How to Reupholster a Sofa

 

Have you ever wanted to reupholster your sofa? Let this tutorial help you get started. It gives you a plan to work by.


Introduction: 

This article is in process of being written. This is just a rough draft. Come back later to finish reading the full article.

 In this day and age there are many shapes and styles of sofas. No one tutorial can successfully teach how to do all the details on all the various styles of sofas. This overview tutorial covers only a general basic upholstery process. It does not cover special components, such as attached pillows, channels, button-tufting or any of the other fancywork.

My first bit of advice is, if you have never done any upholstery before, stop. Do not do your sofa yet. Sofas are usually front and center in your living room. Start with some smaller and simpler projects (dining chair seats, small side chairs, etc.).


Skills Or Knowledge Needed: 

The ability to work with basic hand tools: hammer, pliers, screwdrivers, squares, how to read rulers and tape measurers

Know how to use a sewing machine.

To Learn about the terminology and abbreviations used in upholstery and in this article, go here: Upholstery Terminology & Abbreviations.


Tools Needed: 

Minimum Make-Do Tools

  • Hammer, any type
  • pliers, any size
  • flat-bladded and phillips screw drivers
  • Scissors, 9" or 10"
  • long ruler
  • tape measure
  • hand or electric stapler
  • heavy duty home sewing machine?
  • work table or saw horses
  • a large flat surface for rolling out and cutting the fabric

For an additional list of tools, go here: Basic Upholstery Tools.

Fixtures

  • Sawhorses and/or work table on which to put the sofa while working on it.
  • Cutting table or large flat surface to roll out the fabric while cutting. Upholstery fabric is about 54" wide, so a fabric cutting table is generally about 60" wide. It can be anywhere from 8 ft to 12 ft long, or longer, depending upon the amount of space you have.

For an additional list of Fixtures, go here: Shop Fixtures.


Supplies Needed: 

  • Cotton
  • Dacron
  • staples
  • Upholstery weight thread for your sewing machine
  • heavy needles for your sewing machine
  • burlap: used to replace burlap over seat springs and back springs. Also used as a support lining on the inside arms, outside arms and outside back.
  • webbing: If the sofa has hand-tied seat and back springs, replace webbing that support those springs. Also use one strip of webbing horizontally on the inside arms as a support behind the burlap liner.
  • spring twine: If sofa has hand tied springs in seat and/or back, use to retie those springs. If the sofa has arc springs
  • Deck cloth
  • Zipper chain & zipper slides
  • cording
  • button twine
  • Tack strips
  • hand sewing thread
  • marker: Pencil, tailor's chalk (don't use felt tip marker)
  • graph paper (if you will be doing a layout by hand.) & glue stick
  • Single edge razor blades

If you are replacing the cushion filling, then you will need one or more of these:

  • Polyfoam
  • Dacron wrap
  • Marshall spring units


How To Steps: 

Advance Planning

Thinking out and planning a job in advance (as much as you are able) often makes a big difference in how a job turns out. It is so easy for a beginner to want to get started before he/she even knows what he/she will be doing. As much as anything, this tutorial will help you examine what you will be doing and help you in the planning process.

Assessing a Sofa to Reupholster

Just because you have a sofa in your house doesn't necessarily mean that you should reupholster it. It takes a lot of work and a fair amount of cost to reupholster a sofa. Make sure that you like your sofa before making the decision to recover it. If you do you like your sofa, then  skip the section below about finding a sofa, but read through the other sections below about accessing the style and condition of the sofa. If you really don't like your sofa, then you may want to find another sofa to recover.

Sofa Style:

Each sofa style will take a different amount of  work. If you are just a beginner, you may want to chose a very simple sofa style to begin on. If you have never done any upholstery before, we'd strongly suggest that you do some small simpler pieces of furniture before starting on a sofa.

Assessing the Condition of the Sofa:

As we inspect the frame, springs, and support linings, one of the primary principles we keep in mind is, "will it last the life of the new cover?" This will be our guide as we try to determine what to fix and what to leave alone.

