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        reupholster sofa Sign In/Join 
        I'm getting a used sofa-sleeper in a few days and want to re-do the fabric. The sofa is in good condition -- no rips and has good bones. Any advice or tips appreciated.
        Posts: 5 | Registered: Mar 19, 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        Picture of GardenSprite
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        Have you ever done any upholstering before? Do you have a sewing machine and are you an experienced seamstress?

        If not, you can hire it done, or a cheaper alternative is to just make a throw that covers the existing fabric.

        If you want to reupholster the entire sofa and haven't done this before, you can still do it, but it would help to have some guidelines on your experience with this type of project in order to make sugggestions.

        It would also help to know what kind of fabric you plan to use, i.e., a heavy upholstery fabric (which may require a more heavy duty sewing machine than a regular machine), or lighter weight fabric.

        In addition, do you have pets that sleep on the sofa, kids that climb on it, etc.? I.e., what is the projected use and demand, which would dictate the fabric and sometimes the construction.

        More info, please!
        Posts: 1737 | Registered: Oct 06, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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        I am a quilter, so I have sewing machines, but not industrial duty machines. I was planning to go to JoAnn's to shop for upholstery fabric. I have no pets or climbing kids. It will be used in our basement, so minimal use.
        Posts: 5 | Registered: Mar 19, 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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        I have redone a recliner chair with vinyl bottom and microsuede on top, many a long year ago. the size of that piece allowed hand sewing the pieces. many a poke through the thimble into my poor suffering hand using glovers to get through the vinyl.

        sig: if this is a new economy, how come they still want my old-fashioned money?
        Posts: 5485 | Location: North Burbs, MN | Registered: Mar 14, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        Picture of GardenSprite
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        I've thought about this subject a lot but haven't worked out enough detail to offer much more than general guidelines at this point, but give me time as I've done a lot of sewing, some pattern design, and enjoy a good challenge.

        A regular sewing machine could suffice, depending on the thickness of the fabric, and whether you use double fabric on the seats.

        We had a sofa with cotton upholstering and it fared well over the years although the seats did begin to fray a bit. I now have a sofa in a lovely floral upholstery fabric which is much stronger, but it's also thicker fabric. I'm not sure I'd want to work with it on a large project.

        If you have a serger, you might want to think about serging the seams, especially those of the seats as there's more stress on the fabric there. I would also put zippers on each of the seat covers so they can be washed, and try to find a way to make a removable cover for the back of the sofa as well, although that's not an easy task. Use jacket zippers for the seats so the zippers open at both ends; it'll be easier to get the seat covers off and on.

        When assembling the seat covers, I would first put in the zipper down the center (definitely not on the side!) of the back of the cover. (You'll have a top and bottom and 4 side panels, one of which will have to be split down the midle for the zipper.)

        Also, don't even consider using plastic zippers; they're not made well and if you ever iron the covers you'll have to use a protective cloth as they melt easily. Use a metal zipper.

        Patterns for clothing often instruct installing zippers last, but that makes it harder to maneuver the fabric and would mean a lot of bunched up fabric getting in the way if the project is a seat cushion.

        I think there are two especially difficult aspects: determining how much fabric you'll need, and making your own patterns, especially for the arms, which are sometimes gathered or pleated where the fabric is brought together in the front. If you're recovering the sofa, however, you can create a pattern from the upholstery when you remove it.

        I've used brown grocery bags and tissue paper for patterns; neither work well and I haven't found a good type of paper for this purpose. The bags are good and strudy but not very maneuverable. The tissue paper is maneuverable but tears easily. I've thought of parchment paper but it's kind of expensive to be used as a pattern.

        Something to consider is how to run the fabric across the back, lengthwise or crosswise. I'd opt for lengthwise, i.e., the grain of the fabric would run up and down rather than horizontally across the back, if that makes sense.

        If the back of the sofa is sectioned, it'll be easier to make the covers, but if it's all one piece, you might have to sew it together in sections as the fabric just wouldn't be wide enough to span the typical 5 - 6' width of the sofa.

        Are you on Jo-Ann's mailing list? I don't know if they still send out paper flyers, but they used to do so every 3 weeks or so. They also typically had 50% off coupons around holidays. (I bought 6 bolts of bleached muslin and Symphony broadcloth for drapes at 1/2 off this way.)

        If any of this doesn't make sense, just write back. It's kind of hard to explain sometimes.

