Can you paint lamp shades?

kittycat76December 8, 2007

You know, those really small lamp shades that you can put on the bare bulbs on chandeliers? I bought some plain ivory shades to cover up the bare bulbs on my DR chandelier that were left by the PHO, but the ivory is driving me crazy and I would LOVE to paint them the new red that is below my DR chair rail, so they would match. Do you think I could paint them? They are an ivory kind of fabric (I guess?), not the shiny kind but the matte kind, with piping on the upper and lower rims.

I am not too crafty LOL but I do know how to paint... Do you think this would look good or awful?! Can I just use the same SW paint I used for the wall or do I have to buy special paint? I just want it to match the red so I'm hoping I can use the SW paint.

BTW, as soon as all my paint dries LOL (they FINALLY finished everything today!) I will post pics!! I am ECSTATIC with the results of the painting!!! Thanks again to everyone for their input!

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If the paint's basically fireproof (acrylic vs oil base), it's probably do-able, but will certainly darken the light given off - and the color will just look vaguely dark when the lights are on, but if it looks good otherwise, why not?

    Bookmark   December 8, 2007 at 7:49PM
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I can't speak for the safety issues, but I have painted lamp shades with SW paint. I started with ivory shades and painted them Macadamia. They've held up very well under infrequent use. Be aware that when you turn the lights on, you will see brush strokes on the shades. I used two coats and long even strokes from the top of the shade to the bottom. I find that when the lights are on, the brush strokes look like fabric.

PS - This is my first post. Yea!

    Bookmark   December 8, 2007 at 11:24PM
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Kittycat, I did just that in our DR - used exactly the same paint on the lamp shades as I had used on the wall - Behr's Caramel Sundae. It's a few years ago, but I think I used two coats. As a previous poster mentioned, it does make the room darker but adds so much more ambiance.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2007 at 11:44PM
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I was going to ask the very same question the other day, but I guessed that no one had ever done this so I didn't! I'd like to paint, stain or somehow dye a white lampshade I just bought, and after reading here that several people have painted a shade I just may go ahead and try it. I did wonder about the heat issue and how paint would hold up to that, so perhaps a dye might be better.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 12:25AM
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I tea-stained a couple of white fabric lampshades a few years ago. They started out as burgundy buffet lamps with white shades. I painted the bases with bronze paint, and they looked great with the tea-stained shades.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 12:34AM
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If they're fabric shades, I think I'd try fabric paint or dye. I, too, always worry about the fire safety of materials I see people using to decorate their shades.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 1:00AM
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You can also remove the fabric and sew new fabric onto them. That would probably give you the best results.

If you want some directions on how to do that, let me know.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 1:11AM
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I got a spray paint at lowes it's just for lampshades.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 8:35AM
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I painted some ivory colored shades, but mine were the kind of paper ones you find on the chandeliers. I used those art craft paints you find at Michaels and sponged on various shades of reds and golds, both inside and out.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 10:16AM
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Thanks, everyone. Luckily I have a few extra shades to practice on so I might experiment a little before embarking on the ones in the DR. I didn't even think about the safety issue of putting SW paint on a lamp shade...that's a good point! I just know that with reds, it's virtually impossible to find another red to match, and I wanted red shades. =(

Oceanna - I would love the info. on how to put new fabric onto them! That's a great idea.

Monablair - Those came out great! Did you use a sponge brush or a regular paintbrush for the base red coat? Or did you sponge on everything with a regular sponge?

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 4:58PM
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I never used a base coat. All colors were sponged on in layers with a regular sponge and eventually the ivory color was covered.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 5:34PM
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Kittycat, it's not difficult to do this. It's a little harder to type up directions simply because you have choices to make.

Fabric stores sell light shade kits where you peel off a backing and stick your fabric on the sticky side, trim with your scissors, then attach. They're very easy to use but they add to the price and limit your choice of shade shape. You don't need them if you're at all crafty, IMO. Your choice.

To do it by yourself without a kit...


I avoid green or blue fabric for a lampshade. I don't want to look sickly sitting in a blue or green light! I recommend white, ivory, gold, brown, tan, red, rose, peach... whatever will throw a flattering healthy glow onto the skin of the person sitting nearby.

