined in the Opposite way to the walls; if the room is lined vertically, then line the breast face horizontally. The walls may not be square, so line horizontally first and wrap the paper around the corner each time.

The next vertical length sits on top of these overlaps, and you need to cut the paper from ceiling to floor 3.8cm/1 1/2in From the edge, parallel with the corner line. Use a craft knife and a steel ruler for this. Remove the overlaps after peeling back along the length, so that you do not have a double weight of paper, and smooth the vertical length back into position with the paperhanger’s brush, to achieve a butt join. Cross-lining is not mandatory. lining a wall horizontally, start at the top the widths won’t divide into the wall height exactly and pasting on specially cut widths is easier at the bottom.

Using the paste table :

  1. Setup your paste table in the center of the room.
  2. Paper lengths Will be longer than the table, so make sure you have enough space at the ends.
  3. Keep your buckets of paste and water under the table Where they can’t be accidentally kicked over.
  4. The paste table will double as a measure if you mark it out along the edge. Use a waterproof pen so that you don’t wash the measurements off mark in increment of 30cm/ 12in.
  5. Keep the paper square on the table. This reduces the risk of inaccurate cutting When using the edge measure.
  6. Cut the lining paper, leaving a small overlap at each end for final trimming on the wall.
  7. Apply the paste evenly, starting at the center of the paper and working outwards.
  8. Keep the table clean. Wash it down with a warm wet sponge and dry it with a clean cloth after pasting each length.

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