High Heels and Training Wheels: DIY Couch Reupholster With a Painter's Drop Cloth | Part 1: The Frame

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3.13.2015

DIY Couch Reupholster With a Painter's Drop Cloth | Part 1: The Frame

Pre-post warning: This post is picture heavy and it is quite lengthy. That's not an indication of this project's difficulty at all! In fact, this entire project can be tackled by a single person in just one weekend. I just wanted to be very thorough and include every single detail so anyone, no matter your skill set or prior knowledge, can follow this without any problems or confusion. I could've skimmed for sake of time, but I personally had a lot of questions while following other tutorials and I would have appreciated a more in-depth post. So while it's a much longer post, it's a thorough step-by-step guide; kind of a reupholstering for dummies.


step-by-step guide how to reupholster a couch

Let me start out by saying that I have been wanting a new couch for years. Every single couch I have ever owned, since I moved out on my own 10 years ago, has been a hand-me-down that someone has gifted me. And since these were given out of my necessity, I had to settle on whatever couch was graciously bestowed upon me. Beggars can't be choosers, right? I mean, I was grateful someone was thoughtful enough to give us a couch and that we had one at all, don't get me wrong! But that didn't keep me from lusting after my dream couch.

couch before reupholster

couch before reupholster

It's not a bad little couch. Especially from afar. It's a good shape, it's a good size, it's comfortable. The integrity of the frame is good; it's nice and sturdy. But the fabric? Oh lawd, the fabric. If you look up close, you can definitely tell we have cats and kids. The fabric has been shredded by sharp cat claws, it's pilling in places from being washed, and the piping has burst free from it's fabric confines.




Our living room has been coming along nicely but this couch was holding me back! Since we moved into this house, life has been one giant DIY project. We have been working on every inch of every room; working tirelessly to turn this house into a home. The living room especially has been a big focus of my efforts and it's starting to look really nice....except that darn couch!


It's not that I was unsure of what I wanted. I had a very specific idea in my head of what I wanted, in fact. I wanted a neutral grey couch with clean, sleek, modern lines. Think: Mad Men. Nothing about our home decor is traditional so, even without it's worn and ragged condition, our couch was majorly out of place. But couches like this little beauty above, though perfect and exactly what I'm looking for, would run me $1,900. Yikes! Yeeeeaaaah, not happening.

Ok, so what other options do I have? Well, I've always considered from afar that maybe I would try reupholstering. But I kept scaring myself out of it every time I thought about it. I mean, how much would this project cost me? Fabric prices alone make my head spin! What if I broke the bank to get this upholstery fabric and I ruined it and it all ended up going to waste? I just couldn't even stomach the thought. Years of living frugal has taught me to shudder at any waste.  I just didn't even want to try to attempt it....until I saw this pin...






It looks pretty dang amazing, doesn't it? If I had seen this outside of context, I would have no idea that this was a DIY job. And guess what? She used drop cloths! Yeah, just plain old painter's drop cloths from Home Depot! And since drop cloths are so cheap....hmmm....maybe I could give it a shot. So, I did. I shoved my anxiety way down and armed myself with some drop cloths.

Using drop cloths as fabric for couch reupholster

Now if you've read my last post, you know I was set on a grey couch. Her hardware store conveniently sold grey drop cloths, mine did not. So I had to dye them before I could upholster with them. They're huge, it wasn't easy. But you can see exactly how to dye drop cloths in my last post, if you need direction.

So, materials. What do you need? Well, your drop cloths obviously. Our couch is quite large (100 in long) so I got 2. I got one 12ft x 15ft cloth and one 9 ft x 12 ft cloth. One for the frame and one for the cushions. But past that, everything else is pretty easy and pretty cheap. We'll divide the project in half and start with what you need for the frame first...

couch reupholstering materials

optional (we'll get there and you can see what I mean)
  • upholstery tacks- $2.49
  • hot glue gun- had it
  • double sided tape- had it
  • cardboard- free

It looks like a large list, but it's really not. It's really just small things and most things you probably already have, like scissors and a screwdriver and stuff. The bulk of your cost are the drop cloths themselves; everything else is roughly $25. So don't get intimidated yet!

preparing fabric for furniture reupholstering

You need to start by prepping your fabric. If you choose to dye it and you followed my last post, you're already good to go. If you aren't planning on dying it, you still need to wash and dry it to get the sizing chemicals out and to shrink it before you work with it. You don't want a stiff, scratchy couch. I did my washing in the bathtub because it was too large to fit in my washer, but it doesn't require anything special; just some good old Tide.

