Getting Started in Upholstery

Acquiring Skills

tear downAs in any career, developing a quality of workmanship (known as skill) is of utmost importance. Skill doesn't come quickly or easily Here are a few tips to help you along the way. Let me say, don't try to make a living at upholstery while you are getting started. You should have a day-job that pays the bills. Doing upholstery should be your second job that you do after hours. It has been said that it takes 3-5 years to get a business to be profitable. If you are wanting to go into upholstery as a profession, I'd recommend that you take this long term view of gradually working into doing it, while keeping your paying job. 

  1. Get Rid of perfectionism! Yes, you need to focus on doing high quality work, but that comes later, after you have acquired some skill. At the beginning perfectionism will kill your interest. You need to realize that your first pieces that you recover will be a mess! Your work will be very sloppy at first. Accept that fact, and persevere through it. Make the messes and have fun while you are doing it. 
  2. Acquire Some Knowledge:Knowledge can come in a number of ways. I started this trade working with my dad at the same time he started. He did not know much more than I did, so I had no one to ask how to do something. Also, there were very few upholstery books or videos available. My knowledge came primarily by doing the work. When my family first started in the upholstery business we worked mostly for poor people, working cheap, giving credit (Boy, did we get burned a lot!). But we kept going. We had to succeed, we had to eat, we had no other income. Here are some ideas of how to begin to aquire some knowledge about upholstery.
    1. Take an upholstery class at a local college, high school, trade school, etc.
    2. Read upholstery books
    3. Borrow, rent, or buy some upholstery videos.
    4. Volunteer to work at an upholstery shop free of charge.
    5. Make friends with an upholsterer, and ask if you can just come in and watch him work.
    6. Apprentice yourself to an upholsterer.
  3. Get Some Basic Tools.At first, you may still be evaluating if you really want to get started in upholstery, so you might not want to buy very much. This is very understandable. But also realize that you don't have the right tool, then the job will be much harder. Here is a list of some basic tools
    1. Sewing machine: This is perhaps the single most important, and most expensive, tool/equipment that an upholsterer needs. The best type of a sewing machine for upholstery is called a "walking-foot" industrial sewing machine. If you have committed yourself to doing upholstery, don't settle for any other type. It is understandable that someone may not want to spend a lot on an industrial sewing machine until he/she has really decided to commit himself/herself to doing upholstery. But, also understand this, not having the correct sewing machine makes everything harder. During a transition period in my life I worked with a home sewing machine for about a year. Even as an experience professional upholsterer, trying to sew heavy upholstery fabrics on that machine was a real trial. With that said, as you are starting out, you can indeed use a home machine. You just need to use light-weight fabrics that the home sewing machine can handle.
    2. A Digital Camera. If you don't have a teacher available (or even if you do), one of your important tools for learning is a digital camera.
      1. Take pictures of the furniture from every angle before you take anything apart. Then take pictures at each major step as you go. Take more pictures from more angles that you think that you will need. When you start putting the cover back on, you can use the pictures as a guide to help you remember how it went back together.
      2. If you need help, you can take pictures of your problem, and then email the pictures to another upholsterer for advice.
    3. Stapler. A hand stapler will work. An electric stapler will be better. An air stapler (providing you have an air compressor, is the best type of staple.
    4. Hand tools: hammer, screwdrivers, staple removers, ripping chisels, rulers, squares, skill saw, jig saw, electric drill, etc. (more to follow)
    5. For more information on tools, go to Basic Upholstery Tools,
  4. Set up a designated work space (that is not shared with anything else): To succeed at learning upholstery, you need to set aside, and set up, an area to work in. If you try to share a space with something else, you probably won't succeed. Every time you think about doing some upholstery, you'll see the other clutter that you first have to clean, so you won't even get started.
  5. Get Some Furniture to Practice On:After getting a few basic tools, you need a good supply of furniture to practice on.
    1. Use throw-away furniture: For your first pieces I would suggest that you get some old furniture (look in dumpsters, thrift stores, ask friends), find some furniture you can get for free or very cheap. Since you are using old junk furniture, you shouldn't feel afraid that you'll ruin it. Anything that you do will be better than it is.
    2. Do work for friends and acquaintances. Let them know that you are just practicing and you will do any simple pieces for free while you are learning. The advantage of doing the work for free (rather than using old furniture that you've collected yourself), is that the client will pay all the expences (purchasing fabric and supplies.)
  6. Get Some Fabric: On your first pieces you don't want to spend a lot of money on fabtric. You just need some very cheap fabric, the color doesn't matter. Then use that cheap fabric to cover your first piece(s). As you gain more experience, then you can purchase better fabric.
  7. Schedule your upholstery time. Put this on your calendar as you do any other appointment. Then make sure that you keep this appointment and do the work.
  8. Just Do it! The hardest part of getting started is getting started. While going to classes is helpful, it's not a requirement. Upholstery is something that you can learn just by doing it. Sometimes students may use taking classes as an excuse not to get started.
    1. Don't use endless time going to classes, reading books as an excuse not to get started. Although all these things are helpful, nothing will help you learn as much as actually getting started.
    2. You will learn more by recovering some furniture (even if you are scared and don't know what to do) than you will by reading endless books and taking countless classes. Yes it will take you a while on the first few. But you will figure it out as you go, and you will learn. Just do it and you will learn!