Check the condition of the frame

Check the frame. Try to wobble all parts of the frame. wiggle the arms side to side, grab ahold of the top of the middle backrest and try to pull it towards the front and then push it toward the back. Try to wiggle all parts of the frame. Listen for squeaks and watch for frame wobble and loose joints. If the frame is wobbly, it can be fixed, but it ads some extra work. To fix loose joints often requires that you take everyting off the frame (fabric, padding, springs, etc. so that the joints can be opened up reglued, make triangle fitted corner blocks and reglued. You will also need to have some woodworking clamps. If you or a helper can do wood joint repairs, then you might be OK. But, if neither you nor anyone else is comfortable with doing the frame repairs, you might want to pass us any sofas that have loose jointed frames.

Determining the type and condition of the springs:

Sofas general have one of these types of springs:

Hand-tied coil springs, which are among the best types to have. If tied propery, coils springs give superior support and comfort. Much of the time yoiu can determine is the sofa has hand tied springs by putting your hand under the sofa and pressing up. If you feel a firm spring support underneath at the bottom of the sofa, it may be hand tied springs. A sofa with hand tied spring generally has webbing across the very bottom of the sofa, with the springs pressing down  against the webbing. This gives the bottom of the sofa a firm "full" feeling. When this type of set needs retieing, the bottom often sags down because the webbing stretches as it gets older. Also, the top between the springs will feel loose. 

Arc springs (commonly called zig zag springs). If, when you feel the bottom of the sofa, all you feel is

Machine wired coil spring

Rubber or Elastic Webbing

Take Pictures

After you have the sofa all taken apart, it can be quite confusing to try go figure out how all the assorted pieces get put back together.  "Better to have the pictures and not need them than to need them and not have them."
To the observant, the sofa itself will tell you how to put it back together. The pictures that you take and the old cover will show you far more than this tutorial about how to put it back together.

In this modern day of inexpensive digital cameras, it is nearly essential that every do-it-yourselfer (and professionals) have one within arms-reach, and use it constantly, throughout the whole process of recovering the sofa.
Before you start removing old cover, take pictures from all sides: front, with the cushions and without the cushions, back, side, bottom. Take pictures that include the whole sofa, take closeups that include just the arm, take extreme closeups that include any special detailing, such as folds on the front of the arms, etc. Take pictures throughout the whole process, from stripping the old cover off, taking the seams apart, cutting and attaching the new fabric, until you have the sofa finished. As you unsew seams, take pictures of how the pieces looked before you took them apart. (Be sure to mark the pieces, as described under Method 2: Cutting the Fabric.) Your pictures should also include showing how the folds are made,  the type of padding, the support linings, and anything else that you may need to know. Take more picture than you think you will need. Be thoughtful of how you frame the pictures and what you include in the pictures. Once you have the old cover removed, your pictures will be one of your main reference  points. The other main reference point will be looking at the old cover.

Choosing a Fabric

If this is your first sofa that you will be recovering, choosing a good fabric will help you do a better job. It is easier to work with a medium to heavy weight upholstery fabric.

Intended use:

Lifestyle of users:

Determining Yardage

 As you are determining the yardage amounts, be sure to allow an extra amount for making mistakes. Even professionals make mistakes, and as an amatuer you also will make mistakes. Depending upon your skill level you might add approx 25% to 50% additional fabric above any already generous amounts. As your skill improves you will need a smaller allowance. Even professionals commonly add an allowance of 5% to 20% more fabric for mistakes, fabric flaws, etc.. It is far better to end up with extra fabric than it is to run short of fabric for a job. Sometimes the fabric store or wholesale supplier may sell out of your chosen fabric. That could be a disaster, or at least a challenge.

Now, to answer the question, "How many yards will your sofa take". Look at one of the upholstery yardage charts that you will find here.

