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Home Décor DIY: How to Reupholster a Couch By Yourself (Especially If You're a Beginner)

Updated on July 13, 2014
hellovictoria profile image

Tori is a 25 year old DIYer living in Northern Atlanta with her boyfriend and two cat babies. She loves crafting & experimenting with color.

A time consuming project, but worth it in the end!!
A time consuming project, but worth it in the end!! | Source
the couch in its former glory, right after I bought it. It looked good with that blanket over top of the worn part!
the couch in its former glory, right after I bought it. It looked good with that blanket over top of the worn part! | Source
But after two years of my owning it and who KNOWS how many years before me, it was time for a change. One that didn't cost as much as a new couch....
But after two years of my owning it and who KNOWS how many years before me, it was time for a change. One that didn't cost as much as a new couch.... | Source
these are the culprits when they were kittens and had only known each other for a week...they look cute now, but wait till you see what they did!
these are the culprits when they were kittens and had only known each other for a week...they look cute now, but wait till you see what they did! | Source
here's the spot where my cats took out the tack strip so they could climb inside.
here's the spot where my cats took out the tack strip so they could climb inside. | Source

Identifying the Project

I moved into my first real apartment about two and a half years ago, and right after I moved in I bought my first real set of living room furniture. I got it off of craigslist, and the set came with a couch, chaise lounge, and coffee table for only a hundred bucks! I really liked the burnt orange color of the couch and chaise lounge when I bought it, and the coffee table was gorgeous. They all went with my color scheme that I had in my living room!

But, the thing I didn't like was that the corduroy fabric on the seat cushions had started to wear away from years of use. At the time, it wasn't a big deal - I just bought a floral blanket in the colors of my living room and wrapped them up so the couch looked newer and un-worn. That worked great for a while!

Right after I got the set, though, I adopted two kittens, Zeus and Oliver. They are my babies, but they also loved the couch as much as I did...so much that they wanted to literally be inside of it. After a few months of using the couch as a cat toy (unpreventable at this point because I was working a lot and they would do it while I wasn't home) they pulled the left side of the couch open and used it as a hiding and sleeping spot. I didn't mind much because I am pretty sure I bought the couch knowing that I would end up redoing it when I moved - and if I didn't it would just get chucked in the trash. It was an old couch and I knew it.

In December 2013 I started looking for new apartments because I needed to move closer to my job. And when I started doing that, I started getting ridiculously crafty and planning these huge projects to completely make over all of my furniture. I started planning colors and buying supplies in January 2014. My first victim was the coffee table - and you can read about that tutorial here! I restained and refinished that in March. I took a couple weeks off from projects to move, then once I got into my new place in April I started the couch.

Now, I would like to iterate that every couch is different and you won't be able to follow this tutorial exactly, especially if your couch has more detailing than mine did. Plus, if you're a beginner like me you are bound to make mistakes. I made many - and you might have to improvise some extra detailing in the couch to cover up your mistakes (which I had to do...a LOT)! But, to help prevent mistakes, I've included my thoughts on my first project as well as videos that I used from professionals that show you how to do certain parts of the couch. I hope you find this useful - enjoy!

let the finished product be your motivation for your reupholstery project!
let the finished product be your motivation for your reupholstery project! | Source

Things to Know Before You Get Started

  • This is NOT a one-weekend project if you work full-time or have multiple jobs. But, if you have the time and your couch is the right structure, you could probably do it in five or six days of eight to ten hours a day straight working on it (depending on the detail, how the couch was put together before you got it, and your level of comfort with reupholstery projects).
  • Be prepared to pull a lot of staples. Which means wear shoes so you don't step on any pieces of metal that might go flying and you don't see them.
  • It is generally a good idea to completely over-estimate the amount of fabric and batting you will need. I overestimated for my project, but I still didn't have enough, so I had to go back and get several more yards of fabric.
  • Be willing to plan your project first before you get started.

What Supplies Will I Need?

