Are you looking to have fun and get creative while saving money and living more sustainably? If so, why not think about learning upholstery?

If you’ve got a piece of furniture that’s looking a bit tired, by learning to upholster you can breathe new life into it. Or if something doesn’t quite go with the decor in your room, upholstering can give it a brand new look. With this skill, you can also snap up bargains that are a bit of an eyesore and transform them into stylish and unique pieces.

To find out more, here’s our beginner’s guide to upholstery.

1. Learn the basics

One of the most important things to know about upholstery is that it’s often a lot easier than it looks. You might have seen people on TV or online effortlessly reupholstering furniture and transforming dowdy old chairs into trendy seats in a matter of minutes. But upholstery is a skill, and like any other, it takes time to master properly.

But with a bit of patience and practise, anyone can learn how to upholster furniture. There isn’t any special skill needed to get started – and you don’t even need to be especially crafty or have any experience with DIY or art.

Once you’ve learned the basics, you can start practising on more complex pieces, but it’s always best for beginners to start small. Trying to tackle a full armchair or sofa on your first attempt, for example, probably isn’t the best idea. Instead, starting off with smaller, simpler pieces can help you to gradually work your way up to more ambitious projects.

So what are the best pieces for beginners to start with? Anything with straight lines is always a safe bet – things like footstools, ottomans, bench seats, dining room chairs, and headboards. With curved pieces of furniture, you’ll need to make a pleat to tuck the fabric in. But with straight lines, you usually only need to fold the corners over in a process that’s similar to wrapping a present. 

Once you’ve got to grips with the basics, have reupholstered a few simple pieces, and learnt how to use your tools, you can branch out and experiment with bigger challenges.

According to many experts, one of the best things to practise upholstery on is a dining room chair pad. This is an easy project that doesn’t require many tools – just some fabric scissors and a staple gun. To see how simple reupholstering a dining room seat can be, have a watch of the video below.

2. Purchase your tools

If you decide that you want to pursue upholstery as a hobby, there are lots of specialised tools you can buy. However, if you’re just starting out, it’s best to begin with the basics.

While upholstery involves a lot of pulling and stapling, sewing is sometimes involved as well, so if you do any sewing, you may well have some of the tools needed at home anyway.

The tools most upholstery beginners will need are…

  • Staple gun – This is an essential tool for any budding upholsterer as it allows you to fix the fabric to the furniture frame quickly and easily. This Tacwise staple gun will save you a fair bit of work – but any high-quality staple gun will do the job too.

    If you decide to continue on your upholstery journey, you might want to think about investing in an air stapler and compressor. These use air pressure to achieve much greater force, and are very handy if you’re stapling into a hard surface like wood. Just remember to buy staples if your gun doesn’t come with them!

  • Fabric scissors – If you don’t already have a pair of these in your sewing kit, you’ll need to pick up sharp, good-quality fabric scissors. Bear in mind that using these scissors to cut other materials can make them blunt, so try to keep them only for cutting fabric.

  • Rubber mallet – You may have a rubber mallet in your toolbox already and they come in very handy for upholstery. You can use them to hammer parts into place without damaging the furniture frame or fabric.

    If you move onto more complex upholstery, you’ll need a rubber mallet to knock wooden frames apart and to tap in flourishes like nailheads or grommets.

  • Staple removers – Some staple guns come with staple removers, but if yours doesn’t you’ll need to purchase one. They’re essential for pulling staples up and removing old fabric.

  • Soft tape measure – Having a soft tape measure is valuable as it allows you to take precise measurements around the curves of furniture in a way that hard tape measures can’t.

  • Fabric – Choosing the colours and patterns of your fabric is always fun. It’s usually best to opt for a thick, durable fabric that can handle a bit of wear and tear – particularly if you’re going to be sitting on the furniture. Because you’ll need to pull the fabric tightly around the frame, non-stretch fabrics are best.

    It’s a good idea to buy fabrics in person so you can actually feel the material in your hands, but if you can’t get to one, there are plenty of online fabric shops too – you can have a browse at Fabricland and My Fabrics.

If you just want to try out upholstery to see if it’s for you, then you’ll probably be able to get by with just a staple gun, fabric, and fabric scissors, as long as your project’s very simple. 

To find out more about the different upholstery tools, have a read of this article by Sail Rite, or watch the video below.

3. Brush up on your upholstery knowledge

Truly getting the hang of upholstery hinges on plenty of practise and probably a lot of trial and error. But taking some time to learn about the art of upholstery can also make a big difference to how quickly you get the hang of it. It can also give your confidence a welcome boost too.

So what are some of the best ways you can learn more about upholstery?

Read an upholstery book

If you enjoy reading and learning from books, then you might want to think about buying an upholstery book. The Beginner’s Guide to Upholstery by workshop teacher Vicky Grubb uses plain English to show you all the simple techniques needed to create beautiful pieces of furniture.

The book also contains 10 projects; including a simple stool, a dining chair, a patchwork armchair, and a fluted headboard. So once you’ve mastered the basics, there’ll be plenty of more challenging projects for you to tackle.

Or, you might want to pick up a copy of The Upholsterer’s Step-by-Step Handbook by Alex Law. Known as a ‘one-stop reference for the amateur upholsterer’, this book contains all the tips and tricks needed to begin your upholstery adventure – and with clear descriptions and plenty of illustrations, you’ll be able to work on each piece with confidence. From assessing the job to estimating your materials and planning the order of work, you’ll learn how to apply logic to get the job done smoothly, no matter how big the project is.

