A Beginner's Guide to Reupholstering a Couch, Step by Step

Updated on March 16, 2020
hellovictoria profile image

Tori is a 28-year-old, three-time animal mom and DIYer living in Northern Atlanta with her boyfriend.

And here's the before and after comparison!
And here's the before and after comparison! | Source

When I moved into my first apartment, I bought an old set of furniture on Craigslist for my living room. It included a burnt orange corduroy couch, a chaise lounge, and a coffee table. Overall, the quality of the furniture was good, but the fabric was worn out from years of use.

Right after I got the set, I adopted two kittens, Zeus and Oliver. They loved the couch as much as I did. They loved it so much that they wanted to literally be inside of it and managed to pull the arm fabric open so they could climb inside.

I decided to reupholster it and ended up with a beautiful, red suede couch when I was done. Here's how I did it!

The Old Sofa: The "Before" Shot
The Old Sofa: The "Before" Shot | Source
Cat damage for days. In this photo you can see the line of cording at the seam and the extra fabric allowance needed.
Cat damage for days. In this photo you can see the line of cording at the seam and the extra fabric allowance needed. | Source

Things to Know Before You Get Started

  • This is NOT a one-weekend project. It took me approximately three weekends and some weeknight evening work to complete.
  • Be prepared to pull a lot of staples. Wear shoes so you don't step on any pieces of metal that might go flying.
  • It is generally a good idea to purchase additional fabric beyond what you measured for just in case you need it.
  • This tutorial's measurements are based off of my couch. But every couch is different, so take the time to do thoughtful measurements.

1. Measure Fabric for Upholstering

The very first thing you will need to do is to plan your project. To adequately plan, you will need to first take measurements of every piece of visible fabric on the couch, and some hidden pieces. This includes:

  • Outside couch fabric (the upholstery on the shell of the sofa)
  • Interior fabric (the upholstery on the inner part where you sit)
  • Cambric (the dust cover, usually made of a thin material that covers the underside of the sofa—it's different from the upholstery fabric)
  • Cording (that round, upholstered cord you might see at the seams that adds an accent and also makes the seam stronger)
  • Batting (the puffy, cushiony layer of material under the upholstery). If the old batting is still in good condition, you don't have to replace it.

2. Make a Table to Keep Track of Your Measurements

See the one I made below.

  • Remember: the measurements you are taking are only the parts of fabric that you can actually see. There's more fabric hidden on the inside that you can't see, places where the fabric is sewn or stapled to hold it in place. To compensate for that hidden seam or overlap, you need to add an "allowance" to every piece of fabric.
  • Including an allowance: I added 4 inches to each side so the width and height of each piece of fabric I will cut is increased by 8 inches total. Pay special attention to providing allowance for the inside arms and the outside back!
  • Your "cut size" is the total amount of fabric you need for each piece: the measurement of the fabric you see plus the allowance.
  • If the old batting is still good, you don't have to replace it. If not, you'll also want measurements for the batting. Every couch uses batting differently, depending on the design. I felt around my entire couch, and any part of it that felt padded, I measured for batting. This included the inside arms, inside back, and inside seat (over the springs but under the cushions). I added two inches of allowance for each "cut size" of batting.

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

3. Plan the Cuts on Paper First

Now that you have measured and made allowances, it's time to draw the pieces on a small scale so that you can figure out how much fabric you will need altogether. Before doing this, make sure you know how wide the roll of fabric is that you picked out so that you can effectively plan the cuts to waste minimal fabric. Mine was a 54-inch roll, and most bolts of fabric are. Below is a photo of a little section of my planning to give you an idea of what this looks like.

On paper, plan the cuts you'll make on upholstery yardage. If you plan carefully on paper first, you'll waste less fabric (and money!).
On paper, plan the cuts you'll make on upholstery yardage. If you plan carefully on paper first, you'll waste less fabric (and money!). | Source

4. Purchase Supplies

Use the supplies list below as a model to ensure that you get what you need for your project (changing the measurements, of course, to match your needs). You might purchase a few extra yards of fabric and batting just in case something happens and you need more.