1. A notebook/pencil, for measurements and notetaking before and during the project

2. A flexible measuring tape and scissors that you only use for fabric

3. Your choice of fabric, but it needs to be durable fabric meant for reupholstery projects. In fabric stores, this is generally the fabric on the huge rolls rather than the little darts. I used Signature Series Home Decor Fabric in True Red from Jo-Ann Fabric Store (this place is awesome - I highly recommend buying your fabric here! They always have AWESOME sales and coupons to help you save money on your project!)

4. Enough batting or foam to cover the padded parts of your couch - I used Soft n Crafty Polyester Batting - 8 oz.

5. A staple gun and staples (which you can pick up at Home Depot or Lowes). A regular non-electric staple gun is fine, and cheap. Choose one that feels most comfortable in your hand. But as a note - your hands will hurt for a while if you use it continuously, which is what I did. If you have access to a pneumatic staple gun, use that - for the sake of your hands!

6. Pliers for taking out staples

7. A rubber mallet

8. Rigid tack strips - I reused the ones from my couch because they were still in good condition, but in case you need to buy some new ones you can get them from Ebay or Amazon, or your local reupholstery store.

9. Curve-Ease - this is like a flexible tack strip - it's not mandatory but will make your life so much easier and your lines more even when you are putting on the sides and back of your couch!You can get it from eBay. I'll detail how it's used below.

10. Cording, like this from eBay

11. Heavy duty thread in the color of your fabric you are using for your couch

12. Dust cover fabric for the bottom of the couch, such as this, but I wanted to save money so I used an extra sheet I had laying around for this.

13. Extra fabric used for the parts of the couch nobody sees, such as under the seat cushions - This is primarily a money-saving thing, but you will notice if you lift up the cushions on your couch there is an extra piece of fabric underneath the cushions that covers the springs, but it's not the same fabric your couch is in. That's what I'm talking about. I used an extra sheet for this too rather than buying fabric for it.

14. Pillow stuffing - I used Poly-fil 10 lb Premium Polyester Fiber in White.

15. A regulator, which is a thin flat metal tool that you can buy, like this one from eBay. I didn't have one so I just used a flathead screwdriver as my regulator (probably not recommended by professional reupholsterers).

Optional Supplies

1. New legs and anchors for your couch! Mine didn't come with any.

2. Foam for new seat cushions - After we took the covers off of the old seat cushions, the foam was still in great shape so we just reused it.

Total Cost of The Project (Specific Products I Used at Prices I Paid, as Well as Where to Get It)

Product
Where You Can Get It
Cost
Upholstery Fabric (Signature Series Home Decor Fabric in True Red), 18 yards
Jo-Ann Fabric Store
$144.00
Soft N Crafty 8 Oz Polyester Batting, 12 yards
Jo-Ann Fabric Store
$41.88
Staple Gun
Home Depot, Lowes, Ace Hardware
$15.97
1/2 inch steel heavy duty staples, 2 packs
Home Depot, Lowes, Ace Hardware
$6.24
10 Pc. Rigid Tack Strips
eBay
$8.99
Curve Ease/Pli-Grip (100 feet)
eBay
$17.50
12 yards 8/32" Cording, 2 pack
Jo-Ann, eBay
$8.98
Heavy Duty Red Thread
Any craft store
$1.99
4 Foster Decorative Millwork 2-3/4 in. Pine Taper Bun Feet
Home Depot
$23.92
4 Heavy Duty Top Plates (for the legs)
Home Depot
$10.48
 
Total Cost of Project
279.95, plus tax
Think of all the money you're saving doing it yourself!

Now You're Ready to Start!!

Now you have been advised what you need to do the project, how much it's going to cost, and how much time it's going to take. Now, here are the steps to taking apart the couch and putting it back together!

1. Plan your project.

The very first thing you will need to do before you do ANYTHING else is plan your project. To adequately plan, you will need to first take measurements of EVERY piece of visible fabric on the couch. You have three types of fabric you will be using:

  • Outside couch fabric
  • Cambric (dust cover)
  • Inside Seat Fabric

Here's the way that I did measurements. Make a table with eight columns. Label each column as the below example from my couch. In the first column, put the name of each piece you have to measure. Then fill out the rest of the table as you go.

