DIYdiy projects

diy project: shelly’s salvaged spool ottoman

by Kate Pruitt

i know ottomans aren’t the most indispensable piece of furniture in the house, but is it criminal to say they bring me the most joy? i think upholstery maven shelly (aka ModHomeEcTeacher) would agree with me; she’s made a whole collection of smart looking ottomans using a range of found fabrics and materials. i am so excited to follow her instructions and craft an adorable plaid ottoman of my very own, just in time to welcome fall. click here to see more of shelly’s amazing work, including her tutorials on everything from upholstering with rugs to aligning atomic legs. thanks, shelly! –kate

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!

When Lowes stopped selling the pre-cut wood circles I used to construct my ottoman frames, it was a dark day. I soon discovered that cutting perfect circles with a hand-held jigsaw wasn’t easy, or even really possible. Weeks later, while roaming the store searching for an alternative, I discovered the empty electrical spools that are routinely discarded. Two perfectly cut round pieces of 5/8” plywood with a removable cardboard cylinder in the middle? Now we’re talking. With a tiny bit of carpentry, I came up with a way to easily re-work these into frames for my upholstered ottomans. I would label this as a mid-level DIY project that you could complete in a weekend. Once you get the hang of it, you these would make fantastic handmade gifts for friends and family. –Shelly


-1 20” diameter empty electrical wire spool (hardware stores usually throw these out, so ask about picking them up instead)
-8 pre cut 1”x 2”x 6” pieces of wood (a hardware store will cut these for you)
-Wood glue
-32 1 ¾” screws
-A piece of foam (anywhere from 3” to 6” thick and at least ½” larger all around than the wood)
-Spray adhesive (Elmers makes a spray adhesive available at the craft store)
-Scrap fabric ( this to attach around the ottoman frame measuring about 8” x 65”. An option would be to use a bendable piece of cardboard)
-1 ½ yard of cotton or dacron batting
-1 ½ yard of 54” wide fabric
-¾” yard of scrap fabric to cover the bottom of the finished ottoman
-Thread and straight pins
-4 screw on leg plates (hardware store)
-4 fabulous ottoman legs (look around for good legs on cruddy, inexpensive Goodwill furniture)


-Big marker
-3/32” drill bit and a 3/8” drill bit
-Electric knife
-Electric stapler
-Measuring tape
-Flat head screwdriver
-Pliers (crescent or needle nose)
-Sewing machine


Making the frame:

1. Take the spool apart and make a pattern by tracing the circle on a large piece of paper, adding ½” all around for the seam allowance. The pattern will be used for cutting out the foam, batting, fabric and a dustcover for the bottom. Lay aside.

2. Glue and screw 6-8 posts evenly around the outside edge of one wooden circle, then add the other piece of wood on top of the posts and attach. Be sure to keep the wood circles aligned.


1. Use the staple gun to attach the long piece of cotton muslin around the outside edges of the top and bottom circles. Keep fabric pulled taut. The fabric serves to fill in the open spaces between the support posts. Cut off excess fabric. (Option: use bendable cardboard)

2. Trace the pattern onto the foam and cut the foam using the electric knife. Keep the knife blades perpendicular to the foam to get a crisp, even cut.

3. Use spray adhesive to glue the foam to the top of the ottoman frame.

4. Trace the pattern onto the batting, cut out. Also, cut out a long strip of batting equal to the total height of the ottoman, from the top of the foam to the bottom edge, plus two extra inches.

5. Pin the batting strip to the batting circle, starting 1” from the short end of the strip and ending 1” from the other end. Stitch in place.

6. Remove from under the sewing machine and stitch the open seam closed and go back and complete stitching that section of the band to the batting top.

7. Trim off the excess seam allowance, turn the batting covering right side out and pull it down on top of the ottoman frame.

8. Measure and mark the batting band (all the way around the covering ) so that it will be stapled evenly from the top seam to the bottom EDGE of the frame. Do not attach the batting to the underneath side of the wood. Attach it to the edge and cut off the excess batting.

Sewing and Upholstering:

1. To make the fabric covering, which is a bit like a snug slipcover, trace the pattern onto the fabric and cut it out.  You’ll need to cut a band of fabric 3” longer than the height of the ottoman and 5” wider than the circumference. If you need to stitch two pieces together to get a long enough piece for the band, split the circumference measurement in two and add 3 extra inches to each piece.