Learning Upholstery




In learning upholstery (or any trade or skill) you first have to set your intention (to tell yourself that you WILL learn upholstery). It is all to easy to tell yourself "I don't have a teacher", OR "I don't know what to do", OR "No one will let me", OR any other excuse you might have. If you really want to learn, you will put aside all the reasons why you can't do it do it and you will do begin.

Find A Teacher

There are a number of ways to learn the upholstery trade. Of course, the best way is to have a patient experienced professional train you. But sometimes that's not possible. If you can't find a teacher, you can still learn upholstery on your own.

Find Resources: If you want to learn here are some suggestions 

  • Have a professional teach you.

  • Take an upholstery class at a trade school (perhaps you could move closer to one during the time you are learning.)

  • Take an upholstery class at the community college.

  • Try to get a job at an upholstery shop (providing they are willing to train you. Some upholsterers won't train anyone for fear of training competition.)

  • Volunteer to work for free for an upholsterer. Some of the time you'd be doing clean up and other "non-learning" time, which migh help motivat the upholsterer to spend time training you. It takes a lot of time and costs money to train someone, even if the trainee is working for free.

  • Go the the library or bookstore and get some books on upholstery.

  • Get some videos on upholstery, See our list of people and places that sell upholstery videos here.

Take An Upholstery Course

Learn by Doing

If you can't find someone to teach you, you can still learn. It will just be a little harder. I learned the trade the same time as my dad. We worked cheap and did work for poor people. As people pointe out my mistakes, I figured out better ways to do things. (I hate to be fussed at, so I tried hard to find better ways to do things.) I had no one to show me how to do it. But I learned it by just doing it. You have an advantage, besides this website, there are several other upholstery webboards. and there are a number of upholsterers at each of these that you can ask questions of.

The Upholstery Business

Want to go into the Upholstery Business? Go to this page that gives ideas on Getting Started into Upholstery .


Upholstery Discussion Forums

Just Do It

My dad use to say, "Pretend like you know what you are doing and go ahead!" Upholstery is one trade that you can learn as you do it. No need to "wait until you have learned enough to get started. You can get started by getting old furniture that is cheap or free, recover it using cheap fabric, and  then sell it.

Practice, Practice: The best way to learn is to actually do it and to practice a lot. Do anything and everything you can to actually get some furniture to practice on. Get some furniture to practice on: look around your house, your neighbors for old discarded furniture. Go to garage sales and see what furniture you might be able to pick of for free. While you are starting out, just use some real cheap fabric. Don't worry about the color. If you don't yet have a walking foot upholstery machine, you can still do some work; just use thin fabrics, such as cotton prints, and sew it with your zipper foot. Don't let anything stop you: Realize that you'll make a lot of mistakes. Don't even think about trying to do it perfectly to start with. That perfectionism will keep you from trying. Just assume that your first pieces will look a mess. Accept that fact as part of the learning process. No one will do a professional job on the first few pieces. A word of advice, Unless you want to just keep first job to compare agains, you might not want to keep the first few pieces that you do. As you get better, you'll feel embarrased at the way the first pieces look like.

