Give your favorite furniture a new look! Patricia Hoskins, co-author of the best-selling One-Yard Wonders, offers simple, step-by-step, illustrated instructions for making your own slipcovers for dining chairs, easy chairs, ottomans, and sofas with either loose back pillows or fixed cushions. She explains exactly how to complete every step of the process, from choosing the best fabrics to calculating yardage, sewing curved seams, creating mitered corners, applying trims, and finishing with zippers, envelope backs, or ties.
About the Author
Patricia Hoskins is the co-owner of Crafty Planet, a retail fabric and needlework store and craft workshop in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and has designed several of the patterns used in Crafty Planet classes. She enjoys knitting, crocheting, spinning, sewing, quilting, embroidery, and cross-stitching and is a graduate of American University, the University of Oregon, and the University of Missouri-Columbia Library Science program. She is the author of How to Make Slipcovers and is a co-author of One-Yard Wonders, Fabric-by-Fabric One-Yard Wonders, and Little One-Yard Wonders.
Read an Excerpt
Slipcover Design and Assembly
Before embarking on any new adventure, I like to have at least a rough plan in place — whether I stick to it or not! This chapter contains a step-by-step guide to the slipcovering process, from obtaining materials and equipment to the finished product. I've organized this book to follow the Step-by-Step Overview, on the next page, as closely as possible, though there are a few exceptions here and there. I also review what types of equipment and supplies you'll want to have on hand to create a successful and sturdy slipcover.
Whether you own dated furniture that needs a bit of a makeover or prized newer pieces that need some protection from the "elements" in your house (particularly those pesky pets and kids!), a slipcover is one of the simplest and most effective ways to protect your furnishings while refreshing the look of your home at the same time.
Slipcovers can range from the simplest option — a length of fabric draped over a chair or sofa, tied in place at strategic points (or not!) — to the most complex fitted and tailored cover, almost indistinguishable from a completely reupholstered piece. In any case, the key feature of a slipcover is that it can be easily removed for laundering or replaced with another slipcover for a completely different look.
One caveat: Do be aware that slipcovers can't fix or hide all sins that might be found in your furniture. If your piece has a bad odor or if the stuffing is worn or lumpy, you will probably want to consider a complete overhaul and reupholstery.
Let's take a look at the steps covered in this book, with page references that tell you where to look for each bit of information.
1. Stock your supplies (see Materials and Tools).
2. Make an initial shopping trip to evaluate fibers and fabrics available (see Fibers and Fabrics). Purchase swatches and test them by stitching through four layers. Verify the width, pattern repeat size (see Considerations), and yardage availability of favorite(s).
3. Measure the furniture and determine pattern pieces (chapter 5). Record the dimensions in the measuring charts provided in chapter 5 and add any seam allowances needed.
4. Select styling details to determine additional allowances required: skirt style and allowances (see here to here), hem style (see Hems), and trim placement and type (see Inserting Trims).
5. Estimate base yardage requirements (chapter 7).
6. Draft cutting layout. Include cushion covers, welting, skirt, and piecing allowances in the cutting layout as needed. Calculate total yardage requirements based on fabric width (see Ballparking Yardage) and pattern repeat allowances (see Pattern Repeat Allowance).
7. Purchase muslin, fabric, and trims. Prewash/pretreat fabrics and trims as needed.
8. Make any and all welting as desired (see here to here).
9. Cut body panels out of muslin.
10. Fit, pin, mark, and baste muslin patterns (see Pinning, Fitting, and Basting). Make any final adjustments to the pattern pieces and seams as needed, and mark all changes clearly.
11. Disassemble muslin. Cut pieces from final fabric, matching repeats if necessary (see Matching Repeats).
12. Baste welting to fabric seam allowances (see Welting).
13. Fit and assemble final slipcover (see Pinning, Fitting, and Basting).
14. Make and attach the skirt (chapter 6).
15. Install zipper closure as desired (see Zippered Seat Cushion or Back Cushion).
Materials and Tools
When creating your custom slipcovers, you will need a large table and workspace. Nothing can beat having enough room to work! Remember that slipcovers can be very large, both the individual pattern pieces and the finished cover!
