Want to learn how to reupholster a lampshade to perk up an old lamp? See how I did just that with my $6 thrifted lamps!
How to Reupholster a Lampshade
Guess what sucks about rental apartments? Aside from having neighbors on four sides, rental apartments don’t have much–if any–overhead lighting, which is pretty terrible. I’ve always wondered why that is. Unfortunately there isn’t really a great reason–the builders are just cheap. Apparently, the National Electric Code requires a switched light in every room, which used to always mean overhead lighting.
But contractors found a way around this requirement by wiring one plug on one outlet in each room to a light switch, allowing you to flip a switch and turn on a lamp. But you didn’t come here for a history lesson. You came here to find out how to save some cash by making an ugly lamp new again.
After we moved into our current place, we really didn’t want to drop a couple hundred more on lamps. So I hit up one of my favorite places, Habitat for Humanity ReStore (read my post about ReStore here), and picked up the two little pretties below for $5 each. The next weekend, I picked up a $1 lampshade for one of them at a different ReStore I frequent.
Working on the base was easy; I just gave it a few coats of spray paint. I used Krylon Chalky Finish spray paint in Anvil Gray—I really love this spray paint. Unlike satin or glossy finish spray paints, it’s really easy to apply evenly without too much effort. It has good coverage, too.
Then it was time to tackle the lampshade. Let me be completely honest here: this was way, way harder than I thought it’d be! I thought that this would be a quick, easy project. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and save yourself some frustration.
Here’s what I used:
- Fabric–I used a black vinyl to mimic leather (here is a similar fabric)
- Aleen’s fabric glue
- Spray adhesive (I used 3M)
- Binder clips (you can also use clothespins or something with a similar clamping ability)
- Fabric, marker, scissors, newspaper, gloves
And here’s how to reupholster a lampshade!
Step 1: Remove the pleated cover
Since the world needs fewer pleated lampshades, the first thing I did was gently pull the accordion-like layer off of the lampshade’s base. Since the shade is older, the glue wasn’t holding very well, so it was pretty easy to remove without damaging the base. I did, however, add some glue to the shade’s seam to reinforce it.
Step 2: Lay out the fabric and trace the shade
Next I laid my fabric out on with the right side down. I used my shade to create a pattern; I did so by gently rolling the shade over the fabric and tracing with a marker as I went. You’ll end up with two curved lines: one for the top of the shade and one for the bottom.
It’s okay if it’s a bit too long–you can trim it in the next step. (Before I began tracing, I rolled the shade over the fabric to ensure its curved trajectory didn’t extend past the fabric.) You can see my Blanche below, inspecting and judging my work.
This method works, but it’s risky. I ended up about 1/4 of an inch short, which I had to hide. If you don’t want to use this method, you can wrap a piece of tissue paper around your shade and use a marker to mark the entire top and bottom openings of the shade.
Then, you can factor in a top and bottom “seam” allowance, as well as about 1/2 of an inch of overlap on the end of the fabric piece. Use this as a pattern to ensure your measurements are more precise.
Step 3: Cut the pattern
As I cut my pattern out, I cut 1/2 to 1 inch out from the curved pattern line on each side–the top and bottom of the pattern. This is the fabric allowance I used to secure the fabric to the shade base by folding it under and gluing. After I finished tracing and cut the pattern out, I draped it over the shade and made a few marks to “tailor” it before gluing.
Step 4: And glue the cover onto the shade!
Next I gave the wrong side of the pattern a generous coating of spray adhesive. Immediately after, I gently adhered it to the shade beginning at one end of the fabric, slowly working all the way around and smoothing out any imperfections (wrinkles, air bubbles) as I went.
Make sure to leave a bit of fabric allowance at the top and bottom of the shade! This was super frustrating, and I pulled it off and wrapped it back on several times. When I was finally satisfied with how it looked, I let the glue set and then got to work on the “hems.” I did each hem in sections; I didn’t have enough binder clips to do the entire thing at once, or else I would have!
I squeezed one line of fabric glue along the area I wanted to adhere, and then I folded it over into the inside of the shade and clamped with a binder clip. This is a delicate step that needs to dry fully. I rushed it and ended up having to re-do some sections, which made the inside of the shade look a little yucky. Be patient!
Here’s the finished lamp with a reupholstered lampshade! Overall, as a first attempt, I’m pretty pleased. I now have a better idea of how to approach reupholstering a lampshade in the future…if I do it again. 🙂
For more thrifty upcycles, checking my list of things I’ve spray painted around the house, my peel-and-stick glass tile kitchen backsplash, my Goodwill aquarium tank base plant stand upcycle, and my DIY bookends for a kids room using thrifted ceramic unicorns.
Before you go, a few tips on how to reupholster a lampshade…
- A stiffer or thicker fabric will be easier to adhere onto the shade without wrinkles or bubbles, but it will be a bit trickier to fold the “hems” over into the inside of the shade. Pick your poison.
- I picked fabric without a pattern because I didn’t want to have to worry about lining any designs up correctly.
- If you’re using a thicker or opaque fabric like I did, you might want to get a brighter light bulb.
- If your fabric frays, you’ll want to hem the end that will be showing on your final product by folding about 1/4 of an inch over and pressing it. Or, if you don’t want to press it, you can glue it on with a raw edge and then adhere a ribbon over it.
- When using the spray adhesive, wear disposable gloves! That stuff works well, but that means it’s a huge pain to get off of your fingers afterward.
- Aleen’s fabric glue
- Spray adhesive and disposable gloves
- Binder clips (or similar, like clothespins)
- Marker, scissors, newspaper
- Remove the pleated cover. Accordion-like pleated lampshades are usually just a cover overtop of a lampshade shell. Reinforce the shell with glue if you need to; if it's an old shade, it might be falling apart.
- Lay a long piece of fabric out and roll the shade along the fabric with a marker to create a template.
- Cut the template out about 1/2 inch on either side to factor in a "seam allowance."
- Generously coat the wrong side of the fabric pattern with spray adhesive.
- Carefully apply the fabric onto the lampshade, smoothing out winkles and air bubbles as you go. This is harder than it sounds, so be patient!
- Squeeze fabric glue on the areas you'll fold over the top and under the bottom of the lampshade shell; fold and secure with binder clips, clothespins, or something similar while the glue dries. Folding over creates finished look.
Using spray adhesive
Ensure you use spray adhesive in a well-ventilated area and use disposable gloves. Spray adhesive is crazy sticky and smells awful!
What fabric should I use to reupholster a lamp shade?
You can use any fabric, really. I used a vinyl-like fabric because I wanted it to look like leather. Keep in mind, though, that the color, pattern, and thickness of the lampshade can affect the light coming from the lamp in different ways.