Ongoing Self-Inspection & Correction

We all make mistakes. Even professionals make mistakes. One of the biggest difference between a profession quality job and an amatuer job is that the amatuers don't correct their mistakes.

On the same vein, correcting your mistakes will improve your skill more than just about anything else. Correcting mistakes is often not dun and easy. Sometimes it involves taking a lot of the job apart. However, when you are in the mindsed to correct your mistakes, and you actually do correct your mistakes, your awareness increases dramatically. After you've corrected a lot of mistakes you begin to watch the quality of your work as you do it. Many professionals catch their mistakes as they begin to make them, and can make the needed corrections without much loss in time.

Amatuers often either don't see their mistakes (or don't want to see them) or don't care. They just want to get the job finished and don't correcte their mistakes. Consequently, their finished projects look like an amatuer did it. Here is something you should keep in mind. Correcting your mistakes may increase the time to recover the sofa by a few hours or even a few days. BUT, you will have to live with sofa for years. Do you want those mistakes staring you in the face for years to come?

 

Comments

 

Cutting & Sewing the Fabric

There are at least several ways to plan your cutting that involve anything from using planning your cuts to using the old cover for your pattern. Below are two different methods to cut your fabric. Use whichever method best matches with your skill sets and your temperment.

Method 1: Measuring the Sofa & Making a Cutting Layout.

Method 2: Using the Old Cover for a Pattern

Pros:

Since you make a layout in advance:

  • You know how much fabric you will be using. You will also know much quicker if you need to get more fabric.
  • Cutting the fabric is much less stressful. You know where to cut each piece. Your cutting layout is actually a cutting plan, and you just mark and cut the fabric following the plan.
  • You can leave the old cover in place as you cut and sew the new cover. You can refer to the old cover at any time because it is still in place.
  • If you want to, when you are ready to put the new cover on the sofa, you can just remove one piece at a time and put the new cover on.
  • Since you normally don't take apart the seams of the old cover, you have it to refer to if needed.

Cons:

  • On some pieces that need to be fitted, you cut the fabric twice, once from the layout rectangle size, and then cut it to shape.
  • It can be much more stressful to try to measure the sofa and to create a layout the first time.
  • Making a layout can be very tedious and take a lot of time, especially on your first time.

 

Pros:

  • You don't have to worry or stress about measuring and doing a layout.
  • Providing it fits, you can use the old cover as a pattern. This can help you make a good fitting new cover.

 

Cons:

  • You won't know if you have enough fabric until you have every last piece of fabric cut. If you don't have enough fabric, you might not be able to get more, or it might make you put the job on hold until the new fabric arrives. Since this is not a very efficient use of fabric, make sure you have plenty of fabric.
  • You won't have the old cover on the frame to refer to as you cut and sew the fabric
  • Since you take all the seams apart, you may get confused about how it all goes back together.
  • Since you won't be able to plan your cuts very well, you may cut inefficiently and therefore run short of fabric. In this case you may have to piece together together some of the scraps to make some of your pieces.

Measuring the Sofa

In order to make a cutting layout we need to measure every piece of fabric on every part of the sofa. (The actual pieces you measure will vary depending upon the style of your sofa.) Write down the widest point and the tallest point of every piece. Then add several inches to each measurement to allow for seam allowance and extra fabric to grab hold of to pull it. Measure all the welting. For a standard sofa, here is an example of what to measure (will vary with each sofa):

  • On the sofa deck (under the cushions) the fabric pieces that you need to measure are:
    • the Front Deck
    • Front Band
    • Front Band welting
  • On the arms measure
    • the Inside Arms*
    • Outside Arms
    • Arm Facing
    • Arm Facing Welting
  • On the backrest, measure
    • the Inside Back*
    • the Banding
    • the Banding Welting (add about 20 inches to what shows. This welting needs to be long enough to stick through the frame slots and put through to the outside. More about this later.)
    • the Outside Back
    • The Outside Back Welting
  • On the Cushions measure
    • the Cushion Faces (top & bottom),
    • Boxing
    • Welting
    • Zipper pieces

There may also be other pieces to measure that are not listed here.

