I picked up this simple shelf at Value Village for 5 dollars. There wasn’t much to it. The plan was simply to paint it. Then I thought a back would look nice. Then I decided to add fabric to the back since I had been so pleased with the results in this set of shelves.
I don’t know how I decided on the yellow and blue combination. I was thinking of a child’s room and it seemed to work. But once done, I had to find fabric with those same yellows and blues. Amazingly, I did find exactly the right piece in my home fabric stash (I sew a lot…). I was pretty excited – the colours were perfect.
How to Cut Backboard and Attach Fabric to It
Like most other tasks, this is not difficult if you take your time and pay attention to detail.
Measure the backboard. Ideally you want it to be exactly the same dimensions as the piece you are attaching it to. If you cut (or choose) a piece slightly smaller, be very careful to allow enough overlap at the edges to be able to fasten it plus avoid gaps when looking from the front. On this piece, my backboard barely covered the open back space because I got a bit unlucky with my dimensions. Backboard routinely comes in 24 or 48-inch widths, and my piece was 24 inches high by 24½ inches wide. I didn’t want to cut into a new piece of board so had to be very careful with my final positioning.
Score the board on both sides (front and back). I use a utility knife and a yardstick (meterstick for all you Canucks). It’s important to deeply score both sides so that when you snap the board, it breaks cleanly. In fact, after scoring I now use a utility knife to cut all the way through. It doesn’t take much longer and I’m guaranteed of success. Otherwise the backing will end up looking something like mine did on my very first attempt.
Confirm that you’ve sized it correctly, then sand all the edges to take the roughness out.
Lay the board on a flat work surface (as opposed to, say, leaning it against a wall). Cut a piece of fabric about a ½-inch larger on all sides. Be certain that you choose a section that will display the way you wish when attached to your piece, such as having the lines in the right position or at the right angle, or having a specific area of design show.
I use Varathane both to adhere the fabric to the backboard and to waterproof and protect it afterwards, and I use a paintbrush (usually foam) to apply it. Others use Mod Podge with success. Varathane gives you a bit more working time than Mod Podge but you should still proceed at a reasonable pace. Spread it out evenly over the backboard. Lay the fabric on top. Smooth it out carefully, working from the centre to the edges and ensuring that you have a little bit of overhang on all sides. Let it dry but keep an eye on it, ready to smooth out any dimples or bubbles you may see. Then soak the fabric with another layer of Varathane, using your brush to slop it solidly over the fabric, then smooth it out.
It’s pretty easy to see when you have a good application, since the treated areas have a deeper colour, as if they have been soaked in water. Allow to dry and sand lightly with fine sandpaper to remove any flecks. Wipe it well with a damp cloth and put a second coat on using the same technique. Two coats will protect your fabric well and make it waterproof. Three coats will make it smoother yet, though fabric will never have the absolute polish of treated wood.
When completely dry and finished to your satisfaction, attach your backing to your finished piece – you don’t want to be doing any more painting once it is on. I use tiny finishing nails – they can be hammered through the backboard easily without splintering. I place one at each corner plus in the centre of each side, top and bottom, plus along any centre shelving edges. Then I add more as seems warranted to prevent bowing.
This little shelf now has a complimentary fabric back that is as waterproof as the shelf itself.