In addition to selecting fabric for your slipcovers (see chapter 2), you want to equip yourself with the proper supplies.
Muslin. Use this inexpensive fabric to create sample pattern pieces for testing and fitting your slipcover.
Upholstery thread. While this type of thread is the best for stitching slipcovers, some sewing machines can protest, even after adjusting tension, bobbin, and needle size. For an alternative, try corespun (also known as polycore, cottoncore, or core thread) or topstitch thread, both of which are stronger than all-purpose thread.
Trim. If making your own welting, you'll need cable cording or filler cord in the determined width and yardage (see Make Your Own Welting). If you prefer to buy ready-made trim, look for commercial welting, fringe, or other trim. These come with a built-in flange, or tape, ready to be sewn into the seams of your slipcovers. If you are binding the bottom edge of the skirt rather than hemming it, you'll also need bias tape.
Upholstery zippers. Zippers used for upholstery are typically brass or other metal. Most commonly, you buy the zipper coil by the yard, purchasing the zipper pulls and stops separately. In a pinch, you can purchase standard metal or plastic "sport" zippers instead. Determine the number of individual zipper lengths and total yardage ahead of time.
Batting. Consider adding thin, low-loft batting to the wrong side of a slipcover for extra padding or to improve smoothness and fit.
The following items are my favorite must-haves for designing and constructing most slipcovers.
Graph paper. Paper with a grid of squares can be useful for plotting your cutting layout and determining the yardage you need.
Marking tools. Dressmaker's chalk or disappearing ink fabric markers are ideal. Choose at least two colors to work with: one color for marking your initial dimensions on the wrong side of the fabric, plus a second color (and a third, if you like) to mark adjustments during fitting.
Fabric shears. When making slipcovers and other large projects, longer blades can make the cutting go faster.
Pinking shears. Pinking the seam allowances is one great way to minimize fabric fraying.
Rotary cutter, mat, and ruler. When cutting large rectangles and squares, a rotary cutting system will save you all kinds of time. Buy a 45 mm or 60 mm cutter and the largest mat and longest ruler you can afford.
Seam ripper. Once the test muslin is fitted, use a seam ripper to deconstruct the pieces, so you can use them as pattern pieces for cutting the slipcover fabric.
Carpenter square (or T-square). This handy tool is great for marking perfectly square corners.
Measuring tape. You'll need an extra-long (120") flexible tape for measuring furniture.
Point turner. For thick and bulky fabrics, a point turner will get the best square corners and the most even curves.
Pins. Longer and sturdier than your average pins, upholstery pins can hold heavier-weight fabric without bending out of shape. Tpins are fantastic for pinning muslin panels in place on furniture during the fitting process.
Sewing machine needles. Needle sizes 16 and 18 are perfect for heavier upholstery materials. Size 14 can work well for weights such as denim or sateen. Look for sharp needles (also called jeans needles) rather than universal point needles. Coated needles are best for fabrics with a glaze or finish.
Bobbins. When sewing with heavier upholstery thread, you may find that your sewing machine requires a special bobbin made specifically for this purpose, instead of your standard bobbin. Ask your sewing machine dealer for recommendations.
Presser feet. You may want to invest in a walking foot, Teflon foot, or roller foot to help feed the fabric more evenly through the machine. Also check your sewing machine manual to see if you can adjust the presser-foot pressure on your machine. You'll need a zipper foot for making and attaching piping, welting, zippers, and other bulky trims. Optional items are piping or cording feet, available in sizes for specific welting diameters.
Jean-a-ma-jig. This gadget is designed to keep the presser foot level; use it behind or in front of the fabric when you begin and end your seam. To make your own, start with a 4" to 6" square scrap of slipcover fabric. Fold it twice to create a 1" to 1½" square with four layers of fabric. Keep folding, if needed, to achieve the appropriate thickness.
Iron and ironing board. Setting and pressing the seams of your finished slipcover will lend them the most professional polish. Pressing is particularly important if making your own bias binding.
