How to Refinish a Picture Frame with Paint and Fabric

Refinish a Picture Frame with Paint and Fabric

Refinish a Picture Frame with Paint and FabricLovely pictures deserve lovely frames.

Sure, you can buy new frames and pay to have your pictures matted and mounted in them, but–and feel free to call me crazy for this opinion–I don’t really like the look of professionally matted pictures.

Even with all the mat board colors in the world and every style of frame under the sun, they all just look kind of the same to me, you know?

I have it as my mission to mount and frame all of my pictures myself, and to make them look good. I thrift all the picture frames that I use, and refinish them with fresh paint, and I mount all my pictures using fabric instead of mat board. Fabric is what I have on hand, of course, but I think that the textures and patterns in fabric contrast much more interestingly with the pictures than plain mat board does.

If you want to give it a try, here’s how I refinish a picture frame and mount a picture on top of fabric instead of mat board:

You will need:

thrifted picture frame. Look for one that’s at least an inch wider than your picture on each side, and when in doubt, go larger rather than smaller. I keep a constant lookout for well-built wooden picture frames, the more elaborate and unusual the better. Don’t worry about dings and scratches, because you’ll fix those later.

wood putty. Here’s how you’ll fix those dings and scratches!

cleaning solutions. Sometimes the glass in my thrifted picture frames is really grubby. Usually, I’ll pour some straight vinegar on and let it sit until the grunge is loose, but I’m not averse to resorting to something like Goo Gone in a real emergency.

primer and paint. Choose zero-VOC options, of course, and choose a no-sand option for the primer, because cute frames often have fiddly bits that you’re not going to be able to sand. I use this Zinsser Bulls Eye as my go-to primer, and any indoor paint that I like. You’ll notice, for instance, that pretty much everything that I’ve painted in the last year has been slate grey, but I’m almost out of that now, and then I’m going to make myself choose something different. Maybe a navy blue?

upcycled stiff cardboard, or the frame’s original cardboard backing. 

hot glue gun, fabric scissors, ruler, acid-free double-sided tape, etc.

fabric. Choose a piece that’s, again, at least an inch wider that your cardboard backing on all sides, and have a lot of fun playing with textures and patterns to choose one that complements your picture and frame.

Refinish a Picture Frame with Paint and Fabric

1. Refinish the picture frame. This step is surprisingly easy, considering how different, and how GOOD, the picture frame is going to look afterwards. First, wipe the frame off with a damp cloth, because if you’ve thrifted it, then it’s filthy.

Second, take a really close look at the frame. Find every single teensy little ding and scratch, and fill every single one in with a small dab of wood putty on your finger. Seriously, get them all, because even if they’re not noticeable at all now, they may well be after the frame is painted. I missed a couple of dings on that smaller frame because they were nearly invisible, but now that the frame is grey, you can see those spots really well. Well, at least *I* can…

Put a couple of coats of primer on the frames (I used my paint sprayer on the frames in this photo, but I painted them with a paint brush, so either option is fine), then a couple of coats of paint. If your frame has a lot of fiddly bits, it’s better to paint on several very thin coats of paint rather than just a couple of thicker coats–that’s the best way to make sure that paint doesn’t get caked into those fussy little curves.

Refinish a Picture Frame with Paint and Fabric2. Prepare the fabric backing. If you can use the frame’s original cardboard backing for this, then go for it, but if the backing is stained or non-existent, then it’s easy to make a new one. Grab a piece of sturdy cardboard–shipping boxes are good for this–and use the picture frame’s glass front as the template to cut out a new cardboard back.

Wrap pieces of fabric around this backing, then lay your picture over it, until you find a color, pattern, and texture that you like. In these particular photos, I’m framing some fanart that I bought at a recent Comic Con. For the print of Hermione with her books and wand, I chose a piece of plain unbleached canvas. For the print of a fantastical My Little Pony castle and a stylized Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, I chose white flannel with pink stars.

Refinish a Picture Frame using Paint and FabricIron your fabric REALLY well, then lay it facedown. Place the cardboard backing on top of it, and trim the fabric around it, leaving about an inch extra on all sides.

Working only on about a couple of inches at a time to keep the hot glue from solidifying, lay down a stripe of glue near the edge of the cardboard backing, then pull the fabric up and over and glue it down. Continue until the entire piece of fabric is glued to the back of the cardboard.

3. Clean the glass front. Make sure it’s 100% squeaky clean! My foolproof method for cleaning glass and mirrors is to spritz on straight vinegar from a spray bottle, then wipe it off using crumpled newspaper. Keep using more dry, crumpled newspaper, and the glass will come clean without any streaks, smudges, or lint.

Refinish a Picture Frame using Paint and Fabric4. Assemble the picture. Center the picture on the front of the fabric-covered backing, and use a ruler to get it completely perfect. I use a couple of tiny pieces of acid-free double sided tape to then secure the back of the picture to the fabric-covered backing.

Assemble all the pieces, and don’t forget to give the framed picture a really good once-over before you secure it shut–somehow the first time I do this, I always end up having to take it apart to rescue a piece of fuzz or stray cat hair.

These particular framed pictures are now happily in their places, Princesses Celestia and Luna in the children’s bedroom, and Hermione next to our home library bookshelves, of course. I’m going thrift shopping for frames again tomorrow, because I took some really cute photos this summer that need to be displayed.

And maybe some of these frames will end up navy blue!

3 thoughts on “How to Refinish a Picture Frame with Paint and Fabric”

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