Our house is full of secrets.
Secrets like hospital-scrub-blue, mauve-with-little-flowers, brown velour and, as of late, scratchy-olive-green. Mr. Smith and I prefer to cover up such secrets…which is why I am so thankful for slipcovers!
Four years ago, I found a wide wingback chair at a yardsale for $10. I bought it because it had good bones, but that was about all the piece had going for it. After bouncing between the den and the living room, our ugly chair found its final resting place in our bedroom. That was two years ago which means that for the past two years this olive green acrylic lump has been the last thing I see before falling asleep each night. Two years ago is also when I found brown toile for $7 a yard and purchased 5 yards of it to make a slipcover. The only problem was that I’d never made a slipcover before. And so I waited for time and wisdom to come to me before taking the plunge.
That time was last Monday.
I’m not gonna lie. Making a slipcover is a tricky undertaking but with these tips and lots of wits, I’m betting you’ll be successful at crafting your own custom slipcover. 🙂
Tip #1: Consult the gods first.
In order to create a slipcover that isn’t an absolute waste of time and fabric, you will need to ask the gods if you are ready to take on this mission. Only they can guide you through the mountains and valleys of slipcovering.
Two years ago when I bought the brown toile, I also bought another print to slipcover another chair. Unfortunately, I was too eager to consult the gods, and here were my results:
Wonky. Lopsided. Ill-fitting. Uneven. Absolute crap.
This is your fate if you do not seek The Force. If you have access to the One Ring, I’d use that, too.
2. Give yourself 40 years.
You’ve been there before. You start a project so eager to finish that you rush, make mistakes and end up huddled in a corner laughing maniacally to yourself.
Here’s an idea: Give yourself 40 years to finish.
The entire time I worked on this slipcover, I pretended that I was on a deserted island with just this one project to pass my time. This helped me take it slow through the meticulous parts, because after all, why rush? I’m stuck on this island with nothing else to do.
3. Use a separate fabric as a pattern.
I know. You really wanna cut into that pretty fabric and get things rolling, but don’t even think about it! Not yet.
Instead, reach for some fabric you can cut a pattern from. That way, if you measure your pieces too short or uneven, you haven’t wasted valuable yardage of the good stuff.
4. Let your furniture be your guide.
How do you know which shapes to cut your fabric into? Follow the blocks in the upholstery of your piece of furniture.
A WORD OF CAUTION:
The curvature of a chair back may trick you into thinking it’s the most difficult part of sewing a slipcover, but it’s actually the easiest part.
It’s the SEAT of the chair that is the trickiest part. Do not underestimate this section. Measure your pieces larger to make room for mistakes.
5. Pin, pin, pin.
Pins and lots of them are your friend when making a slipcover.
First of all, they are super helpful during pattern measuring and cutting. Pin your pattern fabric along the entire border of a chair segment before cutting. When cutting, make sure to leave at least 2 inches of seam allowance.
(You are not imagining things. These lynxes ARE laughing at me. Perhaps choose a pattern fabric that doesn’t mock your pain.)
6. Test, test, test.
Slipcovers are all about tucking so make sure you test your pattern pieces to make sure they tuck in at the full depth of all creases.
REMINDER: Once you sit in the chair, some of that tucked fabric will shift. Make sure your slipcover is roomy enough in the creases and seat to allow for movement.
EXAMPLE: My disaster slipcover as seen above is a perfect example of shallow seams.
Oh, and one other important test: Make sure the pattern on the fabric faces the correct direction and lines up properly. Toile is forgiving because it’s busy and hides mistakes but plaid is a little more succinct.
7. About those arms…
Here is where you need The Force because I am useless at explaining this part. I don’t even remember how I made mine, but when I sewed the whole thing together, they came out right. Somehow.
If anything, just cut your arm pattern bigger to allow you room to play with. Good luck!
8. Baste, baste, baste!
You’ve pinned, you’ve tested and now you’ve finally cut out your lovely fabric pieces. Time to pin some more!
However, speaking from experience, I can say that pinning your puzzle pieces together is not enough because by the time you pull the pinned slipcover off the chair, it’s hard to know up from down. Seriously, be prepared to be disoriented. Even careful pinning can become loose and difficult to interpret.
This is why you baste! Sew long, widely-spaced stitches that are easy to pull out. This stitching holds the pieces together more securely and creates a roadmap to follow. If possible, use a bright colored thread so you can better see this guide while sewing.
Note: Cats can be a nuisance during this step.
9. Take Frequent Breaks
Measuring, pinning, cutting, testing, squatting, sitting, shifting…making a slipcover is downright exhausting!
To avoid becoming hasty and frustrated, take frequent breaks. (After all, you’re stuck on an island and have 40 years to complete this thing, right?) Once I got to the seat and arms part of the project, I walked away for several days. This allowed me time to rest and think about how to complete these tough areas.
P.S. It must be said that Baby Girl never stepped away from the project.
10. Sew a separate seat cushion cover.
If your piece of furniture has a removable seat cushion, I’d go ahead and cover that sucker separately. Afraid of zippers? No worries. Sew a cushion “envelope” instead.
Yes, you’ll have to wrastle with the cushion to get it in the envelope but once you get it in thar all should be well. And wrastling is much easier than figuring out tucking depth around a cushion.
See? So much smoother. And simpler. For a tutorial on sewing envelopes for cushions/pillows, click here.
By some sort of miracle, 40 years only lasted 6 days. Somehow, I made it off the deserted island with my kitty apprentice and a crown of victory which I shall lord over all future slipcovering projects to come.
Just kidding. I’ll still tremble in my boots. Best not get cocky when making a slipcover. 🙂
Happy Crafty Monday, Monday!
Have any tips to add?