Alternatively, why not check out Beginners’ Upholstery Techniques by expert upholsterer David James? Packed with plenty of inspirational ideas, this comprehensive guide provides readers with a wide range of techniques and plenty of detailed instructions. By breaking down each stage of upholstery, the book teaches you how to pick the perfect fabric and choose the right tools and materials, as well as how to get confident with the upholstery process itself.

To find out more about the best upholstery books for beginners, check out this article by Book Authority.

Watch upholstery tutorials on YouTube

One of the best ways to familiarise yourself with upholstery is to watch some of the many free tutorial videos on YouTube.

You might want to start off by browsing some of the most popular channels, like Kim’s Upholstery, ALO Upholstery, Artisan Upholstery Studio, and FaceLiftInteriors. These channels have lots of informative videos, so if you find a presenter and teaching style you like, you can browse through their content and see what jumps out.

Aside from watching videos that go over the different upholstery tools and techniques, it’s also very beneficial to watch several videos of an upholstery project. Even if the project feels too ambitious for you to tackle straight away, you’ll be surprised at how much you can pick up just from watching someone reupholster an old sofa. Plus, it’s always good to look forward to some of the more challenging projects you can attempt once you’ve acquired a few skills!

If you’re feeling a little daunted about actually applying what you’ve learnt and getting that staple gun out, have a watch of the video below to see how simple the process actually can be.

Think about signing up for an online upholstery course

If you’re happy to pay a fee, there are several online upholstery classes that promise to take you from amateur to confident upholsterer.

One of the most popular classes from Udemy is The Ultimate Upholstery Guide: Recovering Dining Room Chairs, which teaches you how to upholster three different styles of chair and can seriously boost your skill level in the process. Alternatively, you can also browse various other upholstery courses on the learning section of our website.

Alternatively, you could head over to Upholstery Skills Online and have a browse of their courses. They offer two free courses which you can start with: Upholstery Materials and Tools and Techniques.

If you’re happy with what you see, you might want to consider paying for additional courses. The Upholstery Foundation Level One course is a good option for beginners and will teach you how to make pleats, prepare stuffing, cover with fabric, and create a professional finish every time.

There are also a range of upholstery courses that you can take in person. Craft Courses offers an excellent service that can help you find upholstery courses near you.

4. Familiarise yourself with upholstery tips

Before you clear some workspace and lay your fabric out, it can be helpful to familiarise yourself with some of the most important upholstery tips.

This way, even if you have detailed instructions to follow, you can make sure you’re starting off on the right foot.

  1. Start small. We know we’ve said this a few times – but it’s one of the most valuable upholstery guidelines to follow.

    It can be tempting to start off with a more challenging project – particularly if you have an old sofa that’s just itching for a new covering – but the risk with beginning with a bigger project is that something could go wrong.

    Not only might this ruin your furniture, but it could also knock your confidence and take away some of your excitement. Starting with something small and simple, like an ottoman, stool, or dining room chair will help you perfect your technique – and there’s also more room for error.

  2. Choose the right fabric. It’s important to think about more than just aesthetics when it comes to choosing the right fabric for your upholstery project. The fabric should be thick enough to pull firmly without ripping – and it should be cheap enough that you can buy extra (to hide any errors) without it causing any issues.

    Cotton velvet fabric is a smart choice for furniture as it’s durable enough to be pulled firmly and also gives your pieces a stylish, luxurious look and feel.

  3. Take the existing fabric off carefully. No matter how much of an eyesore the current fabric is and no matter how keen you are to get it off, try your best to remove it gently, carefully, and in one piece. That way, you can use the old fabric as a template for the new covering and skip the job of measuring the fabric.

  4. Pull the fabric tight. One technique that’s essential to get right early on is pulling the fabric tightly enough. If there are the smallest wrinkles or bulges in the material, you haven’t pulled it tight enough.

    Remember that properly upholstered pieces should look professionally done, even when you’re just starting out. Not pulling the fabric tightly enough is one of the most common reasons some upholstery projects have that distinct ‘DIY’ look.

  5. Don’t rush. When people first start upholstery, it’s normal to underestimate how much time a project will take and many people imagine their time will go a lot further than it does. As a good rule of thumb, you might want to double the amount of time you think a job will take you. For example, if you think you can do up a dining room chair in a couple of hours, it may be wise to set aside four hours.

    By offering yourself twice the amount of time to do your projects, you can take it easy and enjoy the process rather than worrying because it’s taking longer than you thought.

    Plus, if you have extra time at the end, you can use that to add the finishing touches to a piece of furniture. For example, giving it a lick of paint so it looks brand-new, authentic, and professionally done.

Final thoughts…

Upholstery is creative, enjoyable, and relaxing, and it can be a great way to upcycle and repurpose old furniture.

Browsing second-hand shops, buying shabby pieces of furniture for a few pounds, and revamping them entirely is incredibly rewarding.

Do remember though, that while it’s absolutely worth the effort, getting to grips with upholstery for the first time won’t necessarily be quick or easy, so try to be patient with yourself. If you make a mistake, remember it’s all part of the learning process – and if your hands or eyes are becoming tired, take a break. The process of upholstery should be fun, so go at your own pace and enjoy the journey.

For further reading, head over to the learning section of our website. Here you’ll find everything from creative skill guides to advice on personal growth and development.