The following is a guest post by Shana Cleveland.
Most of us have at least one old sofa or armchair in the house that could be renewed with a fresh slipcover.
Here’s a useful project that may seem like a daunting job but is actually totally manageable. Even for new sewers! At my house, most of our furniture is comprised of a random assortment pieces given to me by friends who were moving, or items I found at yard sales. Some pieces don’t have removable covers, so there’s no easy way to clean them. Most are past due for some kind of touch up. But more than just a practical solution for worn out old furniture, learning how to sew your own slipcovers can be a decorating revelation.
As we sewers know, part of the joy of making a piece ourselves is getting to have our personal choice of fabric. Whether you choose to match your slipcovers to each other, or the paint on the walls, or go for a mismatched bohemian look; slipcovers can totally rejuvenate the feeling of a room. Personally, I like to mix bold colors and patterns for a visually striking but comfortably eccentric look. Wild florals and big stripes can be a cool combination. If you’re looking for inspiration, Design Sponge is one of my favorite sites help clarify my decorating ideas. Have a piece in mind? Here are some simple steps to guide you through your first slipcover:
Step 1. Take measurements
Before heading to the fabric store, spend some time taking down the measurements of the piece you’d like to cover. Try to think of the sofa or chair in pieces of the whole. Write down height and width measurements for the back, both sides, the front, the top back, top cushions, armrests, and the fabric that will hang down in the front, sides and back. Add a couple inches to each measurement because you don’t want it to fit too snugly. I would suggest checking out the slipcovers available at a shop like Macy’s that carries many different designs, and buying one in a style that you like to use as a model for future pieces.
Step 2. Get your fabric
Once you’ve got your measurements, you can pick out the right fabric. You don’t necessarily need a super heavy upholstery, but you’ll want to choose something that’s not too thin or delicate so it can withstand some wear. You’ll need enough fabric to cover all of the pieces you measured plus several inches extra to account for seams. I would add at least a couple feet to the total measurement for a sofa, or a foot for a chair, just to be safe. Make sure to pre-wash fabric that has any chance of shrinking.
Step 3. Cut and pin
Now it’s time to cut out the pieces. Lay your fabric out face down and, on the back, trace the shape and dimensions of each piece you’ll need. Tailor’s chalk is really handy for this, but you can also use a pencil, pen, or even a sliver of white soap to draw on the fabric. Make sure to add some length to your measurements to allow for seams. When you have all the pieces cut out, arrange them (still face down) on top of the furniture you’ll be covering. Use your sewing pins to pin all the pieces together around the furniture.
Note: If, like me, you ever impatiently skip the pinning step and go straight to sewing you may find out the hard way how important pinning is! Though it may sometimes feel like a waste of time, pinning your pieces pre-stitch will greatly reduce your chances of screwing something up and having to rip your seams and start over.
Step 4. It’s time to sew
Now that you’re all measured and cut and pinned, you’re ready to get down to business on the machine. Since we’re dealing with a piece which will be sat on, layed on, possibly even jumped on, you’ll want to use a pretty heavy duty thread. If your machine has trouble with upholstery thread, use a standard thread double or triple stitched. Sew all of your pieces together, taking the pins out as you go.
Step 5. Flip it and slip it on
Here it is, the moment of truth. Flip your slipcover inside out and try it on your furniture piece. Take a look at how it fits around the edges. With your fingers, crease around the bottom where you’ll want to hem it up. Or make a mark along the underside. Fabric glue can work well for the bottom hem. Or you could use the machine. Smooth the cover down.
If there are any parts that aren’t lying right make note of them. You may have to rip a few seams and make some adjustments. Not to worry, it’s all part of the learning process! It may take a few tries to dial it in.
Step 6. Show some restraint
Once you get the hang of this you may begin to envision slipcovers on items all over the house. But remember, not everything looks and functions better under an attractive cloak. Please try to stay away from pets and bathroom fixtures. Have fun!
About the author: Shana Cleveland is a writer and recreational seamstress. She currently resides in the Pacific Northwest.