How to Reupholster a Tufted Couch

Heads up. For this post I asked my DIY buds RYOBI and Onlinefabricstore.net for help. I was provided some fabric and a stapler but was not compensated otherwise. My opinions are always my own.

Stick a fork in me, I'm done. Finally. I swear as blog years go by it takes me longer and longer and longer to complete projects. Either that, or I'm taking on more complex projects. Yeah, I like that explanation. Let's go with that. I finished my first huge reupholstery project and I love it! 

I bought this green love seat on Craig's List some time last year. When I saw the pictures of it on the post, I was thrilled. It was exactly what I had in mind for my husband's new office at the new house. And, it was only $75. I was so sold. I headed out on my lunch break the same day and picked it up. Now, I will be the first to admit, my excitement severely clouded my judgment. The owner already had the couch outside when I arrived. I never stepped foot in the house. If I had, I might have noticed the overwhelming smoke smell coming from the thing. I never asked about smoke. Seriously rookie error. As soon as it was loaded in my car and I drove away, the stench overwhelmed me. Windows down, I rolled into the first Target I passed and purchased Febreze as if that was even going to make a dent. Bahaha. I drove the rest of the way back to work spritzing over my shoulder as I drove.

For months I asked my Instagram peeps for advice. I tried baking soda, vinegar, and letting it soak in the sun. At this point, I still didn't think I was going to reupholster it so I tried whatever I could to salvage the beast. 

During these months my husband joked many times that he was going to throw it on the burn pile. (I'm pretty sure that the stink combined with the garage space it was taking up was fueling this desire.) I was determined to save her though. On top of the fabric being stinky, it was quite warn and cheap really. It was sort of a synthetic "velvet". Looked okay from a far, but up close it was kind of plastic-ey. Again, total judgement error on my part. I never would have bought this couch really realizing the condition it was in. All of these things lead me to try reupholstery. What do I have to lose right?

So, I did a little Pinterest browsing and Googling and decided to go at it. My basic plan was to peel off layer by layer, keeping all of the pieces in tact and making note of what goes where as I removed each piece. I got this (fist bump).  First thing I did was peal off the faux nail head trim. It actually came off really easily. I didn't bother to be careful with this since I knew I wouldn't be reusing it.

Step 1 done!

Then began the peeling. First things to come off were the little pieces covering the fronts of the arms. 

I may have enlisted a little help in this project. :) We just removed piece by piece from the outside in and labeled each one with a Sharpie as it got removed. (Pics of that later) I did that so I could use these old pieces as templates for the new pieces I would have to cut.

The buttons that create the tufts on this couch are prong-back. Basically they just had two pieces of bendy metal keeping them in place. With a hard enough pull, they came right out. The seat was the first large piece to be removed.

Then the back. I'm not gonna lie... I removed a bazillion staples. A million bazillion.

After the big pieces of fabric were removed the vomit factor was really kicked up a notch. O.M.G. What in holy DIY happened to this couch in its former life? I'm positive I do not want to know the answer to that question. Shall we zoom in? Ya, we should.

Seriously, get the gloves and Purell your entire body. Thank goodness I decided to reupholster! Bleh.

Have you recovered yet? I'll give you a minute. Deep breath. Okay, moving on. At some point I removed the legs. They were just held on with a few screws and came off pretty easily too with a drill.

Here's an example of how I labeled things. I wrote where the pieces goes and what direction it goes too.

Once I got all of the pieces off, I laid them in my driveway to really get the neighbors talking and to estimate how many yards of new fabric I would need to order. I think I ended up with something like 10 yards. I ordered this gorgeous charcoal velvet from onlinefabricstore.net. I've ordered from them for almost all of my large sewing projects and I'm never disappointed. Huge selection, good prices, and delivered to my door. 

Meanwhile, my naked couch went through more de-stink-ification. And, it worked remarkably well. Basically, I sprayed the entire thing in vinegar (I only had apple cider... seemed to work great) and left it in the sun for several days. It worked I tell ya. Stink free.

Once the new fabric arrived, I rolled it out and arranged all of my template pieces (aka the disgusting stinky old fabric from the couch) on top.

Then I traced each piece leaving a little wiggle room and cut them out. Be sure that the old fabric and new fabric are facing the same direction for this step. You can see both the old and new fabric are right sides up for me.

Ta dah! Old disgusting piece vs new fresh clean a-million-times-better piece on the right. I also transferred my notes from the old fabric over to the new piece too.

For the tufted pieces (the seat and the seat back), I laid the old fabric on top of the new and punched holes with an awl. This way the holes were already in exactly the right places on the new piece.

Then I considered recovering the old upholstery buttons but in the end decided it wasn't worth it and ordered these new ones on Amazon.

So I started with the seat back and slipped my new buttons through the pre-punched holes. Then I started from the middle and smushed the button down into the foam (my husband helped a bit with the smushing). Once the metal prong backs poked through the foam in the back, I just bent open the two prongs and they stayed put.

This part went pretty quickly. Just keep smushing the buttons down, working from the middle out and smoothing the folds in the fabric as you go.

Here's what it looked like on the back side. The arrows are pointing to the prongs I have bent open.

Once you've got all of the buttons in place, the edges of the fabric will need to be secured with staples. To do this I used the RYOBI 18V ONE+ Cordless Narrow Crown Stapler. It's a great option that does not require an air compressor and will save your hands! 

That top section is where you can really see what I'm talking about. The tufts look great but the top needs to be pulled tight and stapled. I made some videos trying to explain this part. Check 'em out below.

This is my upholstery face. :) So intense.

The next little item that will make DIY upholstery look more professional is this stuff, Upholstery Tack Strip. I also purchased this on Amazon and it was fairly cheap. This is the secret to getting nice crisp straight lines.

Basically, you flip your fabric up (I'm working on the back of the couch here) and staple the tack strip to the wrong side of the fabric. Then, when you flip the fabric back down, it folds on the clean line of the cardboard strip, not on lumpy staples. (and... I did actually wear my safety glasses for the stapling. This picture is me totally staging the stapling with my camera timer. Busted!)

See the staples in the tack strip?

Here it is again on the front of the couch. Staple on the tack strip...

then flip the fabric down for a clean line.

Just keep pulling, smoothing, and stapling tight.

For the front of the rolled arms, I used the old pieces I pulled off and just recovered them in the new fabric.

Like magic! I hot glued the fabric onto these. Then, I stapled them on in just a few places along the edges. The nail heads are really going to hold these on but I used a couple staples just to hold them in place.

Here are the first nail heads started. I also purchased them on Amazon. You can also see a few of the staples I put in along the edges. They got covered up by the nail heads eventually.

One by one by one... 

Another little tool I found on Amazon is this thing, a "Quick Nailer Spacer". It basically holds 5 nails perfectly spaced for you while you hammer them in. However, it only works on straight lines so you're on your own for the curves.

This part was actually kind of therapeutic. :)

One done, one to go. I did the other side exactly the same. Then painted and reattached the legs. And....

Done! I really can't believe I saved the "stink couch".  I promise is does not have even a hint of stink anymore and it looks so good. Of course I learned a lot and there are a couple things I would do differently next time (cut the fabric with even more wiggle room than I did the first time) but I'm really happy with the end result.

I hope you're inspired to find your own Craig's List disaster to rip apart and make new!