What I Needed
Where I Got It
What I Paid
Upholstery fabric (I used Signature Series Home Decor Fabric in True Red); 18 yards
Joann Fabric Store
$144.00
Soft N Crafty 8 oz polyester batting; 12 yards
Joann Fabric Store
$41.88
Staple gun
any hardware store
$15.97
1/2 inch steel heavy duty staples, 2 packs
any hardware store
$6.24
10 pieces of rigid tack strips
eBay
$8.99
Curve Ease/Pli-Grip (100 feet)
eBay
$17.50
12 yards of 8/32" cording, 2 pack
Joann Fabric, eBay
$8.98
Heavy duty red thread
any craft store
$1.99
4 Foster Decorative Millwork 2-3/4" Pine Taper Bun Feet
Home Depot
$23.92
4 heavy duty top plates (for the legs)
Home Depot
$10.48
Upholstery regulator or flathead screwdriver
Amazon or any fabric store
$10.75
Dust cover (I used a spare flat sheet)
varies
varies
Rubber mallet
any hardware store
$11.99
Fiskars 12-71787097J Titanium Easy Action Scissors, 10 Inch (you don't have to use these exact scissors, but I love them)
Amazon
$19.01
Extra fabric for the inside pieces of your couch, such as under the cushions (I used a spare flat sheet)
varies
varies
Needlenose pliers
varies
varies
 
 
Total cost: approx. $321
Many of the tools I had already, but this total includes the cost of tools if you need to buy them. If you already have the tools, subtract the cost of each one that you have so that you can get an accurate idea of the estimated cost for your project

5. Deconstruct the Couch Carefully, Making Notes

You will learn a lot about how to put your couch back together by taking it apart. It's important to look at the seams carefully and to keep track of which layer went on top of which. Take note of everything you do: how pieces were put on the couch (which sides were stapled vs. where a tack strip was used, etc.), what side of the piece was put on first, and what order you take the pieces off. This will be good to refer to when you are putting the couch back together. If you can, take pictures of how it was put together to help you remember how to put it back together.

It's important to take notes of what you do while dismantling the couch so you know how to put it back together again.
It's important to take notes of what you do while dismantling the couch so you know how to put it back together again. | Source

4 Steps to Deconstruct Your Sofa

1. Turn the sofa over.

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. Remove all the staples on the bottom of the couch.

Using pliers, remove all the staples around the bottom of the sofa so you can start figuring out which piece you need to take off first. This staple-removing process will probably be time-consuming. Find someone to help you if you can.

Removing the staples is one of the most arduous parts of the process.
Removing the staples is one of the most arduous parts of the process. | Source

3. Remove old upholstery carefully.

Identify the piece that needs to be taken off first. 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. 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

4. Remove the rest of the fabric pieces.

How you proceed will depend on how your individual couch was constructed. Take notes on how you take it apart. You might save these pieces of old fabric to use to check your measurements.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Taking off the rest of the back fabric.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.Taking off the base's fabric.Here I have removed one arm as well as the seat, base, back, and both outside arms.That couch is looking pretty bare!One naked couch frame, coming right up.
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 base's fabric.
Taking off the base's fabric. | Source
Here I have removed one arm as well as the seat, base, back, and both outside arms.
Here I have removed one arm as well as the seat, base, 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

6. Recover the Couch Springs and Base

I started by re-covering the couch springs. I laid a piece of cut-to-size sheet down first, then a layer of batting, and stapled both down. I applied another layer of batting around the base of the couch, then I measured my fabric to recover the base. This piece requires sewing: first the inside seat fabric covering the spring batting. 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. Then I created the corners so I could slip the fabric over the base.

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 base.
Then I applied a layer of batting and also pieces of cardboard across the front to help support the top of the base. | 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
Putting on the batting for the base 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 base of the couch, and Zeus helping me re-measure the fabric from the bottom of the couch so I got the right shape. | Source
The base and spring cover fully attached.
The base and spring cover fully attached. | Source

7. Prepare Cording

After getting the base of the couch on as well as the batting for each arm, my next step was to do the arms. I started by getting my cording ready.

