reupholstering-vintage-sofaMy first foray into sewing/couch upholstery is complete! After about 35+ hours of stripping off the old fabric and removing about a million tacks, measuring, cutting, sewing and attaching the new fabric, and finishing it up with a new bottom dust cover. Ta-da, finished! It isn’t perfect, but for someone who had never used a sewing machine or attempted reupholstering anything harder than a dining chair seat, I’d say it turned out well.

couch-reupholstering-messI stripped the couch in the garage but where, you may ask, did I find room to do all of that upholstering? Besides my work at the sewing machine out in the den, I completely took over the office to finish up the sofa this weekend. It looks like an explosion hit, doesn’t it?

couch-reupholsteringI’m really glad that I had a nice bit of open floor space in this room. It was hard enough as it was to shimmy around the couch to attach the fabric (carefully) with my pneumatic staple gun. I can’t imagine trying to work on a couch of this size in any less space.

couch-time-capsuleBefore I closed up the sofa again, I added a “couch capsule” that included the original tag, the cleanest scrap of the original fabric I could find, and a short note describing the reason for reupholstery. That way, anyone who opens up the couch in the future will know a good chunk of the story surrounding it. You might think me strange for making a “couch capsule” but I love discovering stuff like this, so why not pass on the hidden goodies to future retro enthusiasts?

reupholstered-vintage-sofaNow to the sofa — the process of reupholstering it was quite a learning experience for me. I feel like the second couch will be just a wee bit better thanks to a few stapling and sewing techniques I learned during the process of reupholstering this couch. While the couch turned out very nicely, and I am super happy with the results (I have been randomly giggling and then excitedly running in to sit on the sofa on and off for the last 12 or so hours since I finished it), I don’t deny that this sofa is far from perfect. 

midcentury-sofaI decided to reuse the original horsehair padding, which is in good condition, but a little uneven. Over the life of this couch, most people have chosen to sit on the 2/3 of the couch that has a backrest, causing that part of the couch to become more compressed than the open end. Therefore, the end of the couch is a little puffier than the rest and is not flat and even. Oh well, it adds character, right?

vintage-sofaI also had a little trouble with a few of the bottom corners on the seat cushion, thus the small gathers just above the tack band. 

vintage-couch-reupholsteringThe part of the sofa where the edge of the seat meets the back was hard as well. The transition is not perfect, but it works for me. Note: the original fabric was just stuffed down in there and not tacked at all! I think since the new fabric is thinner, it may have been easier to stuff in there, but harder to make wrinkle free.

couch-end couch-back 50s-sofaYou’ll notice I didn’t replace the buttons on the sofa seat. I made this decision because I have very vivid childhood memories of my Dad constantly sewing the buttons back on the seat of his easy chair every month or two — since they seemed to catch on people’s jeans and pants pockets and pop off a lot. I didn’t want to have to worry about that happening to my sofas after all of my hard work (they had a lot of buttons!) so I made the conscious decision to omit them from the seat. I do like the way the buttons look, so I made sure to replace the 5 buttons on the seat back.

upholsteringIt was difficult to make sure the welt cord remained straight while pulling and stapling the fabric onto the sofa frame, but I think I did a fairly good job.

vintage-sofa-reupholster vintage-sofa-back orange-retro-sofaThis transition was another difficult one. Trying to get all of the welting to lay correctly and keep everything straight took a lot of careful stapling and positioning.

midcentury-sofa-end kate-on-couchIn the end, this couch is SO much nicer now than it was when I inherited it. It is clean and free of odor. The fabric is smooth and not itchy, but still has a “retro feel” with bits of sheen. Plus, it is orange — which as you might have noticed — is one of my all time favorite colors.

kate-on-couch-2When I realized I had a dress in my closet that matched the couch, I decided to mark my first major upholstery achievement with a photo or two — you know — after I cleaned up a little. I think my Nana (whose sewing machine I used), my Grandma (who was a thrifty, mend and make do kind of lady and also loved orange) and my Great Grandma (who I never met, but was the original owner of these sofas) would be proud.

One down, one to go!



  1. Your great grandmother would be very proud of you for keeping her sofa and making it look brand new! I think you did a great job and it’s hard to believe you’ve never upholstered before! It looks fabulous! You rock!

  2. You Did Mahvelous Darling! Looks Awesome, you Should be proud. Your matriarchs were with you, I have to say you made wise choices all the way through. Looking forward to seeing the pair, now that your on a roll.
    And Kudos to your husband for encouraging you with the infringement on the office. Hat’s off, win/win!

    • Thanks Heart — yes, my husband is very easy going. He is proud of my talents and tries to encourage them as much as possible, even if that means he can’t use his computer for a day or two…

  3. Awesome job, looks great! Did you use a tack strip or Curve-ease/ply-grip for the back sides? The closure looks really smooth and tight. I can’t believe you made all that cording with a zipper foot, and it looks so good! If you decide to take on more projects, you might look into getting a cording foot that fits your machine–it makes the process a zillion times easier.

    • Thanks Britt! I used a tack strip for the sides of the back. It was what was available at my local fabric store. Seems to have worked well. For the top, I used staples and that stiff cardboard tack strip to firm up the top edge. I’m sure a cording foot would be much easier, but it is possible with a zipper foot, going very slowly!