*The inside arms and the inside back need special consideration. First you need to determine whether or not you will be using a stretcher cloth at the bottom of these. If so, then you will add about 3 or 4 inches at the bottom of each of these

Some people use the old cover as a pattern to cut the new fabric. This method is for people who don't like to make a layout.

Removing the Old Cover

For more helping in removing the old cover, see Tear Down Methods andUsing An Air Ripping Chisel

As you remover the old cover, take care to remove each piece without ripping it very much. When you start putting the new cover on, you may find it useful to look at the old cover to see how it was made, how it was folded, etc. If you just rip the old cover to shreds while removing it, then you won't have it as a guide to help you put the new cover on.

To remove the old cover, you will mainly need a hammer and ripping chisel. Other tools that you will also need are a pair of pliers, scissors, a staple remover, screwdrivers, and (occassionaly, some wrenches).

You will remove the old cover the opposite way how it was attached, removing the bottom and outside first.

  1. If the sofa has a skirt, remove that first.
  2. Turn the sofa on its back or upside down.
  3.  Remove the dustcloth (It is the one piece you can just rip off.)
  4. With the sofa still upside down, take loose all the fabric that is attached to the bottom of the sofa.
  •  
    • the bottom edges of the outside arms, outside back, and deck.

Planning Your Cuts

Making a Cutting Layout

(For more information on making a cutting layout, go here: Cutting Layouts)

Here are three different ways to do a planned layout. For each of the pattern pieces just make a rectangle. Don't worry about shapes or darts at this point.

  • Pencil and paper: Use a large piece of paper (butcher paper, etc.) and draw out a large rectangle, to scale, to represent the fabric size. Then lightly pencil in the various pattern sizes, with ID marks and measurements, in the middle of the large rectangle. Erase and rearrange as necessary to get the best use of the fabric.
  • Graph paper: Scale down your measurements so that one inch equals one square (or something similar). Tape together enough sheets of graph paper to the size of your fabric. Lay the graph paper on a large flat piece of cardboard or a corkboard and use thumbtacks to attach the graph paper. You can lay board flat or put it up on the wall.  Then, for each fabric piece, Draw a dark line around the edges of each pattern piece, following the lines of the graph paper. to mark each piece to scale. As you cut each piece, mark it (i.e. IB for inside back, IA for Inside arm, OA for outside arm, etc.). Also mark the L  X  W size on each piece. When you have all the patterns cut. rearrange then on the fabric graph paper base to get the best fit. As put everything in place, use thumbtacks to hold the small rectangles of graph paper onto the large piece of graph paper. Rearrange the cut pieces to get the best use of fabric.
  • Drawing or CAD software: This is the method that I use. It is the hardest to learn, but is the easiest and most efficient to do once you have master it. It works similar to the graph paper, except on the computer. You draw one large rectangle to represent the roll of fabric. Then, using the measures from your sofa, you make rectangles to represent the cut sizes of the different parts of the sofa. Attach dimension lines to each rectangle, and label the rectangle for each sofa part (i.e. IA = Inside Arm, IB = Inside Back, etc.) Arrange the labled rectangles on top of the large rectangle to get the best use of the fabric. Then print out the finished drawing and use as a guide to mark and cut the fabric. As you cut each piece, transfer the identification marks from the drawing to the back of the fabric.

Cutting the Fabric

After you have all the old cover stripped off the frame, remove all the tacks or staples from the old cover. First draw alignment marks, with ID letters, on both sides of all seams on the top side of the old cover. Then take apart all the pieces of the cover, take apart all the seams, and iron them all flat. If the old cover is very soft and limp, you might want to use some spray starch on it as you iron it so that it will lay out flat and stiff. That will make it easier when you are trying to lay it out for a pattern. Make sure that you mark each and every piece, no matter how small, where it came from, (IB, IA, OA, etc.) or all the pieces will become one big jumbled mess that will be very confusing.

