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How to reupholster a sofa

When you need to replace your old sofa, consider the option of reupholstering a secondhand or old fashioned sofa to create the perfect sofa.


Reupholstering a secondhand sofa, or a sofa that you like but want to give it a new look, is an option to consider if you don't want to spend thousands on a new sofa. Reupholstery also allows you to select the perfect fabric to complement your living space.

This project on Instructables shows you step-by-step how to reupholster a sofa. It's not a project you can complete in a day and can take several days to complete, but the satisfaction of completing this project is a feeling you just can't beat.

Because of the time required to complete this project you need to have a dedicated space where you can work without interruptions. You'll also need to stock up on tools and materials to undertake a professional job.


Upholstery fabric (double the size of the sofa)

Upholstery buttons

Cardboard and steel tack strips

Foam, cut to size

Batting and burlap

Nylon line or strong thread

Upholstery needle, large

Fabric chalk

Small washers


Heavy-duty stapler, pneumatic stapler or Bosch Tacker

Hammer, pliers, flathead screwdriver and scissors - to remove old fabric

Homemade hole cutter for foam

Permanent marker pen

Tape measure and pencil

If you have not previously attempted any type of upholstery project, watch this video beforehand to have an idea of what's involved.


1. The first step is to remove the old fabric, batting and foam to get down to the bones of the sofa. At this stage you can also carefully inspect the framework to see if any repairs or replacements need to be done, and fix these before you start to reupholster. You will find assorted upholstery supplies online and at stores around the country, and many larger fabric stores stock a selection of basic upholstery supplies.

2. With all the old trimmings removed you can start building up again with new foam and batting. Burlap, batting is available at most fabric stores, while foam can be cut to size at foam manufacturers. It's a good idea to discuss your project with the sales person, so that they can recommend the correct density of foam for the reupholstery.

3. If you plan on tufting the back or seat of your new sofa, as was done here, you're going to need to measure and mark. The standard size for tufting is around 140 - 150mm size squares.

4. Mark the arrangement on your foam and use our homemade hole cutter to make holes in the foam. They don't have to be perfect, since they will be covered by a layer of batting. 

5. Place the cut foam onto the sofa frame. To temporarily hold the foam in place while you work, cut strips of burlap to fit around the edges and use sprayable adhesive to secure the burlap to the foam and onto the frame. Later on, once covered with fabric, the fabric will hold everything firmly in place.

6. Place a layer of batting over the foam and poke small holes that correspond with the holes cut in the foam. 

GOOD TO KNOW: Before you begin with the tufting, cover the upholstery buttons in your choice of fabric. 

7. Now it's time to mark the back of the fabric with sewing chalk. You will use the same arrangement as for marking the foam, but the size of the squares is now 150mm. This allows extra fabric for the tufting process.

GOOD TO KNOW: If you add extra padding the size of the square will need to be larger.

8. Thread the upholstery needle with thread about 50cm in length. Working through the back centre of the sofa, push the needle through the foam and through the fabric - following the drawn grid on the back of the fabric as a guide. Thread through the upholstery button and back through the fabric and foam, and through the back of the sofa. Pull the thread taut - and you need to do this the same for every single button - wrap around a small washer and tie off.

GOOD TO KNOW: Repeat Step 8. when you flip over the sofa to upholster the seat (if you are tufting this section).

9. Use a heavy-duty stapler, pneumatic stapler or Bosch Tacker to staple the fabric onto the frame. Don't secure the fabric to the frame until you are absolutely happy with how it looks - it takes a bit of practice but you'll soon get it right, and you may need to remove and replace staples as you go along. Use a small flathead screwdriver to lever up the staples and then remove with pliers.

GOOD TO KNOW: As you work from the centre outwards, pull the fabric and make sure the pleats are laying correctly.

GOOD TO KNOW: Use an old blanket to protect areas already upholstered.

10. Once the seat and back is done you can move onto the arm rests. You can apply a thin layer of foam over the frame and apply a layer of batting over the top of this. Use staples to hold the foam and fabric in place.

11. For this particular reupholstery project the fabric for the arms needed to be sewn together and then slipped over the frame. Once adjusted and in place, this can be stapled far down the side, underneath the seat and to the side of the back. Again, this will take some adjusting until you get the fit perfectly, with all fabric and staples out of sight.

GOOD TO KNOW: When removing the old fabric, and knowing that you will need to sew together the pieces for the arms, use the old fabric as a pattern for cutting new fabric.

GOOD TO KNOW: The front skirt of the sofa is attached using a tack strip.

12. The tack strip is stapled in place over the fabric, the fabric folded over and down, and stapled underneath the seat/base. Be sure to pull the fabric taut and remove / replace any staples where the fabric is uneven.

13. The final step is to attach fabric to the back of the sofa. Starting at the bottom side, secure piping up the side, along the top edge and down the other side. Place the fabric face down over the back of the sofa and, again, a tack strip is stapled in place.

14. Before pulling the back fabric down and over the tack strip, adding a thin layer of batting on the back gives the fabric a nice flow over any straps or springs.

15. Along the back the fabric is pulled taut and stapled underneath the back.

16. To finish off the sides you will need a couple of metal tack strips. Fold under the edge of the fabric so that it will fit perfectly on the inside of any piping, fold the fabric over the tack strip and hammer into the sides of the chair. If this sounds confusing, check of this video that shows in detail how to secure fabric to the back of a sofa or chair.

Your new sofa is now finished. All that's left to do is any trimming and tidying up.


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