Remember - the measurements you are taking are only the parts that you can actually see. There's more fabric hidden on the inside that you can't see where the fabric is stapled to hold it in place. So to compensate for that extra fabric, you have to add an allowance to every piece of fabric. I read a tutorial that said only 2 inches on every side is necessary, but I started doing the project and found out that for me it wasn't enough - so when I went back to get more fabric I made sure to add 4 inches on every side just to make sure.

Just to clarify - 4 inches on every side means you're adding 4 inches of fabric to the top, bottom, left, and right of each piece, so that your length becomes 8 inches longer and your width becomes 8 inches wider. For some pieces that was overkill but having a little extra fabric is not a bad thing - especially when you will end up cutting each piece to fit as you start stapling everything on anyway. The extra length will come in handy for the outside arms and the outside back - that's where I needed it!

Your cut size will be the total amount of fabric you will need for each piece. For the batting, each couch is different. The way I figured out how much batting I would need was by feeling around the entire couch - any part of it that felt padded I counted as a measurement for my batting. For my couch, this included the inside arms, inside back, and inside seat(over the springs but under the cushions). For the batting I found that I did not need as much allowance, so I only did 2 inches on each side as opposed to 4.

Piece
# of Piece Needed
Length (inches)
Width (inches)
Allowance
Cut Size
Outside Arm
2
28
34
4 inches all sides
36x42
Inside Arm
2
28
35
4 inches all sides
36x43
Outside Back
1
29
79
4 inches all sides
37x87
Inside Back
1
28
72
4 inches all sides
36x80
Front Foot of Couch
1
17.5
97
4 inches all sides
25.5x105
Seat Cushion Walls
2
6
128
4 inches all sides
14x136
Seat Cushion Top/Bottom
4
27
41
4 inches all sides
35x49
Back Cushion Front/Back
6
26
29
2 inches all sides
30x33
Cording
5
N/A
225
8 inches
233
Fabric for Cording
5
3
225
8 inches
3x233
Cambric Dust Cover
1
38
78
2 inches all sides
42x82
Inside Seat Fabric (Spring Cover + Outer Fabric
2
22
70
4 inches all sides
26x74
Batting - Inside Arm
2
28
37
2 inches all sides
32x41
Batting - Inside Seat
1
22
70
2 inches all sides
24x74
Batting - Inside Back
1
28
74
2 inches all sides
32x78

Now that you have planned the measurements, it's time to draw the pieces out so that you can figure out how much fabric you will need all together. This just needs to be a rough estimate of how all of the pieces will be cut into your roll of fabric, so you know how much to get. It will also help you identify how to cut your fabric, like a pattern, so that you do not cut awkward shapes and end up losing useful fabric in the process. Before doing this, make sure you know how wide the roll of fabric is that you picked out. Mine was a 54 inch roll. Here's a little sample of what my drawing looked like:

Source

2. Buy Your Supplies.

Now that you've measured out your project, you know what you will need. Using the supplies list above, make sure you get all of the supplies you need including staples, fabric, and batting. I ended up having to go back for more fabric because initially I only bought 13 yards - I miscounted on my first measurements and forgot to include the seat cushion and back cushion fabric. I had to go back and re-draw my plans to see how much more fabric I would need, and ended up with about 18 yards of fabric total. If you're skeptical about your measurements, it's ok to add a few more yards of fabric on to your measurements just to be safe if you have the money to do so.

3. Start Deconstructing Your Couch In the Order it Was Constructed.

You will learn a lot about how to put your couch back together by taking it apart. Follow the below steps to start deconstructing your couch.

1. Generally, the first step for all couches will be to turn it upside-down and take the legs off, then take the cambric dust cover off.

here's the couch while I'm removing the cambric and after it's removed.
here's the couch while I'm removing the cambric and after it's removed. | Source

2. Then, begin by removing all staples with your pliers around the bottom of the couch, so you can start figuring out which piece you need to take off first. This staple removing will probably be the most time consuming portion of the staple removing - so make sure your hands are prepared and someone to help you so it takes less time.

