In this post, I will be showing you two ways to remove the paper from the back of fabric samples, as well as how to take apart fabric sample books and give you some ideas for what to do with all that fabric!
Fabric sample books are used by many design professionals as a way to show clients fabric options for various projects from upholstery to drapes and even clothing.
In most cases, the fabric is a bit weightier than cotton quilting fabric, but it can be perfect for a variety of projects.
Once you get the sample books apart and remove the paper backing, you will be amazed at how much fabric you end up with!
Table of Contents
- What is a Fabric Sample Book?
- Where to Find Fabric Sample Books
- How to Open Fabric Sample Books
- How to Remove the Paper Backing from the Fabric Samples
- How to Use Fabric Samples
- Video Tutorial
- Printable Cheat Sheet – How to Remove Paper from Fabric Samples
- Top Tips
- Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Fabric Sample Book?
If you are not familiar with these they are bound books of fabric samples often used by interior designers, upholstery shops, curtain makers, or clothing designers.
They are usually bound in a heavy cardboard binder and have a handle so they can be taken to a client’s home when they are making fabric choices.
These fabric lines have a limited lifespan and once they finish selling a particular line of fabric the sample book is no longer needed.
Where to Find Fabric Sample Books
Once a fabric line has run its course, the fabric sample books are no longer needed. You can find them in several places.
- EBay – I have bought fabric sample books on ebay a number of times – some people also sell fabric samples without the book which saves you the job of taking it apart!
- Thrift Stores and Charity Shops
- If you happen to know anyone in the furniture upholstery, drapery, or interior design business you may be able to purchase their outdated fabric sample books or even get them for free!
If you purchase sample books online, the shipping costs can be quite high.
Because the fabric samples are bound in heavy cardboard binders they are quite heavy to ship. If the binder has been disassembled the shipping is much more reasonable.
If you are lucky enough to find them in a local shop, shipping won’t be an issue.
How to Open Fabric Sample Books
Getting the fabric out of the books without having to cut the fabric can be a bit of a challenge.
Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy method to take these books apart and often it just comes down to brute strength.
You could cut the samples out of course but that is rather tedious and you end up losing a lot of usable fabric that way.
In many cases, the books are held together by a combination of screws, glue, and large staples. They are not usually designed to take individual samples out and back in.
So, the first step is to remove the cardboard binding. This may be secured with long screws and the easiest way to remove it is just to tear it free – a clamp or another person to play tug of war with the book can help here!
If you have an extra set of hands it will make this process much easier. You can try prying the cardboard up with a screwdriver or knife or really any tool that helps give you a little leverage.
Once the cardboard binding is removed you will see the fabric samples are held together by glue and long staples.
The easiest way to remove the staples is with either a screwdriver or the claw end of a hammer, then you can peel the samples apart from the glue.
If you have an upholstery stapler remover that would be ideal!
See the video I posted over on the Scrap Fabric Love Youtube channel below to see me comically trying a variety of tools to get these books open! …I got there in the end!
How to Remove the Paper Backing from the Fabric Samples
Each of the fabric samples has a frame of heavy paper on the back that is glued directly onto the fabric.
This can be a challenge to remove. Again you could just cut it off but you would be sacrificing a lot of useable fabric that way.
Thankfully there are some easy ways to remove that paper and glue. The key is to melt the glue that is adhering the paper to the fabric.
I have found two methods that work quite well.
1. Hot Iron Method
Run a hot iron over the paper backing to melt the glue. You may need to leave the iron on each section of paper for up to 10-20 seconds depending on the glue strength.
I have tried this using lots of steam, but it didn’t really work better than dry ironing.
Once the glue is melted you can peel the paper off.
With this method, the glue residue is still on the back surface of the fabric. See the video below for more of a visual on this method.
The glue will dry as the fabric cools and is usually not sticky once it has dried. But if you want to get rid of the glue completely then method two is your best bet.
2. Hot Water Method
With this method, you will melt the glue using hot water.
- If you just want to remove the paper backing from one or two fabric samples at a time you can run the sample under a hot water tap in the sink to melt the glue, then peel the paper backing off.
Obviously, you are left with wet fabric that will have to be dried before you can use it.
- If you want to remove the paper backing from a number of fabric swatches you can place them all in a hot water bath and let them soak for a bit. It doesn’t take long 10 minutes is usually enough.
You will see after 10-15 minutes that the paper will just fall off and the glue has dissolved as well.
You can then just dry the fabric and it is ready to use. I leave mine to dry on a warm radiator.
Be sure that you remove all the paper before you remove the stopper on the tub, so you don’t get paper clogging your pipes.
How to Use Fabric Samples
There are so many ways to use the fabric from sample books.
The weight and size oof the fabric will in part determine how you can use it. You’ll find sample books in lots of sizes from fairly small swatch books to larger pieces like the ones in my video.
As I mentioned, often these fabrics are used for upholstery or drapes so it is more heavy-weight fabric.
Some however are lighter weight if it is used for clothing or curtains.
Here are some of the ways I have used fabric sample swatches in my sewing and crafting:
- Tote Bags. I like to use these fabric samples for the bottom of tote bags. Because the fabric is a bit heavier it holds up to wear and tear well, making it perfect for the bottom of a bag. As well as the ones pictured above I also used a fabric sample for the bottom of this t-shirt bag.
- Upholstery repair
- Cushion covers
- Zipper pouches
- Basket liners
- A heavier-weight picnic quilt – I’m considering making one of these myself after experimenting with the middle cushion pictured below!
I hope this inspires you to hunt for fabric sample books and put that fabric to good use.
It may take a bit of work to get the fabric ready for use, but you will be rewarded with a lot of high-quality unique fabric cuts that can be used for a wide variety of projects.
Printable Cheat Sheet – How to Remove Paper from Fabric Samples
- Fabric Samples with Paper glued to the back
- Iron (or)
- Hot water
- Remove the fabric samples from the fabric sample book if they aren't already.
- For the Hot iron Method: Apply a dry hot iron to the paper backing to melt the glue. This will take 10-15 seconds per section of paper. When the glue has started to soften, peel the paper off.
- For the Hot Water Method. Soak each fabric sample in hot water.
- Soak in the sink for one or two samples.
- If you are working with multiple samples place them all in hot water in a bath. The paper and the glue will loosen and come off easily after approximately 10 minutes
- Hang the fabric to dry on a drying line or on the radiator.
- If the front of your fabric sample book has a clear plastic cover you can reuse it to make a clear pocket on a bag or tote.
- You can use the smaller fabric samples to make book covers, coasters, gift tags, lamp shades, or a table runner.
Frequently Asked Questions
When a fabric line is no longer available designers may keep the sample books at their studios or warehouses.
Unfortunately, some do get thrown out. It may be worth asking to see if they would be willing to give them to you at no cost.
This depends on the weight of the fabric. You can use heavier fabric for a quilt, but bear in mind you want it to be washable. It is worth testing a small sample in the washing machine to see how it turns out!
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