Sofa Reupholstery Reveal

This post has been long delayed by the fact that there is apparently no time of day/afternoon/night or combination of weather conditions good for photographing a dark couch directly in front of a large, east-facing window. After a certain point, I just decided to give you what I got! There should be plenty more opportunities later on for this couch to make an appearance, but for now I think you’ll get the idea. So let’s skip straight to the reveal!

Couch before-afterIMG_6186IMG_6151-2

Is that a lens flare, or just the heavens shining approval on this beautiful sofa? Let’s all pretend like we don’t know the real answer to that.

Here’s the cost breakdown I promised to show exactly what went into this project:

          Sofa – $100
          Fabric – $85
          Upholstery (Labor) – $560
          Total – $745

A few words about each of these costs. The sofa came from a flea market. It was originally priced at $150, but after letting it sit there for several weeks and a bit of negotiation with the vendor, we were able to get it for $100. The cushion foam is new and the frame is in great condition, so I’d call it a pretty good bargain.

We bought the fabric at a local wholesale fabric store for $8/yard. We needed 12 yards, but at this store if you buy the entire bolt, you get a 20% discount, so we ended up getting 13 yards for around $85. Some people would probably contend that $8/yard is way too cheap to be quality fabric, but this particular fabric was recommended by the store owner and approved by the upholsterer, so beyond that, we just have to wait and see how it holds up. With 8 loose cushions, there is plenty of opportunity to distribute the wear, so I’m optimistic that we can keep the fabric looking good for a long while.

I think I’ve mentioned before that upholstery costs vary A LOT based on geography, but even given that we live the budget-friendly Midwest, I believe $560 is very cost effective for the labor to reupholster an 8-foot + couch. The original estimate I got for the labor was between $400-550, so although it ended up costing more than the high estimate (some work was needed with the springs, and it took more materials than expected to re-pad the frame), I’m still very okay with that investment.

When we looked into buying a new sofa, we figured out we would need at least about $1200 (though preferably twice that) to get something in the size, style, and quality we wanted. $750 is by no means chump change and is far and away the most we’ve ever invested in a piece of furniture, but I think it was money well spent. We saved a few hundred dollars, supported a local craftsman, gave a old, cool sofa new life, and got a custom piece that we love.


How to Choose a Piece of Furniture for Reupholstery

If you have an obsession with interiors like I do, buying a new sofa can be an epic–even spiritual–quest. This piece of furniture must be all things to all people: comfortable enough for your husband, washable enough for your dogs, and big enough for your friends and family to sit down and stay awhile. Plus, it has to meet your own need to have a piece of furniture that’s stylish but not too trendy, fits your aesthetic sensibility, complements your color palette, and enhances your overall vision for the space. Not to mention that a sofa is a big budget purchase, and one that you want to be comfortable and look good for a number of years.

Even if you’re not a crazy couch lady, you probably still want a sofa that fits your lifestyle and makes the most of your budget, and that’s a tall enough order in itself.

We’re in the midst of selling the adorable mid-century platform sofa we had reupholstered a year ago (*wipes away a tear*) and questing for a larger, cushionier (hoping to get this added to the dictionary this year) sofa better for entertaining and lounging in front of the TV. Here’s a shot of our couch’s makeover.


By far the most popular approach to finding a new sofa is to shop in a store or online. That’s not the only approach, though. Right now we’re weighing whether to go the conventional route, or to source a vintage piece and have it reupholstered. I think there are a lot of benefits to going with a vintage option, but there are also a lot of things to consider when selecting a piece to reupholster. Here are a few tips to help you choose a great candidate for reupholstery or decide whether a piece you have is worth the investment.

1. Research Costs and Know Your Budget

Before you make the leap and buy a piece of furniture, have a realistic idea what upholstery costs are like as well as what your total budget is. This helps you know whether you have $50 or $1500 to find that perfect piece and keeps you from ending up with something you can’t actually afford to have finished. Research upholsterers in your area and get a basic idea what their pricing is like. Many start with a fee per yard of fabric needed, which can give you a good baseline for the cost. You can even get a ballpark for how much fabric a piece needs by referencing yardage charts like the one here.

Speaking of fabric, you should research the price of that, too. The cost for upholstery fabric is wide ranging–it can be anywhere from $8/yard wholesale to $100+/yd for specialty fabrics–and you want to be able to figure that cost into your total budget, too.