3. Identify the piece that needs to be taken off first. make sure you are taking notes and pictures the whole time so you remember what order to put them back on in! For me, the first part to remove was the outside back. I removed all of the staples, and found that the short sides of the fabric were held in by tack strips. to remove a tack strip, insert your pliers into the fold of the fabric where the tack strip is and gently lift up, like in the picture below. Repeat for the length of the tack strip. I had to do this for both sides - then to get the last side of the fabric removed, I had to remove more staples.

Removing the tack strip.
Removing the tack strip. | Source
so...many...staples... (this is the top edge of the outside back after I had removed the tack strips and the staples from the bottom. Somebody was staple happy!
so...many...staples... (this is the top edge of the outside back after I had removed the tack strips and the staples from the bottom. Somebody was staple happy! | Source
take notes!!!!
take notes!!!! | Source

4. TAKE NOTES ON EVERYTHING YOU DO. This is not a one-day project so you will likely forget how you did things. Take notes on how pieces were put on the couch (which sides were stapled vs. tack strip, etc) what side of the piece was put on first, and what order you take the pieces off in. This will be good to refer to when you are putting the couch back together. Take pictures if you need to of how pieces were constructed to help you remember how to put it back on.

5. Remove the rest of the Couch Pieces.

This step will depend on how your individual couch is constructed. Take notes on how you take pieces apart, and if you need any of them to remeasure the new fabric with to make sure you got the right measurement, save it so you can do so at that point. Here are some pictures of my couch as I deconstructed it.

taking off the rest of the back fabric.
taking off the rest of the back fabric. | Source
this is after taking off the front fabric and batting. I left the white piece on because it was still in good shape. The white fabric protects the batting from the wooden frame.
this is after taking off the front fabric and batting. I left the white piece on because it was still in good shape. The white fabric protects the batting from the wooden frame. | Source
taking off the foot of the couch fabric.
taking off the foot of the couch fabric. | Source
here I have removed one arm as well as the seat, foot, back, and both outside arms.
here I have removed one arm as well as the seat, foot, back, and both outside arms. | Source
that couch is looking pretty bare!!
that couch is looking pretty bare!! | Source
one naked couch frame, coming right up.
one naked couch frame, coming right up. | Source
the purple sheet was used to cover the springs.
the purple sheet was used to cover the springs. | Source
then I applied a layer of batting and also pieces of cardboard across the front to help support the top of the foot.
then I applied a layer of batting and also pieces of cardboard across the front to help support the top of the foot. | Source

7. Start Replacing the Parts with the New Fabric.

THE FIRST PIECES

For my couch, the first step was to re-staple the fabric that covers the springs, because the old fabric was ripped and had rust stains. I used an old purple sheet for this because I had one laying around and nobody will see that fabric unless they take the couch apart again.

Then after I applied the purple sheet, I had to put on a layer of batting to make the area with the springs a little softer.

I also applied a layer of batting to the foot of the couch, as this part would also be covered with fabric at the same time as the seat.

Then I started measuring my fabric to work on the first part of the couch that I had to put back on - the foot of the couch. This required some sewing, because I had to sew the corners of the couch into the foot piece. I also had to sew the inside seat fabric to the foot so that it was one continuous piece. I used an old blue sheet for my inside seat fabric, so that I didn't have to use the expensive suede fabric for this part.

putting on the batting for the foot of the couch, and zeus helping me re-measure the fabric from the bottom of the couch so I got the right shape.
putting on the batting for the foot of the couch, and zeus helping me re-measure the fabric from the bottom of the couch so I got the right shape. | Source
and here is the blue sheet sewn to the foot-of-couch fabric, and stapled accordingly back onto the couch. Then I also started the batting for each arm as those were the next pieces that needed to go on my couch.
and here is the blue sheet sewn to the foot-of-couch fabric, and stapled accordingly back onto the couch. Then I also started the batting for each arm as those were the next pieces that needed to go on my couch. | Source
putting together the cording!
putting together the cording! | Source

CORDING

After getting the foot of the couch on as well as the batting for each arm, my next step was to do the arms. First, I started by getting my cording ready. The cording is really easy to do - I hand sewed the fabric around the cording, however you can use a machine for this (mine was broken.)

