Dying Over My Couch
April 25, 2004 1:38 AM   Subscribe

My couch is depressing me. Someone who shall go unnamed (but his initials begin with "mr. taz") convinced me that we should buy a white couch - with predictable results. It's upholstered in a lightweight canvas type material, and I would like to do something (on the cheap) to change the color. I'm almost tempted to just take it outside with a big bucket of dye and paintbrush (and/or roller), but a) I know nothing about dying, and b) I'm sure that there are serious issues about the dye "setting" so that it doesn't rub off on clothes. (more particulars inside).

To complicate matters, the material is supposed to be treated to resist dirt (hah!). Right now I am using a throw cover over it, which actually looks great for about two minutes, before somebody sits on it (so, my living room perpetually looks like a rumpled bed), and. I definitely cannot afford to get it reupholstered at this time. I don't actually have much hope, since the only Google returns that I can find about this tell me that you cannot dye a couch (or that you can maybe dye it with tea - but I don't want a tea colored couch), but I am posting this here just in case any of you have a brilliant solution. All ideas for dealing with a dingy white-fabric couch are welcome (no matter how strange!), but options I can pursue must be relatively inexpensive, and since I'm in Greece, it's possible that specific products may not be available here.
posted by taz to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Your couch depresses you? I have never been depressed by a couch. By the way, whats wrong with bleaching it true white?
posted by Keyser Soze at 2:07 AM on April 25, 2004

Response by poster: Well, bleaching it true white means that we would still have the same problem; it would just immediately start getting grimy all over again.

And you're right. The couch doesn't really depress me - it's more like it "oppresses" me. First of all, it's bigger than I am, and once it takes a position, it just doesn't budge. I try explaining things to it, like "I'm the master: I sit on you." but it just laughs at me.
posted by taz at 2:50 AM on April 25, 2004 [1 favorite]

I have the opposite problem (sort of) - a black couch that leaves black marks on the walls. After doing some asking around, I came across this book. I haven't made it over to the library to pick it up yet, but I've seen enough episodes of "Trading Spaces" to know that slipcovers are the way to go. You might even be able to find a local tailor or seamstress to do it for you.

I've also seen enough Trading Spaces to know not to paint a couch.
posted by JoanArkham at 4:15 AM on April 25, 2004

Best answer: Well, this place sells very fitted slipcovers, and they sometimes have good sales. These will get rumply too, but it takes a bit longer. When I had one, I actually had throws tossed on over the slipcover, and found that if you use enough of them, the look is more "comfy" and less "rumply."
posted by JanetLand at 5:12 AM on April 25, 2004

can you remove whatever covers it has now? do the cushions have a zip at the back, for example? you might find that the cover for the "body" lifts straight off (albeit with much pulling and swearing). if so, you can dye the covers.

we bought "generic" covers once (living in rented accomodation with a flowery patterned sofa) and they work ok, but do look a bit messy.

another option is looking at attaching some elastic and/or sewing in a bit more "shape" to the throws you have, so that they stay in place.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:32 AM on April 25, 2004

The issue with slipcovers is that you can get discouraged with how they look immediately after you put one on--wrinkly, crooked, ill-fitting. They take a very long time to adjust, and you have to keep tucking and pulling every so often throughout the day until you get them perfect. Once they're in place, they tend to stay in place, but you have to be willing to put in the effort.

Alternately you could recover the couch in different fabric. It would cost a lot more, but it would be a fun DIY project. My parents took an upholstery course at a community college before I was born and made all kinds of stuff with their newfound knowledge.
posted by bcwinters at 7:04 AM on April 25, 2004

you can send it out to be professionally dyed, if you don't want to do it yourself (i'm sure it's expensive, but they'd do a good job).

I'd slipcover it--maybe sewing/pinning a store-bought cover to make it fit better (and that gives you the option of changing it each year, or with the seasons, etc). My grandmother used to recover her upholstery, putting new fabric on top of the old with a staple-gun, and we would help to hold the fabric taut.
posted by amberglow at 9:26 AM on April 25, 2004

oh, related tip, also something my grandma did: If an old easy chair is saggy, you can use lawn chair strips, pulled really tight, and stapled (that webbed, woven, plastic kind) to help fix the sag.
posted by amberglow at 9:44 AM on April 25, 2004

I would suggest the slipcovers first, but you might also consider having it reupholstered. If your couch has rather simple lines, and you don't feel comfortable doing the upholstery yourself, it can be surprisingly cheap to have a freelancer do it. We looked into it last year for a similar project, and were surprised to find that most of the cost lies in the choice of fabric, not the labor.

An alternate quick fix is just to recover the cushions if they are separate. Those get the most wear and tear anyway.
posted by whatnot at 12:43 PM on April 25, 2004

I think your cheapest option could be reupholstering yourself. It sounds intimidating, but i aided in doing this once or twice for my university theatre company, and as long as you recruit someone decent at sewing it's a viable Saturday project. One couch we re-dressed years ago still sits in the green room to this day.

I'm sure you could find websites and/or books that detail the process. From what i recall, the key was in measuring and panels ahead of time with cheap cloth so that we could make a pattern. And, as a bonus, you can pick whatever fabric you want this time!
posted by krisis at 12:26 AM on April 26, 2004

Best answer: I have 3 slipcovers for my couch, all from surefit mentioned above by JanetLand. A few tips:

1. Get a cover with the tie things at the corners. If you double knot them tightly, it's not cutesy like the bows are in the pictures, and it really helps secure everything.
2. When the cover arrives and you first open the package, the cover is stiff and wrinkly. If you put it on your couch right away, you will hate it. Instead, wash it in cold water with a good amount of fabric softener and then hang to dry/throw in the dryer as appropriate.
3.Get a length of dowel rod (big, like a closet hanging rod) equal to a couple inches less than the distance between the arms of your couch. After you get the cover on smoothly, shove the dowel rod deep into the crease between the cushions and the back of the couch. It will help hold that part taught. You can do a similar thing between the cushions and the arms.
posted by donnagirl at 8:09 AM on April 26, 2004

I'll admit to actually making a slipcover out of cotton canvas duck and it was a lot easier than I feared it might be. I know the rock bottom basics of using a sewing machine, and that's it. I used what I think of as "the hildy method," having seen my favorite Cuban design diva more times than I can count do this on TV: I measured all the parts, drew them up and cut them out. Then, I assembled it "inside out" on the couch and pinned the whole thing together. When I sewed all the seams and turned it back around, it just... fit. The couch is pretty square all round, but honest, it really wasn't too bad and it was done in one weekend...
posted by JollyWanker at 10:50 AM on April 26, 2004

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