On the House:Patching Wallpaper

By James and Morris Carey
Saturday November 24, 2001

About 15 years ago, our company offices were located in a building that our grandfather built at the turn of the century. We first rented a small space in the rear and later, as our business grew, we moved to the front where we occupied several offices. 

A fellow named Gordon Fisk tackled the restoration head-on, and not only saved all the original woodwork, but ensured that every detail down to the carpet and wallpaper were period matches. 

The wallpaper in our office was gorgeous — swirled patterns of paisley and flowers. When we decided to install our new phone system, we were forced to make holes in two of the walls. What a mess. Back then we didn’t know how to repair wallpaper, so we called in a local expert — Mr. Russo. His advice was that we repair the walls by making them perfectly smooth. He said to keep the patch area as small as possible, and he would come back later to perform the wallpaper repair. 

We completed the wall patch, and then called him to begin his task. First, he cut a patch out of a matching piece of wallpaper that had been in the attic. He made it slightly larger than the area to be repaired, and placed the patch over the damaged area. Once he had aligned the pattern in the patch with the pattern on the wall, he used masking tape to hold the patch in place. He then used a brand-new razor blade to cut a wavy, squiggly shape around the perimeter of the damaged area, but inside the area of the patch itself. He pressed the blade firmly, and cut through both the patch material and the wallpaper on the wall. We learned later that the technique he used was called “double cutting” — cutting through two layers at once. Both layers ended up being cut to precisely the same size and shape. 

We learned that for larger patches, cutting wavy lines helps to hide the cut. For smaller patches, square and rectangular shapes work just as well. He then removed the paper on the wall (between the patch and the cut). Adhesive then was applied to the patch and to the wall. Once the glue had softened the patch, it was applied to the wall and gently squeegeed. A moment or two later, he cleaned the area with a damp sponge and went on to repair the second patch in exactly the same way. 

None of us could believe his eyes. The patch was invisible. We have since used Russo’s technique on dozens of occasions. And it works every time. 

Loose seams and bubbles are even easier to repair as long as you remember the most important secret — soften the wallpaper in and around the area of the repair first. This is tricky because if the paper is not wet enough, it will split or rip as you work with it, and if it gets too wet, it will easily tear. We recommend patience here. Once you’ve made one or two repairs, you will become an expert yourself. 

To repair a curling seam you will need the following tools: A sponge, seam roller, tiny paintbrush or a cue tip and a small container of wallpaper adhesive. 

Use the sponge and warm water to soften the wallpaper. Apply the adhesive to the wall side of the wallpaper and to the wall, using a small artist’s paintbrush or a cue tip. Let the adhesive absorb into the surfaces for a few minutes, and then use a seam roller to reaffix the wallpaper to the wall. After about 10 or 12 minutes, use the sponge again to clean excess adhesive from the surface. 

A bubble repair is easy. Use a razor to slice open the center of the bubble. Then inject a small amount of adhesive with a construction syringe. You can pick one up at a paint store for about $5. Use a damp sponge to soften the paper, and then use a seam roller to reaffix the paper to the wall. 

For more home-improvement tips and information, visit our Web site at www.onthehouse.com.