How to Reupholster Furniture

The author thought learning how to reupholster furniture would be complicated. In fact it was very simple—and cost effective.

| November/December 1974

030 how to reupholster furniture - illustration

Learn how to reupholster furniture and you can extend the life of an old couch with some new fabric.


Don't let the title, "How to Reupholster Furniture" scare you off! Upholstery is just one more activity that's wrapped in mystery for no good reason whatsoever. Once you get past your mental block about reupholstering furniture, you'll find that every piece of stuffed furniture is made so that the fabric can be replaced when it wears out, and anyone with basic sewing skills and simple tools (hammer, screwdriver, pliers, staple gun) can do it. There's no need to take an expensive course, or any course at all. Your own sofa or whatever will give you all the instructions you need as you go along. You will be pleased with the final product and the fact that you saved money in the process.

My "teacher" was an easy chair that my husband, Jim, and I bought when we were first married. It was sturdy, attractive, and very comfortable. Three children later, though, its covering had become badly soiled and worn. Professional reupholstering (we checked) would have cost more than the original price of the entire article—fabric, frame, and all. Although we talked about doing the job at home, the chair's curved arms and deeply tufted backrest made the undertaking seem so complicated that we were afraid to try. Then the poor thing got to looking so sad that we had to choose between discarding it or tackling its renovation ourselves. So our adventures in reupholstery began.

My first move was to purchase some inexpensive dress-weight cotton material. I knew it wouldn't hold up as upholstery, but figured that if the job turned out well we could duplicate our success later in better-grade fabric. As another precaution, I bought several yards more than I estimated we needed, with an eye to all the mistakes we were going to make.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, you see, lurked the notion that upholstery was made like a slipcover: that all the pieces were first sewed together, then pulled over the furniture, and only by some magic of professional skill did the covering fit like a glove. As we removed the old fabric from our chair, though, we were pleasantly amazed to find that it wasn't done that way at all. Instead, each section was stapled individually to the frame. This simplified matters immensely, since the only sewing necessary was the making of several darts and miters and the case for the seat cushion.

Despite our inexperience, the completed chair looked brand-new and professionally done. We had exercised care and patience to get the details right, yet the work hadn't been at all difficult. We were so proud of our masterpiece that we showed it to whomever stopped by, and soon friends and relatives were asking us to reupholster articles for them. Although we didn't earn any money by doing so, we did gain a great deal of experience with various fabrics and styles of furniture, enough that I feel ready to supply loose guidelines for anyone who's interested.

My first pointer is that you don't need guidelines, loose or otherwise — not really. The furniture will tell you how it was made. There are no mysterious inner goings-on to confound you. Still, for those who want them, here are some suggestions:

8/10/2017 10:37:29 AM

Love it!

12/22/2013 8:02:07 AM

i loved the article. you gave me confidence to try my own project. i think i would like to add though - you don't always need to recover - sometimes all it is needed is to just buy fabric paint spray! you will not be able to use it on everything but it does revive your furniture. just google for some companies, i can't remeber any, but they are some. it is a special FABRIC PAINT SPRAY, othe r will not work. other way is to buy ready made slipcover or do your own, but they never seem to look as profecional and neat as recovered furniture. good luck to all! and do check this fabric spray :-) ps. obviously you can only spray over lighter colours with darker coloured spray

3/14/2013 11:46:17 AM

They sell murphy beds, closets, and complete home office furnitures directly to the publics.

john & virginia ledoux
12/12/2012 2:50:44 PM

We owned a upholstery shop for 37 years, this article is a joke. Many tried to do it themselves but can't complete the job and bring in their furniture to us.They don't have a industrial sewing machine, tools, materials or the special skills to complete the job. Very simple jobs anyone can do, so beware before you start.

10/17/2012 7:40:00 AM

Im nearly exhausting with my surfeit* of ideas and creativity. (*fellow Home Depot associate educated me on the 'word of the day' recently.... just trying it out for size, haha). However, I lack the confidence to plunge into most projects I dream up. In my early 30's now, I'm realizing how much like my mother I really am- in both good ways and bad. She's extremely talented, but doubts her decisions throughout all her works. I like this article because it gives the message to just go for it and you'll find out how much you are really capable of if you aren't scared to try (or even fail). ....If you fail, but you tried, then you'll be that much smarter for it in the long run. You gave me the me the motivation to take on my late grandmother's tufted wing back chairs and go at them with full force. I've always loved these chairs and I'm not going to be afraid because I know the framework will always be there, even if I make mistakes. Great article!!

rachel clarkson
6/17/2012 9:39:08 AM

how do you measure the material before removing the old stuff please

6/13/2012 1:07:40 AM

If you're considering re-upholstering your old or re-cycled sofa, you may like to take a look at couch covers. They are removable slip covers for your couch. Couch covers are especially good for a sofa that still has plenty of life in it's cushion but is looking a bit shabby. They are also great if you just want to change the look of your living room. I keep a couple of different coloured couch covers in my linen cupboard so that when I get bored of my living room I can give it a new look without costing too much.

sheila jones
5/7/2012 2:05:21 AM

Hi all just had to grin when you spoke about going to the dump to find an experimental piece! My brother and I took ONE load of brush to the dump and brought 3 loads of 'experrimental pieces' home!! A man I work with was dumping his old furniture, I waited patiently while he dumped it then proceded to load it onto my truck. He was making fun of me..... the dumpster driving queen' and so on.... then about a month later he came by my house to borrow something and noticed his refinished furniture sitting proudly in my house, he wanted it all back even offerred, I should say begged, to pay for! Now I was laughing! And it was all done with a little sandpaper, material and spray paint I already had on hand!! And no I didn't sell it back to him!!!