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. I needed five pieces: one for the front of each arm, one for each side of arm, and one spanning the top back of the couch.

Putting together the cording!
Putting together the cording! | Source

8. Recover the Arms

The arms are, in my opinion, the most tedious and difficult part of the entire couch. I had to look up tutorial videos in order to make sure I was doing it in the easiest and fastest way possible. I did the inside arms first and then the outsides. I followed the tutorial videos below for these two pieces, making adjustments for my couch.

My finished outside arm!
My finished outside arm! | Source

You may have noticed that Kim mentioned Curve-Ease. It is 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 (not your fabric shears) to fit your piece. Here is a tutorial on using Curve-Ease which will make finishing the arms a little bit easier.

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

9. Re-Cover Back

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.

10. Re-Cover the Seat and Back Cushions

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.

Finished seat cushions!
Finished seat cushions! | Source
Finished pillows!
Finished pillows! | Source

11. Finishing Touches: Dust Cover & Legs

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 stapled the new dust cover onto the couch. After it was stapled, I cut off the excess.
  • For the legs, I spray painted them with a hammered metal spray paint. After that, I affixed the brackets for each of the new legs to each corner of the base of the couch and screwed the legs in.

And from there, I was finished! I hope you found this tutorial helpful for your own project.

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

Questions & Answers

© 2014 ToriM

Comments

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    • profile image

      Lamanda Norat 

      3 months ago

      Just found a beautiful chase with beautiful curves! The fabric is in great condition but not my color. I am little intimidated

    • profile image

      Harata Pou 

      13 months ago

      Thank you for the tutorial. It’s simple enough for me to do and accomplish. I thought to pay someone else but I can save myself lots of $$$.

    • profile image

      Jin 

      19 months ago

      Thank you Tori for the tips! You are such a big help :)

    • hellovictoria profile imageAUTHOR

      ToriM 

      19 months ago from Atlanta

      Hi Jin, here's my recommendation:

      If it was like my sofa, there will be about a half inch of space between the back and the arms, where the arms would touch the back. use a screw driver or something flat to push the batting, and then the fabric, in to that space.

      If that space has a bunch of cross supports that would prevent you from pushing the fabric in as one piece, then cut little flaps in the fabric and push the flaps in to each space, making the cuts just big enough to make the inner arm fabric lay flat and not bunch up.

      the best comparison I can think of to what I'm saying is like putting a paper dress on a paper doll - how it has flaps the hold the dress on.

      I hope this helps!!

    • profile image

      Jin 

      20 months ago

      Thanks for the reply Tori! I have just finished removing all the fabric and staples from my couch. My fabric and batting are here, just need to get foam for the back and arms.

      I'm quite puzzled how to tuck the inner arms - the sofa in the video you inserted isn't exactly like my sofa. There is no space (I'm exaggerating :P, there's actually 8 inches space from the top of the arms) between the arms and the back. It's pretty much like your sofa actually. So now, I don't know how to tuck the fabric between the back and the arms since they are attached mostly. Please help :( I'm stuck!

    • hellovictoria profile imageAUTHOR

      ToriM 

      20 months ago from Atlanta

      Hi Jin, For my particular couch, there was no foam on the inside back or arm when I took it apart, there was only batting. So when I redid it, I just used batting as well. However, looking back on the project I do wish I had used maybe a one or two inch foam to make everything a tad bit softer, so that is definitely something you could do as well! Good luck with your project!

    • profile image

      Jin 

      20 months ago

      Awesome reupholstery job! Your post gave me a lot of confidence and tips on doing mine. Quick question though - did you have to use any type of foam for the inside back or inside arm?

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      2 years ago from Philippines

      I love what you did to your sofa:).

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      5 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

      S T Guy 

      5 years ago from New York City

      Great job! Awesome hub. I'm impressed.

    • hellovictoria profile imageAUTHOR

      ToriM 

      5 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 

      5 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.

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