The article is taken from a webboard where I originally answered a question from another poster.




Earning While You are Learning

You are not yet what you are going to be. You are an upholsterer in training.

When you start to learn a new trade cash flow is key. Many people don't have money enough to just stop working and learn upholstery. Many people may need to support themselves (doing upholstery) while they are learning. I've been there myself. Many years ago, when I started working with my dad (and the others in my family) in the upholstery business we worked for poor people, who could afford much and didn't expect much, (who were just glad to have a new cover to replace the old worn-out tattered cover. We worked cheap, gave credit (got enough of a down payment to cover the expenses, and gambled on the rest.) (and to be sure, some people didn't pay, oh well.). Since there were all four/five of us working we were able to survive, to learn, and to grow the business.
During the process there are many ways to become motivated to learn better upholstery methods. As an example, over the years (as some of the client's complained to me when the job wasn't right). I didn't like to be fussed as, so I learned to do better ways.

There are very few upholstery schools or upholstery training available, and those that are available tend to be costly. In addition, upholsterers generally don't like to train other upholsterers because they would be training their competion. So, that leaves many would-be upholsterers to learn on there own, kind of an on-the-job training. And, let's face the truth. A beginning or amateur upholsterer does sloppy work. That is only to be expected, and that is OK as long as the client knows what to expect. No matter what your skill level, just always do your best. Keep trying to do better and to keep learning.

I believe that there are clients suited to each level upholsterer. For example, there are some client who haven't been trained or don't have the life experiences to be able to see one quality of furniture as compared to another. They don't care about having high quality furniture. They just want their furniture recovered in something different. In many of these cases, price will be the determining factor. Very few clients will be OK about paying the same price as having a professional upholsterer do their work. You should price your work according to your skill level. You don't need to say "I'm an amatuer and do sloppy work". Rather, you could say something like this. I'm at the beginning level, Or amatuer, Or an upholsterer in training (or however you can honestly phrase it. Then, along with that, have lots of pictures and samples of your work. Then you can feel competent that people are getting what they are paying for.

 The important thing is that you just be open to what your level of skill is at. I would suggest that you say that you are an upholsterer in training. In addition, have lots of pictures of your work posted all around so that your clients can see them.
One main issue that could pop up is if a beginning upholsterer (who doesn't yet have the skill) would pretend to the client that he is highly skilled. That could spell disaster for both the upholsterer and the client. But if the upholsterer is honest about his skill level and has finished work and/or pictures showing, that would minimize much of any problems.

I went through a similar feeling of insecurity when I first started making slipcovers, which hang differently than upholstery. But, once I started posting pictures of my slipcovers I gradually relaxed and stopped fretting as much. The beauty of having lots of pictures for your client to see is that it shows the clients what your skill level is. If a very picky client comes in and sees your pictures, she will respond according to what is important to her.

It takes some years before an upholsterer becomes proficient at his/her work. You are at the level where you are supposed to be. You will get better with time and practice.

I would suggest that, even as a beginning upholsterer that you take lots of pictures of your work all the way through the upholstery process. This has a couple of benefits.
1. It shows the clients exactly what to expect when you do the work for them.
2. Knowing that you will take pictures as you go along motivates you to do better than you may otherwise do. It is much liking having the client right there watching everything you do. I've noticed that it has motivated me to my best at all times. Many the time has been that I've thought about the pictures and that has made me to my best.

One of the most important things to learn is to always be truthful and honest in everything that you do. Deal fairly with the clients, and be honest about what you are, and aren't, able to. For example, if you promise high quality work, and aren't able to produce, it will come back and bite you.

Figure out what your strengths are and build on that. What do you do well? What do you like to do?

