Renovation & Design

Decorate nursery with painted fabrics

Jim Connelly/Stencil in pink and turquoise to define the wing, breast and tail. Photo courtesy of Jim Connelly.
Jim Connelly/Some of the painted projects Jim Connelly has created for a baby's room.

One of the most joyous of all decorating projects can be a nursery. This room represents both a starting point and a safe haven for a newborn. My advice about how to furnish and decorate this room is to go with colors and patterns your own inner child loves.

When I recently visited decorative artist and teacher Jimmy Connelly at his Toronto studio (, I found a collection of pillows and accessories he created on the theme of nesting to be particularly inspiring. What perfect images for a nursery!

His painted-fabric nest pillows can be replicated at home without a huge investment of money or time -- whether on curtain panels, bedding or a fabric picture. To create your own version of his cover for a pillow, choose a ready-made cotton cover measuring 50 centimetres by 50 centimetres. (It's important to use cotton so the fabric will absorb paint.)

Any water-based paint will work, but we particularly like Annie Sloan's Chalk Paint. You will also need two paint brushes, a five-centimetre bristle brush for the pattern's border, a stencil brush and a bird stencil that appeals to you. (The one used in our illustration is a kingfisher.)

Next, cut out a piece of cardboard to a size that's just slightly smaller than the 50-by-50 cm pillow cover, and slip it inside so paint applied to the front panel won't soak through to the back panel. For the turquoise and pink borders, thin the paint with water, then apply a 10-cm turquoise border using the brush. Next, add a coat of thinned-down pink paint, overlapping the turquoise border by five-cm. Cover the space inside the border with a thinned-down coat of cream-color paint.

Continue with the stenciling, even though the cover is still wet. First, tape the stencil in place. Then, using the stencil brush, apply stone-grey over the entire pattern -- bird, branch and lettering. Next, with the stencil brush, apply turquoise to the bird's breast and tail, then pink to the wing and gold to the kingfisher's crown. Make the bird's eye by dipping the end of a thin brush in black paint and dabbing it on the fabric.

To create the appearance of a shadow from the letters, remove the tape and move the stencil up and to the right about one-quarter inch. Then fill in the letters with gold paint. The letters will appear to have grey shadows.

If you want to paint other accessories, a lampshade is easy to decorate with graduated color, for an ombré effect that resembles the look of a night sky brightening near the horizon. As you move from top to bottom painting inside the stencil, repeatedly thin the paint so its hue gets gradually lighter as you come closer to the bottom.

Stenciled patterns can be reproduced on virtually any surface. And you can repeat parts of a stenciled image and/or add to your picture with a second stencil of, say, trailing ivy. Each of your choices helps make the painted fabric a true original.


Browse Homes

Browse by Building Type