Loose covers for the win

For at least the last five years, and perhaps even longer, I’ve been thinking I need my furniture reupholstered, and it was going to be the first thing I organised when I retired. Three years on and many phone calls, emails, and frustration later, I was no further advanced and stopped inviting people to my house because of the terrible state of my furniture.

There are two chairs and a sofa that my mother gave me. They were pretty much the first pieces of furniture she bought when we came to Australia in 1967 and were originally covered in grey leather with red leather piping. By the time I got them she had made loose covers from brown chintz (my mother loved brown chintz!), and I had them recovered in some green heavy cotton which I immediately regretted. We also have a sofa bed in the room, which was so disgraceful that it was buried under throws. I wanted to throw it out as we never use it as a bed (it used to be in a bedroom), but Mark wouldn’t. However, he was happy to get rid of my mother’s furniture…

Anyway, I finally found an upholsterer (who would only engage once I had sent photos of said furniture to ensure that it was worthy) and we got to the point of choosing fabric. This is an interesting experience as the wholesalers won’t give a price. Fabric has to be chosen and the details sent to the upholsterer who decides what he (or she) is going to charge. Needless to say, my first foray into fabric selection ended badly when I chose a  fabric costing $300 a metre and I needed 39 metres. This is in addition to the amount he had quoted per chair/sofa for the actual upholstery. Back to the drawing board. I finally found something I could live with and was promised a final quote. I waited months, emailing several times, and finally decided that I was going to have to go through the whole painful process again with another upholsterer.

Whilst we were in Tasmania recently I decided that I was going to have a go myself. How hard could this be? It couldn’t be much harder than making a dress surely? I wanted to make loose covers so they can be laundered and I wanted the cushions to be covered in calico first so they could be extracted from their covers easily and I wanted to use natural fibres.

I found this little book in my home library, and studied it carefully, measured my chairs as per the directions and made calculations. I also have the big Singer Sewing Book, which had more information in it, which I read. Then I winged it.

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Mark and I went shopping and, of course, we couldn’t buy fabric from the wholesalers, so we visited Homecraft Textiles and Mark chose denim. $7 a metre, and it won’t show stains when Mark spills his red wine on it, so a bit of a win, although I did have a flax colour in my head. We managed to procure enough to cover all four pieces, but I needed to wash the fabric three times to remove the overdye and to maximise the shrinkage, which was 8%. This was a fairly tedious process, but well worth it.

Close to a month later and I am finished! I have the concentration span of a gnat so I am amazed I stuck at it so consistently. I did take time out to make a couple of things in the interim, but I was determined to get this done.

I have to say at this point that I fervently wished that our furniture was the square, upright sort of stuff that appears in shops today. Ours is all curved arms and shaped cushions with lots of piping and a little skirt at the bottom.

Here is my first chair showing what I mean. I bought the Marimekko cushion in an op shop for $1, which makes me inordinately pleased but Mark doesn’t think it goes with the furniture now so it has been exiled to another room.

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My first job was to make a pattern of the cushions, so I took them apart and made calico patterns and then calico covers. These are sewn on as they don’t need to be removed and they will never be seen.

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I decided to make the denim covers for the cushions as the easy option to keep myself motivated to finish the job. I recycled the zips from the original cushions and basically copied the way they had been done before.  I found it quite fascinating to see how the upholsterer had approached things. Curves were clipped once and the piping sewn to one side first and then the other, exactly what I would do. The piping cord was plastic clothes line, which I did not like at all, so used cotton piping cord. After I had finished I realised that the plastic cord is probably more rigid, which prevents the back cushions collapsing at the edges; I still prefer the cotton though. I then began the painful task of making a toile of the chair itself. We found that sitting the chair on a table made it much easier on my back.

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Even with the toile, I had to do a bit of finessing with the denim and finished up with some interesting looking darts.

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The skirt around the bottom was lined with sew-in interfacing so that there are no visible hems, and this gives a lovely clean finish. I did both chairs first as they are identical, and then I needed to do the sofa. I decided that this was just an elongated chair, so took the chair pattern and inserted long pieces into the middle of the back, seat and front. The cushions are a different shape, but I had the original covers to make the pattern for them, so that was easy.

Last, but definitely not least, was the sofa bed, which has a similar shape but completely different, if you know what I mean. We stood it on milk crates so I could work round it, and I decided to do the cushions last as I needed to get the hard bit out of the way first. It’s not brilliant, but looks fine from a distance. Obviously this photo shows the work in progress, the bottom is level now.

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The overall impression makes me happy. They are probably darker than I would have wanted but the covers are easy to remove for washing, and a hot wash should just shrink them back a tiny bit to make them fit slightly better. I am quite pleased that I completely resisted the temptation to do jeans style topstitching in various places. It did cross my mind, but I busied myself elsewhere until the feeling went away. As the seats are sat in they stretch a little bit, but I quite like the resultant wrinkles. They do smooth out easily if I want them to look spiffy, but mostly I like the slouchy, lived in look.

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Of course none of our cushions worked with the new covers so I spent a happy day having some fun with them. The first couple were just plain (bland?) piped cushions made from some grey home dec fabric I had in my stash. Then I got bored. Instead of putting zips into all of them, I made a couple like pillow cases, using denim strips for contrast. I had to hold them together and found one frog, but the others are buttoned with buttons bought at a Morrison sale. Here are a bunch of them arranged on a sofa.