Now to get started on the couch. I originally wanted to leave as much of my original fabric on the couch as I could, just for a safety net. I just thought maybe if this lofty endeavor didn't end up working out, I could preserve the couch's existing condition and it'd be no harm, no foul. I could just peel off the new fabric attempt and the old would still be waiting underneath.

However, I didn't want to have to do any measuring and run the risk my measurements somehow being off, so I ended up stripping it down so I could use the original pieces as a pattern. There would be no measuring, I could just trace and cut and know everything would be the right size. I definitely recommend you it this way too. Angles get weird, cuts get wonky; it's just safer. So you need to start removing staples. You also need to pay attention to the order in which you take things off, you will start putting the new fabric on in the reverse order.

removing staples on couch

Step 1: Remove couch skirt.  If you have a skirt on your couch, you will start there. I used the needle nose pliers to pull out the staples and most of them pulled right out, no problem. You will, however, come across a few that are really in there and in order to get a grip on them with your pliers, you need to use your screwdriver to get behind it and get it started. Also, you see that cardboard strip? You're going to see those all over the couch; anywhere a panel is flipped downward, one of these strips will run under the staples. You will need these strips when you put on your new fabric so you can either take care so you can reuse these, or you can buy new ones. I chose to reuse mine and had no problems with it, but the choice is yours.

This phase is the most labor intensive part of the entire job; removing staples is work. The "deupholstering" is much harder than the "reupholstering". After you get through this though, it's smooth sailing from here on out.

removing skirt on couch

Step 2: Flip the couch. Once you get the skirt done (assuming you have one, count yourself lucky if you don't), then we can start on the back of the couch. To do this, we need to tip the couch onto it's front so we can start on the staples underneath.


Step 3: Remove staples from underneath the frame. Now we remove 1,000 staples on the underside of the frame so we can lift up the back panel and get to the "innards" of the couch. (There will also be metal spike strips running down the sides of the back panel that you will need to remove to get the back panel off. More about this in step 5) After I remove the panel off of the back, I could get to where everything is attached on the inside. The back of the seat (the portion you'd be leaning back on when you sit) tucks down beneath the seat and wraps around to the inside. The arm panels are tucked in and attached to the inside as well. Removing the back gets you access to all that. 


Step 4: Remove side panels. Next I took off the bottom side panels. This works exactly like the back does. It's stapled along underneath and also has the metal spike strip running along the front side (more about it in the next step), then you can flip the panel up over the arm and remove the staples that run along the top. When you remove this side panel, the bottom of the arm panel is exposed. It's stapled to the same wood piece as the bottom panel and you can start removing these staples too.


Step 5: Label fabric pieces, set aside metal "spike strips". You see what looks like foam covered road spikes? This piece runs along the front of the side panels (that we just took off), as well as down the sides of the back panel (that we did in step 2). The fabric edges gets wrapped around this, the spikes are poked through the fabric, and then it's flipped and hammered into the frame to attach the fabric without any staples being visible. It also creates a clean line. You want to save this for when we put the couch back together. I don't know how much one of these contraptions would run ya, but there's no sense to buy one when we can just reuse what we've got; and it's already cut to size too! So be careful not to mangle this too bad. I used my screwdriver to get underneath one edge and started prying it up. It somewhat bent some of the spikes but if you're careful, you'll be able to straighten them and it'll be good as new.

 

Step 6: Peel back the arm panels. After you remove that bottom row of staples from the arm panel, and where it tucks down into the seat, you can remove where it wraps around back. But first, my advice before you remove anything with pleats and folds (like the back of my arms pictured above) though, is to take a picture to use for reference when you're putting on the new fabric. Curved arms are hard to wrap and get just right, so it will be much easier if you have a guide to work off of. After that you can start peeling the panel back. The arm panel will still not come completely off though because, aside from the back and the bottom, it is attached on the inside as well. Which brings us to...


Step 7: Remove fabric from arm and seat back, from inside the frame. Now the way my couch is made, the fabric was not directly stapled to the frame on the inside, as it has been underneath. It was sewed to this batting type fabric and then the batting was stapled down to the frame. In order to save my fingers from having to pull out even more staples, I just used my utility knife to cut along the seam where the fabric met the batting. But if your couch isn't constructed like this, and your fabric is directly stapled to the frame, that's ok. You would just remove the staples exactly as we have been doing.

After you get it separated, the entire arm panel should be off and you should be able to stick your hand through from the back to the front on both the arms, as well as along the bottom of the seat. If you can't access the front of your couch through the back in all of these places, there's more fabric you need to separate somewhere. Make sure all of your creases are open and accessible because we're going to start tucking the new fabric in....


