This post provides information on how to reupholster a sofa and focuses on how to put new upholstery on the top-front of the sofa. This is the second post in this series. Part 1 of how to reupholster a sofa focused on how to upholster the deck/seating area of a sofa. In Part 3 of this series, I will show you how to reupholster the backside of the sofa.
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This is the second post on how to reupholster a sofa.
You can read Part 1 HERE – how to upholster the deck of a sofa.
You can read Part 3 HERE – how to upholster the top front and sides of a sofa.
I recommend you read Part 1, so you can understand how we arrived at this point. If I can give you one piece of advice – it would be to give yourself plenty of time to complete the project. Set aside a series of 4 hour blocks where you can devote time to working on reupholstering the piece of furniture. Breaking the project into distinct phases/steps helps to prevent me from feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done.
Reupholstering a sofa is one of the more difficult pieces of furniture to work on. Having said that – it CAN be done – even if you are a novice. It simply requires time and persistence. (And the right tools)
The intent is to present the process in bite size chunks so it is more achievable/reasonable. This post will walk you through the steps of attaching new fabric to the top front of the sofa.
I also wrote a post on my favorite tools I use to refurbish/reupholster furniture. These are the tools I use day in and day out. This post also includes links to the tools on Amazon where most of the items can be purchased for less than $80.
So with that, let’s get started on Part 2 – upholstering the top front of a sofa.
How to Reupholster a Sofa – Part 2
In case you are new to this project, here is a little back story. In October of 2021, I found a very old sofa with a beautiful wooden frame at a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. I resisted buying it because:
1. reupholstering sofas is a labor of love that requires a significant investment of time and materials; and
2. I wasn’t sure if I could get the sofa downstairs to the basement where I typically work on furniture. (We have a 90 degree turn halfway down our staircase)
When November arrived with colder temperatures so that I could no longer work in the garage, I learned very quickly that the sofa would NOT fit down our stairs. So it sat in the garage until May of 2022 when warmer (ish) weather arrived. The photos above show the “Before” version of the sofa.
Anna’s Reupholstery Process
When I am reupholstering a sofa – I follow a distinct process.
- Remove the old upholstery, staples and tacks
- Clean the frame and sand/paint it as needed
- Order all the necessary materials for the project – NOTE: sometimes the delivery of fabric ordered online can take a few weeks.
- Then I start to reupholster the piece
- First I reupholster the deck/seating area
- Then I reupholster the top front and interior sides
- Then I reupholster the backside and exterior sides of the sofa
- Lastly, I attach the dustcover (thin black fabric underneath most chairs and sofas)
There is a post about how I painted the sofa frame and it gives you more information about the steps I took to get to that point.
You can also read How to Reupholster a Sofa – Part 1. As part of Part 1, had already recovered the top front of the sofa with foam and batting.
This post will focus on the steps needed to effectively attach fabric to the top front of a sofa. (The second bullet under 4)
The first thing we need to do for any project, is gather our supplies. We will be using the same supplies listed in the previous post with one exception. Unlike the previous post, we will be using a sewing machine and straight pins.
Prior to purchasing any fabric, make sure you measure the length and width of the area you are upholstering then add 6-8 inches on all sides. Don’t forget to include the edges in your measurement. (For example, the upholstered deck of this sofa rolls down to the front.). Here are the supplies needed:
- Upholstery foam – I used 1 inch foam for the deck
- Batting – I used water resistant batting
- Sure Bonder Pneumatic Upholstery gun
- Staples for upholstery
- Air Compressor
- Upholstery weight fabric. Note -it’s easier to use fabric without a pattern.
- Staple remover
- Needle nose pliers
- Sewing scissors
- Heavy Duty sewing machine
- Sewing Straight Pins
- Tissue paper – Regular tissue paper used for gift giving
- Seam ripper. These usually are included with any sewing kit that comes with a sewing machine.
Step 1 – Create a Pattern
The front top of this sofa is a little complicated because its design. The corners are rounded and the arms of the sofa gently slope down. If I were to generally cut a piece of fabric and were to start attaching it to the frame – there would be excessive bulkiness of fabric in the corners.
So, to solve this problem and to ensure there was a smooth uniform fit – I made a pattern. I made a pattern “Anna style” using what I had on hand – tissue paper.
The first thing I decided to do was to create 3 separate fabric panels for the top front of the sofa. A pattern for each side/arm and a pattern for the longer front-back.
Using tissue paper, which is pliable, I gently pinned it to the sofa and used a pen to trace the pattern I wanted.
For the longer portion of the top front of the sofa, I taped together multiple sheets of tissue paper.
Then I pinned the tissue paper in place using the straight pins and traced along the edges of the sofa frame.
When I was done, I cut out the shape and laid it on top of my fabric.
Don’t forget – that I had THREE separate patterns: one for the top front and one for each interior side.