        BTW, I'm also a quilter, with preference for art quilting. What are your quilting interests? You mentioned having sewing machines, so I think perhaps you have a long-arm quilting machine?
        Posts: 1737 | Registered: Oct 06, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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        Thanks for your input. From the books I’ve read I know I will need at least 10 yards of fabric which is why I want to cover in muslin first, so I can pay careful attention to how much I use. I have a bolt of muslin that has about 8 yards on it already. JoAnn’s coupon? Of course, I couldn’t quilt without using a coupon. I will likely buy the upholstery fabric there too.

        I’m not sure what I will do as far as making the pattern pieces. The books says to use the fabric you take off to make a pattern. The illustrations show the model laying the old fabric on the new fabric and cutting around it using a generous seam allowance. I have newsprint paper which is heavier than tissue paper, but lighter than paper bag material, so that may work. Everything will be trial and error.
        I’m a traditional quilter and I enjoy paper-piecing and scrap quilting. I also own an Accuquilt cutter, and I don’t even attempt to make a quilt unless I can die cut most of the pieces. My in-process projects include a double wedding ring & drunkard’s path and some kiddie themed quilts for children of friends. I’m teaching my 6 yr-old son to sew and I bought him a sewing machine. He did surprisingly well and made a small bag to put his toy cars in.
        I did an art quilt years ago; it was a portrait for a guild challenge. I have a coupla machines, but no long arm. I send my quilts out to be quilted or if it’s a (baby) small size or I will do quilt-as-you-go -- sometimes.
        Posts: 5 | Registered: Mar 19, 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        Picture of GardenSprite
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        Sounds like you've really done your homework!

        If I remember correctly, muslin is 44-45" wide. I did some quick calculations based on the size of my sofa seats, which are about 22" wide by 22" deep. You might be able to cut a front and back for one seat from 1.25 yards of fabric, but there are two additional factors involved:

        1. Selvedge edges, which typically are cut off, and

        2. Shrinkage. If the muslin you use is standard 100% cotton (which it used to be before synthetics became widely blended), it will probably shrink. Used to be considered that cotton had a standard 3% shrinkage rate. I don't know if that's still the guideline.

        If so, then the cushions alone could easily use up about 5 yards, exclusive of the side panels. If the muslin shrinks even more than 3%, the game changes. So preshrinking is necessary (which you probably know - I do know some quilters who don't preshrink their fabric at all). I always preshrink any fabric (except 100% wool of course) twice, just to be on the safe side.

        Years ago it became difficult to find fabric not made in China, so that also may factor in. I've seen Chinese fabric so sloppily made that the grain was actually angled.

        I think 10 yards is a very conservative estimate, but it could be more if you add a skirt at the base of the sofa, and more or less if you either pleat or gather the skirt.

        But it's a great idea to test first on muslin. I understand that's how professional designers begin. And muslin is easy and comfortable to work with. Will you use bleached or unbleached muslin? If I remember correctly, some years ago I found that unbleached shrunk more than bleached, and was a little rougher to work with as the finish wasn't as fine, but those are just ancient memories.

        Using the existing fabric is absolutely the best way to create a new pattern. I've never worked with newsprint paper but that sounds like a good option. Where do you buy it? I need some good paper for designs.

        I would use at least 3/4" seam allowance for the seats, maybe just 1/2" for the back pieces. If you serge the fabric, you can use 1/2 on both, but if you don't, err on the generous side.

        I've also found when using muslin patterns that the dimensions work for muslin or comparable fabric content, but definitely not for synthetics, which basically have little if any "give".

        I made a big mistake when I made shorts from a synthetic fabric based on a muslin pattern (which fit fine) and were so much smaller that I had to add side panels. So I always consider muslin based patterns only the beginning and adjust according to whatever fabric I'm using.

        Double wedding ring is a lovely pattern with a lot of curved piecing which is more challenging than straight cuts. That will come in handy when you cover the arm ends of the sofa. It's one I would like to make but I'm afraid that I just don't have the kind of patience that's required for an intricate pattern with a lot of piecing. (After sewing for years, I've become somewhat tired of all the piecing and fitting required to make clothing [especially sleeves] and don't want to add it into my quilting.) Guess I got lazy.

        Congratulations on the courage to teach your son sewing, not only because it's typically not considered a male "craft" but because there are so many youngsters growing up today with absolutely no knowledge of self sufficiency crafts. I've even heard of women gluing buttons on fabric instead of sewing them!

