I recently decided that I wanted a new look for my living room. My couch, settee, and chairs were all various shades of brown or tan, and I was really looking for something fresher and more updated. I wanted a lighter, brighter look. My furniture is in great shape – it is good quality, the upholstery is practically perfect, and I love the shape of it. Reupholstering was not an option because I knew from working in the design trade that re-upholstery is usually about 2/3 the cost of a new sofa or chair.
So I began to explore slipcovers. I wanted something with a really fitted look, and I knew that ordering a generic slipcover wasn’t going to give me that look. I got quotes on having slipcovers custom made. For my sofa, the price was $475 for the labor. Each chair (I had two I wanted to slipcover) was $300, and my settee was around $375. Labor alone for all four pieces would have totaled close to $1,500. And I would need to supply the materials on top of that.
It began to be obvious that to get the look I wanted at a price I was willing to pay, I was going to need to sew the slipcovers myself.
Several folks have expressed surprise over the fact that I sewed my own slipcovers. Although the exclamations of amazement are flattering, and as tempting as it is to let you all believe (at least for a few minutes) that I am a superwoman, I thought it would be best to come clean. So here is the honest truth for those of you who have been contemplating taking a stab at sewing slipscovers — it wasn’t all that hard. Really!!
Just to set the stage – I have a modest amount of sewing experience. I can sew straight lines really well (it comes in handy!), I’ve made my fair share of curtains and simple pillows, and even done some simple clothes sewing. But I am in no way an expert seamstress. I tend to get tired of the process and just want to get to the finish line, so I’m not always as careful with the details as I should be. Having said all of that, I think that anyone who has a modest amount of sewing experience and is willing to be patient and careful and take their time during the process can sew a basic slipcover. Prior to this experience, I had never attempted a slipcover before. I had always been intimidated by how technical it looked, and how long it would take. But once I finally bit the bullet and jumped in, things just seemed to motor along and I am really pleased with how my slipcovers turned out.
I’m not going to attempt a tutorial here, because it would be incredibly long and tedious, and I think every project is probably different. Plus there are plenty of good tutorials already out there. But here are some guidelines and things I did that helped me along the way that might prove helpful to you if you are considering sewing your own slipcovers.
Before I ever laid a finger to fabric, I did a LOT of online research. There are quite a few tutorials available to walk you through the slipcover process. Look at a lot of different tutorials, watch some videos, and even look at a couple of books. I found the following sites particularly helpful:
This article by Karen at SlipcoverMaker was very helpful as I tried to decide what kind of fabric to buy.
Anita from Cedar Hill Farm gives excellent tips on sewing slipcovers.
This post from The Nester was helpful also.
And last but certainly not least, Marian from Miss Mustard has a excellent video tutorial series on sewing slipcovers. It was helpful to me to see the actual process happening on video.
After doing some reading and ordering some swatches, I decided to go with a 12-oz white Bull Denim for my slipcovers. I’m happy with my choice – it’s heavyweight and doesn’t allow the upholstery fabric to show through, yet it’s soft enough to feel comfortable to the touch. I found my denim very reasonably priced from Blue Pacific Denim. The total cost of materials (fabric, zippers, and welt cording) to do all four pieces came to $300.
You want to make sure to prewash your fabric just in case it shrinks – you don’t want it to shrink AFTER you’ve made your slipcovers! I cut mine in about 6 yard chunks. I wanted large pieces so that I didn’t waste fabric, but if the pieces are too long, they just get wound into a wad in the washer and dryer. I still had to open the door several times during the drying process to unwind the wad of fabric.
Welt cording really dresses up a piece of furniture, so as tempted as I was to leave it out for the sake of ease, in the end I knew I had to add it.
It really does make the finished covers look professional and crisp. So get ready to sew about a million miles welt cording! I found a very helpful tutorial on how to cut and sew bias strips for the cording without dealing with dozens of small pieces on Addicted To Decorating. It saved me a TON of time and I highly recommend this method.
Pinning each piece (with the welt cord sandwiched in between) carefully is the secret to a form-fitting slipcover. Pin two sections together (with the fabric inside out) right on top of your chair, take it to your sewing machine, sew it together, go back and try it on your chair. If it doesn’t fit how you want it to, fix it right then. Then go back and try it on again. Basically, this is what you will do for the rest of your project! Cut, pin, sew, try on, make small adjustments, and then add another piece.
I can’t stress this enough – don’t try to rush through this. You will regret it for sure! Whenever I would get tired of the project, I would put it down and walk away. Giving yourself a break every so often helps to keep your mind fresh and to minimize silly mistakes. I’m not saying I didn’t make mistakes, because I most certainly did! I just made less of them if I paced myself and took breaks when I started feeling frazzled.
Sewing your own slipcovers is a big project, but it’s certainly not an impossible one. And with a little work and some patience, you can end up with a sofa you will be proud of!