Before buying the fabric, hold it up to the strongest light you can spot. How does it look? Does it need to be lined? Or is it fine with just the one layer? Do you like the way the light shines through it better if you hold it on the straight grain or on the bias? Bias gives you a little more stretch to the fabric, so it's easier to handle. Proceed based on what you learn.

If you pick a stripe, plaid or check, you will need to be doubly careful to make sure it's always lined up properly. I'd avoid these fabrics.

If you use lining, it should be white or off-white. Dark colors would absorb the light.

You will need: pretty outer fabric, lining fabric (if you decide to line) and twill tape (see below). If you glue, you'll need a hot glue gun or Tacky Glue. You will need enough gimp braid to cover the top and bottom circles of each frame, and the ribs if you want or need to cover them. If you want fringe or beaded fringe on the bottom, you'll need that too. Measure around the bottoms of your shades and add a few inches for booboos or whatever.

How much fabric do you need? Grab any fabric you have and wrap it around a shade. Add 3-4" in each direction. Multiply that by the number of shades you have. Measure it. All in all it's not much fabric; you may find something you love in the remnant bin.


Shades are made by stretching the fabric across the frame VERY TIGHTLY. This is very important. Nobody wants to look at a baggy shade.

The easy way: Hot glue or tacky glue the whole thing. Either way works fine, so it's your choice.

The elegant way: Hand sew the whole thing.

There is some consideration about a hot light bulb melting glue, but there's also a consideration about a hot light bulb catching fabric on fire. This is true with all lampshades. Lampshades and bulb wattage must be calculated accordingly. IOW, your existing frames for a chandelier should already be the right size for a chandelier bulb. When making a larger shade, stick to a 40-watt bulb and you'll be fine.

Either way:

1. Remove the old shade covering.

2. Wrap the now naked shade frame in white or ivory twill tape that matches your lining. The gals at the fabric store should be able to direct you to the proper tape; it's thin and silky. Pull this tape VERY tightly as you wrap it. If you're going to sew your lampshade wrap the tape on rather thickly as you will want to put a needle through it. At the start of a piece, overlap the end of your tape. At the end, tack your tape down neatly. Wrap the ribs first. Wrap the top and bottom circles last. If you're going to hand sew the shade, then hand sew the ends down. If you're going to glue the shade, then glue the ends down. Do not use any glue if you're hand sewing the shade as it's murder to push your needle through a glued place.

Now to cover the shade...


Glue the entire project and don't line the shade.

Start with a hunk of fabric that is big enough to cover the shade AND give you plenty to grab on to to pull it tightly. Stretch your fabric around the shade TIGHTLY and glue it in place. Start and end on a rib. If you don't want to use decorative braid on the ribs, tuck your fabric under carefully at the end to form a nice looking "seam."

If your shade is straight, you can just use one piece of fabric stretching around the entire thing. If your shade is curvy and your fabric is a stripe or check or something that must be applied strictly in one direction -- or if the light shining through it will shine at different angles on different places on your shade -- you can use a different hunk of fabric for each panel or each two or three panels, or for each half of the shade.

Once your fabric is securely glued down, trim it with your scissors as close to the glue line as you can.

Glue gimp braid on the outside of the shade to cover the glued edges. Do the ribs first (if you're doing them) and the top and bottom circles last.

If you're using fringe, glue it around the bottom of the shade. If the edge of it is not pretty, cover it with gimp braid.

You're done!

Lining: If you want to line it, glue on your lining first and your outer fabric last. Glue the lining to the outside edges of the frame so that the lining will appear completely smooth on the inside. Actually, if you're lining it you could skip wrapping the ribs with tape and just glue directly to the wire frame. I've done that and it worked just fine.


Hand sew the whole thing with needle and thread. Your stitches don't have to be perfect as they will all be covered up. Stitches should be small, not more than 1/4" apart. Every 4-5 stitches, do a locking stitch. I just use white thread.