2. Quality, Quality, Quality

Quite simply, reupholstery isn’t cheap. That’s exactly why you want to focus on quality when selecting any piece of furniture. Not all furniture from mass retailers is cheaply made, but I do think you should think carefully before sinking money into redoing a Sofa Mart accent chair. If the furniture frame is plywood held together with staples and glue, it’s going to wear out when it wears out, regardless of how nice and crisp the fabric is. For the quality and price, you’re better off getting something with a new frame, too.

Maybe I’m biased, but I do think vintage furniture is a better candidate for reupholstery right out of the gate. That being said, old doesn’t necessarily mean good. Take a piece of furniture for a test run before you make any decisions. It’s usually pretty easy to tell when a piece of furniture is well made. If it’s heavy and the frame is stable, it probably passes our first criterion.

3. Condition Makes a Difference

Damaged or broken furniture may still be a good candidate for reupholstery, but be aware that repairing or replacing things comes with a price tag. Check the condition of whatever elements of the piece you can, especially the cushion foam. Replacing foam that has hardened or crumbled over time sharply increases the cost of a reupholstery project. The lifespan of high quality foam is only about 20 years, so if the cushioning in a vintage sofa is original, there’s a good chance it’s time for a refresh.

The good news is, sometimes previous owners have already replaced the cushions. Unzip the covers and visually inspect the foam if you can. If it’s newer, that’s a huge bonus; if not, let your upholsterer know (he or she will probably ask anyway) so you can get an accurate estimate.

4. Choose a Shape with Lasting Appeal

You may love your reupholstered sofa so much that you keep it forever and hand it down to posterity. Or you may change your decor in a couple years and trade it in for something different. Either way, reupholstery is an investment, and you want to invest in something that will retain its value and appeal over time. Choosing a classic shape or style will help your piece remain desirable, whatever you decide to do with it.

5. Use your Imagination!

Reupholstery can be more than just recovering a piece of furniture. It can also include changes to the style of the piece that can make for a stunning transformation. For example, lots of vintage sofas and chairs have skirting that looks dated to us today, but those can easily be removed. I’m constantly looking up the skirts of sofas in flea markets to check out their legs (thrift shopping never sounded so risque!). This chair by the super-talented Revived Upholstery is a great example of how a piece can be reimagined. With the skirt removed and the back detail simplified, the chair looks much more modern.

revived upholstery1

Another inspirational example is the fab couch below reupholstered at the Austin-based firm Spruce. The jazzy striped fabric helps, but replacing the cushions with a fixed back makes the overall silhouette tons more streamlined.


Thinking about furniture in this way will help open your eyes to pieces with potential that you otherwise may have overlooked and make getting your dream sofa even more satisfying.

For more inspirational makeovers from the upholsterers featured above, check out Revived Furniture Gallery and Upholstery on Facebook here, or visit Spruce’s website here.

Upholstered! Mid-century Loveseat

Back in August, I started reupholstering a yard sale loveseat I thought would be great for our small TV room._MG_7867

As it turns out, the process took a little longer than I thought, and we ended up getting a different couch for the space in the meantime. Things taking longer than I  expect is pretty much a constant theme of my upholstery projects, but at four months, the loveseat was still completed faster than these chairs, so I’m going to call that progress.

Here are a few pictures from the process.

Down to the springs.

With the deck (upholstery term for the part of the couch underneath the cushion) padded and upholstered.IMG_3386

With the arms attached and back padding in progress.IMG_4434

Since this was my first couch, and I wasn’t really able to use the previous upholstery too much as a pattern for fear of rooting out more hidden brown recluses, there were many challenges and hours of re-work involved in this project. There were a few times when I wanted nothing more than to find the nearest dumpster and heave this sucker in. One of the hardest parts, though, was that I did all the work in my living room, and having a couch on sawhorses in the middle of your main living area is not a great way to operate for months at a time. This picture above is how I spent many evenings after work, and I think the off-center (but not side) ponytail and random bobby pin securing I-don’t-know-what pretty much say it all about my mental state.

I learned lots during the process that I’ll put to use on the next project–and there will be a next project, though I don’t know if I’ll take on another piece of this size until I can find somewhere to work that is not also where I’m supposed to eat dinner.

