Making old furniture new again

Making Slipcovers

by Dollar Stretcher Contributors

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Making Slipcovers

How difficult is it to make slipcovers for a sofa and chair? Between our kids and the dog, our living room set has picked up many stains. It's only a few years old and we can't afford to replace it. I've done some sewing. Can anyone give me advice on how to make slipcovers?

You Can Do It!

Not an enthusiastic sewer, but faced with the ugliest sofa in the world, I gave it a go.

First, I gave notice to the family that the sofa was my "winter project." Therefore, it was off limits to criticism of any kind. Then I tackled measuring each section, including the back, sides, arms, arm fronts, etc. It was like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Finally, I went to my local fabric store, explained what I was trying to do, and begged for help. This was before the days of smart phones, so I didn't have a picture to show. All I had was a sketch. They were wonderful. They figured out approximately how much fabric I needed and even helped look in the discount bin. I came home fully convinced that this would work.

Well, I can't say it went smoothly, but it did work. After about a month, I had produced a fully acceptable fitted slipcover. I even received unsolicited compliments over the years from people who had no idea that it was homemade! After that first attempt, I covered two Queen Anne chairs (several times in fact), produced a much admired, padded window seat and pillows, and made several gorgeous floor-length table covers.

That little house was simply filled with projects I never knew I could do, and I was quite happy there.

Can You Start with Just the Cushions?

It's hard to explain the entire process of making slipcovers, but I've done several, as well as reupholstered some furniture myself. With a decent sewing machine and patience, it's a project most people with basic sewing skills can do.

I recommend that if the backs, arms, etc. aren't stained too badly, you might want to consider just doing the cushions in a coordinating fabric initially. If you use washable fabrics, make sure to prewash the fabric. Use the old cushion covers as your pattern. If you want the piece to look nice in the long run, you may want to cut your pieces the same size as the existing covers. In other words, don't add a seam allowance to the pattern piece when cutting it out to make sure it fits tightly. The fabric will stretch over time, and if you don't make them tight enough, they will look loose and messy in short order.

The existing cushion fabric should already be stretched. When putting the cover on a cushion, put the cushion foam in a garbage bag and insert into your new cover with the open end of the bag going in first. Then you can slip the bag off after the cushion is in place. The bag makes it easier to squeeze the foam into the fabric cover as it prevents the two from wanting to stick to each other.

If you decide to slipcover the whole piece, I highly recommend using Pinterest and Google searches to come up with a full step-by-step tutorial as there are several methods out there for making slipcovers and you will have to choose what suits the piece of furniture and your overall goal.

Buy Slipcovers Online

Check with for slipcovers. They have some that are quite inexpensive considering the cost of fabric. I just bought a sofa and chair cover for $130 including tax. They continually run deals. I missed the 20% off deal, but got "buy one, get one 20% off" and free shipping (worth $17.99). In total, I got a $30 discount. If you are careful what you choose, you can buy them for slightly more than what it costs to make them.

Making Slipcovers a Section at a Time

Yes, you can! They can be as tailored as you like. Details are online and on YouTube, but the basic idea is that you place a piece of fabric over one part of the couch (let's say the outer arm) and cut it into that general shape. Take the next section of the arm and do the same. Then pin these pieces together, so that they fit snugly. Your fabric should be wrong side up, and you are pinning on the outside of the fabric. Do this all over the piece you want to cover. Cut a piece for the lower front, back, sides, front, etc. Then pin them all together on the wrong side.

Following your pins, stitch it together. You can stitch one part at a time if you'd like, rather than waiting until all of it is pinned. Also, examine your couch by running your fingers into every crevice. You'll be amazed at some of the deep "pockets" there are where two areas meet. These can be used to tuck your slipcover in to make it tighter or take up extra fabric.

This is an easy project, but it does take time. If you don't want to make it tailored, cut larger pieces and tuck them into the pockets I mentioned above and around cushions, etc. Run a decorative piece of elastic around the bottom to hold it in place and fold the arms into pleats. There are a lot of choices, but you can do it!

Use Polyester Sheets When Making Slipcovers

The scariest thing I ever made was a slipcover. It didn't need to be scary. I purchased some lesser quality polyester sheets (the sort you hate to sleep on because they are so heavy). That saved a ton of money. I placed the sheet on the couch backwards and then started to pin and baste the material while on the couch. (Basting is long stitches which will be taken out later.) I cut the extra fabric off.

I put the material (still backwards) on the sewing machine and did a simple stitch and connected all the seams. The contrasting color of the basting thread helped me to follow the seams I wanted. When I was finished, I turned it right side out, and it fit onto the couch like a dream. If your couch seat comes off, great! Make huge pillow covers the same way as described above. I had a beautiful, well-fitted couch cover at very little cost. I still do this from time to time.

Making Slipcover with No Sewing Skills

If you have some sewing skills, you might want to search the web for tutorials to guide you. I found one, for example, complete with a list of tools, instructions, photographs, etc. here.

I do not have sewing skills. So when my horrible old couch with split open cushions needed a cover, I spent about $25 on a black drop cloth. I found it on a painting supply website. I measured and placed my order for a generously sized drop cloth. When it came, it was very wrinkled coming out of the package. I put it into the dryer on low with a pair of wet jeans, and after 30 minutes, most of the wrinkles were gone. I threw it over the couch. I tucked it down behind the cushions, adding throw pillows and a wool blanket across the back. It looked pretty good.

I could add decorative ties around the excess fabric that is on the floor, but I like the casual look. It's durable, washable, and seems to resist stains. Kids and dogs don't seem to hurt it. I need to straighten it out every day, because it does come somewhat untucked after an active kid and dog bounce around on it. However, it is a good solution for now and will extend the life of my sofa until I can afford a new one.

Sewing Expertise Not Required

First, you should do an internet search for detailed instructions on how to make slipcovers. There are a lot out there. They are a big help. They will help you know how much fabric to buy.

I made slipcovers for a couch and several chairs as well as chaise lounge and porch chair pads. I first made a pattern out of newsprint and then made a sample using old sheets. I did this for everything. I was able to tweak the pattern to make sure it fit. I took that sample apart and used it for the pattern. There were still adjustments to be made, but they came out okay.

I used Velcro® instead of zippers to close the cushion covers. I found it a lot easier to do it this way.

If you use fabric grade outdoor fabric, make sure to zigzag and seal the seams. They unravel, and after time, you'll find yourself having to re-stitch because of the unraveling. This will make the covers smaller and will be harder to get on.

I'm an okay sewer but not an expert by any means.

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