Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How Hard Can It Be? - DIY Upholstery


Have you ever noticed how surprisingly easy a lot of things are if you will just jump in and give them a go?   ...And stop thinking that you can't do something - at least until you are proved wrong!?

Have you ever tried upholstery?  I hadn't either, but I've written my instructions for covering these lounges, which was simpler than I thought it would be.  Below that are simple directions for covering a chair - something that anyone can easily do, no sewing required :)

These two lounges (you can see them a bit more here) were as cheap as chips when we bought them over twenty years ago - a few hundred dollars for the two of them.  Although they look identical, one is a pull-out sofa bed.  They were originally covered with a very cheap calico which, naturally enough, lost whatever good looks it used to have after spending several years with our several children.  It never really occurred to me to replace the lounges because we couldn't afford it at the time, so I looked around for some inexpensive upholstery fabric.  I found this light-cream coloured, raised and tufted material at an end-of-roll warehouse and bought about twenty metres very cheaply.  

I had in mind to make some kind of slip-covers - something that I could remove for washing.  I'd never done anything like this before, but how hard could it be?  I have resisted the temptation to find you a great YouTube video that might show how to achieve this because,..  well, it's probably going to seem a bit more complicated than the way I did it, so I thought I'd just tell you what I did instead.

I could have tried to remove the old covers to use as a pattern, but I decided that it would be easier working with the original fabric 'shell' still on, than with uncovered foam.  I used some un-needed cheap cotton fabric that I had at home to make my own pattern by doing this:

1.  I took off the loose cushions, then took note of the placement of the seams in the original covered lounge.
2.  Using my pattern fabric, I rough-cut larger than needed panels to match each of the panels on the lounge.
3.  One panel at a time and using basic sewing pins, I pinned each rough-cut pattern fabric panel against the original lounge panel, stretching lightly to keep it smooth.  (Keep the pattern fabric square to the grain of the fabric so that the material itself doesn't stretch.)
4.  Using a marking pen, I fairly carefully and lightly (so it wouldn't mark the lounge) drew the seam lines on the lounge (I could feel them through the fabric), onto each pattern piece.  (You could use a fabric marking pen for this, but it fades off after a short time.)
5.  After unpinning I, again pretty carefully, added a seam allowance around each panel and cut each of the pattern panels out, following my marking lines.
6.  (At this point, I tacked a few pattern pieces together, to see if they fit the lounge and to see if I seemed to be on the right track.  They seemed like they would be ok.)
7.  I also made pattern pieces for the four loose cushions.
8.  Before making any cuts on the good upholstery fabric, I carefully planned out the fabric to make sure that everything would fit and that the fabric pattern would work well on the lounge.   However, to save money on the good fabric, I planned to cut the pattern pieces that wouldn't be seen from heavy calico, instead of the upholstery material.  (eg  On the seat under the cushions, and on the back of the lounges.)  I also planned to cut some long narrow strips of the fabric to make my own matching binding.  (You can read how to do that here.)
9.  Using the patterns I had made, I now cut out the panel pieces from my upholstery fabric. (Again - I made sure that I had planned out all the pieces on the good fabric before I made the first cut!)
9.  Now it was just like a big jig-saw that I put together.  It was large and unwieldy but not too hard to sew.  Inserting the piping is always a little bit tedious and I actually got lazy with it (and I think was trying to get it done quickly for a party), so I never did do the piping around the front of the arms, unfortunately, since it would have looked better if I had.  You can see in the photos that I put it around the front of the cushions, up the centre back seam and along the front floor hem.  (Note: you will want to use a heavy gauge needle and upholstery thread in your machine.)
10. At the back of each lounge I used velcro down each side for easy removal of the covers for washing.  (I also used velcro to create an opening on the seat of the sofa bed, so the pull-out bed could be used without removing the lounge cover.)

I had no idea when I started if this was going to actually work..  But was a bit amazed and quite delighted to find that the covers fit like a glove, and peel off and on as needed.  Voila!  And Hurray! :)

We've had these covers on now for about 15 years, and so far they come up like new after each wash.  I wash them about three or so times a year.  I put them back on the lounge when they are still quite damp, and they fit very snugly and still do service after all this time.  (The photo above was from earlier this year.)

A much simpler project again is something like this chair.  Again, we bought this cheaply because it had only a basic calico cover.  Once I found some upholstery fabric I liked, (this was from an off-cut of a blind I made for our girls' room), nothing could have been easier:

1.  I worked out a placement for the flower pattern that I liked.
2.  I cut out a slightly larger than needed piece of fabric for each of  the chair panels.  I stretched and pinned these over the original fabric.
3.  Using a staple gun I started to attach the upholstery fabric to the chair by working all around each panel at the same time: one staple in one side, then one in the opposite side, then the other two sides, then each of the corners, etc.  (To keep the fabric square and tight.)
4.  Eventually, I stapled closely around all the edges, then closely trimmed off the excess fabric.

5.  Using a matching tape trim, you then glue the trim over the staples to cover them.   Easy!  

I did this chair about 10 years ago so I don't remember exactly how long it took to do but it wasn't long.  When the arm pieces got dirty after a few years, I pulled out my off-cuts and re-did them.

I'm sorry that I have such a terrible photo of these, but these are the dining chairs I've also covered (they're currently in storage or I could have tried for better pictures).  These took a bit of sewing and then stapling onto the under-base of the chairs.  It wasn't hard!

The best thing about trying out your own upholstery skills is that you can make your own fabric selections for your furniture. Have you ever found a great piece, but don't like the colour?  Maybe just have a closer look to see if it would be easy for you to recover with a fabric you like more..



Once you get the hang of it..


You might not want to stop!


Mademoiselle chairs by P Starck for Kartell

And don't forget - there are more than just chairs out there! 

What a great example! The upholstery on this is SO simple - it's the shape of the headboard and the large repeat fabric that makes it so fabulous. Nice!

Happy Upholstering! :)


  1. I'm still not convinced that I could do this... BUT luckily I have you for a mother, so... lol!

    Love this post mum - almost makes me think I could... :)

    xoxo Tammy

    1. lol The whole point of the post is to say that you probably can do it if you just give it a go! Of course you'd be able to do it :) xoxo

  2. You make it sound easy, but I'm with Tammy - not quite convinced that I could do it! James did our cushion covers on our chairs with a staple gun a few years ago, so maybe just really, REALLY simple things... :)

    LOVE the crazy material pictures lol - I think I'd go for it at some stage, except that James might revolt :P But you've done such an amazing job with the things you've done!!


  3. Goodness I have a talented mother :D
    I'm just glad that I have you around for the next 40 years so any time I want to attempt something, I can run it by you for ideas first. ...or just hand it off to you :)
    THAT'S what has always looked familiar about that chair in the dining room! It was the same material as my curtains! Hahaha, I never made that connection but something has always seemed familiar about it LOL.

    Great post Mamma Bear :D