Lining a steamer trunk with fabric panels

I hunkered down and got it done this weekend, readers.  The steamer trunk is finished!!

When I last left off on this project, I had finished scraping off the disgusting wallpaper plastered inside the trunk, I had painted a coat of Kilz on the inside surfaces (for the sake of refreshing the interior, and also to cover and seal in the musty smell), and I painted the hardware black.  Let’s refresh our memories, since it’s been a million since anyone thought about the trunk sitting in my basement.

Old paper pileI started out trying to loosen the paper to peel just the wallpaper off, but it was so stuck on in places that I just decided to scrape off the top layer of the cardboard that was underneath.  To be clear, this is not a wooden trunk, or a metal trunk.  In all my research to try and figure out what to do with the trunk we bought, all the suggestions were assuming I had a beautiful wooden trunk just waiting to be stripped and sanded and refinished.  I do not have such a thing.  My investigation of our trunk reveals that it is made of plywood-ish wood covered in a dense cardboard material for all the sides, top, and bottom, which is covered in vulcanized rubber (the dark green material on the outside of the trunk).  I didn’t feel bad about scraping off some of the cardboard, I figured it would help with getting rid of the musty smell.

I took a bit of a break on the trunk after scraping it out, and I finally picked up again to paint the hardware around the same time I was framing that piece of fabric Dan brought back from Japan.  I bought a small tin of Tremclad rust paint in matte black, and my trusty Elmer’s white glue for patching up some of the gouges in the top and sides of the trunk (lift flap, apply glue, press down – easy!)

My productsThe hardware on the trunk was all semi-rusting brass, so I used a bit of steel wool and some elbow grease to clear off the rust, and I did two coats of the rust paint.  Here’s the before:

The before. Buh-bye brass hardwareThe first coat:

First coat latchAnd all done:

The lidCorners are reinforced
This is the point where I stopped for a LONG time.  We took a break over the summer on little projects because the big house stuff was getting checked off the list (like finishing the crack repairs in the foundation).  I spent my last weekend off doing nothing in particular, so I made a point to make this weekend a productive one.

I went out on Friday morning and bought the last few supplies I needed to get the trunk finished.  I bought a small tin of Kilz to do another coat inside the trunk, and make sure the edges all looked neat and tidy.  I also took this opportunity to seal any cracks I could see, which might mean musty stink smell would come lurking back.  I used crack sealer and shmeared it into all the joins with my finger, and filled any old nail holes.

Second coat of KilzIt’s gleaming!

Next I sealed the outside of the whole trunk, I used Mod Podge matte acrylic sealer, which comes in a handy aerosol can and is designed to seal and finish craft projects, including maps/documents, and furniture.  You may recall that my concern was sealing the outside while not damaging the original shipping labels and stickers still covering the trunk.

Sealing the outside, two coats baby!I applied two thin coats, and my house smelled truly chemical for the next 24 hours.  If you can do this in a garage or outside, I highly recommend it.

You can’t SEE much of a difference, but now there’s a more uniform look between the hardware and the surface of the trunk, plus I know the labels are sealed in tight.

We bough fabric to line the trunk ages ago in the summer, but after watching this awesome video tutorial on lining a wooden box with fabric, I went out and bought 2 yards of teal flannel to add a little extra cushioning to my fabric.  Also, I chose to cut my project costs and not buy foamcore board to use for the fabric panels, because that stuff is $5 or $6 for a 20″ x 30″ sheet, and I needed 5 of them to get the coverage for my trunk.  I bought poster board instead, for the low low price of $0.50 a sheet.

With my basic measurements in hand, I started by cutting all the poster board pieces I would need to fit inside the trunk.

Measure twice, cut onceThe remote control is an important part of my crafting process – I was watching Harry Potter while I did this.

The inside of the trunk isn’t just a set of four simple rectangles, unfortunately.  There are beveled edges all around it, which required me to cut and cover thin strips of poster board to go between two large panels.  More on that shortly.

For each piece, I sprayed the back of the poster board with spray adhesive and pressed it onto the flannel, which I cut to be slightly larger the the piece on all sides.

Teal flannel backing
Then you snip the corners, spray the edges with more spray adhesive, and fold them all in.  The cuts at the corners help to form lovely little mitered corners.

Snip the corners for mitered corners
After I had all the flannel on, I started cutting and applying the fabric.  After cutting all the fabric, I ironed them for a nice crisp look.

And now a layer of whales
The process is exactly the same as applying the flannel – spray the flannel side of the piece and press it on to the wrong side of the fabric.  The edges of the fabric will extended slightly beyond the board, then you snip the corners, spray with more adhesive, and press the edges down.

The next part was a little painful to watch, and I was not able to get any pictures of me doing it, because it was me crawling around on the floor with a hot glue gun with a 12″ cord.  I ended up shifting the trunk around a few inches at a time to get access to the other end of it as I was gluing.  It was long and tedious (and p.s., an extension cord with a hot glue gun just loses you glue gun power), but I secured each panel in a few spots in the centre, and all along the edges with dots of hot glue.

All the insides done!Remember those silly little beveled edges?  Here’s what I did to cover them:

Snazzy corner joins
Each corner has a separate fabric-covered piece to cover the edges from the two pieces beside it.

With that first success under my belt, I had Dan trim down some cedar planks to fit in the bottom of the trunk:

Cedar fence boards
The boards sit on top of the angled edge that runs along the bottom of the trunk, because covering more thin little strips of poster board was going to drive me up the wall.  There’s a gap underneath the boards, and space in between each one, for air flow, or because of partial project laziness (you decide!).

I took a lunch break, then started tackling the lid, which had smaller pieces, but more awkward angled edges and far more thin strips of fabric-covered poster board.  But it’s done!

And the top is done tooWe didn’t waste any time in filling it up with blankets:

Blanket storage, ho!I threw a few dryer sheets in with the blankets, to keep things smelling fresh, and hopefully keep the musty smell away.

Fin.In its final resting place
And the trunk now sits in its proper place, right beside the TV for easy blanket access all winter long.

Basement blanket storage


About joeyandjanice

Two crazy kids trying to make sense of the jumble surrounding making the jump from renting to owning our first home. Join us here as we stumble towards the biggest purchase of our lives.
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4 Responses to Lining a steamer trunk with fabric panels

  1. Emily says:

    I am really impressed! What patience you have. It looks beautiful, not a detail overlooked. You are the awesome possum.

  2. Angel says:

    I was wondering when we would see that trunk again, you did a great job, looks awesome! Lots of patience indeed!

  3. Vickie says:

    I recently bought a trunk with a very similar construction! I stripped down most of the wallpaper & realized there is no wood underneath, but dense cardboard. I was totally stumped on what to do, but finding your site just gave me the confidence to finish what I started!! Thanks so much!!

    • Hi Vickie, that’s so great! I’m thrilled that our post could help you finish your steamer trunk! I’d love to hear if you had a different experience with the finishes you chose for your trunk. Good luck!

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