How to Reupholster Furniture

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

  • 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.

  • 030 how to reupholster furniture - illustration

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:

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