Starch Fabric Kitchen Cabinets {Tutorial}

I don’t know what it is about moving into a new rental, but I always go through the same series of steps:

  1. I don’t do anything to make it “home-y” because it’s temporary.
  2. I get tired of it not being home-y because it’s boring so I do a few things to make it better.
  3. I get really frustrated because I should have just dug in and made it great and now I’m going to put in the effort.

I still will not paint, because I know me…and I know when we leave I’m not going to want to re-paint. I’ve done that and even a little Chinese red guest bathroom is a monumental chore to turn back to white when all you want to do is move on.

These next few months are going to have a lot of ‘fixing the home’ thrown in with my usual sewing/cooking/family adventures.

Today is fabric starching. This is an old, blurry, worn out photo of me in 1979. The wall behind me is not wallpaper, but starched fabric. I’ve mentioned before, my mom is amazing.

1979
1979

First, start with boring, ugly, beat-up cabinets. Give the surface a good wipe down just to make sure your starch will stick.

Boring Cabinets
Boring Cabinets

I went to Target to get starch. I wanted to get the liquid in the jug kind to dip the fabric, but they didn’t have any. These 2 cans of spray starch, little did I know, would be even better. They were priced at 95 cents each and had 55 cent coupons on them, so this was less than a buck. I’ve read tutorials where people used cornstarch but I have a healthy fear of insect infestations. Food-based starch = potentially nasty bugs. No thank you. Your phobias may vary.

starch
starch

I used about 4.5 yards of fabric for a mid-sized apartment kitchen. So, at Joann’s, this Alexander Henry fabric is about $13 a yard, and with a 40% off coupon making 5 yards for $25.

Alexander Henry Kleo fabric
Alexander Henry Kleo fabric

I highly recommend pre-washing your fabric. This will help prevent any color bleeding that may occur and put you back at square one for repainting when you leave. Also, it will help prevent shrinkage as it dries after starching.

Measure once, then measure again. Write it down unless your brain has fewer holes than mine.

measure twice
measure twice

Measure every cabinet. You will be surprised how one is actually a half an inch larger than the one next to it. Superior architecture in apartments and all….my little cabinets over my fridge are a half an inch smaller in width than the little ones over the stove vent. I would have loved to have been at the planning meeting for that one. No, not really.

I didn’t take a photo of me cutting the fabric…I’m pretty sure you can figure out how to cut fabric…I used my mat/rulers/rotary cutter because I’m slick like that, but a pair of scissors and squaring up on a book should do just fine. You’re going to trim the fabric to the cabinet later anyway, so don’t sweat it too much.

Spray the cabinet on the top lightly to ‘tack’ the fabric to it so it will sort of hold…and get ready for your house to smell like “Fresh Laundry Scent” aka turn on a fan.

spray cabinet
spray cabinet

Hold the fabric and spray the sh*t out of it. Really saturate it. Like…dripping off the cabinet kind of wet.

hold fabric
hold fabric
Drippy Mess
Drippy Mess

Smooth fabric out and down as gently as possible. I tried using a sponge, but ended up preferring my fingers to smooth out the bubbles versus the lumpy texture of a million layers of apartment paint. Also, I found the sponge stretched the fabric too much. I did use the sponge to dab the excess starch and catch some of the drips.

Gentle Dabbing
Gentle Dabbing

Like in this fuzzy picture, use your ridiculously long thumb nail or a butter knife to press into the corners if your cabinets are framed like mine. If not, ignore this part.

Press Into Corners
Press Into Corners

You’re going to have some overlap as the fabric gets wet and stretches a bit. This is an easy fix. Depending on the quality of your fabric and whether or not you pre-washed it, it will shrink up some after it dries. The rest is easily taken care of.

Overlap
Overlap

When it’s dry in a couple hours, you are going to take a MF-in’ SHARP box knife and slice the fabric excess. Unless you’re afraid of marring the cabinets…then just pull away slightly and trim. Don’t worry….it’s ok….just wait and see….

SHARP Box Knife
SHARP Box Knife

I went through 2 blades, both sides. The fabric peels away SUPER easily.