Then you'll need a large flat and very clean area to roll out the fabric. It could be on a long table, floor, deck, etc.  If you decide to make a table you might like to know that the upholstery cutting table that many upholsterers use is 60" wide. Roll out the fabric

(If at all possible, it would be very helpful to be able to roll out the whole role of fabric at one time.)

 

Cutting The Fabric

Assuming that you are using a plain fabric, you canrailroad the fabric (cut from the side). Since you (presumably) have already did a fabric layout, just mark and cut the fabric following the your plan. You can use a carpenter's framing square to square up the fabric.

As you cut out each piece of fabric, draw a line along the top edge to identify which is the top of the fabric.Also mark an id mark on the back side of each piece. When marking the back, careful to use a marker that won't bleed through the fabric.

 

 

Fitting The Cover

You can either fit each piece of the new cover while the old cover is still attached to the frame (which is easier) OR you can fit each piece (after the cover has been removed  and the frame has been prepared for covering) as you are ready to attach it to the frame. For this tutorial, we will assume that you will use the first method.a ...

For any pieces that need to cut to shape, lay the precut pieces upside down on the corresponding pieces on the old cover (which is still on the sofa), check all around the edges that everything has enough for at least a 1/2" seam allowance. and pin it in place. Once the new fabric is anchored in place with the pins, use a marker to draw on the back side of the new fabric along the seams of the old fabric. Wherever there aren't any seams, push the fabric into the crevaces so the fold makes a right angle. Wherever appropriate, draw a line around those fold lines. Then, before cutting it, add a 1/2" seam allowances to all seam areas

a If you will be doing any rebuilding or repadding of the frame, then we'd recommend you use the second method.

Sewing The Cover

Sewing The Cover

If the inside back has a cording around the front, then when you sew the cording onto the IB piece, center the cording so that the cording will protrude about 5-10 inches past the bottom edge of the IB. You will need this extra cording sticking out when you attach the IB to the frame.

 

Removing the Old Cover

When you have all the new cover sewn, take off the old cover. For instructions, see Method 2, Removing The Old Cover.

You have a choice. You can either take off the entire old cover at one time, or you can take only as much apart as needed at one time.

 

 

Preparing the frame

After all the fabric has been removed, examine every place where the fabric had been attached. Clean up the frame from staples, cotton and fabric. You want to remove anything that will have a sharp edge or that will leave a bump. There are usually staples still in the wood. Remove the staples that have one prong sticking up. You can hammer flat the staples that have both ends in the wood.

While you are examining the frame, also examine the strength of the joints and boards. If the frame has any loose joints, you will need to either take that part of the frame apart or open the joint(s) up enough to glue (use a carpent's wood glue) into the joints and into the dowel holes. Sometimes you may also need to make fitted triangle shaped blocks to further strengthen the joint. After gluing, securely clamp the joints together until the glue dries. (Read the directions on the bottle of glue to find out how long to leave the clamps on.)

If you will be adding a skirt to this sofa, determine how tall you will want the skirt (6"-8" is a common height for skirts, measure to the top of the skirt welting. Then you'll want to make sure that the frame has wood to attach the skirt all around four sides. Sometimes you may need add wood to the frame to attach the skirt. However, if you need to add this wood, don't block any areas where fabric pulls through from the inside. If your chosen skirt height requires that you add wood to "pull through areas, then wait to add the wood until you have the inside of the chair finished.

The prevailing Thought

In examining and repairing (as necessary) the frame, springs, support linings, and paddings, keep in mind that each of these needs to last longer than the new fabric that you are applying. What is the point of putting a new cover on if the frame, springs, support linings, or padding will give out before the fabric wears out? So, as you are examining each of these, if any of them is not in excellent shape, you may be well advise to replace or repair them.

Springs

Most of the low to medium quality sofa have zig zag (arc) springs. This tutorial doesn't cover hand tied springs.