Step 8: Drape the couch with the new fabric. You may notice I didn't remove the seat back before moving to the new fabric. I did that on purpose. There was no sense to remove it because I could cover it just fine. No sense in doing more work if we don't have to right? Right. I made sure to separate it from the frame so I would have access to pull my new fabric through to the back, but I didn't remove it. So next step is to drape the drop cloth (or whatever fabric you're using) over the couch and start tucking it into the creases enough that you can grab them from around back. That is where they will be tucked under and stapled so you need to make sure you're tucking deep enough into those creases. You also need to make sure that the fabric in the back is long enough to cover the back of the couch as well. I draped it so that the back was long enough to just brush the ground.



Step 9: Pull fabric through to back, cut, and begin stapling. Once you've got your fabric all tucked into your creases, go around to the back of the couch to pull it through. You need to pull the fabric through enough that when you cut it, you have enough length to staple to the frame; better to have too much than not enough. Cut along the bottom of the seat, as well as the crease where the back meets the arms, and where the arms meet the seat (all of those dotted lines from step 8). Do not staple your arm panels yet! We want to go ahead and cut the fabric in that crease to separate the back from the sides, but we still need to lay the fabric out and trace the old panel on it for the arms. So start stapling along the inside of the back panel, but that's all we're stapling in this step; leave the arms free. Also, leave the back open. Staple along the inside creases, but don't close it up and staple it up underneath the couch yet; we still need in there! Closing that up will be our very last step. Remember, we're replacing in the reverse order we removed it.


(fyi: my fingernails are not dirty, I promise you!  They got stained while dying the fabric. I just though that was necessary to make clear cause, yuck!) 
Step 10: Mark and cut fabric for the front of the couch. Now that we have the biggest portion (the back) cut and separated, we can move to the next largest piece. The front of the couch isn't exactly "big", but it is long. We don't want to cut up our fabric into arm pieces and stuff and end up without a piece long enough to cover the front. So that's why I do the back and front first. I draped the fabric to where the edge just brushed the ground. Then I used my chalk pencil to mark how far back the fabric needed to go and then I cut along this line. You may have noticed I removed the skirt way back when but I didn't remove the fabric underneath it. It was just another piece that was unnecessary to remove so I just left it and went over it.


Step 11: Staple front piece to frame. The original fabric in the front wasn't stapled to the frame, it was sewed to that striped fabric on the seat. Since I wasn't removing this panel, I couldn't get under it. I thought about just sewing the front piece onto the seat fabric the way they had but I would have to hand sew it and it would've taken forever. So I just pulled the fabric around to the back of this beam and stapled right through my fabric and the old fabric.


Step 12: Trace old fabric and cut your new pieces. I laid my fabric out flat on the floor and positioned all my pieces on top. Once I had them arranged, I pinned them and started cutting. Until you start actually putting the pieces on the couch, it's a good idea to keep them paired with the old pieces so you know what's what. I threw all my old fabric in a pile after cutting and then I'd hold up a new piece like "Ok, what the heck is this piece?" So it's a good idea to keep the labeled old piece paired with its mate.


Step 13: Attach arm panels. You'll notice in the picture above, there is no front to my arm. My couch originally had a solid piece in front that met up with this arm panel with piping. I don't like piping and I didn't want to use it. I could have very well cut each piece and sewn them together with the piping, but I just didn't want to. Plain and simple. So I looked through various other couches to see other options and the most appealing was essentially like a "cap" on the front. So what I did was attach my arm panel exactly as it had been but up front I left it open. I just pulled it as tight as I could and stapled it down. You can do it this way or you can break out your sewing machine and piping. Your call. If you do it this way you need to start stapling at the middle of the top and work your way down on each side. It's really easy.


Step 14: Cut fabric, cardboard and batting to fit your scroll. Ok, this probably seems somewhat weird and maybe even a little second rate to you but I promise you it's not. Now, using a UPS box specifically may be somewhat unconventional but the method itself is quite standard, I assure you.



 See? Totally a normal thing. And, if you notice, there was already tons of cardboard all over the couch. In every seam the fabric is wrapped around a cardboard strip before it is stapled in. So, cardboard is totally acceptable. Capishe? You can go out and buy cardboard specifically targeted to upholstery for this step.....or you can just use the UPS box your new laptop monitor came in. I chose the latter. Whatever cardboard you choose, cut it to the exact size of your existing scroll because this is going to be your "cap" on the front. You need to also cut out a piece of batting to fit this as well. Just trace and cut.