        Art quilts have garnered more attention over the last few decades and gradually captured my interest more than the quilts I first made when I started. I love the freedom, flexibility and unlimited creativity which they offer. A few of the quilt artists I admire the most (and are way, way beyond my skill level) are

        Hollis Chatelain ( (check out her figurative work at,

        McKenna Ryan (,

        and Cynthia England (

        These are the kinds of quilts I'll tackle when (if) I retire!

        Another quilter who creates very, very challenging art quilts is Deirdre Scherer, but her works (especially The Last Year series) are so powerful that sometimes it's hard to look at them. (

        Nice to meet a fellow quilter on this forum.

        This message has been edited. Last edited by: GardenSprite,
        Posts: 1737 | Registered: Oct 06, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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        I won’t be washing the muslin so won’t have to fret about shrinking. Using the muslin is just a dry run for the real fabric. I’ve also thought about using old sheets too. Once I get a good idea of what I’m doing I can re-use the sheets or muslin for my foundation piecing or just trash it. Not sure if the muslin I have is bleached. I bought it at JoAnn’s and use it mostly for foundation piecing scraps. It’s not a good quality muslin.
        I was talking to my husband earlier and told him the foam underneath might not be any good. When we brought the sofa home, I immediately washed the seat covers and as the washer filled up, I could see that the water looked very muddy, so I have no idea how the sofa was stored prior to me getting it. Hubby doesn’t think it’s possible to wash the foam, but I’m willing to try ‘cause like I said win-win J
        I ordered the newsprint at Blick art supplies; it fairly cheap – about $6 for 4 or 5 reams.
        I completely agree about younger generations not having basic home ec skills. At my office we have college student workers and one of the female students said she took her coat to the dry cleaners to have buttons sewn on because she doesn’t sew. Buttons – really?
        I went the quilt chow in Paducah some years back and saw close up quilts made by Hollis Chatelain – wow!
        I will definitely post pictures of the sofa project.
        Posts: 5 | Registered: Mar 19, 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        Picture of GardenSprite
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        I never thought of using sheets to create the pattern but it's a great idea. I'm going to do that the next time I have to make a pattern. Thanks for that information.

        Sounds like the muslin you have is unbleached. It has a slightly ivory color and isn't very smooth; there are sometimes little bits of fabric scattered throughout it. Bleached muslin is like a lower quality Symphony broadcloth and is smoother than the unbleached variety.

        Could be that the seat covers were really dirty, perhaps mildewed. I've never tried washing foam thoroughly; I did try to clean some very large and long cushions of thick, good quality foam but was unsuccessful. Actually I think the discoloring was from aging, as foam does turn color as it ages.

        How do you plan to wash the foam? I think the hardest part would be getting the soap out.

        I'm going to check out Blick; I think there's one locally. Michael's might even have the newsprint although their stock is generally pretty standard.

        Interesting anecdote about the college student who doesn't know how to sew on buttons. I've often wondered what some of the younger generation would do if their dishwashers failed - so many people I know refuse to wash dishes by hand. It's traumatic enough for them if they're out of range of cell towers.

        Paducah - the holy grail of quilters! One of my quilting friends (and a former student, as I used to teach quilting) went but I've yet to get there. I'd also like to see the Sisters, Oregon show. (

        That same friend, another quilting friend and I saw Hollis Chatelain in Flint, MI when she lectured there. She brought a lot of quilts so we had a chance to see them up close. I still haven't quite figured out how she makes her quilts, whether some of them are painting on fabric or thread painting or a combination of both. Either way, she is very, very talented. The three of us were mesmerized by her creations.
        Posts: 1737 | Registered: Oct 06, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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        Started taking staples put of the sofa on Sunday. Geeze, this is gonna be a bigger project than I thought -- lol I never imagined removing so many staples. I was using a flat head screwdriver which is a slow process, so I ordered a staple lifter on-line to speed thing up. I also found some cheap -- about $7 yd -- upholstery fabric on-line too. I ordered fabric swatches, so I'm hoping it looks ok. I ordered solid colors, but as a quilter you that busy fabric hides all your sins Smile
        Posts: 5 | Registered: Mar 19, 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        Picture of GardenSprite
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        Just be glad it doesn't have those tack like things that really need to be pried out! Big Grin

        Busy fabric also hides stains!

        Please keep me posted on your progress. I have a large round sofa type chair that I need to recover and I've been putting it off for years. Maybe I'll be inspired by your motivation. Of course, it's not highest on my priority list, especially since planting season is here.
        Posts: 1737 | Registered: Oct 06, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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