Step 2- Cut Your Fabric (with care)
Once I had the patterns for the sofa, then I traced the patterns onto my fabric.
Because the fabric had to be long enough to reach under the sofa frame so it could be stapled to the backside, I added another 7 inches of length to the bottom of all three tissue paper patterns.
I traced the resulting pattern- with the additional 7 inches of length- onto the fabric.
Then, I cut out the first piece of fabric and pinned it in place on the sofa.
To prevent the fabric from being too bulky, I cut out a series of “V” shapes on the bottom portion which would be tucked under and stapled to the frame.
To ensure no adjustments were needed, I pinned each piece of fabric to the sofa after I cut it. This allowed me to make any minor adjustments to my patterns prior to cutting the fabric.
You can see in the photo above, that my pattern missed a small section of coverage. So, with that in mind, I measured the difference and added it to the template to ensure the fabric I cut would be large enough.
Step 3 – Pin Your Fabric
With all the fabric pieces cut to size and length, I then pinned them in place onto the sofa and pinned along the seams connecting the 3 pieces together.
Take your time with this step. It’s important that the fabric fits correctly and that your seams line up in the appropriate locations.
I had to readjust the fabric a couple of times to ensure the seams lined up with the corners of the sofa.
Step 4- Stitch the Fabric Together
Sewing ensures a “good fit” and minimizes the bulkiness of excess fabric. I used a heavy duty sewing machine because upholstery fabric is a heavier weight than typical cotton fabrics. With a heavy duty sewing machine, the fabric won’t get jammed up in the needle. I was gifted my heavy duty machine several years ago (by Mr. SLH who evidently knows his way to a girl’s heart) and I have zero complaints. It’s fabulous and I love it. In the world of sewing machines, it wasn’t too expensive at about $215.
Having said that, you CAN use a conventional sewing machine but you have to really take your time and have patience – carefully feed the fabric through the needle.
About Sewing Skills
Sewing skills are not mandatory. If you can sew a semi straight line – you can do this. I am by no means a great seamstress but I can sew at the basic level. (And not much better). If I can do this – so can you. Really. If need be – you can borrow someone else’s sewing machine.
Again, proceed cautiously when sewing. I only needed to sew two seams- but I had to make sure they lined up properly with the sofa frame.
To prepare for sewing , first I reversed the pinned seams so that they would be facing inside – towards the sofa. Then I used an iron to press them into place.
I trimmed off any excess fabric on the interior of the seam and ironed the seam flat.
Then, I pinned the fabric into place onto the sofa again to ensure my second seam would still line up correctly.
If your seams don’t line up after you have sewn them – do not panic! Use your seam ripper to take out the seam on one end and simply re-pin your fabric pattern to the sofa and re-pin where your seam should go. Then sew the pieces together again.
For this particular project, I ended up ripping one of the seams out twice and re-pinning and readjusted the fabric. The third time was a charm! All of that is to say – don’t be discouraged. This just takes practice, patience and persistence. Truth be told – my seams still don’t line up perfectly but the end result was “close enough” for me to be satisfied.
Step 5- Attach New Upholstery
Congratulations! You have reached the easy part! Now that your fabric is shaped to fit the sofa, you can use your upholstery staple gun to attach it to the sofa frame. So turn on your air compressor and make sure the regulated pressure is around 100 psi. Start at one end of the sofa and work your way to the other end. Remember, you can always remove staples and re-attach the fabric if it starts to wrinkle or get bunchy.
As you did with the deck, pull the fabric through to the other side and attach it to the back of the sofa frame. Then use your sewing scissors to trim as close as possible to the frame.
The photos above show the back of the sofa after I pulled the fabric through and stapled it to the frame. Then I trimmed the fabric so it was flush with the batting and foam.
Step 6- Enjoy Your Work
While we are not yet done upholstering the entire sofa, you are done with this part of reupholstering a sofa. Congratulations! This is the most difficult and demanding part of the process. I for one – am extremely proud of the work you have done. The third and final part of reupholstering a sofa is much easier.
Enclosed are some images you can pin to your Pinterest account so that you can bookmark this post for future reference.
This is how she looked as of last weekend.
That seam turned out A-Okay. Right? Next, I will show you how to finish the back and add the trim. It’s the easiest part of upholstery.
That seam turned out a little wonky but I can live with it.
I have hired my friend Karen from the Slipcover Maker to sew the cushion covers for the 3 new seat cushions because she is a SEAMSTRESS. I only know how to sew straight lines. (Sort of. ). Karen is a real seamstress, who is immensely talented, and is booked with work until September.
So, it may be some time before we get to see the “full reveal”.
Thank you for stopping by the blog today. I hope you feel inspired to take on the task of reupholstering a sofa. For the record, I believe in you and I know you can do it.