Re-upholstering is not that hard to do you can do it and save money by doing it yourself.
Don’t throw away that comfortable, but tattered, old arm chair or couch. Re-upholster it!
Whether you want to re-do that piece for sentimental reasons, or because you love the feel, the size, the shape, the memories, you can do it using the easy guide below:
- Straight pins
- Tack hammer
- Staple gun & staples
- Measuring tape
- Sewing machine
- Thread to match your fabric
Put your piece that you’re going to re-upholster somewhere you don’t mind making a mess, garage, family room, etc. Remove the fabric from the couch or chair, starting with the back. Don’t rip it off, remove it carefully. These pieces are going to be your pattern for the new covering. Number the pieces if you have to, or draw a diagram, because you are going to put the new fabric back on exactly as you removed the old.
Before you go any farther, check the construction of your piece of furniture. Is it in really good shape or does it need a little reinforcement. Shake it a little bit to make sure it is sturdy. Sometimes it needs a nail or screw here or there to make the arm steady. You may want to have on hand a good wood glue if it appears to need it in spots. Better to do it now, than after you have made all the fabric purchases and are anxious to get started.
After you have all the pieces removed, lay them out with the grain or the pattern going in one direction. Lay them out so they form a piece of fabric. Most upholstery fabric comes in either 54 or 60 inches wide; this is what you are trying to assimilate.
Measure the length and width of your pieces; this will give you approximate yardage. A yard is 36 inches long; you already knew that, but just a reminder. If your measurement says you need 5 yards, buy 6, just in case. You can always use the extra fabric in a pillow. In fact making a few decorator pillows or covering a foot stool is the sort of thing decorators get paid big bucks for, and you can do it yourself.
Is the platform on your piece (the part of the couch or chair where the cushions sit) made out of the same fabric or something different? Generally, this is easier done with the same fabric so that you do not have to cut and piece. So be sure to include that in your yardage measurement. Do not separate the pieces in order to use them for your pattern. You can of course choose to use something different. Even a piece of unbleached muslin would work for this. It is under the cushions and is never seen.
If the piece you have chosen to re-upholster has welting or cording anywhere, around the cushions, or arms, you will need to measure the length in order to buy new cord. I do not recommend using the old cord; it is usually rotten with age. Take a small piece with you to the fabric store so you can match the size. Buy a little extra, about a yard or so, cording is inexpensive and you want to give yourself a little leeway. Make a choice now as to whether you want the cording the same color as your couch or chair or if you would prefer to have it a contrasting color. Either way remember, you will have to have some extra fabric to create the cording. Instructions will follow on making the welting or cording.
The next type of fabric you will need is the dust cover; you took it off the bottom of your couch or chair. This can be done with a piece of unbleached muslin. Lasts a lot longer than the fiber it was done with originally and the kids and pets can’t rip it up. Just measure the full length of the piece and buy accordingly.Now, check your cushions, are they in good shape? If not then you will have to purchase new foam rubber. Measure them, length,
Now, check your cushions, are they in good shape? If not then you will have to purchase new foam rubber. Measure them, length, width and thickness. Fabric stores have foam rubber and will cut it for you or you can cut it yourself. Remember that electric knife you have tucked away and never use? This is perfect for cutting foam rubber. Actually, any serrated edged knife will work, but the electric knife is the best and easiest. Mark your foam rubber and cut carefully.
You may also want to make the cushions a little softer, so purchase quilt batting to wrap them in. Simply wrap the batting around them and secure with a needle and thread. To make installation simpler, I also make a cover with unbleached muslin, this helps when you put your cushions into the new fabric cover. No need to be fancy just make the cover the size of the cushion, you want it to fit pretty snug. Sew it together with a needle and thread, a whipstitch will do.
Also check the zipper if there is one. If it’s in good shape and you can take it out easily, then reuse it, if not purchase a new one. They should not show, so color is not that important.
Is the original batting on the piece in good shape? If so, leave it alone. If not, use quilt batting to rewrap the piece, securing it in spots with a needle and thread. Sometimes you have to remove the old batting and sometimes you can just rewrap over the old. You can make that choice. Just make sure whichever way you go the batting is nice and smooth.
When choosing your quilt batting, do not buy the thickest, buy a medium grade. Quilt batting comes either in packages sized for quilts or on a roll and you buy the yardage. The roll is normally the least expensive way to go. If you have done your measurements, then figuring out the yardage is fairly simple. The choice of batting is important as well. There is cotton and polyester. Sometimes if I am removing all the old batting I replace it with cotton batting and then use polyester over that for extra softness and smoothness. This is another decision you have to make.
Does your piece have buttons on the back or on the cushions? If so, you will want to purchase new ones. You can pick up self covered buttons and the directions are on the package on how to cover them in your fabric. Make sure you measure the size of your buttons or an easier way is just to take one of the old buttons with you and compare. You may choose to make them larger or smaller. They come in lots of different sizes. I will go into installation later. Just remember where they go.
Make a list of everything that you need for your re-upholstery job before you hit the trail to the fabric stores to find the perfect fabric for your new couch or chair. Check it twice, you do not want to have to retrace your steps because you forgot something. I live about 30 miles from the nearest fabric store, so it is real inconvenient to have to go back. If you have a color in mind and have a scrap of something in that color, be sure and take it with you, don’t try to guess if that red or blue is the right color. You will be wrong nine times out of ten.