Easy Peel
Easy Peel

And whether you pull away and cut or use this method, you’re going to get some fray and peeling. It’s ok. Don’t freak.

Don't Freak
Don’t Freak

You were a genius and got the uber cheap spray starch, right? Right. So just spray that little corner, dab it back down, smooth any threads, and you’re golden.

Check on your adorable helper and make sure they’re doing alright.

Adorable Helper
Adorable Helper

Stand back. Admire your handy work.

Finished Cabinets East
Finished Cabinets East
Finished Cabinets West
Finished Cabinets West
Finished Drawers
Finished Drawers

And the final touch? My mom’s colander from 1979.

1979 Colander
1979 Colander

This took me a weekend’s time but if you don’t have kids/meals/craziness you would easily get this done in a day and, again, less than $26. You have no excuses. Get off your butt and fix your kitchen!

:::UPDATE!! ONE YEAR LATER HERE!:::

16 Replies to “Starch Fabric Kitchen Cabinets {Tutorial}”

  1. These turned out lovely! What a fun project! Was the colander the original inspiration when looking for your fabric? I love the final result and what a great idea! I especially liked seeing your helper playing with the scraps:)

    1. I’ve had that fabric in my stash for 2+ years (she says sheepishly) and if the project was a flop, I was good with it being chopped up to use for something else because it’s such an intimidating pattern en masse. Funny enough, years ago I had a new enameled cobalt blue colander and traded my mom for hers because of the sentimental value to me! I’m eye-balling everything that doesn’t match now….my KitchenAid, the rugs, etc…but I am pleasantly surprised it turned out so well. I am really happy with it.

      1. I want to do this but our cabinets are brand new. What kind of damage would I be facing? Residue? I hate living in a rental. Great job!!!!!

        1. No, no residue. Contact paper leaves the gooey gunk behind…starch just wipes off. I tested it on a wall of sheetrock before doing the cabinets – it pops right off. This actually might make it slightly higher maintenance if it gets wet or kids peel it, but just spray it a bit and restick it, and it’s as good as new. I haven’t had any come off yet though, even with my little helpers.

  2. Your fabric really pops in the kitchen. I love it! Thanks for sharing!

    Do you still have the fabric up? How has it held up in the kitchen? I’m considering doing this but am concerned about heat and humidity in this part of the house.

    1. Hello! Yes I do still have it up – well, mostly. lol. The toddler has peeled it off the bottom cabinets where she can reach. Perhaps I should do some follow up photos and post! It’s been a year and the upper cabinets look just the same as they did and the lower cabinets have no showing there was any fabric on them. 😀

  3. I love this! I’m moving and the place we’re going is dated so this would really make me feel better about my cooking life. how thick is the fabric you used? Is it like a bed sheet or thicker? Other tutorials I’ve read say use upholstery fabric but I’m not sure about that for a cabinet.

    Thanks!

    1. Hi!

      Thank you for the comment!

      I used quilting cotton as did my mom years ago when I was a kid. She also used sheets in another room.

      Personally, I’d advise against upholstery fabric. If you read the care on that sort of fabric, they’re dry clean only in most cases. Getting them drenched in starch may cause them to bleed, shrink or who knows what. That and upholstery fabric is so heavy…starching is effective but I would want to weight test it.

      Do it. It’s worth it. Our apartment is circa 70s mod. Changing out pendant lamp shades and covering cabinets makes it so much more happy.

    1. Spray starch, if you use the same, leaves a bit behind and wipes clean with a damp sponge. It’s no different than if you starched a shirt to iron it-the next time you launder the shirt, it comes out. Even chemical starch is still based on the same starch you’d see in your boiling water after boiling pasta. It’s really that simple.

  4. Would this method be ok on unpainted wood cabinets? We just moved into a rental and sheesh the wood needs some help…

    1. Yes, as long as it’s sealed…in other words, if you’d let water sit on it and air dry, then you can do this. I’ve re-starched my painted cabinets a few times over now – just to change out the fabric for fun.

  5. I did a very similar thing to my kitchen. I used fabric I loved and had had for a long time but didn’t use. It adds color and oomph to another wise bland kitchen. Love the look you created and boy isn’t it cost effective. Good for you.

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