The Retro Lampshade Re-covering Experiment

Ooo, it’s Crafty Friday!

I can safely say this: I know that there are many, many lampshade recovering tutorials out there in the blog-verse.

I have a  (sort of) bell-shaped lampshade that I wanted to re-cover, and all I was doing was becoming a very muddled muddler. There are a surprising amount of differing details – lining or outer first? Glue guns? Sewing? It’s all very confusing. I’ve attempted it once before with this lampshade, I followed some suggestions from kind people on Pinterest and came up with this…

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Pretty isn’t it (go on, you can say it, you know you want to). All I will say is, lovely on the outside, hideous on the inside. That was the let down. It’s a reading lamp, so every time I looked up all I could see were messy edges, bias binding that was too small and actually really rather embarrassing. It’s very hard being a crafter and not taking some pride in your own handiwork; however it really does suck when you have to say: “but please don’t look inside..” not that many people would. But I did.

So I came across a book called Make your own lampshades, by Elizabeth Cake (awesome name!).

It was really helpful, and really did make me reassess what I’d learnt from other websites.

Now I think I have a pretty good imagination for coming up with ideas but when it comes to something that’s quite obvious,  like a lampshade, I could really do with a helping hand on the finer points. Especially as this isn’t strictly a bell shaped lampshade, it is seemingly a hybrid between a bell and a cone. Meh, see – not as easy as it first sounded. But this book gave me plain steps for a bell without having to sew different panels of fabric together and all that faff. However I did change some things, just because I could.

So (cracks knuckles), let’s get to the business end of things.

You will need:

  • Wide Cotton Tape (I used 1.5cm wide tape)
  • Fabric (Lightweight cotton) for the outside of the shade
  • Cotton or silk lining fabric
  • Bias binding to match your lining (I used 1cm wide)
  • Double sided tape (lampshade tape) around 5-6mm wide, or glue gun
  • Decorative trim for the lower edge (at least 7.5mm wide) and trim for the upper edge – I used the same size for both.

The self explanatory stuff (sewing machine etc) I’m not going to go into. You’re already going to know it.

I know, I know, I started with ripping off the rather attractive fabric. Heart breaking but had to be done – plus my Lover and I have finally decided on a colour scheme for the sitting room (but that’s by-the-by, apologies).

Then clean off any residue from the bare bones of the shade, mine had a lot of glue still attached so I had to scrape this off. If you’re starting this off with a properly covered shade, I’d do the same.

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Once you’ve done that, start winding the cotton tape around the frame. You only want to cover the top and bottom of the shade, and two directly opposite struts. I used around five metres of tape, and my shade is fairly large. You want to make sure the tape is overlapping each twist, and make sure you’re doing this very tightly as you don’t want any lumps. I dotted some of the glue on the starting/final twist just to anchor it to the frame.

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Be warned, I thought this would be a really quick job, it wasn’t. It took me about an hour and a half.

On to the exciting bit!

To work out how much fabric you will need for the cover and lining: measure one vertical strut and add 10cm, and then measure the circumference of the bottom ring and add around 13cm. I used 50cmx112cm of fabric.

Fold your main fabric in half, short edges and right sides together, with the straight of the grain running vertically. Then pin it to half the frame – where the four bound corners meet. You want to really pull the fabric taught, so you’ll be moving your pins over, and over, and over again until you’re happy. I used tons of pins just because I’m a perfectionist.. and it made the job so much easier.

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Once you’ve done that, mark along the struts between the pins – I used a pencil and it was a case of tracing the shape of the frame onto the fabric. With the fabric still pinned, it’s a good idea to quickly tack the layers together.

Repeat the above for the lining fabric. This is where I started to panic – surely the lining would be too big, these things aren’t the Tardis, it has to be smaller?! More on that later. Just go with it for the time being.

So, remove all the pins and take the fabric off the frame and then go sew! Go Sew! Stitch down the lines you’ve just drawn – obviously leave some seam allowance, I left 1cm at the sides (trimmed to about 5mm after), and about 3cm at the top and bottom. Once you’ve done that, press the side seams open. You’ll want to sew the lining exactly the same way.

