Reupholstering is a way to update old furniture instead of throwing it away and buying new pieces.
While it seems that nearly any piece of furniture could be overhauled with this craft, that doesn’t mean every piece should be, says John Nordine, whose projects during his 35 years in the business have ranged from airplanes to zebra-skin footstools.
The first thing to know before deciding to update a piece of furniture is whether the piece is worth the work, Nordine said.
A single piece of furniture can take more than eight hours to reupholster, and fabric can cost a couple hundred dollars.
“You want to make sure you have a quality frame,” he said.
After determining that a frame is sturdy enough for an update, select your fabric. Colors and patterns are personal preferences, but a durable material is essential.
The durability of a fabric is measured in rubs or double rubs, ranging from 100,000 to 500,000. The higher the rub, the better the fabric. When purchasing fabric, each bolt will have a description card with the necessary information.
For do-it-yourself projects, one will also want to consider the type and thickness of the material.
“Cloth can be done on a home sewing machine; most vinyls cannot, and the reason is that the stitches are too close together for vinyl,” Nordine said.
Use an upholstery measurement chart to determine how much fabric you will need for your project. Various charts with images of different types of chairs and the correct amount of fabric needed for each.
“An average chair is anywhere from 5 to 7 yards,” he said. “Couches can run 15 or more yards, so it’s important to measure and get somewhat accurate measurements.”
Nordine suggests purchasing at least one extra yard of fabric if the material is reasonably priced. The extra fabric can then be used if there’s a mistake during the process or to repair the piece later if there’s a spill or tear.
The next step is dismantling the piece of furniture.
“For the do-it-yourselfer, when you take a piece off, take a picture. Take another piece off, take a picture,” he said.
The photos will later act as a reference for reassembling the furniture.
Most chairs are upholstered with staples and tacks. The fabric can be ripped off or carefully removed by taking out all staples and tacks. Different strategies for removing fabric can be found on DIY sites and Pinterest through quick Google searches.
One of the quickest techniques is to use pliers to slowly twist the fabric, pulling it off the furniture and removing all staples in one move. This method, titled the Roller Plier-Majigger was posted by Brooke Ulrich of AllThingsThrifty.com.
The fabric that has been removed becomes the pattern for the new pieces.
Using the old fabric as a pattern, Nordine said he cuts the fabric about 2 inches bigger all the way around to accommodate the extra padding he’ll add.
“Things like cushions where the size is predetermined, you’re going to make exact because you want that to go on nice and tight again,” he said.
When all the pieces are cut, reassemble the piece, using the photos taken during deconstruction as a reference and a staple gun to reattach the pieces.
Nordine suggests taking close-up photos because sometimes a wrinkle will be necessary, and if there’s no photograph, it may be difficult to get just right.
For those who aren’t ready to take on a full-blown reupholstery project, slipcovers can be a simpler do-it-yourself update.
Anyone with basic sewing knowledge can do it, and it takes fewer tools than full reupholstery. Slipcovers are also more forgiving and an easier project for a beginner, said Jeanie Demlow, who has been making slipcovers in Grand Forks, N.D., since 1998.
“If you’re not a precise person, that’s OK with slipcovers,” Demlow said, adding that the extra fabric gets tucked into the creases of the furniture.
Creating slipcovers follows the same basic steps as reupholstery. First, determine whether the piece is worth the project. Next, measure the piece of furniture. “Measure twice, cut once,” Demlow said.
Unlike reupholstery, when making slipcovers, there isn’t any old fabric to use as a pattern, so proper measuring is even more important.
“Sewing knowledge is really important,” Demlow said, explaining that the do-it-yourselfer needs a mental picture of how the pieces will be cut from the fabric.
She added that anyone with basic sewing knowledge should be able to figure out how to put the pieces together. For help, she suggested searching for tutorials on do-it-yourself sites and YouTube.
Which to choose?
Demlow said upholstery is tailored and elegant, while slipcovers tend to create a more laid-back and casual feel.
There are several advantages to using slipcovers rather than reupholstering a piece of furniture. Slipcovers easily can be removed and washed. Because they aren’t permanent, they also allow the owner to change the look of a piece of furniture for different seasons or occasions.
On the other hand, reupholstering furniture creates a tailored look and allows additional padding, replacement of broken springs and touchups to the frame.
But, whether tackling reupholstery or a slipcover, one piece of advice holds true: Start small and simple.
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