Cut your cording into the size of pieces you will need, then sew the fabric over it to match what you will need for each piece. For me, I needed five pieces: one for each front of arm, one for each side of arm, and one spanning the top back of the couch.

UPHOLSTERING THE ARMS

The arms in general are in my opinion the most tedious and difficult part of the entire couch. I actually had to look up tutorial videos in order to make sure I was doing it in the easiest and fastest way possible. For my couch, I had to do the inside arms first, and then the outside arms.

To do the inside arms, I laid the fabric flat on the arm and pinned it into place. Then, I cut it to fit the area, leaving a few inches for stapling. Then, I tucked the fabric in where needed, and stapled all around. After that, I laid the cording next to the edge with the extra fabric facing towards the outside arm, and stapled it about half an inch away from the cording.

Below you will find an extremely helpful video from Kim's Upholstery if you need a visual on how to install the inside arm! She does it a little different than me, but that's the style of her couch too. Every couch is different!

Covering the Inside Arms - Kim's Upholstery

This is Curve Ease, or Ply-Grip. It is basically an L-shaped flexible metal strip with holes for staples in one end and teeth for the fabric in the other.
This is Curve Ease, or Ply-Grip. It is basically an L-shaped flexible metal strip with holes for staples in one end and teeth for the fabric in the other. | Source

*Note*

I actually had a pretty difficult time finding Curve Ease after I watched these videos. I found some on eBay, and you can use the link below to purchase some of your own!

UPHOLSTERING OUTSIDE ARMS WITH CURVE EASE

Curve Ease seriously made my life easier!! It is basically a flexible metal L-shaped strip with holes in one side for staples to attach it to the frame of the couch, and teeth in the other side to grip the fabric.You can cut it with regular scissors to fit your piece. (though I don't recommend using your fabric scissors so you don't dull the blades). All you need to do is staple the Curve Ease onto your couch, apply batting to the outside (but not too close to the teeth as you want the teeth to catch the fabric and not the batting), then apply fabric and cut to fit, leaving about an inch of fabric on the edges. After the fabric is on you use your regulator or flat head screw driver to tuck the edge of the fabric into the Curve Ease. Then you pinch it shut, and use a rubber mallet to seal it in.

My couch's original upholstery did not contain any Curve Ease - it was all stapled, and even after taking the couch apart I could not figure out how to get the outside arms back on. I was incredibly frustrated, until I discovered the video below from DIY Upholstery Supply on using Pli-Grip, or Curve Ease, to put it on.

I used Curve Ease along the top edge and the front vertical edge of the arm, and staples on the bottom and back vertical edges. I do not recommend doing this as the fabric on the couch will be less stable and more likely to come undone. As I learned doing my couch, Curve Ease is really meant only for the top edge of the arms and the back of the Sofa.

After I had already done my arms I was too pooped to go back and fix it, so I left it as is with the Curve Ease, and I have every intention of putting in a tack strip later. But, to prevent you from having extra work, I recommend using a tack strip for the front edge, curve ease for the top edge, and staples for the back vertical and bottom edges - this will help your fabric stay in place the best. I found another video from Kim's Upholstery which helps show you how to install the outside arm of the couch using a combination of staples, curve ease, and tack strips, which is the second video.

How to Use Ply-Grip (Curve Ease) - DIY Upholstery Supply

How to Upholster the Outside Arm on a Chair or Sofa - Kim's Upholstery

my finished outside arm!!
my finished outside arm!! | Source
finished cushions!
finished cushions! | Source
finished seat cushions!
finished seat cushions! | Source
after I got the front inside back part of the couch upholstered, it was all really smooth sailing. here's the front of the couch with the seat cushions!
after I got the front inside back part of the couch upholstered, it was all really smooth sailing. here's the front of the couch with the seat cushions! | Source

THE REST OF THE COUCH

After the arms were done, most of the tedious work of covering the frame was over. I then covered the inside back, using two layers of batting instead of just one because I thought it needed more.I applied the cording to the top edge of the couch, then put the outside back of the couch back on. I used Curve Ease along the top edge next to the cording, then used one tack strip on the left and right vertical sides, which covered the edge of the fabric and staples from my outside arms. Then, I stapled the piece all the way shut on the bottom wooden part of the frame.