4/28/2012 6:03:56 PM

Just take pix each step of the way. You got questions or if time seems to intervene,. you have those step by step pictures (digital ones these days) and make a hard copy -- on a disc! for back up.... and you can check everything you did... and then you do it in reverse. No classes needed, check it out at the library on the internet -- wifi there is free........

8/3/2011 11:59:59 AM

I purchased an oversized sofa on Craig's List for $100.I like everything about it except that the seat cushions and the back cushions will not stay where they belong, they're always slipping and sliding. I want to anchor them into place, permanently. How do I add straps, where do I attach them and what should I use for the actual straps? If I can staple the straps onto the frame then do I simply sew the straps onto the cushions? Would be ever so grateful for logical help with this issue. Many thanks.

8/1/2009 10:18:58 PM

I'm not sure I need to make this comment, but I thought for anyone encouraged by your article, they might want a little dose of reality. While I agree you can learn a lot about upholstering by undoing a piece of furniture, the idea that you don't actually need to know How To Upholster is just not true. I've been professionally upholstering for 15 years and teaching upholstering for 5. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for 'winging it', but from experience I can say a lot people will get frustrated with much more than a dining chair. I didn't want your readers to feel like they just weren't crafty, because they couldn't pick up the trade from just your article. It's articles like these that drive many people away from learning these skills, because they've decided they must not be talented. Please readers, check out a class or at the very least start on something super simple.

karen segretto
4/9/2009 10:22:41 PM

Hi! I got into reupholstering about 7-8 years ago when I was pregnant for my first son - it was my 3rd trimester PROJECT that came about from that blast of hormones I later learned about. Anyway, I got as far as investigating the original construction of the piece and had most of the fabric torn off... then I lost that momentum and was too close to the due date to continue... baby came, no time to finish... that project ended. I'm glad to see, though, that now that I'm considering reupholstering our sofa, loveseat and wing-back chair to match and to repair damage done to the chair by three cats... I'm glad to see that your article stresses that it is decently easy to do if you just take that approach that I began with those years ago. I feel relieved that I have a chance to do this without paying crazy amounts of money to a professional. I do remember, though, spending a lot of time scratching my head... particularly as I took more fabric OFF that chair... it became more overwhelming and I was losing confidence that I could put it back together. I hope the people at the fabric store can be helpful enough to explain things to me that I don't know enough about with sewing yet to get it done well. First, though, I'm going to the dump to try my hand at a different piece of furniture before I move onto our three pieces. Too bad I sold all my tools that I bought back then! Let me know if anyone has any tips to share... PLEASE!

cheryl cordova
1/28/2009 2:51:30 PM

I agree with the other commentor's... I have started my first project and just felt unsure. His article, in it's narration, gives me confidence to just go for it!!! Thank you for taking the time to share your experience!

10/17/2008 6:22:39 PM

I have been waiting so long for an article like this. I started re-doing my grandmothers old rocking chair and got so fustrated I just gave up. After reading these wonderful instructions I think I have the courage to continue. Thank you so for taking the time to list every little detail for upholstery dummies like me.

1/20/2008 3:03:45 PM

I really like your article.. Thank You! I am taking on a large but simple Ottoman. I am ready to put batting on the frame. Do you think I should put a slip over the batting to keep it in place? or is that an added expence? I plan on making the cover so I can take it off to clean it... Not sure on how I will keep it from slipping either.. Thank you I don't know where the code is

1/14/2008 11:01:11 AM

My question is the same as Jessica's. I'm looking to buy fabric this week and was wondering how to not by too much. My fabric is $15.00/yrd (with a coupon) and I CAN'T afford to buy too much. Thanks!

1/11/2008 6:45:18 PM

My question is how much fabric am I going to need? How do I figure that part out?

12/30/2007 10:14:02 PM

HA,HA,HA,Boy now,thats funny,and kinda cute.the only thing you have to cut ever in a bias is the welt.also dont add an inch for the seam,add a 1/2 all the way around.most furniture you dont aven need old pattern just a what are you going to do when soomone gives you just a frame.i,ve been doing uphplstery 26 years.if you realy want soom good upholstery tips email me ps.never cover over any old mat.try adding new paddig over the old paddig,at least an inch of dacron,befor installing new mat.

11/16/2007 2:29:28 PM

I have been helping my MOM remodel walls & carpeting and wanted to help her save some $$ buy re-doing the furniture with new fabric... that favorite old chair and that big old brown sturdy couch that's a sleeper and she can't part with.... I'll start with the two rockers & foot stools and then try the couch if successful! Thanks for your how to's!

11/13/2007 1:50:32 PM

I surfed all over the web reading anything I could find about upholstering. Finally I came across this article. I just finished with my first project, and everything I needed to know was in this posting! I left the article on screen in case I needed some quick advice, lol. Plain, simple and to the point, thank you!!

8/13/2007 3:42:21 PM

i just finished reading your article and want to thank you so much for your calm advice. i am about to imbark on a project and often thought exactly what kyou have written down but it sure helps when you hear someone else thinking the same thing. well,bovoyage for now and thanks again.

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