Test the springs for squeaks. Press down each spring and listen for a squeak. If you hear any squeak, you would most likely need to replace the spring clips at the end of the springs. (The springs clips have a paper insulation on the inside. When the paper wears through, then you have metal to metal rubber, which causes the sqeaks. Replacing the clips generally elminates most spring squeaks.

Next, tie about 4 or 5  strands of spring twine the length of the sofa. Tie the twine from spring to spring (tie both sides of the spring), attach each end of the twine to the sofa frame.

Then put new burlap over the springs. Add an insullation pad (or carpet pad) over the springs, followed by a layer of cotton.

Paddings

Support Linings

The support lining usually consists of burlap, with jute webbing straps underneath.

The support linings hold the padding in place. It is important that they are in good repair if you want the sofa to stand up to much use. To replace the support linings you generally need to remove the padding, taking pictures and keeping a keen eye as to how the padding is attached. After the padding is off, examine how the old support linings and webbing was attached and (providing it was professionally done previously) put the new burlap and webbing on the same way. Then, either put the existing padding back on, or replace with new padding, replacing it the same as it came off.

Cushion Filling

Most modern sofas will have polyfoam in the cushion. Even the cushions had springs or something else in them, you can still put new foam cushions in them. If you will be putting a zipper in the seat cushions (which is recommended) you can always replace the foam in the cushions at a latter date). When replacing the foam, use a high quality foam of at least 2.5 lb to 3 lb. which will give you many years of service.

Attaching the Fabric

The Deck

The Inside Arms

The inside Back

If the IB has a welt sewn around the edges, then, at the inside bottom corners (if needed) cut the fabric off the covered welting. You want the welting (including the covering fabric) to be loose from the other fabric enough so that you can stick it through the frame slot at the bottom of the IA. The welting should stick out so that you can grab hold of it at the outside arm.

The Cushion

The best time to fit the cushion is after the inside arms and inside back have been attached, and BEFORE the outside arms are attached. This will give you the ability to adjust the size of the seat area, if needed. For example, if the cushion is a little too big you can put the bottom of the inside arm tighter to increase the distance in between the arms. You can also pull the bottom of the inside back a little tighter, which increases the front to back measurement of the cushion area.

If the cushion is a little too small, then you can take the bottom IB and IA loose and let the fabric out a little. You can also stuff some cotton (neatly and straight) in back of the IA & IB padding from the outside bottom. This will decrease the width and depth of the seat cushion area.

If the old cushion is good enough condition, put it onto the deck to see how it fits. If it fits fairly well, you can take apart the cushion cover and use it as a pattern for the new cushion. If the cushion is too big or too small, make marks on the old cushion to show how much will need to be added to or cut off the old cushion cover.

The Outside Arms

If you are adding a skirt, and if you need to add wood to the area where the inside arms pull through, this is the time to add that wood.

Attach the top of the OA fabric first. Lay the OA fabric inside out over the inside arm. Attach both ends first, then straighten the top edge of the fabric as you put a few staples across the top. Now attach a cardboard strip across the top, keeping it straight. Put the staples near the upper edge of the cardboard strip.

To add padding, use burlap or other strong fabric and staple to outide arm. Add layer of cotton or bonded dacron over the burlap. (If the padding is thick, you can often split it and only use a half thickness to pad the outside arm. Also, if the sofa has a skirt, only pad the area above the skirt. The staples used to attach the skirt will hold better if you don' t have the additional thickness of the cotton

Now unfold  the OA fabric down from over the IA. Line up the weave of the OA fabric with the frame at the front of the arm, then staple the center bottom under the sofa. If the sofa has a facing staple the bottom of the OA fabric around the front of the arm. Alternatively, if the sofa uses a tack strip at the front edge, put that in now. Next pull and staple the OA rear bottom fabric, tacking up all the slack at the back and bottom of the OA..

The Outside Back

The Skirt

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