But for now, I’m proud to have completed this loveseat! It’s super cute, comfortable, and great for enjoying with furry friends.

Reupholstered mid-century loveseat IMG_5176

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Coming Soon! Mid-century Loveseat Makeover

If you bet your Christmas gift money that I was never going to finish this upholstery project, boy are you going to be sorry now. Only sixteen weeks after I first posted about taking this couch down to the springs, its upholstery is finally FINISHED (cue angelic chorus). Stay tuned this weekend for pics of the final product!

Don’t remember the dramatic story of how I stripped this couch and what goodies I found inside? Catch up here.


Upholstered! Sad and Saggy Armchair

A simple premise: “new” does not always = “awesome” where furniture is concerned. A simple illustration: this chair.

Pier 1 Liliana Chair brought in for reupholstery
Pier 1 Liliana chairThis is clearly not an old chair, nor is it a cheap chair (at least not in terms of retail pricing). In fact, you can buy this exact chair right now from its listing for $400. Yet, when I was hired to give this chair a makeover, the fabric was sagging, wrinkled, and quite frankly a little sad. It needed help!

Which is exactly why I brought in this team of experts to assist with the project.Chihuahuas help with furniture repair

The chair’s owner had a really clear picture of what she wanted–a design based on a Pottery Barn chair that included linen, button tufting, nailhead trim. Any fabric would have been a huge improvement, but these choices really helped give the finished product a crisp and classic look.

It also gave me a fun excuse to play with my tufting needles.
Diamond tufting chair back -- button tufted chair
Button tufted armchair
A view of the back all tied up. Adding some fabric when knotting the button twine helps add greater stability.
Securing buttons with button twine

And a somewhat less fun but still very worthwhile excuse to whack some stuff with a mallet. This baby required over 200 nailhead tacks, all applied individually.
Nailhead trim

In the end, I was happy with the outcome and–more importantly!–so was its owner.
 Pier 1 Liliana chair gets a Pottery Barn makeover

5 yards of fabric + 6 boxes of nailhead + 7 newly covered buttons = a chair transformed from lackluster to lovely!


Webbing a Wooden Couch Frame

If you have any furniture with a wood frame and loose cushions, it’s a good bet you you have a piece of furniture supported by webbing. And if your furniture is old and the webbing is original, it’s another good bet it’s not supporting your butt–or anyone else’s for that matter–the way it used to.

This is a problem we’ve been experiencing for a few months with the ’60s platform couch in our living room. The couch felt less than totally stable, and I was constantly noticing that the cushion slid forward when anyone sat on it. When we bought it, I didn’t really know to check under the cushions, but when I finally gave the seat some attention, I discovered the culprit was some mega stretched-out and partially deteriorated webbing.

Loose webbing on a vintage wooden couch frame

Sure, this looks like it might make a comfy hammock, but in general you don’t want your butt to continue sinking toward the ground after you’ve already had a seat. It was past time for new webbing.

Luckily, webbing the seat of a couch is a pretty simple and relatively inexpensive project you can easily do yourself with only a couple tools and supplies. It didn’t make much mess, and the only things needed were a roll of jute webbing, two pair of pliers, a pneumatic staple gun, a some 5/8″ staples.

First, Justin removed the old webbing.

Then, it was just a matter of attaching the new webbing in a simple weave pattern. We made sure to cut the webbing a few inches longer than the seat on both ends. When securing it, we stapled each end, then folded the excess over and stapled again for added stability.

Stapling jute webbing

We finished the short side first.
New webbing on a wooden couch frame

Using the same stapling technique, I weaved the longer pieces through the shorter pieces.

The only real trick to this is keeping the webbing taut. There is a contraption called a webbing stretcher that exists for this expressed purpose, and if you are one person doing this job, you will probably need one. Because Justin helped with this, he was able to pull while I stapled. What worked best was for him to grab the webbing using two sets of pliers rather than his two hands. He also sat on the floor and pushed the against the couch with his feet for even more superior resistance (I’ll leave you to ponder that image in your free time).

That’s all folks! Done.
Weaving new webbing on a wooden couch frame

And done.