Ok, so now go and have a cup of tea/coffee, put your feet up.

Ok, done?

Turn the fabric the right side out and slip it onto the frame – make sure you match up the seams with the bound struts. You may have to adjust it to make it fit snugly; however I seemed to have managed first time (rock on!). And then pin into place, making sure that it’s as taught as when you pinned it the first time.

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Ok, so I’d better talk about the outrageous fabric now. It was originally going to be the lining with a plain outer shade, but come on – how can you hide that under a bushel?? It fits the new scheme too well, and has that right amount of 70s brilliance without looking like an old lady’s flat.

Ahem, where was I?

Ah yes, this is where you get to hand sew. Stitch the cover onto the frame along the top and bottom rings. Keep the stitches on the outside of the frame, almost (but not quite) the underside of the frame. You’ll want to be able to hide these babies when you cover it with your trim. Then cut away the seam allowance as closely as you can to these stitches.

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Now that wasn’t too bad?

Go grab your lining, and be prepared to take a deep breath. This was the bit I was most worried about – I really didn’t want to muck this up. I was really happy with the shade so far, and I knew that the lining was just as important to get right so as not to look like a complete mess (again!). This thing has to be taut, think skinny jeans on the first day after they’ve been washed taut.

Ugh, to make matters more complicated, my shade has three gimbals (those are the struts that hold onto the lightbulb fitting ring). So it’s not as easy if you had only two gimbals, where you can just open up the side seams a little and drop the lining in to accommodate them. Therefore the plan of action was: turn the lampshade upside down and drop the lining in, matching up the side seams with the bound struts as before. I then pinned the bottom of the lining to the frame, pulling it as taught as I could. I actually found this quite therapeutic, don’t ask me why.

As another aside, and to keep this entertaining – who thought of the word gimbal?

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Once I’d pinned the lining at the bottom, I turned the lampshade over and started to pin the top, as much as I could. I think this really helped to gauge where to slit the material. I marked where the gimbals were on the lining fabric and using my tiny-weeny scissors cut very slowly and checking all the time that: A) this is where I need to be cutting; and B) not to cut too much. I’m afraid this is very trial and error. Luckily you should have enough spare fabric that any mistakes will not be noticeable. Apologies for the lack of a photo here. I’m afraid this was the most technical and sweat-inducing moment, and I completely forgot about the camera..

Just pull reallllllyyyyyyyy tight.

To be honest, my fears that the lining was too big were unfounded. I think the extra was really useful to stretch out the lining, and boy do you need to pull that fabric. Once you have all this pinned out and taught, you need to sew it to the outer fabric. Basically I over-sewed the stitches on the outer fabric. When this is done (use a thimble, something I bitterly regret not doing…my poor finger), cut the lining fabric as close to the stitches as you can.

I then wrapped the bias binding (remember that from the list?). You’ll want to wrap this where the gimbals meet the frame. Simply stitch it down. You’ve just hidden where you made the gimbal slits.

Stand back, and look at your handiwork. High-five yourself, have another cup of tea and a biscuit.

We’re almost there.

This is where you want to heat up that glue gun, or if you’re going down that route – place the tape over the top and bottom of the frames to cover all your stitching. Take your trim, and cut it to the circumference of each ring. You’ll want to overlap this, so add another 1cm to your measurements.

I was using my trusty glue gun, so I went very slowly around the top with a little glue and added the trim bit by bit. Once you’ve done that, go on and do the bottom of the shade in the same way.

Now stand back. Admire and feel smug. You’ve just re-covered a bell lampshade. You can crow about it when people come over.

Or just grab a gin and tonic.

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The Finished Thing


The Nitty Gritty:

Make Your Own Lampshade – Elizabeth Cake (ISBN 978-1-78249-045-6). You can buy this on Amazon, Bookshops or support your local library.

Fabric: This is so amazing, come on – you have to love it. Robert Kaufman – Aunties Attic Canvas. I bought this from eBay.


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