When choosing fabric for a slipcover, consider wear-ability, cleanability, and comfort. While seldom-used furniture might handle a lighter or more delicate fabric, a daily-used family sofa will need a sturdy fabric that can be cleaned. As a general rule, you want to use woven, medium-weight materials, but there are many types of fibers and fabrics that fall into that category. Also consider potential exposure to sunlight and the likelihood of frequent spots and stains. Are you willing to dry-clean, or do your slipcovers need to be machine washable? Finally, how does the fabric feel against your skin?
While the primary things to consider when selecting slipcover material are fiber and fabric, a few other aspects deserve careful thought as well. The fabric width, print direction, and pattern repeat can have a significant impact on the amount (yardage) of material needed to complete the project. In addition, fabrics of the same fiber and weave can vary in weight, which has its own impact, particularly in sewability and longevity.
Width. Traditionally, upholstery weight fabrics come in 54" to 60" widths. However, some 45"-wide fabrics come in weights suitable for slipcovers, and in delightful prints. While often less expensive per yard, the narrower widths require more yardage, so be aware of how a fabric's width will affect your yardage requirements and overall fabric cost.
Print direction. Another factor that can affect functionality of the fabric, regardless of width, is print direction and repeat. A fabric with a directional print running vertically (parallel to the selvage) needs to be cut on the grain. A fabric with a non-directional print, or a print that runs selvage to selvage, will allow you to railroad the fabric. This means that you can cut pieces sideways, on the cross grain of the fabric, which allows fuller use of your yardage, because you can cut even very wide pieces (such as for a sofa back) all in one piece.
A fabric design with a large repeat (or other design motif) can lend its own challenges, since you may need to be pickier about positioning the fabric on your furniture (to center a large motif, for instance). Matching a repeat when piecing a fabric pattern piece or seaming two parts will also require extra yardage.
We'll talk more about how railroading, directional prints, and print repeats can affect your yardage requirements and cutting layouts (see chapter 7), but it's worth mentioning it now. You'll want to be thinking about such factors when you make an initial visit (or two!) to your local fabric store.
Fabric weight. Lightweight and very heavyweight fabrics are best avoided for slipcovers. Lightweight fabrics simply won't stand up to the wear and tear of sitting and using the furniture, while at the other extreme, a standard sewing machine may have a difficult time sewing through multiple layers of a heavy fabric. When in doubt, buy a swatch and experiment with sewing through at least four layers of the fabric with your machine.
Fiber refers specifically to the raw material of the fabric — plant-based, animal-based, or man-made. I'll start with the most common and popular fibers.
Cotton. Durable, easily laundered, and available in a variety of weaves and weights, cotton is probably the most common natural material available, and the most familiar to today's sewists.
Linen. Made from flax, linen is stronger than cotton, so a lighter-weight linen fabric could be used in place of a heavier cotton fabric. Linen also has a natural sheen, which can be particularly attractive in some settings. It wrinkles easily, but with use, those wrinkles tend to soften into cozy "rumples."
Silk or tussah. Available in a variety of weights and weaves, tussah is raw silk and is usually nubby. While some silk may be laundered, check care instructions carefully — it can develop water spots and fade or deteriorate somewhat quickly. You may need to line silk with muslin, as it can be slippery.
Wool and wool blends. For the purposes of this book, "wool" refers to any fiber made from the fleece of sheep and similar animals. It may be a surprising choice for a slipcover, but one worth considering. Wools provide a certain soft and homey look not available in other fibers. It's strong and durable, while draping nicely. And though it's not usually machine washable, 100 percent pure wool can be dry-cleaned and spot-cleaned. Wool blends may also be worth considering, especially if machine washable. (Always check the care instructions!)
Polyester and poly blends. A poly/cotton blend helps reduce wrinkles, perhaps resulting in a neater finished product, but it can be a little more difficult to shape and handle. Blends are easily laundered, though low-quality goods may not wear well.
Rayon. Rayon is a fiber manufactured from cellulose. It can be quite slippery and not particularly durable, but blended with cotton or linen, it can be a fine choice. Note care and cleaning instructions, since rayons often should be dry-cleaned.
