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Wallpaper Basics

Paperhanging and Wallpaper.

THE origins of wallpaper are by no means difficult to discover.
Its existence, like that of other forms of decoration, is primarily due to mans instinctive desire to adorn his surroundings. Its direct ancestors, however, are obviously tapestry and the painted cloths mentioned by Shakespeare, and the principal object with which it was introduced was to produce a passable imitation of these materials at a comparatively small cost.

The exact-or even approximate-date wallpaper was first made in any considerable quantity is not known, but there is some evidence to prove that paper decorated either by blocks or by hand was in existence in Europe at the end of the fifteenth century, though it was used for other purposes besides that of wall hangings.
During restoration work at Christs College, Cambridge, in 1911, fragments of a wallpaper dating back to the first years of the sixteenth century were discovered and from time to time other early examples are brought to light.
That more of them have not survived is due mainly, no doubt, to the fragile nature of the material, and partly to the fact that until recent years no attempts have been made to preserve any specimens which have been revealed in the course of redecoration or reconstruction.
There can be no doubt that, in not a few old houses, interesting examples of antique wallpapers still exist, hidden under layers of more modern papers, and decorators who discover any such old examples in the course of their work should handle them with the greatest care.
wallpaper horizontal banded copyright 2000An excellent collection of old wallpapers is housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, but it is by no means complete and the authorities are always glad to examine specimens of any considerable antiquity.

The Basics of Wallpaper

Golden Rules: Buy the best tools and equipment you can afford, especially scissors and shears.
When using lining paper (blankstock) buy the heavier kind as this is easier to work with and should dispel the need for double-lining.
Follow the manufacturers instructions on the labels of rolls but don't always interpret too literally as there is there needs to be a degree of flexibility, especially on soaking times.
Complete all your preparation before you start to paper.
Ensure that you have bought sufficient rolls to complete the job, otherwise if you have to go back to the store later to get an extra roll or two, your original batch may have sold out.
Make sure all the rolls are of the same batch number otherwise there may be slight differences in colour which you do not notice with the naked eye but which will show up when the paper is on the wall.
Keep the area where you are decorating as dust free as possible.

Professional Tip: Before you start papering loosen all switches and sockets and carefully blow out any dust and debris from behind them and screw them back again. This will ensure that when you have to loosen fittings to get the paper to fit neatly, dust and bits getting on the paste will not be a problem.

Wear comfortable clothing as there is a lot of stretching involved in paperhanging.

The history of wallpaper and of the developments and technical improvements which have been made in its manufacture is exceedingly interesting and should certainly be studied by every decorator who wishes to know more of the materials of his craft.
To attempt to deal with it in a work of this kind would be out of place, yet no reference to wallpaper, would be complete without paying tribute to the designs of William Morris, many of which are still being reproduced to the present day.
wiliam morrisIn the latter half of the last century, when English wallpaper was, generally speaking, at a deplorably low ebb, it was largely his influence which was responsible for the raising of the standards of design, and the improvement which he initiated contributed, more than any other factor, to the vast popularity of this form of decoration at the present time. Morris also designed stained-glass windows, textiles and tapestries. He was also a major Victorian author and poet.
To-day there are better designs and a far greater choice of effects than at any time during the history of wallpaper.
Indeed, quite apart from the number of papers which do not pretend to be anything but what they actually are, the range of decorative materials which are successfully copied in wallcovering is remarkable.

Fabrics of various kinds, woods, marbles, leathers, stone, plaster, are but a few, and wallpapers age-old tradition of providing effective reproductions of expensive materials at but fractional cost of the originals is well maintained.
Yet, when all is said, perhaps the greatest achievement in present-day wallpaper manufacture is the fact that so many really first-class designs, excellently printed on good-quality paper, are now available at prices which bring them within the reach of every householder.

The various operations involved in papering walls may be thus summarized:

1. select a suitable paper. Don't pick a paper with a large pattern for a very small room. If the ceiling line is sloping, a paper with symmetrical patterns like squares or diamonds will show up the slope more.
2. calculate the number of pieces required. The number of pieces(lengths)that you get from each roll depends a lot on the height of the room and the size(repeat) of the pattern. In theory, if the drop is 8ft then you should get 4 lengths from a roll (UK size 33ft). It would be unrealistic to expect that to happen. Several factors must be taken into consideration:-
(a) The size of the pattern.
(b) When cutting lengths allow 3 inches extra top and bottom. This is necessary for three reasons:-
The ceiling line or baseboard may run off the horizontal;
You need the additional to hold the paper without marking the face of the wallcovering;
Paper dries off quickly at the edges so that when the paper is trimmed you can be assured of sufficient paste on the paper.

3. remove the old paper (if any). Papering over an existing wallpaper is not satifactory for two reasons:-

(a) Where the existing paper lacks good adhesion bubbles will rise which may not go back down;

(b) Colors in the old paper may leach through and damage the new wallpaper.

4. make good any defects in the statement black and white wall plaster.Filling any holes in the walls and sanding down carefully is very important. If the walls are bad, a lining paper is advised.

5. cut the the paper to size. When cutting lengths allow 3 inches top and bottom for working flexibility.

6. paste and affix it to the surfaces (walls or ceilings). The thing most amateurs don't realise is that pasting the wallpaper properly is the single most important aspect of paperhanging. Five things are essential:-
(a) The paste must be applied evenly;
(b) There must be no misses; if you have misses or parts which have dried out too quickly, these bits will not adhere to the surface.
(c) paste must be applied carefully to the edges; using the paste brush to apply the paste from the centre of the paper outwards over the edge but NOT backwards.
(d) You must not get paste on the front of the wallpaper, if you do wipe it off immediately with a clean damp sponge;

(e) Ensure equal soaking times for each length (with expensive wallpapers use a stop watch if possible). Too short a soaking time will cause the paper to bubble; too long a soaking time will cause the paper to overstretch. Even with optimum soaking times the wallpaper will stretch so it is important that soaking times are equal or the pattern match is likely to run out.

Professional Tip: A note here on mixing paste. Most paste manufacturers exaggerate the number of rolls that a packet of paste will comfortably cover. If you follow their instructions the paste will invariably be too thin and may dry out before you can get it on the wall or ceiling. A good guide is to expect the paste to be enough for half what the makers claim for the paste to be of optimum thickness.

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