Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Upholstery Project: New + Old


This horrible corduroy ottoman I bought at Target a zillion years ago has been hiding in closets and the basement for the last five or six years -- through three moves -- and it was time to either give it new life or let it go. It was dirty and the upholstery had a couple of holes in it, plus the color scheme is just ugh. It's a great piece for the nursery, since it's sturdy and padded but not very big. I mentioned getting some really pretty fabric a few weeks ago, and I've been dying to use this fat quarter from Swanky Swell, but knew my piece of fabric was too small. I'm not really taking part in April Stashbusting like many bloggers are (confession: I bought new fabric yesterday), but I am trying to use as much of what I have and I've been playing with using thrifted fabric (men's shirts, especially). So with a little creative piecing, and by salvaging some of the original upholstery fabric, I was able to make it work. Now all it needs are new legs, and it's ready to go!


Here's how I did it, along with tips to figure out how to get your fabric to fit. This works best for a small project, like an ottoman.

Staple remover
Fabric scissors
Tape measure
Seam ripper
Heavy duty stapler
Medium-weight interfacing

Step 1: Remove the legs and staples.
Using your screwdriver, remove the legs from the bottom of the ottoman. Then, take the staple puller and pull out all the staples holding the dust cover in place, as well as the staples attaching the upholstery fabric to the frame. Put the dust cover aside to reuse, if it's in good shape.

Step 2: Pick out the seams in the upholstery.

I didn't take out all the seams at first, because I needed to see how much my fabric piece would cover and what extra I'd need. So I pulled the upholstery apart into its three main sections -- the two ends and the top. See where I'm holding the fabric at the junction of the end and the top? This is the seam I ripped out. This part takes forever, and is definitely the least fun part.

Step 3: Measure. A lot.

Here's where your process will start to differ from mine. First, I measured the length and width of the main piece of fabric and measured my new fabric to see how much extra I'd need to make up. Luckily, my fabric piece matched the length, but it was too narrow. After some calculations ...

... and more measuring to double-check my figures, I settled on using the two blue strips of corduroy from the top and the blue end pieces. Fortunately, the blue pieces were in much better shape than the pink and purple (those had holes!), so all I needed to do was pull out the rest of the seams, clean and press the salvaged fabric, and trim the blue strips a little to make the whole top the right width.

 The new fabric's the right length, but not the right width.

If you're lucky enough to have sufficient fabric, use your old upholstery as pattern pieces. Pick out the seams to separate the main components of the upholstery, lay them flat on your new fabric, pin and cut. Simple!

Step 3: Sew the new fabric pieces together.

Here's where the instructions really work best for a small project. For something like a sofa, you'd sew the pieces together so you end up with the same upholstery components you took off the original piece (like, a cushion cover, a back cover, side covers, front skirt thingy), and really where you should find a tutorial by someone with more experience than I have! As you can tell by my not-so-clear-or-professional terminology ...

As you can see, the upholstery foam is dark gray and my fabric is a mostly white linen/cotton blend. So I decided to add interfacing to the fabric to make sure the gray didn't show through and to give the open-weave fabric a bit more stability. I just used iron-on interfacing and followed the package directions.

I decided the piece needed piping to really play up the seams and set off the beautiful patterned fabric. So I grabbed a thrifted men's shirt and some piping cord and made four strips of piping to go in the seams. See my tutorial on making piping for more information on this process.

After the main fabric, the blue strips for the sides and the ends were all sewn back together, it was time for ...

Step 4: Staple the new upholstery on the furniture and reattach the dust cover and legs.

Slip the new upholstery onto the furniture and make sure it fits right. Start with one long side, pull the fabric tight and place a staple right in the center. Do the same on the other long side, then the two short sides. Working your way from the centers out toward the ends, staple the fabric onto the frame, checking occasionally to make sure it's still smooth and pretty on the visible side.

Replace the dust cover piece, then reattach the legs. Then, have a little party to celebrate your new, pretty furniture!


  1. I actually loved the "before" colors, lol. And the "after" also looks lovely - the piping makes it very elegant :)

  2. ha, the colors weren't bad (i did buy this new, after all), just not great for the nursery i'm decorating! plus, the upholstery was pretty ratty in places -- holes and everything!

  3. I love how it turned out. Piecing it together really adds a custom look, too!

    Your tutorial is much more detailed than I was planning to be with mine, LOL. Great job!

  4. thanks! funny thing about the tutorial -- i usually take 3817074817580718732901 process photos, then a week later sit down and wonder what the heck step i was planning to illustrate!
    looking forward to yours -- i have v. little experience with bigger, more complicated pieces like chairs and sofas.

  5. What an amazing transformation! I love how you dealt with your fabric constraints. And this tutorial is so comprehensive! Thanks for another awesome post!

  6. You are one amazing crafty and skilled lady! Wow! You are knocking my socks off with all of these incredible projects!


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