At this point, I stopped doing the frame to get the cushions done. My sewing machine was broken and my boyfriend's mother is really awesome at sewing, so she helped me use the old pillow and seat covers to make new back and seat cushions for the couch. First we deconstructed the covers and used them to cut pieces of fabric that were about the same size (with a few extra inches of room on each measurement just to be safe). Then we installed zippers into the back wall of the seat covers to make it easy to take them off and wash them if needed. After the zippers were installed, we pinned and sewed the walls of the cushions to the cutouts of the seat cushion tops and bottoms.

To make the back cushions, we measured the length and width of the old back cushions, sewed brand new ones from the new fabric, and stuffed them with the Poly-Fil stuffing. We closed them up and all the cushions were done! It took us about 10 hours of work to get everything done - or two very late weekend nights. If you are not a good sewer - make sure you have someone who can help you put the cushions together, because aside from the arms of the couch this is the most difficult part!!

8. Finish your Couch.

The last step in the process is to put the finishing touches on your couch. This includes stapling on the new cambric dust cover and attaching the legs. To save money, instead of buying a new dust cover I used an old purple sheet. I tipped the couch up, and with the help of my boyfriend stapled the new dust cover onto the couch and cut it to fit. After that, I affixed the brackets for each of the new legs. I spray painted the wooden legs with a hammered metal spray paint to match the rest of the black metal accents and fixures in my living room. I screwed in the legs, put the cushions on the couch, and was finally DONE!

here's the back of the couch, finished...
here's the back of the couch, finished... | Source
and the couch finished from the side...
and the couch finished from the side... | Source
and here's the before and after comparison!
and here's the before and after comparison! | Source

About the Author

Victoria is a 22 year old obsessive DIYer, living in the beautiful city of Charlotte, North Carolina with her two cat babies, Oliver and Zeus. She loves the outdoors, writing, and swimming. A year and a half ago she started an addiction by taking a Scuba diving class through Scuba Schools International, and now she can't get enough of it and has obtained her advanced certification, with more classes to follow. She is also am very interested in home d├ęcor and love to experiment with color. Another huge area of interest is gluten free cooking.

Check out some of Victoria's other hubs:

The Complete Guide to Refinishing a Coffee Table (Especially if You're A Beginner)

Cooking: Almond Crusted Chicken With Garlic Lime Sauce & Brown Rice (Gluten Free)

Nails DIY: How to Create Marbled Nails

In Conclusion....

Reupholstering a couch is by far the most difficult, but most rewarding, project that I've done to date. It really is something else being able to tell guests, "I did that!" For anyone looking for a challenging and fulfilling project, I definitely recommend this project for you!

Source

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    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 2 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi Tori. Another first class hub.Your ability and easy to understand style is excellent.

      voted up and all.

      Graham.

    • Miss Info profile image

      Miss Info 2 years ago from New York City

      Great job! Awesome hub. I'm impressed.

    • hellovictoria profile image
      Author

      ToriM 3 years ago from Atlanta

      don't be discouraged!! I was quite intimidated starting this project...after I started ripping off the fabric it really hit me that I was committed to the project now, haha. But just keep trying - as long as you have the right tools and material you can do it! :) I hope if you do reupholster again that the tutorial comes in handy and that you will be able to send pictures :)

    • North Wind profile image

      North Wind 3 years ago from The World (for now)

      Wow! You did a great job and this is a useful tutorial. If only I had this a few years ago when I tried to reupholster my old couch. I used staples and regular black material but the result was a disaster! It was a standing joke in the family.

      I do not think that I have the courage to attempt another reupholstering myself but if I do I know which tutorial to follow.