Jute or hemp. Both jute and hemp are very strong plant-based fibers that can stand up to a lot of use. Often, fabrics made from jute and hemp have looser weaves like burlap, which isn't advisable for a slipcover as it can stretch out of shape. However, hemp in particular is now being produced in a variety of comfortable and appropriate weaves.
Not to be confused with fiber, fabric refers to how fibers are woven or knit together to create a particular type and weight of fabric; it's sometimes called a substrate. This section discusses the different weaves, finishes, and weights of fabric you might find.
Muslin. While muslin certainly isn't an appropriate fabric for a slipcover, you will use muslin to draft the pattern pieces and finalize fit before cutting and stitching the slipcover fabric. When used as a patterning and designing agent, muslin's fiber, weight, and pattern are unimportant. You may also use muslin as a lining to provide additional strength, structure, and stability to a slippery or less durable outer fabric. It is inexpensive and comes in very narrow (36") and in very wide widths (as much as 108" or even 120"). Alternatively, consider using old bedsheets instead of muslin for the testing and fitting.
Canvas. Canvas may be made from cotton, linen, hemp, or other natural materials. The term refers to heavy, tightly woven fabric. It can come in many different weights and prints.
Denim. Denim is now available in a plethora of colors, prints, and yarn-dyed designs, and in a variety of weights. It's sturdy, and its twill-weave construction often drapes better than a canvas of a similar weight.
Sateen. Sateen tends to be heavier than quilter's cotton, but not quite heavy-duty enough for an upholstery project — in other words, it's perfect for slipcovers! Sateen has a slight sheen, and the weight and weave of the fabric give a lovely drape.
Jacquard. This term refers to any fabric woven with a Jacquard loom and includes brocades and damasks. They may be made out of silk, rayon, or synthetic fibers. Brocades may have an embossed surface, while damasks are usually reversible, with the reverse side a mirror image of the front. In any case, in jacquards the background and the foreground design each have different weaves. For instance, the background might have a plain weave, while the patterned area has a satin or twill weave. Light reflects differently on the different weaves, lending visual interest.
Pile fabrics. Pile fabrics — such as velvet and velveteen, corduroy, and chenille — are woven with extra fibers to create a pile (cut or uncut loops) on one or both sides of the fabric. They can be made out of natural or man-made fibers. Velveteen and corduroy are typically made from cotton, while velvet usually has a backing of silk or other natural fiber, with a rayon/synthetic pile. Corduroy and chenille have wales, or ribs, of pile, with the plain-weave backing showing between the wales. While a slipcover made from a pile fabric can be very comfy and cozy, there may be care and wear issues. Worn spots, for instance, may be much more visible on a pile fabric than on a plain woven. Some may require dry-cleaning or may spot easily. Look for nonstretch versions of these fabrics if you go this route, so the slipcover doesn't stretch out of shape. Since light reflects differently if the pile is facing different directions, it's also important to cut all pattern pieces for a slipcover made from a pile fabric in the same direction.
Excerpted from "How To Make Slipcovers"
Copyright © 2015 Patricia Hoskins.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: Slipcover Design and Assembly Step-by-Step Overview - Materials and Tools Chapter Two: Choosing Fabrics Considerations - Fibers - Fabrics Chapter Three: Trims The Basics - Make Your Own Welting - Making Bias Strips - How to Baste Welting Together Chapter Four: Special Techniques Finessing Seams - Shaping - Inserting Trims - Adding a Zipper - Closure - Adding Ties Chapter Five: Anatomy of a Slipcover Naming Body Parts - Ottomans and Stools - Straight Chairs without Arms - Armchairs and Sofas - Cushions Chapter Six: Style Your Skirt Flat Skirts - Pleats - Gathers - Hems - Making and Attaching Bias Strips Chapter Seven: Yardage Requirements Things to Consider - Ballparking Yardage - Pattern Repeats - Panel Piecng Tips Chapter Eight: Projects Pinning, Fitting, and Basting - Rectangular Ottoman Slipcover - Round Stool Slipcover - Straight Chair Slipcover - Armchair or Sofa Slipcover - Zippered Seat Cushion or Back Cushion Appendix Sample Cutting Layouts Standard Metric Conversion Formulas and Equivalents Index