The webbing cost around $35 for 75 yards, and we used about 15 yards for this project, so all in all, it cost about $8 and took an hour of our weekend. Still, this small change made a world of difference in the comfort of our couch and probably the longevity of frame and cushions alike. As an added bonus, my husband got to play Justin Plierhands for a short while, and an evening at my place no longer means guests will enjoy saggy bottom with their sparkling conversation. Everybody wins.

Upholstered! 1964 Paoli Chair

There was snow on the ground when we found these three 1964 Paoli chairs at an estate sale last winter.
1964 Paoli chairs before reupholstery, found at an estate sale
Since then, they’ve spent a lot of time chilling out in the basement, waiting to get a little TLC. But for everything there is a season, and apparently summer is the season for Paoli chairs, because they are finally done!
 Reupholstered white mid century Paoli chairReupholstered blue or gray mid century Paoli chair
You can follow the upholstery process for chair three below.


The process of stripping these Paoli chairs was far less dramatic and eventful than the loveseat, which was dangerous and, frankly, a little disgusting. I started with the chair upside down to get easier access to the staples.
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The good news is that all the staples were on the narrow underside of the seat back. Once those were removed, I detached the fabric and moved on to the seat.
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I must have seemed like I needed some assistance, because Jellybeans came out to supervise my efforts.
White dog helping me upholster
Boom! With the staples gone from the seat, the stripping process is done. QC came back to check the cushion density one last time, just to make sure it was good for sitting and all.
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Sewing the Seat Cushion Cover

You’ll have to excuse me if some of this seems like one of those cooking shows where the host suddenly pulls the finished dish out of the oven. Since this was the third of these chairs I did and the second in the same fabric, I had already cut my material to size. However, I do promise to cover measuring for yardage, pattern making, and cutting fabric in future posts.

The seat cushion cover consists of two parts: the seat and the boxing. The original chair also had piping, but I opted to go sans piping for this time because I wanted a clean, modern look and  thought a simple cover accomplished that better. I did use piping on the first chair, and that looked great, too.

With the seat and boxing fabric already cut, the first step was to trace the outline of the seat cushion onto the seat fabric. On the first chair, I did a truly embarrassing amount of seam ripping before finally accepting that this cushion is an irregular shape, and eyeballing it while you sew is not an especially effective way of getting that shape right.

This time I broke out the chalk pencil to make sure my seam placement was exact. It’s okay to draw on the correct side of the fabric–the side that will be showing on the final product. A lot of the chalk line will not show after you have sewn, and what does show can be patted out with a damp cloth. I made the curve of the cushion my boundary, marking for my seam where the cushion began to slope downward. This cushion had a little bit of edge there, which made the process pretty easy.
Measuring fabric for a seat cushion
Next, I brought out the boxing (two pieces, already sewn together). I wanted to place the side seams of the boxing near where the back leg of the chair meets the seat so that they would be less visible. This is also the way the previous seat was assembled, so it’s not as if I had to think of that genius strategy on my own.

I laid out the boxing so that the seams met the seat and the same place on both sides. Then, I made a horizontal marking on the seat fabric to indicate where the boxing seam should go.
Fitting boxing for a seat cushion Marking a seat cushion to be sewed
Before sewing, I pinned the boxing to the seat fabric.
Pinning boxing to a seat cushion before sewing
When pining, I made sure to do the following three things:

  1. Arrange the top side of the seat fabric and the boxing so they are facing each other (ie–the seat fabric is facing up, and the boxing is facing down), and the boxing is inside the seat cushion. That way, when I folded the boxing back over, it was underneath the seat and ready to cover the bottom of the cushion.
  2. Begin by pinning the BOTH boxing seams on the horizontal markings I just made. If you start with just one, there is no guarantee you will distribute the fabric exactly as needed for the other one to line up.
  3. Pin on top of the yellow line drawn on the seat fabric. It wasn’t visible once I added the boxing, so the pins became my guide when sewing, like so:

Sewing boxing for a seat cushion

Upholstering the Seat Cushion

Then I covered the whole seat with a half layer of dacron and stapled it to the bottom, just to even out the cushion and freshen the padding a little bit. I also noticed on the other chairs that there could be a slight bulge where the seat cushion met the plywood bottom, so I put an extra strip of dacron across the front to smooth out that area. At this point, my cushion looked like this:
Covering a cushion in dacron
Now I was ready to add the seat cushion cover. It fit pretty tightly, which I just what I wanted. I smoothed as I went, making sure the seams were where I wanted them, and the grain of the fabric was straight.