Advertise Your business

I can't stress this point strongly enough. No matter what your skill level it helps to advertise your service or business. See some articles on advertising by clicking here. I also strongly recommend that you get your own website. See article by clicking here.

Fundamentals of Upholstery

It has been said, "The people who are the best in the world... are the best at the fundamentals" While this was not said about upholstery, it certainly applies. Learn to the fundamentals well and you will be doing quality work. But, then, one might ask, "Just what are the fundamentals?" That is a reasonable question that deserves an answer.

Learning Upholstery FAST!!!

In this country it seems like everyone wants to have things instantly. This attitude can easily transfer over to learning a skill, such as upholstery.

You might ask me, "How can I learn upholstery really fast!"

I would respond, "You can't. Next Question Please?"

That wasn't quite what you expected. So you might change your question a little, "What is the fastest way I can learn upholstery?" To this I might reply, "Wrong Question."

All kidding aside, I would turn the focus around and ask you a question. "Why do want to learn upholstery FAST? "

To this you might say, "because I want to cover my furniture and perhaps do some work from friends."

To this I would reply, "Cover your own dining chair seats. Go buy some fabric, take the cover off the chair seats and put the new cover on. Then find another piece to cover, and another, an another." To be sure, at first you will do a sloppy job. But that's OK, you are learning. You will get better with each piece that you do..."


You might answer my question this way, "... because I want to start doing upholstery for a living. I want to do work for other people.

Well, my answer would be the same, "Cover your own dining chair seats first. Go buy some fabric, take the cover off the chair seats and put the new cover on. Then find another piece to cover, and another, an another. To be sure, at first you will do a sloppy job. But that's OK, you are learning. You will get better with each piece that you do..." and this would be followed by one very important piece of advice: Fix your mistakes as soon as you see them. Fixing your mistakes is one of the fastest ways to improve the quality of your work.

Whether you want to just do a few pieces for yourself, OR if you want to make a career of upholstery, the answer is the same. Just start doing it. Start where you are with what you have available to you. If you can't find a teacher, start without one.

You might reply, "I can't find an upholstery class, OR the class starts in 2 months, etc." My answer would be the same. Don't wait, "Just start doing it. Start where you are with what you have available to you. If you can't find a teacher, start without one."

In any event, don't TRY to learn fast, you'll put too much pressure on yourself and thus hinder your learning. Just keep aware and do your best in each moment. As you continually try to do your best, you will continually get better. Upholstery is a skill that takes many years to learn well. As long as you are focusing on learning fast you will be hindering your learning. One good way to learn is to slow down and learn each step well as you go along.

Slow down and learn each step well.. Take time to pay attentions, watch and study what you are doing. Think about what you are doing. As you proceed, review in your mind what you have done and what you are doing.

As you take the furniture apart, keep your camera handy and take lots of pictures of how it was put together. This wil be your guide to put it back together.

What is the Secret it Learning Fast?

Now, to answer the question, "How can I learn upholstery FAST?". You will learn at whatever speed you are capable of learning. The only things that will help you to learn faster is to continue to cover furniture as much as you can. There is no trick and no magic about it. To learn upholstery: just do it.

Even if you don't have a teacher, fill all your spare time with upholstery projects. Cover as many pieces as you can. Work on furniture as much as you can. To start with, do work for free for other people, they purchase the supplies and the fabrics. Tell then that you are just learning and not to expect perfection. Better yet, buy cheap chairs at yard sales, etc. When you are finished sell the chairs. This way people will see what they are getting.

The Secret: Be Proactive!

While it would help you learn faster if you had a teacher, there are very few upholstery schools or upholstery teachers around. Fortunately you can get some upholstery books either at the library or online. In addition you can buy some upholstery videos or search through YouTube to find upholstery videos.
If there is any "secret" or "magic" to learning upholstery it is this: Don't just read the book! Don't just watch the videos! DO IT. The more you put into practice what you read or watch, the quicker you will learn. If you are really in a rush to learn upholstery, then fill EVERY SPARE MOMENT with you reading upholstery books, watching upholstery videos and then finding an upholstery project to do and doing it.