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The buttons look like they are covered in the same fabric, which is a bit of a bonus. I also covered a couple of triangular neck pillows in the denim and they just blend into the chairs. Mine gets used every night.

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So nearly four weeks, almost 100 metres of piping cord, about 35m of denim, 2 m of grey fabric, 20 m of calico, about a thousand bent pins, and numerous spools of thread later, I have a whole new look in the room. Mark thinks I’m really clever (which I’m trying to encourage!) and the whole thing cost less than $500. I had a budget of $10,000 for this activity, so now I’m planning how to spend the leftover money…

Fadanista

48 thoughts on “Loose covers for the win

  1. Wow, that’s some effort! Vast pieces of thick fabric to cut out and sew together, not an enviable task. I find de-constructing a commercially made item is always interesting, extra pieces of piping and tape can emerge unexpectedly.
    Pre-washing 3 times – I salute you, but as you say, worth the effort and actually nothing compared to the effort of the rest of the project. Your sewing, pattern making skills and patience were definitely up to the job. I think the first cushion also goes nicely by the way.

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    1. If I hadn’t washed it to get rid of the overdye, I risked staining people’s clothes when they sat on it. Thanks for the comment re the Marimekko cushion, I’m considering sneaking it back in.

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    1. Thank you Barb. I must say that there were times when I would have paid any amount of money to have someone else do this, but I’m glad I finished it. They are not perfect, but I’m pretending that’s part of their charm!

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  2. This was hard work but the result is so worth it. You saved a lot of money you can now spend otherwise. Wishing you a couple of lovely guests sitting in your newly made couch round!

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  3. Is there no end to your talents? I once covered one chair in a similar way and know just what work is involved. Bravo! The whole set looks fabulous and those amazingly creative cushions are the icing on the cake.

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    1. I wanted to keep playing with more cushions but it gets to a point where there are too many. Thank you for your comment Diane, I am so happy every time I walk into the room.

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  4. Amazing job! They look great. I have tried and failed to do this with one chair so I am extremely impressed. But now I need to properly reupholster that chair (the springs have sprung and now poke you in the back of the leg when you sit down.) As long as I can fit the chair in the back of the car I will sign up for a Saturday morning upholstery class that has good reviews. Otherwise I’m not sure what will happen.

    I agree with Helen, I think the Marimekko cushion looks great with your new covers, but then my house decorating style is much more flamboyant than many…

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    1. I shall sneak the cushion back in, together with a couple of coordinating cushions to tie it back in. I should have done an upholstery class, but am happy with my covers that I can just pull off and toss in the machine. Good luck with yours.

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  5. Brava!! It all looks amazing.I have just finished making a new sofa cover to update the look for our new home. I used some thick white cotton curtains from the old home, made a sofa cover, then dyed it grey. Liked the look, so then dyed the (me-made) cover on the other sofa to sort of match. Am very pleased!

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    1. That is a great idea! It makes such a difference to have a whole new look. Thick cotton sounds great. I was determined not to have polyester and a lot of home dec stuff is polyester.

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  6. I am very impressed as I know from experience all the hard work that went into this project. I admire you for your endurance. The end result looks wonderful and so inviting. You will be able to enjoy your hard work for many years to come. Now all you have to do is decide how to spend the rest of your budget!

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  7. That is an immense project so well done on the fantastic results. It’s so difficult to find someone to do jobs like this so it must feel great to have achieved such a great result yourself – and now you can plan what to do with the remaining budget. Have fun!

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  8. This is an amazing project! If I ever attempted such a thing, I know I would not add piping, thinking of the extra effort and alignment problems. But these look fabulous, and you are deserving of splurging with the remaining money!

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  9. Incredible work! I did a sofa cover a while back – it’s not easy for sure! I am in awe that you didn’t just buy new! Will the granddog be allowed on them I wonder?

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    1. Granddog is definitely back on the floor! I really like these old chairs as they are so well built and comfortable so I didn’t want to buy something just stapled together.

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  10. Well done. I’m not sure i have the patience for all that work but it has certainly paid off. I lovevvthe whole look and yes I liked THAT cushion too.

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  11. Wow! I also like the slouchy slipcover look and the denim gives just the right amount of slouch. Since you chose a durable and attractive fabric you won’t have to do this again. Just sit and enjoy and talk about how clever you are! We have the Danish modern sofa my husband’s parents purchased in 1963. It is a very 60’s green with a velvety nap and my great ambition is to slipcover it and never see the lurid green again. I fell for a buttery upholstery linen that was $150 per yard and I need about 22 yards so that was out. Still looking. Thank you for posting your timeline and thought process for how you went because my project seems much more doable now. I have the same slipcover book as you so will study. And shop for fabric!

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  12. What a complex and tedious task, Sue! Mark is right: you are clever. And I would add perseverent! Your lounge looks magnificient now and I can imagine all the parties you will want to host in there xx

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  13. You’re so clever! What a great project, how much work it must have been! The end result really looks lovely, the denim was a great choice! And although I’m a great jeans topstitcher myself, I think your decision not to topstitch was right 🙂
    I hope you can find a way to get rid of that money, hehe

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