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Small-Scale Upholstery Project

Last week I told you that I was going to do a mini upholstery project and I was able to complete it, phew!  It took a little more time than I had expected, but it’s done!  I am a very visual learner and always wish that tutorials had more pictures so I have designed this tutorial for all the visual learners in the house.

I had a few ideas in mind when I began this project:

  1. I wanted to do it on the cheap.
  2. I didn’t want to reupholster the entire love seat because most of it was in decent shape.
  3. I wanted to use very easy to work with materials.
  4. I wanted to create a piece with high style, but using very simple processes.

I found this loveseat on the side of the road one day with a free sign on it and quickly discovered that it was hide-a-bed too.  This was perfect because I had been looking for the right kind of extra bed for my son’s room for when he has friends sleep over.  The only issue was that both of the arms of the piece were really torn up.  I decided what this loveseat needed was a mini upholstery make over so I set to the task of reinventing this piece.

This project requires time more than anything else. It’s not hard to do and the costs are minimal.

Here is a picture of the finished piece so that you can get an idea of what we are doing here.  I decided for symmetry’s sake that I needed to alter 3 parts of this loveseat.  It didn’t feel balanced to just redo the arms so I decided to carry the effect through by detailing the back of the loveseat too.

Materials + Costs + Time = Loveseat Reinvention!

  • 2.5 yards of 30% wool 70% rayon felt in olive green $19.98
  • 1 yard of 30% wool 70% rayon felt in dark grey $9.99
  • 2 packages of dark brown embroidery floss $1.18
  • a curved upholstery needle and one straight upholstery needle $3.99
  • straight pins
  • large fabric cutting scissors
  • small fabric cutting scissors
  • paper cutting scissors
  • pattern paper $10.00. Newspaper can work in a pinch
  • marker
  • tape measure
  • sewing machine (optional)

Total cost for this project is $45. 14.  Please note that I only costed out the items that I had to buy for this project and you will have many of these items, such as the pattern paper for your next project.

The first thing I did was to wrap the pattern paper around the areas that I wanted to cover and pinned all those areas to the best of my ability.  Then I began to trace the lines of the piece so that I could have something to follow as I developed my pattern.  My strategy was to turn this piece into a pattern and a map of sorts so I would know exactly where to place each piece.

Next began cutting into the paper and removing the parts that I didn’t need for my pattern.  You can see that I began cutting where the arm and the back of the lovseat come together.  Once I did this I realized that I had made a mistake when cutting my line and needed to add 1/4 of an inch to one little section.  I used scotch tape to do this.  Tape is magical when drafting patterns because it can fix any mistake and it reinforces the pattern to keep it from ripping. 

At the right we are seeing the  pattern from the inside of the arm of the loveseat.  I finished tracing my lines and then cut out the rest of the pattern.  Below you can see my tape in the background of the picture.  I used it any where that I didn’t have a clean line or any where that I felt that the pattern needed to be a little bit larger.

* I didn’t add any extra material to this pattern for a salvage edge.  The reason for this was that felt won’t fray so you don’t need to worry about this.  The only exception to this was the front parts of the arm.  I think it’s easier to show you than to tell you so keep reading and I think you will see what I mean.

** I also didn’t sew any of this pattern on a sewing machine except for the part where I used the salvage edge, but  you could do this entire project without machine sewing if you choose too!

OK, this is what I was talking about.  If you look at the picture to the right you can see that first I traced the lines of the loveseat and then I added 1/4 inch to the piece for a salvage edge.  This is the only place where I added extra fabric to the pattern.  For the rest of the piece I used the raw edge of the felt.

*** The only problem with using the raw edge of any fabric is that you MUST cut very straight lines, so I spent some extra time on that.  Small, sharp scissors are really great for this because you can do more precise. detailed cutting.

Once I laid out the front piece I realized that I should leave the skirt of the original fabric, because I felt that if I covered the front part with felt to the floor it would look strange.  So what I decided to do was remove the part of the pattern.  You can see that I created a line where the original skirt had been and cut away that part of the pattern so that the entire loveseat would still have the plaid skirt wrapping around the entire piece.  When you are reinventing something these are the details you must think of.  How do I show what is already fantastic about this piece, but hide or fix what doesn’t work?  How do I marry these two components together?

Next I cut out the back of the loveseat.  This piece provides no other purpose than creating balance, style.  I could have left it out, but the arms would have looked sorta lonely and I couldn’t have that.  I just cut this out free-hand.  Then I cut out a grey piece that was slightly smaller than the green piece.

One of the many benefits to working with felt is that you can see how something will work just by laying it on top of the piece of furniture and it will mostly stay in place.

Next I removed the pattern pieces that I cut for the arm of the loveseat.  I laid my arm pattern piece out on the green felt and pinned it down. I cut felt around the pattern pieces.

