Tutorial: Cover Ugly Ceiling Tiles with FABRIC!

Zita with smiling cat fabric.
Zita with smiling cat fabric.  (Isn’t every craft project easier with a kitten underfoot?)

I’ve been feeling crafty lately.  Even more so than usual, I should say.  In our new home, I have the luxury of having space for a sewing room.  It is dubbed the “Creativity Room” by a friend, so I’m going with that!

One of the problems with my new space is the UGLY ceiling.  It is one of those drop ceilings that are often in basements.  (Yes, my Creativity Room is in the basement).  Not only is it ugly when brand new, it is even uglier when it is old.  Mine is also grimy and yellowed.  I thought about replacing the tiles with new ones but money is a bit tight now (with the move and all!).  I also thought about just painting them white or something.  Nah, too much work!

Then I realized — I have yards and yards of fabric!  What if I covered those ugly tiles with fabric that I like (but not LOVE, of course, that fabric must be saved for possible quilt projects).

The question though, was HOW to attach the fabric to the those awful tiles.

I talked it over with my daughter and we decided to try starch.  I remembered reading somewhere that it was possible to use starch to make fabric stick to walls, and we thought it might work on fabric and the tiles.  Long story, short:  It didn’t.  We couldn’t mix the starch thickly enough that it would stick and then dry without having the fabric fall off once it was back on the ceiling.

Hmmmmm. I wondered about Mod Podge or maybe some sort of adhesive.  We considered duct tape, but we thought the fabric would sag in the middle.  Finally I decided to try Aleene’s Tacky Glue.  This seemed to do the job!

The basic steps:

1.  Buy a house with an ugly dropped ceiling with old, grungy, yellowed insulated tiles.

2.  Be a quilter who has a humongous fabric stash (or know one).  Alternatively you could visit a fabric store and buy a bunch of fabric on sale.  Goodwill or Thrift stores could be a source for fabric, too, if you think creatively.
Tacky Glue

3.  Gather a pair a scissors, an iron and ironing board, some Aleene’s Tacky Glue, a large work surface and a tall person (or be one).  A very long needle is helpful, too.  You’ll see why later. Having a kitten underfoot is not mandatory, but it does make things more annoying.  Oops.  I meant “exciting.”

remove one of the tiles
remove one of the tiles

4.  Remove one of the old, grungy, yellowed insulated tiles.  Lay it out on your work surface with the plastic side up (insulation down).

5.  Choose a piece of fabric that is large enough to cover your tile.  (If you are a fan of crazy quilts, you could, of course, use smaller pieces of fabric and make each tile a collage — but I didn’t do that).

measure by eye, hold the spot, then clip
measure by eye, hold the spot, then clip

6.  Measure along the longest edge (by eye is fine), hold the spot, make a snip with some scissors, and then tear the fabric.


tear were you snipped
You might not need to tear it all the way across so don’t go crazy with the tearing (unless you don’t care about wasting fabric then tear away).  When you think you’ve torn about the width of the tile — check it to see.  Again do this by eye. Make a snip going the other direction and then tear away.

holding the "width" spot; snip then tear
holding the “width” spot; snip then tear

This time you can tear the whole thing because you should be heading back toward the edge where you started measuring. You’ll end up with a rectangle about the size of your tile.  I gave a little leeway on the fabric on each wide — about 1/4 to 1/2 inch on each side or so.  You can cut it exactly, but this is my project and that isn’t my style.  I won’t judge you though, if you have a streak of persnicketiness and/or perfectionism.  (You probably don’t or you would have stopped reading by now.)

But I digress.

7.  The next steps need to be done, but it doesn’t matter which order you do them in.  Iron, Glue, Apply.  You need to iron the fabric and you need to apply glue to the plastic side of the tile. I’ve done it glue then iron then apply the fabric to the tile.  I’ve done it iron then glue then apply the fabric.  It works either way.

Iron that fabric!  I like this spray starch.
Iron that fabric! I like this spray starch.

Ironing:  Most of my fabric has been stored in bins for years, even decades (not kidding) — so it needs to be ironed.  I like to use steam and some spray starch.  I like Mary Ellen’s Best Press.

glue squigglesGlue:  Cut the top off the glue like you mean it.  No little hole for you!  You need to let that glue pour.  Apply a stream of glue around the edge pretty thoroughly. Then I wiggled it around everywhere covering the surface with squares and zig-zags and squiggles.  I also experimented with pouring a glob of glue on the tile and brushing it around with a square of cardboard. (You could use a brush, but I didn’t want to go find one).

glue squigglesYou may have figured out by now that one of my mottos for creative projects is “IT’LL BE FINE!”

Tacky GlueApply the fabric:  This part is easier if you still have help from your tall person/daughter/random person but I managed it alone for most of my project.  Hold your nicely ironed fabric close to one side or edge of the glued tile.  Place it gently on the glue, pretty side UP away from the glue and smooth it carefully from the center.  You can adjust the edges and even lift the whole thing and re-position it if you do it quickly enough.  If you have massive amounts of fabric hanging off an edge feel free to trim it off.  I found most of the small excess fabric I had folded nicely up into the metal frame.

better?  YES!Ceiling tiles covered with fabric8.  When you are satisfied that your fabric covered tile is ready to go back up into the ceiling (no wrinkles, etc.), carefully flip it upside down and maneuver it back into the space it came from. I did one tile at a time after I discovered that, at least in my ceiling, not all the tiles were the same size even though they looked the same.



doll needle
doll needle

If you can’t get the tile to lie flat again, this is where the long needle is helpful.  I had a doll needle that is hugely long.  It is used for sewing eyes and sometimes limbs onto dolls.  I poked it into the insulated tile and pulled gently down at a slight angle and it worked!