After flipping the cushion over, I pulled the boxing down and secured it to the bottom. The top and bottom of a piece should always be stapled before you move to the sides. I checked the front periodically to make sure I was pulling evenly and not getting my seam out of alignment. When completely stapled, the bottom looked like this:
To complete the seat, I added a piece of cambric, which is a fancy word for the black dust cover that’s always hanging off the bottom of old sofas. Strictly speaking, this is optional, since cambric doesn’t really do anything functional. It does, however, make the whole job look more finished and keeps strings from the raw edge of your fabric and bits of dacron from being visible. Attaching cambric is about the easiest part of the entire project. Just cut it to shape and staple around the outside. It’s nice to fold the edge of the cambric under before stapling, but it won’t unravel, so if there isn’t enough fabric to fold, no one will be the wiser.
Applying cambric or a dust cover to the bottom of furniture

Upholstering the Seat Back

I try to reuse the original materials from furniture whenever possible. It’s greener and easier on the wallet. The cotton batting from this chair was in fine condition, so back on it went. To add extra padding and a smooth finished surface, I added a layer of dacron over the batting and stapled it to the back.
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First, I upholstered the front side of the seat back by draping the fabric over the front and securing it on the back top and underneath the bottom of the seat. As with the seat cushion, I smoothed and stapled the top and bottom of the fabric before doing anything with the side, like this:
When I had stapled the back top and bottom all the way across, I needed to make a release cut. This small split in the fabric where the arm meets the back enabled fabric to be wrapped around the arm
After making release cuts on both sides, I finished stapling the top and bottom of the back. When I came to the arms, I folded the extra fabric from the cut underneath before stapling. The front and back then looked like this:
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Now I was ready to move to the seat back and was kind of almost done. I positioned the top of the fabric at the top of the seat back and draped the rest backwards over the seat front. I stapled across the top to secure, then added a piece of cardboard tack strip and stapled again in the same manner. This ensures a straight, clean edge on the back of the chair.
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I added a half sheet of dacron to cover over where the tack strip was applied and smooth out the whole surface. Then, I flipped the back fabric down and stapled it to the underside of the seat back. I folded the fabric under as I stapled so that no raw edges were exposed. With the bottom completed, only the sides were still loose.
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The sides of this back were finished with a nail head trim. To apply nail head, all I needed was nail head (of course) and a mallet to whack the tacks with. Some of the original tacks bent when I removed them, so I had to get new ones to finish this chair. At $1.50 for 24, they were a minor expense.
And voila!
Nail head trim on the back of a chair
To be honest, I forgot to take a picture when I first attached the nail head, which is why the above pic is not a sketchy basement pic like the rest AND already has cording where the seat back meets the arm. Oops! That’s a teaser for you as we head into the LAST STEP(s).

Sewing Double Welt Cording

Double welt cording is good for finishing areas of furniture where wood meets upholstery. When sewn, the raw edge of the fabric hides on the bottom of the cording, and it can be attached with staples. Back at the sewing machine, I cut a small piece of fabric and two short pieces of 5/32″ cording.

5/32" cording IMG_3282
You can get a cording foot or a double cording foot for your sewing machine, but I don’t have either yet, so I used the zipper foot that came with my machine. I attached it on the left side and moved the needle to the left position so it could get as close as possible to the cording.
I folded fabric over the first piece of cording and sewed, then arranged the second piece right next to it and folded over again.This time, the seam needed to be placed in between the two pieces of cording. This is where the zipper foot isn’t totally adequate to the project. The cording is too thick for the presser foot to be lowered, but if the presser foot is left up, the threads on the back side can get pretty messy. When only dealing with small pieces like this, I prefer to hand sew. On the finished cording, notice I made the fabric about a 1/2″ longer than the cording. This makes it much easier to staple.
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I positioned the cording on the joint of the arm, stapled, and that’s a wrap (no pun intended). The last chair could finally be joined up with its twin.

Gray mid century Paoli chairs, reupholstered
As much as I enjoyed working on these chairs, I am excited to get them the heck out of my basement. They need to move on to forever homes where they can be displayed and loved, as the furniture gods intended.