When You First Start

And here is another key point. Especially on the first few pieces of furniture, it would be better if you got some old junk furniture from wherever (garage sale, thrift store, junk pile) to cover. That way you aren't under the added pressure of trying to make them good enough to please someone else. (Imagine if while you were just learning that you did a very sloppy job on some friends furniture.) When you are finished with those pieces, sell them at a garage sale, Craigslist, etc.

Starting An Upholstery Business

What do you need to do to start an upholstery business. The answer will vary depending upon your knowledge and skill level of upholstery and business practices, you desires, your finances, your determination to persevere through difficult times.

For example, if you have little or no knowledge and experience of the upholstery trade, then, of course, you must learn some basic upholstery skills before you start a business. This article does not include that.

Let's assume that you already know the uphostery trade and want to start your own business. The first question to ask yourself is, "Why do I want to start my own business?"

  1. Do you want to make all the profit of working for yourself?
  2. Do you want your time to be your own?
  3. Are you tired of having someone else be your boss?
  4. Are you tired of following someone else's orders

It has been said that when you work for yourself, you can make your own choices. A running joke is that "when you work for yourself, you can work any 80 hours a week that you want." Although this seems funny, it is more true that we want to admit. Working for oneself requires a lot more time and effort than working for someone else. I easily spend a third to a half of my time doing "non-paying" work..... (giving estimates, answering the phone, answering emails, writing ads, doing bookkeeping, organizing the fabric samples, working on the website....) It is so much easier to just work your 40 hours a week for someone else.

Starting your business

  1. Set up your workshop 
  2. Get fabric samples. If a fabric sales rep comes to your home, they want to see some evidence that you are in business.
    1. A set up and functioning workshop
    2. A customer area, sales desk, sample table or shelves.



10 Steps To Starting A Business at Business.Gov

Starting and Managing a Business, SBA

Tips on Running Your Upholstery Business at

5 ways to start a company (without quitting your day job) at CNN

Kim's Upholstery: Do You Want To Learn How To Upholster Furniture?

Supporting Yourself as You Learn

Learn the upholstery trades takes time and comes in stages. During this time you have to eat and need a place to stay. Don't expect to just quit your job and start making a living at upholstery. If you have a job or other way to support yourself I strongly recommend  that  you keep that other income until you have learned upholstery sufficiently AND you have developed a clientel sufficient to support yourself.

The Secret to doing Quality Work!

Would you like to know the "secret" of doing quality work, perhaps doing work that is a higher quality than your competition? Would you like your clients to give you high praise for your work. Would you like to feel the satisfaction of a job well done, day after day?

Well, the "secret" to doing astoundingly quality work is simple. it is basically just doing the fundamentals well.  The best upholsterers in the world just do the fundamentals extremely well. It involves taking a strong devotion to detail, of studying and practicing your craft, hard work, keeping aware of what you are doing, giving your best effort and taking apart sloppy work and doing it over again. And perseverance, never giving up, trying over and over again until you get it right..

Examine your work as you go along. It is extremely important that you correct your mistakes as soon as you see them: If you put aside correcting a mistake until later, then you'll have a lot more to take out and it will be a lot harder to correct (if you even decide to fix it.). You'll also be training yourself to overlook your mistakes. Consequently, the quality of your work will deteriorate.

However, if you do correct your mistake as soon as you see it, then you'll be training yourself to watch for mistakes and you'll seem them quicker and quicker. You will also be looking for and learning better ways to do your work. Eventually you may start catching yourself before you make the mistake and thus save yourself a lot of time. Over a period of time the quality of your work will begin to improve more and more.

One big principle of doing quality work is precision, to do it one step at a time. Check each step before going on to next Step. The quality of the whole job is no better than the quality of each part. If the part is not good, the whole will not be good. So, as you are working on each piece, whether taking it apart, preparing the frame and the padding, measuring, cutting and sewing the fabric, or attaching the fabric to the frame, stop at each piece. Check each piece to make sure that is is made right, it is square or round or well padded, etc. For instance, if you are trying to make a nice looking cushion where the corners all line up you have to make sure that you mark and cut the fabric square, sew it straight and even, having both the top and bottom fabrics pulling evenly. There is no short cut do doing quality work. You must give your full attention to each piece. AND, most importantly, if you see it now going together right, STOP and take it apart and do it better.

