Doing Rag Painting on Walls

by: Dale Cox

photo a faux leather finish painted on a wall

The techniques demonstrated on this page can be used to produce a faux finish that simulates leather or suede. This effect can produce the look of leather on walls, furniture, or decorative items like vases or picture frames.

To create these finishes, painting glaze is applied and while it's still wet, some is lifted off using a rolled-up rag or wadded up plastic wrap. Faux painting techniques like these work best on small wall features such as under wainscoting or as a leather or suede inlay on furniture.

Rag Rolling Preparation

photo demonstrating rolling a rag in preparation to create a leather faux finish

See this link for surface preparation, base coating, and glazing mixing instructions if you need help with those steps. To better simulate real leather, the base and glaze should be two shades of the same color with the glaze being the darker of the two.

Use cotton rags similar to bed sheets to roll several one foot squares into tubes and set them aside. Wear latex glove to keep the glaze off your skin while doing the ragging part of this process.

Base coat the project with a semi-gloss paint using a roller with a short nap to get a smooth, shiny finish. Use a base color in the same hue as the glaze but considerably lighter in shade to get the most realistic leather effect. Let the paint dry completely before proceeding.

Apply the glaze over the base paint with a brush to get a good, thick coat that almost completely hides the color underneath. Work on small spaces that can be rolled all at once with the rag before the glaze dries.

Creating a Leather Faux Finish

photo rolling a rag through wet painting glaze to create a leather appearance

If you're doing a small space like a table top, coat the whole thing with glaze at once and then roll the rag across it. If you're doing a larger area, coat a manageable section of a couple feet at a time and leave a border of untouched glaze along the leading edge to aid in blending the finish into the next section. Roll starting at one corner and working out.

Roll one of the rags through the glaze all the way from one side to the other without stopping or lifting the rag. Lifting the rag in the middle of a run will create an unwanted pattern that may ruin the effect. If this happens, try to roll over the glaze again with the rag before it dries to blend the finish. Otherwise, brush it out with fresh glaze and try again. Rolling horizontally or vertically is optional. Experiment to see which creates a more realistic leather appearance.

On large spaces like walls, roll in parallel rows letting the end of the rag overlap each row slightly to blend them together. Continue until you reach the glaze border, but don't touch it. Start a new section brushing the glaze from the border and out another couple of feet. Roll the first pass with the rag in the new section letting the end overlap the first section a bit to blend the two together. Continue with this process until you reach the end of the wall.

Avoid letting the glaze stand for more than 10 minutes before rolling it. If a delay causes it to become tacky, coat the area with the brush to soften it before applying the rolling technique again. When the rag becomes saturated, discard it and use a new one. A rag will probably cover several square feet before it will need to be replaced.

After rolling the project, let the glaze dry for at least 24 hours before handling. If your project will see a lot of traffic such as with a tabletop, use a clear varnish to protect the finish. Apply two coats for added protection.

Creating a Suede Faux Finish

photo dabbing wet painting glaze with wadded plastic wrap to create a suede appearance photo of a faux suede finish painted on a wall

To create a suede look, you can use either wadded plastic wrap or rags to dab at the wet glaze. Experiment with both to find a technique that works. Rags will create a finish closely resembling suede while plastic will create a finer grained appearance like lizard skin. As with the process above, this technique works best on small spaces.

When using plastic wrap for this process, cut several strips of kitchen-type wrap about 18 inches long. Wad the plastic into tight balls and straighten it out several times to create multiple fine creases in the plastic. Place the plastic balls in a box or bucket to keep them tight until ready for use. For rags, use an old cotton t-shirt cut into one foot squares and ball them up just before using them to dab at the finish.

Brush the glaze onto the project using the same process as for the leather finish above. If you're doing a small space, coat the whole thing at once and then apply the dabbing technique. If you're doing a larger area, coat a manageable section of a couple feet at a time and leave a border of untouched glaze along the leading edge to aid in blending the finish into another section.

Before the glaze can dry, begin dabbing at it with the wad. Go over the glaze in the same place repeatedly until you have the finish you want. As you move across the surface, turn the wad frequently in your hand to avoid creating a regular pattern that would diminish the realistic suede effect. If you don't like the finish you've created, you can brush the glaze out again before it dries and try again until you find a finish you like.