Use the doll needle to poke and pull the tiles unto place if needed
Use the doll needle to poke and pull the tiles unto place if needed

You can also raise the tiles on either side a bit and reach above and push down.  But then that other tile is out of place — IT’ll BE FINE! adjusting the tile

I’m trying to decide if I should paint the metal frame black or possibly cover it with some sort of black tape. (The tape idea sounds easier to me than painting all those little frames).

I’m thrilled with how my ceiling is turning out.  I have just about six squares left.  I am planning to paint and do some other decorating before I show photos of the whole room.  I will keep you posted.



Published by


I am a pianist, musician, music teacher, choir director, mother, wife, daughter, sister, cousin, sister-in-law, friend, neighbor. I enjoy music (of course!), quilting, sewing, beading, traveling, kayaking, camping, biking, hiking, gardening, knitting, scrapbooking, cooking, reading, poetry, drinking good coffee, and having fun with family and friends. NOTE -- Creative Commons License: All work of The Tromp Queen (quirkyjazz, aka Jill) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 Unported License.

22 thoughts on “Tutorial: Cover Ugly Ceiling Tiles with FABRIC!”

  1. I have a room with these old ceiling tiles, but some of the plastic coverings are peeling off. How would you go about dealing with that? Would the glue work on the foam? Would I need to reattach the plastic first?

    1. Thanks! I’m a quilter and just recently moved so I was trying to use up some of my abundant fabric stash. It really looks great, and I’m pleased with how it turned out. Now, I just need for finish “decorating” the rest of the room and get down there to start CREATING.

  2. Nicely done, and entertaining to boot! Think I’ll do the same for my planned tv room and try 3M adhesive spray (allowing an inch or 2 of fabric overlap on the theory the fabric can help hold itself up) and (as 1st step) spray paint for the metal grid, simply holding up a thin piece of cardboard as I go to avoid overspray on the walls. Theoretically it will not only be custom-designed, but help the room acoustics.

    1. Sounds like a good plan! I do want to do something to my metal grid, but haven’t figured out what yet. I thought about using the spray adhesive, but the smell really bothers me. Good luck with your project. I’d love to know how it turns out for you. Pics please when you finish?

      1. my lack of available fabric made me decide to spraypaint the ceiling (latex interior paint). worked like a charm, actually and the tiles didn’t stick to the grid which was my big worry. pics attached.

  3. this is so much fun to read, although only the last few images loaded (my ultra slow internet) but wow, you really transformed that into a happy happy happy creative space!

    it might be months before i have faster internet, and it’s taken an hour for my email inbox to open, and then longer to read anything — so i’m following but you probably won’t hear much from me for a while!

    thanks for your follow as well!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read my post! I admire your patience. Slow internet is very frustrating!!! My Creativity Room has been sitting idle for weeks now and I need to get back down there to finish it off so the REAL fun can begin. I found your blog in the “recommended blogs” and am so happy I clicked on yours. I love your art! Reminds me of molas in a way. I’m wondering how to transform that idea into a quilt without doing the reverse applique that real molas require. Hmmmm….

      1. ha – incubation time! a stained glass window painting was incubating in my mind when i was visiting panama, and after about the 500th mola, it clicked, and i switched to a test painting w/two friends. it went well.. and the rest is history!
        you’ll do the same with your quilt puzzle!

  4. This is sooooooooooooooo YOU, Jill! I absolutely love it to spruce up and make spunky your creativity room! Wish I had a room like that! I think live with the metal parts for awhile — they may be OK!

    1. Thanks, MaryAnn! I still have those few tiles to go and I’m losing steam fast — so metal parts will mostly likely stay that way because of lack of motivation and my “It’ll be fine!” motto. 🙂

  5. I agree with the earlier post, leave the metal alone. If you paint it, it will be a never ending maintenance issue with repainting, chipping, etc. Love the fabric ceiling 🙂 funny! It will make you smile if you ever get stuck on something. Just look up! I put fabric underneath our kids’ bunk beds so they wouldn’t have to look at the bottom of the upper. There is even cats on one of them, but your smiling cats are funnier, especially with kitty looking on suspiciously!

  6. I guess we all have our own ideas of what is too much work…. 🙂
    It is perfect for a quilter’s room though. It would make me smile every time I went in to work… er, play.

    (I wouldn’t do anything to those metal strips — it looks like a crazy quilt border as it is, and plus, that would REALLY be too much work!

    1. hah! I never thought of it as being too much work because I LOVE fabric! I love anything to do with fabric — which is why I love quilting. No so much the finishing as much as the buying, planning, starting parts. 😉 Thanks for your opinion on the metal frame. I wanted it to look like quilt sashing so it is good you think it already looks like that. My thinking was it might bring the colors out more if the metal was dark, but maybe it would be overpowering.

    1. I’m happy with how it is turning out, too! I have worked on it several evenings with many days in between so it hasn’t seemed so much like work. Fabric is fun! Thanks for reading and commenting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s