Ever wonder if you can tackle an upholstery project yourself? Well, you probably can. The better question is can you do it well? I respect the art of upholstery too much to tell you that anyone can upholster well. The truth is, it takes real skill and more than a YouTube tutorial to “do upholstery”. (What’s that you say? “It’s not rocket science…how hard can it be?” I smile and nod, just smile and nod.) It helps to be a perfectionist. Also, to have a natural instinct for working with your hands. If these are two of your personal attributes, and upholstery is something you’d like to invest your time to learn, here are a few things you may like to consider.
1. Invest in the proper tools. Simple, but very important tools are key to not losing your patience. A proper staple remover and pliers will help you to strip the old fabric off your piece. For a small project, a regular handheld stapler will work okay (not really…your hands will hate you), for bigger jobs a pneumatic (air-powered) staple gun is key. Research where to purchase upholstery tools and supplies if you are serious about DIY upholstery. I use this stapler: https://amzn.to/2NjNJWq
2. Start simple. A Parsons dining chair makes a perfect beginner project. (Find my tutorial here.) Small cushionless armchairs are also a good start.
3. Know the proper materials to use. Don’t use old shirts to pad your piece. I’m not kidding, I have pulled the weirdest stuff out of old chairs that have been put there by the best-intentioned DIYers. You may need new foam, you will definitely need new polyester padding, found at any large fabric retailer. Again, do your research!
4. Get a feel for how fabric moves and stretches. Work with appropriate fabric for your project. Make sure to pull the fabric, but not too tight. Loosey-goosey fabric does not look professional, but pulling too tight gives you puckers.
5. Learn the art of blind stitching. Before there were supplies for making upholstery faster to do, upholsterers hand stitched nearly everything. This skill is important in making an upholstered piece look finished and professional.
6. There are supplies to make certain tasks easier and quicker: metal tack strips for closing long straight sides, “curve-ease” for closing curvy parts. You can purchase these online or at upholstery shops.
7. You will need to use a sewing machine for bigger jobs. Get one with a piping foot, and learn how to use it.
8. Don’t be intimidated. Take the old fabric off carefully, and put the new fabric on in the opposite order. Look at where the cuts have been made, as you will have to make these cuts too.
9. If you are using fabric with a pattern, look for the center, and match it to the center of your piece. It just looks better.
10. Pay close attention to the details. It’s the little things that make or break the professional look of the job you’ve done.
11. Practice, practice, practice! Your first project will probably not look professional. Keep working at it and you will get better at it. Or not. But hey, at least it’s not rocket science!