Step 15 (option 1): Attach batting and fabric to the cardboard with upholstery tacks. There is another way to do this, but this is the first. It didn't work out for me and I'll show you why in a second, but this is the standard method that most people use. So I'm going to go ahead and share it anyway and you can decide for yourself how you want to do it. With this method you insert tacks through the front of the batting and cardboard to where they're all sticking out of the back. Then you lay the fabric over top and wrap it around the edges and keep it in place with the tacks. Then you position it on your couch arm and use a mallet to hammer the tacks through all these layers.


It worked but the problem was that where the tacks were, it damaged the fabric. I re-cut my fabric and tried this again but this time putting the tacks under the batting so I could have some cushion between the tack heads and my fabric. But, unfortunately, I ended up with the same results. So onto plan B.


Step 15 (option 2): Attach cardboard, batting and fabric with hot glue gun. Ok, this time I layered everything the exact same as option 1, minus the tacks. Then I positioned my scroll where I wanted it and used my hot glue gun to add small dots all around the edge. This will hold it in place for part B...


Step 15 continued: Using the curved upholstery needle and thread, sew the scroll directly to the arm by following all the way around the edge. This was somewhat time consuming because we're stitching by hand, but it wasn't at all hard to do. The hot glue holds it in place for you so you really just have to throw your stitches in. You will have to have the curved upholstery needle for this. Because you're sewing to the arm, you can't get behind the fabric to pull your needle through. The curved needle pushes through the front and out the back all at once. So if, like me, you saw this weird needle and wondered what the hell it was for, now you know.


The line is crisp and clean and you can't even see the seam. The thread and glue hold it secure and there's no damaged fabric. Win, win.


Step 16: Attach the back of the arm panel.  Now if you took a picture of your arm panel before you removed it, like I did, you should have no problems replicating the folds and pleats. It's somewhat hard to get it to lay smooth at first, but just keep playing around with it and add your staples strategically. Once you get a shape you like, throw in some extra staples to hold it secure.


Step 17: Attaching the side panels. Ok, still moving in reverse order, we've finished the arms, time to move down to the side panels. You're going to attach this backwards to how you took it off, starting at the top. Flip it upside down over the arm, leaving enough overhang to staple it to the frame and leaving enough in front to wrap around the metal strip we saved. Line up your cardboard strip and begin stapling across. Make sure to keep your strip and staples straight so your seam will be straight.



Step 18: Attach front edge with metal strip, then staple fabric around back. Remember our road spikes? Time to put those back on. Wrap the front edge of your fabric around the strip, flip it and hammer it in with your mallet. Since it was already hammered in once before, the holes are pre-made and hammering should be easy. Then pull the fabric tight and staple around the back. Leave the bottom of the panel open, we'll staple it down after we flip the couch back onto it's front. (fyi: the "cap" piece in this picture is before I sewed around the perimeter; that's just after the hot glue step. So don't worry, that's not what your finished product will look like!)


Step 19: Close up the back panel. Now we should have everything done on the inside, we can start to close up the back. If you have any access fabric along the width, now is the time to trim it off. But keep in mind when you do this, that we need our fabric to be wide enough that it can be wrapped around our metal strips on each side. We want this panel to be pulled tight though too. So wrap one side around the strip and hammer it in. On the other side, pull the fabric as tight as you can, then wrap the strip and hammer it in.


Step 20: Flip the couch onto it's front and staple all along the bottom. Now is the time to anchor everything down. This is the last of our staples. We are going to go around the entire perimeter of the couch, making sure to pull as tight as we can as we go.


Now, how you finish up the back is up to you. I, personally, never intended on replacing the couch skirt. I want a more modern looking couch and the skirt made it too traditional. But that leaves the issue of this open space along the bottom in the back. Well, my couch is up against our wall and no one sees the back so I just left my back panel a little longer so it would hang over this open space on its own and I wouldn't have to do anything. You can do it like this or, if your couch isn't against a wall like mine, you could add a skirt here. Like I said, no one is going to see this on mine anyway so I just saved myself the work by leaving it.

And that's where I'm going to leave ya. Don't panic! I'm going to show you the cushions and how I did everything from here on out, but this post is long enough, don't you think? So you take these 20 steps and let that digest and next time I'll hit you with some cushions! (figuratively not literally)



Please feel free to leave me any questions you might have in the comments. I know all couches aren't made equal, so if you're having any sort of differences or issues with yours, let me know and I'll be happy to help you as much as I can. Until next week....
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