What don't I know I don't know about reupholstering my couch
March 19, 2020 9:59 PM   Subscribe

Planning to reupholster my 6' sofa, replacing at least that portion of foam that's in the back, and all of the fabric. What kind, if any, of inexpensive sewing machine would I need? Other tools? Bad idea?

Found a number of questions and pages about reupholstering chairs. Found DIYUpholsterySupply.com.

I know that the foam is probably going to be expensive -- I'll investigate that.

I haven't done any machine sewing before. Will it be necessary to machine sew things?

I'm handy with other kinds of hand-work (carpentry, etc.). I figure this probably won't be that hard - maybe I can just see how the couch is put together as I disassemble it? Please correct me if I'm wrong.

One thing I worry about is having the couch in an unusable condition for a long period of time. Maybe a week would be fine, but beyond that is going to get depressing fast.

posted by amtho to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Could you post a picture of your sofa? Some sofa examples. Basic shape and tufting details make for a difference in the difficulty of this project, I'd think.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:19 PM on March 19, 2020

Response by poster: Will work on photo, but in the meantime:

it's almost as basic as a track-arm sofa, except the arms and back are a little thinner/tapered as they rise from the seat level to their tops, and there is a slight arch in the surface one's back and/or side leans against.

The back leans back a little and curves slightly backward, and is also a bit tapered as it rises from seat level to its top. No camelback-style curves; just that arch as the back leans backward, and a similar, slight arch outward to the side arms. Side arms rise about 10" above seat level.

Three seat cushions, no back cushions. 4 wooden legs that detach. Not a sleeper sofa.

I definitely see how a photo would help.
posted by amtho at 10:43 PM on March 19, 2020

If it does have seams you will need to machine sew, you do not want to be hand sewing sofa quantities of upholstery weight fabric. You're better off borrowing if it is possible, in my experience cheap machines are not even worth the price paid on heavier weight fabrics, although someone else may have a specific recommendation.

You'll want a good staple gun, and I like a traditional magnetic upholstery hammer and tacks for tacking the fabric in place to get the tension right before stapling. Depending on the construction and how much you're taking off, you may want a barrier cloth layer and wadding/ batting.

YMMV: I have upholstered small things but have not been ambitious enough to do a sofa. Yet.
posted by stillnocturnal at 10:53 PM on March 19, 2020

Don't try to DIY this if you've never sewn before. All of the steps might seem simple if you've never done them but are a lot more difficult and tedious than you probably imagine. Everything has to be done very carefully and precisely if you want it to look good; a sofa reupholstered by a novice on a lower end sewing machine is probably going to look like a hot mess, with unevenly stretched fabric and puckered seams, among other issues. On top of that, it is going to be way more work than you realize. Best to leave this job to a professional (who, given the current situation, would probably be eternally grateful for the work).
posted by kitty teeth at 11:20 PM on March 19, 2020 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: I find myself feeling persuaded by your points, kitty teeth. The logistics, however, are daunting (given the current situation).
posted by amtho at 11:34 PM on March 19, 2020

There are ready-made slipcovers, that you could use over a layer of foam? Or, arrange over-sized pillows across the back to make sitting more comfortable for the time being?
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:40 PM on March 19, 2020

Pillows you have, or 20x20" squares like these (cases available on same hellsite). DIYUpholsterySupply.com has a 'pillow forms' section, but the page isn't working right atm.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:46 PM on March 19, 2020

I have taken an upholstery class at my local Adult Ed extension and we used our teacher's professional grade sewing machine for stitching, making matching cording, etc. I asked our teacher about making slipcovers for my Pottery Barn sectional because they are a couple thousand dollars to buy. So I measured, found I'd need around 40 yards of fabric, and costed it out - it worked out to be somewhat less than buying the darn thing ready made, but I balked at the length of time it would take/how much help I'd need getting it done - not to mention the amount of space such a project takes up! You're supporting and guiding large amounts of heavy fabric, so you need a big surface to keep that off the floor.

I've taken on small projects since then and they just don't look the same without pro-level tools (hand staple gun cannot get staples in as tight as one using a compressor for one). I've opted to keep washing the original slipcovers and drape throws strategically over the bits my kitty clawed while I search for a slipcover maker who charges less than PB.
posted by Otter_Handler at 1:42 AM on March 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

In my ancient and limited experience, an electric carving knife works well cutting the foam.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:50 AM on March 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

If your sofa is wider than your fabric width, you are definitely going to need to seam your fabric. As pointed out above, a cheap machine is a bad idea for this venture. The amount of fabric will be costly, the foam will be costly and it will take you more than a week to accomplish, especially if this is your first time upholstering.

That being said, if you are good with your hands and willing to redo steps a couple of times, until you get it right, you might be able to do this. I have heard good things about Sailrite heavy duty sewing machines. Source: reupholstered an armchair over the course of two “semesters” of an adult Ed class, under the guidance of a professional upholsterer.
posted by sarajane at 5:15 AM on March 20, 2020

Seconding a slipcover. I got some crib foam on sale at a fabric store and a slipcover from Bed Bath and Beyond, all for about $150 total. The slipcover is stretchy and has elastic on the edges like a fitted bed sheet. You might want some upholstery needles and thread to tack the foam into place.
posted by soelo at 6:55 AM on March 20, 2020

I've sewn basic things (simple garments, decorative pillows, small quilts, and zippered pouches/bags) and I wouldn't dare to try a project like this without the direct help of a professional upholsterer and I'd want to be able to use their equipment. The only person I've ever seen be able to pull this off was already a superstar sewer who then took classes to learn upholstery sewing techniques. It's advanced level sewing if you want it to look halfway decent. You could easily end up with your couch partially deconstructed and have no ability to properly put it back together or go forward.
posted by quince at 7:17 AM on March 20, 2020

Reiterating: it is going to be way more work than you realize. I had my vintage couch & chair done by a pro, it was worth it because they're very well made. If your couch was inexpensive, it may not be worth the effort. About once a year, I see a gorgeous couch on craigslist\free, and pretty good couches pretty often. 95% are horrid,but it's worth checking. Bedbug bomb, of course.

If you buy a cheap machine, that's what you'll get. Look on ebay, craigslist,fb mktplace, etc., for a sewing machine. You can also try freecycle; so many people have one in the closet and would be happy to give it away.

There are tons of videos on youtube, and sites with tutorials. If you haven't sewn before, do some practice projects.
posted by theora55 at 8:17 AM on March 20, 2020

Yeah, reupholstering a couch is a huge project and it will take you way too long. Don’t do it!
posted by mskyle at 8:47 AM on March 20, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks, all.

Slipcover won't do the job -- I'm mainly trying to get rid of a mysterious smell issue that seems concentrated in the back area. Couch is solid, though.
posted by amtho at 10:37 AM on March 20, 2020

You could cut off any of the old upholstery that you think is soiled and then cover the resulting holes with a muslin type fabric (tacking/sewing in place by hand) and then apply a slipcover.
posted by soelo at 1:18 PM on March 20, 2020

Response by poster: I'm pretty sure it's the foam or whatever's under the fabric that's hosting...that.
posted by amtho at 2:08 PM on March 20, 2020

I reupholstered my sofa about two years ago. I had never reupholstered anything before and have very, very basic sewing skills. It was tedious and messy and time-consuming, but totally doable. You use a staple gun for the majority of it; the only thing you sew is the seat cushion covers. The hardest part was getting the fabric pleated around the arms. The sofa was a hand-me-down and pretty wrecked, so I figured learning to reupholster on it was better than throwing it away. I used this blogger’s instructions.
posted by Violet Hour at 10:56 PM on March 20, 2020

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