Before you start sewing or stapling something together, first line up the centers, make sure the grain in the fabric is straight. Pin the fabric together or tack the fabric lightly to the frame before proceeding.

Upholstery Videos

Upholstery Videos from around the internet. We are not involved with any of these videos or websites, but put them here for your use. Be sure to check each website out and use your own judgment before ordering anything.

  1. Upholstering Antiques by Buckminster Upholstery. The teacher is a true craftsman who does a lot of antiques. He also does restoration quality work for some historical archives. Although not recommended for those just starting out in upholstery, I highly recommend his videos for those wanting to learn how to upholster antiques in the traditional way.
  2. Decorating and Upholstery Instruction with Vista Upholstery
  3. Upholstery Videos by Tomlen Jr.
  4. Merv's How-To upholstery videos
  5. Automotive Upholstery Training Course: "Included in this Training Course is 11 Videos that will teach you every aspect of Automobile Upholstery. You will learn Basic Sewing, How to sew Pleats, (Tuck & Roll), Diamond Tufting, Convertible Tops, Door & Trim Panels, How to make your own Patterns, Rebuilding Seats, Sunvisors & Flames, making your own seat foam cushions, How to make custom rugs, and many more!"
  6. Upholstery Training Videos by Vista Upholstery Enterprises: "Learn professional upholstery: auto, marine, furniture and slipcovers"
  7. YouTube Upholstery Videos . A collection of Upholstery How-to videos on YouTube
  8. Google Upholstery Videos  A collection of Upholstery How-to videos on Google Video
  9. Tomlen Upholstery Videos - "We have videos on a variety of projects."
  10. Upholstery Training Academy has several collections of DVD's teaching how to upholster various projects.

Note, if you know of any uphostery training videos not listed here, or if any of these links are no longer available please contact me

Upholstery As A Career

I"ve been doing upholstery for most of time since 1966. There have been times I've enjoyed it and times that I wished I was doing something else. Upholstery is not a high paid trade and it is a lot of hard physical work (not as hard as digging ditches or the like) But all in all, upholstery is a good trade.

Nowadays, when I see so many people out of work, I thank God that I have paying work to do. Upholstery supports my family. It also gives a good sense of being productive and building a good reputation. It gives me a chance to meet a lot of really nice people.

I find being a self employed upholsterer one of the most challenging jobs, and yet a very rewarding occupation. It is challenging in that a very large amount of my time is spent in "non-paying" work (i.e. making out estimates and work orders, answering the phone, waiting on clients, paying bills and doing the bookkeeping, checking stock and ordering fabric, figuring out what supplies to order and when, figuring out how much foam to order and for what jobs, scheduling when I will be doing what jobs, figuring out when to bring in what job, cleaning up and reorganizing the show room, making sure the prices are up to date on fabrics, doing cutting layouts for the job I'm working on, etc. Sometimes an enormous amount of time gets eaten up by these various tasks. Some days I get very little, if any, upholstery work done. Sometimes I have to neglect the some of the above tasks just so that I can get some jobs done so that we can pay bills. I'm fortunate in that my wife helps with some of the bookkeeping, ordering fabrics, helping with the clients and some other jobs that she can help with. It would be much harder if I was trying to do it all on my own.

It is rewarding in the my time is my own. If I need to take time off to help my wife or my children, I can. I have no office politics to deal with. I can treat the clients as I would want to be treated. I feel good about my relationships with my clients. I can frankly tell a client when I'm not able or am not willing to do the job as they want it. I can spend time building relationships with clients. Some of our clients become like good friends. When I'm talking with a client, I can talk about whatever I want to.

All in all, especially in this tough job market, I am thankful to have a relatively secure job. Upholstery is a respectable occupation, one that I can be proud of. I don't have to hang my head in shame, or do things that go against my conscience.  I am truly blessed in doing what I do.