Whenever I cut out a pattern I always spend a minute or two placing the pieces on the fabric and seeing how I can cut out the pattern without wasting extra fabric.  You can see here that I found that the front arm pattern piece fit nicely where the side arm was.

I am not sure if you can see this clearly or not, but what I have done here is once I finished cutting one of the arms I flipped the pieces over (to create a mirror image) and placed them down on the remaining green felt.  I pinned and then cut out these pieces.

Another thing that is nice about working with this better quality felt is that one side of the felt has these natural fiber bits in it and the other side is just plain, which makes it easier to tell which side is which.

Now you can see in the picture at your right that I matched the pieces up with the wrong sides facing out and pinned them to get ready to sew them together.  This is the front part of the arm we are looking at, at the right.  I chose to use my sewing machine for this part of the project, but you could very easily hand stitch this part too.

Once I finished sewing this part I cut little slits all around the curved areas so that when I flipped the piece right side out it laid flat and the curves look really clean.

Please note – my sewing here is not perfect.  Creativity wins over perfection every time.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently :)   Those slight imperfections won’t show once we are done.

I also cut out some grey pieces to frame the front of the arms.  See picture below.  I just cut these pieces out free-hand.  As long as they are symmetrical and fit on the arm they will look great!

Now the piece is really beginning to come together!  I have the piece pinned in place so that you can see what it will look like.

I decided next that I wanted to do the blanket stitch on all of the grey pieces that needed to be attached to the green, which are the back piece and the front of the arms.  I used a straight upholstery needle that was large enough to fit all of the embroidery thread on.  I didn’t have to remove any threads for this project.   Sewing this took a while, but was worth the time because it will add extra reinforcement to the piece and make it stronger than a simple running stitch would.   I put on a radio show and got to stitching.

Here is a close up shot of the arm.  I decided there was too much slack on the front of the arms so I pinned and then re-sewed the arms.  You can always make items you sew smaller.  Making them bigger is much harder.  This is why I usually have to take things in once or sometimes even twice to assure a really great fit.

At the right is a great shot of the curved upholstery needle in the green felt and the blanket stitched edge that I did earlier.

When working with a curved upholstery needle it is important to find the rhythm of needle.  I would suggest doing a few stitches on a practice piece before you get going because working with a curved needle is different if you never have before.  The eye of the needle was large enough that I could fit the entire embroidery thread on the needle at one time.  Again, I didn’t have to remove any threads for this part of the project.  I wanted a chunkier thread look.

When attaching the felt to the actual loveseat I used the back stitch. This also took some time.  Finding the spacing for the stitches takes a few minutes, but after awhile you naturally find your groove.

At the left is a great close up shot of back of the loveseat or maybe I should say the front.  Here you can see me getting started with the back stitch and you can see the blanket stitch that I did all around the grey pieces.  I also chose the blanket stitch for the grey pieces because I wanted the pieces to lay really flat and I felt that if I used another stitch the two pieces wouldn’t seem as seamless.

I stitched the back stitch to the front piece and the arm pieces on the outside of the loveseat and on the inside.  Why the inside too?  Because this is a hide-a-bed and will get a lot of wear and tear.  I would recommend sewing your piece on the inside too even if it’s not a loveseat for stability’s sake.

Here is a picture of the completed piece, close up so you can see all of the hand stitching.

Here is another close up shot that shows all of the details in the hand stitching on the arm of the loveseat.

This project has a handmade look to it.  Your stitches don’t need to be perfect.  The handmade-ness adds character and charm to the piece.

Below is the finished version of the loveseat all set up in my son’s room.   All and all this project took me about 12 hours to complete, which is longer than I wanted to spend, but good work takes time and for the price of all the materials it was a great deal.

How often can you take something that looks kinda drab and for $40-1sh reinvent it?  Not that often.  I hope you all enjoy this project!

It turned out great and as you can see it has been approved of by the little dog too.

by jen

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2 Responses to “Small-Scale Upholstery Project”

  1. Kathleen Blair Says:

    This is a great article and with lots of pictures it really gives me lots of detailed information. After reading, I realized I saw my mother doing this with furniture the whole time I was growing up. In fact, I may still have some of her embroidery needles somewhere.

    I have a wing chair which she recovered in a beautiful red and gold Jacobean chintz – just cotton but upholstery weight. The front of the chair on the back support has a huge rip in it and it can’t be mended. It’s impossible to find this fabric anymore so I”m going to have to either recovered the whl thing, or use your approach to just cover that section on back support.

  2. Becky Says:

    Nice work! I’m impressed – upholstering has always sort of eluded me, unless we’re talking about recovering kitchen chair cushions.