Check out your fabric stores first. Some cities have large warehouse stores and sell mill ends. Because their inventory is big they can afford to sell for less money. Sometimes they have a better selection than the smaller stores such as Hancock or JoAnns.
Okay, you are at the fabric store and know just what you want and usually the salespeople will help you, but there a few things you need to remember about fabric. You need to choose a fabric that can be easily manipulated. What I mean is, you may have to pull the fabric tight and you don’t want it so stiff it can’t be stretched a little. Also some fabrics have a nap (corduroy or velvets) and cannot be what is called railroaded (turned in a different direction), please take this into consideration. If you wish to use this sort of fabric you have to buy a lot extra, and that could make the project much more expensive. This of course is your decision. This would be true also if the fabric has a definite pattern that could not be turned.
Another caution, when you removed your old fabric did you check to see if any of the pieces were cut on the bias, if they were be careful not to choose a stripe or plaid that won’t look attractive if used as replacement.
You have your fabric and all your notions and supplies and are ready to get started with your re-upholstery. Don’t be scared, remember if I can do it, so can you.
Making sure you have clipped any seams and taken out any darts, lay out your fabric and put the original pieces on it, laying the pieces exactly as they will be used. If your fabric is right side up, lay the pattern right side up. Secure with the straight pins, so the pieces don’t move around. Cut your larger pieces first. Cut your pieces about ¼ to ½ inch larger than the original, you can always trim a little bit off.
At this point you will want to make your welting or cording so it will be ready when you start to assemble. Depending on your fabric you will want to cut the fabric for your cording either on the bias or on the straight of the grain. The straight of the grain means either straight across the fabric or the length of the fabric. Bias means against the grain, imagine a square of fabric and fold it into a triangle. Cut through the triangle from long point to long point. This gives you a stretchy piece. I usually prefer to use the straight of the grain, because I do not want the stretch. If your fabric is fairly thick, then use the bias method. The reason for this is so your seams are not too bulky.
Cut your piece in strips and sew the strips together. You want the strips wide enough that when you fold it around your cording there is at least ½ inch of fabric sticking out past your cord. With your sewing machine and the zipper foot, sew as close to the cord as possible. Sometimes you have to sew twice because the foot does not get in as close to the cord as you would like the first time. You want the fabric on the cord to be as tight as possible.
You can now start the assembly to re-upholster your couch or chair. This is where the piece will talk to you, it will tell you exactly what to do, so listen to it. Use your numbering or diagram method and begin, reversing the order in which the original pieces came off. Do the body of your piece of furniture first. This is where you will use the staple gun and staples. Sometimes the staples don’t always go in as securely as you want them to, so use your tack hammer to pound them in.
Sometimes a section of the original fabric was attached by means of a metal strip of tacks. When these are removed they usually become bent and unusable. I am sure you could purchase them somewhere, but why bother? Instead, I cut a piece of cardboard the length and width of the original metal strip and use it in the same way. Not easily described, but if you run into this situation it will become clear what I am trying to describe.
Use your staple gun to attach one side of the first piece of fabric to the couch or chair in the same manner in which the old fabric was fastened. Gently but firmly pull and stretch the fabric from the opposite direction and staple down the far side. Then secure the next side and the next, manipulating the fabric as necessary. This is of course, much easier said than done, but you will quickly get the idea.
The way the fabric is stretched and stapled is the secret to a professional looking job. The covering should be taut, without sags or wrinkles, but not so tight there is no “give” and the fabric tears. If you are not satisfied with the way a piece of fabric went on or the way it looks, pull it off and redo it. Mistakes are easily corrected now and not after the fact, when they are impossible to fix.
Then make your cushions. If there is a zipper involved, do this step first, it makes the assembly much easier. If there is welting or cording around your cushions, sew it onto the main pieces first. Then sew the surround onto them. Make sure your corners line up. Push your cushion inserts in to your casing. Sometimes they need a little persuasion; I use a long wooden spoon to get the corners in where they belong.
If there are buttons on your cushions put them on now. Put the thread through the shank of one button and then put both ends of the thread though the needle and push it through the cushion. Separate the thread and put one end through the opposite button, pull fairly tight and tie it off, wrapping the loose ends around the button to hide.
put on the final back piece if you need to; this is the time to put on the buttons. Using a strong button thread, put the thread through the back shank of the button, put the thread in the needle, only one strand. Poke the needle through the back of the couch and leave the thread hang. Come back to the right side and put the other end of the thread though the needle and push it through the back of the couch just a little away from the original hole. Pull the thread fairly tight or as tight as you want it and tie it off with a square knot (right over left, then left over right). Use a small piece of batting to tie the knot around. This will make it secure and keep it from pulling through.
Now, put the back piece of fabric on your couch or chair. Next comes the dust cover. Simply staple it on, fold the fabric under just a little to take care of any rough edges, but back far enough the staples do not show.
Put your cushions on and stand back and admire your work. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done. See I told you that you could do it and now you have. Aren’t you proud of yourself? Now look around the house and see if there isn’t another piece that you want to re-upholster or look in the local thrift shops or yard sales and find the next treasure you are going to redo and love.
Note: The re-upholstery before and after pictures used here are not my projects, they’re just used to show what can be done. They were borrowed from www.upholster.com.
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