You will want your lining to be done all in one piece if at all possible (could depend on shape of shade). Pin your lining to the inside of the shade VERY tightly. Face all the pin tips toward the center so you won't get stabbed so much.

Hand sew your lining to the twill tape. Make sure that no stitches show on the inside of the shade where your guests will be looking up into the shades -- IOW, you want your stitches on the outside edges of the shade. You can pin and stretch as you go. You get stabbed less that way.

For the seam where the ends of your lining come together, you can either sew that seam on the sewing machine before attaching the lining (remember you want it tight), or turn it under when you get to that place and hand sew it down neatly. Make sure the seam ends up on a vertical rib of the lampshade frame, not in the center of a panel.

Once your lining is all sewn in place, trim away the excess fabric just as close to your stitches as you can without cutting your stitches.

Now do your outer fabric in the same way. Pull it very tightly as you go. Trim away the excess when you're done.

You may want to use a thimble and keep pliers handy for if you're having trouble poking your needle through in some tough places.

When your lining and your outer fabric are all sewn in place and trimmed, glue on your gimp braid. If you sewed your fabric to the ribs (you would for a larger shade), do gimp braid over the ribs first, doing the top and bottom circles last. You could sew the gimp braid on if you choose, but it's so easy to just glue it.

OR if you don't want to use braid, you can fashion your own double-fold bias tape out of your fabric and hand stitch that on over the top and bottom ring to hide your stitches.

Does this make sense to you? I hope someone will save these directions so if someone needs them in the future I don't have to think/type this out again. :-)



    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 9:42PM
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Wow, Mona, that really turned out great!!!

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 9:48PM
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Yes, this lampshade used to be brown - it had arrived damaged with 3 pin holes in it. So while the manufacturer sent out the new shade I did a sponge technique o 3 colors on it and also bought a new lamp for it from target.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 10:16PM
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I am crazy about Victorian lampshades. The possibilities are endless and they're all fru-fru, all girl. Making them is such fun as you get to handle such gorgeous fabrics and fringes. Here are just a few of the kazillion inspiration pictures I've collected:

Not Victorian, but McKenzie-Childs and fun:

    Bookmark   December 9, 2007 at 11:00PM
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Here are some examples of chandelier shades for you...

What do yours look like now and what would you like them to look like?

    Bookmark   December 10, 2007 at 9:24AM
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WOW Oceanna....Thank you SOOOOO much for sharing your considerable talent and time!!!! I love to make lampshades to match the house/season/younameit!!! They aren't as lovely as yours, but I enjoy doing them! I just finished one in Christmas plaid taffeta with trim that has teeny jingle bells. It is so cute and my DGD's were impressed!!! Now they all want one for their rooms....yikes, what have I gotten into!!!
Thanks again and blessings to you!

    Bookmark   December 10, 2007 at 12:58PM
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Jaybird, I didn't make those lampshades, but thanks for thinking I did. Those are just pictures I got off the web and the credit goes to the artists who did them. I have made some lampshades -- more subtle affairs -- but I don't have any pictures of them. My new camera just broke, too, and I need to take it back and ask for help with it.

I am also in the process of making a shade... and now that I'm doing more with my LR I can see it's not going to go with it. I'm not sure what to do with it as I have so much time in it, but I don't like it. I was even hand beading the fringe, which is the dumbest project I ever started! There are over 400 strands and each one takes about 15 minutes. Stupid, huh? But I wanted it MY way.

Please post pictures of your shades. I would love to see them. And whereas the shades I posted are breathtaking, let's face it, most of us don't have the right rooms for those particular ones.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2007 at 12:08AM
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Many of the above lampshades are the work of Kathleen Caid. Some of the others are done by "Vintage Shades and Antique Lamps." Very talented folks! The others... I dunno, just pics I found on my web surfing travels.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2007 at 7:48AM
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What is SW paint? I have seen many postings referring to this. And for the lampshades I want to decorate I want to take the fabric paint that you use to write letters and such to trace designs on my lampshades. Can I just use the normal you find in craft stores or do I have to use something special? And is the acrylic the fireproof kind? Thanks so much!

    Bookmark   October 29, 2011 at 1:59PM
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