  4. I am beyond impressed with your results! It’s really hard to believe that you haven’t really sewn before. Beautiful color, great job! I sew for a living, and am secretly frightened of upholstery. Give me a gown or bag or quilt and I’m a happy camper. Someday, someday. Renee

    • Thanks Renee — that means a lot coming from someone who sews for a living! I promise, I have never used the sewing machine until I started this project. Just ask my Mom or my husband. It has been in the garage for years, only recently moved inside. I am not the best at sewing straight lines, but if I go slowly, it is manageable. Hopefully I will improve my skills with time…and practice!

  5. Stellar! And by the way, I have used those scary-looking rufflers, and the buttonhole attachments too! Those old machines are excellent for upholstery because they can sew through just about anything.

    • Old machines do go through everything…now I know from experience but everyone was telling me that before. 🙂 I bow down to anyone who can figure out and use the ruffler or the button hole maker! They are SO SCARY looking!!! WOW!

  6. Kate, I think you did a great job, and hope you enjoy your couch for the nexr 50 years or so. (When I predict you will still be retro-renovating but might want a different color.)

  7. You did a fantastic job on that sofa! I’ve done quite a few pieces myself , and I think you did an excellent job. I have taken the icky old fabric ,and used the serger on the edge so it didn’t unravel , then I just threw it in the washer. I figured what could it hurt. It came clean and was in surprisingly good shape , so I made pillows. Keep up the great work! (Your husband must be a great guy…as in very patient, mine grumbles every time I add to my hoard of ….well everything.)

  8. Wow you really did a great job! If you didn’t tell us about the wrinkles and other “flaws” I would have thought you had it professionally covered.

  9. Oh and the key to the ruffler foot, depends on your machine of course, is to get it attached correctly and also to adjust it correctly. After that it is a matter of carefully threading the beginning of the fabric through the ruffler so that it will start sewing. Don’t worry, once you try it you can make beautiful ruffles fast and easy! Buttonhole making should not be scary, you can either follow the steps on an older machine or on a newer machine place your button in the guide and attach the button hole foot and then it just goes. The hard part of buttonhole making by machine is when you are using the thicker materials such as wool, thick flannel, etc. Then it is a matter of just fiddling with the thread tensions until the buttonhole comes out the way you want it to. Always, always work with scraps of the fabric and thread you will be using before starting on your good or fashion fabric.

  10. Girl, you did a fabulous job on that gorgeous gem of an heirloom sofa!!! I’m so pleased for you! I wish I’d been able to save our MCM sofas and tables from ruin, but, I was too young to know. What a wonderful story you have. Enjoy your sofas and the knowledge that those you love enjoyed them, too!!

    Can’t wait to see the next one! 🙂

  11. Dear Katiedoodle,
    First rate job! I’ve done some upholstery over the years, and can acknowledge that it is hard, hard labor. Great taste in fabric too. May I suggest that next you tackle slipcovers, for a breezy summer change-up? For many years I made custom slipcovers for a living, (and had a stream of clients constantly at my door) and can tell you that once you work out the process, it’s a snap (if somewhat time-consuming). And that way you can have your furniture covered in as many tasty mid-century fabrics as you little heart desires.

  12. Congratulations! You’ve done a amazing job, and I would never have guessed it was your first time. I adore your idea of the couch capsule, I did something similar with my first piece of furniture upholstery. If your second couch has actual horsehair, you can take off the hair, and wash it with shampoo, and use a bit of conditioner after rinsing. Then just let it dry. This works perfectly to refresh horsehair in upholstery projects. I am looking forward to seeing the second piece. Brava!!

    • Thanks for the tip about cleaning ‘horsehair’, that would really save on supplies & I think horsehair holds up Much Better than foam. Did you know they use it to make saddles too?

      • Really? Where do they use it? I was thinking about your first pieces, the one tha t is a bit uneven because of the stuffing. Have you tried thumping the higher end with w rubber mallet? Horsehair is also very malleable.

  13. Amazing job Kate. Was it hard to learn? I only do table chair cushion seats, but I have always dreamed of doing a couch or love seat. It’s on my retro bucket list to learn. Lol.
    Best wishes, Bunny

  14. LOVELY (look towards garage) I may have a project or 2 hiding that need some love as well & I know it takes guts to get over the initial fear.

    This old gal turned out AMAZING!

  15. I’ve been putting off trying to make a cover for a chair because I’m afraid I wouldn’t do it good enough (and I sew a lot!). Your project gives me the incentive to go ahead and do it! That’s amazing, most people that don’t sew wouldn’t even think of trying such a project, (or even a small project!).

  16. Bravo!!! As a long time and fairly accomplished seamstress, I have to admit to being intimidated by upholstery and have never tackled it myself. In fact, it’s kept me from some wonderful garage sale and flea bargains. You have done an outstanding and better than good enough beginners job! I too would be giddy with what you’ve done!

  17. Kudos Kate – You made so many right calls on your project – the horsehair is what maintains the vintage vibe. Horsehair braid ( used in party frocks and gowns) is still made today , because there is no substitute – it functions like nothing else. Can’t wait to see sofa #2.

  18. How incredible! You should be proud of your results. You are an inspiration to all who wish to try to reupholster those wonderful pieces from the ’50’s and ’60’s. Perhaps some day I will be as brave as you and attempt a project.
    The couch capsule is the topper.

  19. I am attempting a DIY redo of a loveseat that I found in my garage when I bought my house, it actually looks very similiar to your original loveseat!! This will be my first attempt at re-upholstering and I found your post when I searched the internet for advice. Thanks for a great resource, yours came out awesome and I hope I’m as successful!!

  20. I LOVE the couches and the fabric. Where did you find it? Wonderful job hope my upholstery adventure turns out as well as yours.

Leave a Reply to Margaret Roach Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s