Basic Techniques

There are some basics to the upholstery trade that apply to just about any and all furniture. Once you learn the basics you can tackle most jobs that come your way with confidences and skill. These basics (or secrets) are really quite simple, but they often take years to truly master. The more you study and apply yourself to learning the basics, the quicker you will develop skill. Skill in upholstery in nothing more than applying the basics to the various aspects of upholstery. Theoretically I could make a video tutorial on every type of upholstered furniture imaginable, and that could be up in the thousands of videos. However, just thoroughly learning, understanding, and applying the basic principles of upholstery would enable you to tackle almost any type of upholstery job. This project (of my laying out and (hopefully) making videos to teach these basics) is in its beginning stages. The first part of this project will be my making a list of all those basics that I need to cover.

A List of the Basics that I need to make tutorials on:

How to pull fabric evenly using:

  • your hands
  • webbing pliers

how to use a stapler

How to use a staple remover

Tack strips

hand sewing

Rounding off sharp edges

Most furniture frames have sharp edges When the cover is off the frame, take time to run a heavy metal object (such as a hammer head) over all the edges to dull the sharpness. This helps to keep the fabric from being cut on those sharp edges.

fold corners

  • single fold
  • double fold
  • round corners

welting, seam edge all flat on one side

put on dust cloth

Measuring the Fabric

When you are measuring the furniture to figure what size to cut the fabric:

  • Measuring the Width: Always measure the width at the widest points, and add at least 2 inches on each side.
  • Measuring the Height: Measure at the highest points and add at least 3 inches to the total  height (1" at the top and 2" at the bottom). 

Write down your measurements on a pad

  • IB 32 W x 29 H
  • IA 24 W x 20 H
  • OA 29W x 16 H

For the key to the abbreviations see this page.

Marking the Fabric.

No matter what type of marker you use you must be very careful when you mark the fabric. If you make a mark in the wrong place you might not be able to get the mark out of the fabric, causing wastage of the fabric.

  • Don't use Sharpies or other felt tip markers to mark the fabric. Over the years the ink from those markers can blead through the fabric.
  • Ink Pens. In
  • Carpenter's Pencil is quite useful on many fabrics, providing they show up.

Cutting the Fabric

Before cutting the fabric, square up the ends with a square. If

When using the standard 5/32" welt, cording is generally cut 1 1/2" wide. If the fabric doesn't easily unravel, the cording can be cut lengthwise up the roll. If the fabric unravels easily, then the welt fabric should be cut diagonally, which prevents unraveling. 

Aligning and Attaching the Fabric

Alignment Principles

Before Anchoring the Fabric (see below), lay the fabric on the furniture. Center the fabric in place, check all edges to verify that all edges reach and overlap the edges by a couple inches.

Anchor The Fabric

After aligning fabric, tack the fabric in place with just a very few staples, using one of the below Application Patterns.

  1. Cross: (This is used the most of all the Anchoring Patterns) Mark centers on all four sides of both fabric and on the furniture. (This will vary depending upon the type of furniture and on the part.) Begin by attacthing the fabric on the center of two opposite sides. Then attach the center of the both of the other two sides. The fabric should then be stapled in cross pattern. Then pull outward at each corner
  2. T Pattern: Staple across the top, then lightly staple the center of the bottom
  3. V application patterns: Put a staple in the right and the left of the top, then put a staple in the middle bottom.
  4. The curved IB principle. Center top and bottom, then starting from the center, pulling the fabric snug from the center, alternate between pulling top and bottom,  pulling tight up and down. Keep the horizontal weave of the fabric the same height on both sides of the center.
  5. Making channels: When doing channel backs, the top of the channel is cut wider than the bottom enough so that the pattern will be the same height on all the channels all the way around the back.
  6. Circle Backs:
  7. Inside Straight up
  8. Inside Slanted
  9. Outside Straight up
  10. Outside Slanted
  11. Vertical and Horizontal. Except for some exceptions, for most furniture, the right and left halves should be mirror images of one another.

Body mechanics: How to take care of your body (hands, feet, eyes, back, etc) while you are doing upholstery.