2. To prepare the fabric covering for stitching, fold one short end of the cut fabric band over 1” with wrong sides together.  With the right side of the band to the right side of the fabric circle, patterns matching, pin and begin stitching at the folded short edge all the way around to the other short end. Overlap the excess fabric 2” past the folded short end. Cut off any excess fabric beyond the 2”. Pin and stitch the overlapping fabric to the seam.

3. Turn the fabric covering right side out and topstitch the folded seam closed from the bottom of the band to the top seam.

4. Pull the fabric covering down over the dacron covered ottoman. Adjust the fabric pattern and straighten so the pattern or plaid is aligned.

5. Pull the fabric down firmly and staple in place evenly and snugly.

Upholstery Tip: It works best to start with one section and attach with a few staples, move to the opposite side and do the same. Then repeat for the other sides. Attach the fabric between the set staples by smoothing and easing in the fabric.

Attach Legs:

1. Measure and mark the bottom of the ottoman base for leg attachment.  Place the leg plates on the marks to make sure they are equidistant from each other. Mark the center hole of the plates. Use the 3/8”drill bit to drill out the center hole. You can also do this step prior to putting the fabric on (as shown below).

2. Cut out a dustcover from scrap fabric and attach it to the bottom of the ottoman by folding the edge under ½”.

3. Locate the drilled holes, line the leg plates up, screw the leg plates on using a Phillips head screwdriver or the drill.  Attach the legs to the plates.


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  • Could you give me your opinion on buying an electric staple gun? Are the cheap ones good enough or absolutly a waste of money? About how much do you think I should spend on a electric stable gun for a reuphulstry project? $50 or more or what?

    • mary beth

      depends on the project. i’l let shelly weigh in of course, but i have a heavy duty manual staple gun for small upholstery and it works like a charm :)


  • I happen to love ottomans, when you make them yourself they can be so versatile. Formal, funky,casual. Shelly’s tips will come in handy when I make my next ottoman. Thanks.

  • This project is perfect! I have been looking for just the right foot ottomans that aren’t 100s of dollars for my living room and have had no luck. This is just the ottoman… and I think this can be done super cheap. Thank you! Thank you!

  • This is great little gem and has inspired be to get busy with an ottoman project I’ve been putting off.

    I might also add for first time DIY-ers that using a plad like this this a great way to keep the upholstery straight when working on a project like this. Notice how the pattern lines up all the way around the bottom. It’s always hard to do this with a solid and not have it all unevenly stretched over the fram. Great Job!!!

  • I want to make one like this! I’m sure I could make it, but I don’t know where to buy these legs here in my city (I live in Malaga, Spain). I love this legs! :(

  • I love this post! We’re in the bulk wiring area a lot, so I’ll to remind myself to ask about their old spools.

  • Super cute! I just got a dingy looking ottoman from Goodwill and have been thinking about what fabric to reupholster it with. This plaid is awesome and I love those little legs. :)

  • I’ve had my troubles with all sorts of staple guns. I have a bunch, but for my upholstery classes, I let students use electric staple guns I purchased from Fabric Farm in Ohio. They were about $169.00 each. You can surely find less expensive ones that work great. A good one does make the job easier.
    I’ve just started offering the atomic legs through my etsy store MidModNest. You can click on the etsy button on my site http://www.modhomeec.com. Thanks everyone.

  • What a great project! I am going to make this in my family tartan! Oh, and it made me realize that I have an ottoman problem – I counted mine and I have seven already…

  • You can easily recover your dining room chairs, too. I’d love to see a DIY post about that, too. Hmmm… giving me ideas for a good post of my own. I love the fabric on that ottoman – great choice.

  • ohh- I have been searching for an ottoman to match a vintage selig chair I had reupholstered with leather… I don’t think I would attempt to do this in leather on my own, I wonder if my upholsterer would make this for me???

  • This is awesome. But I have one question – is it possible to let the spool as it is, with the vertical linking part between the two circles? It will be an extra stability device, won’t it?

  • Anyone have good sources for legs, not necessarily these since I am not so much in to the MCM thing?

  • This is a very simpatico piece of furniture! I just checked several sites and found it’s really difficult to find nice round ottomans. So much better to do it yourself. I just wonder where she found those legs.

  • Love the ottoman but really love the grey paint behind it. Can you tell me what color/brand that is? Thanks!

  • This is so fantastic, my parents have an old spool like this…maybe I can persuade them to give it to me for this project!!! Thanks for the DIY

  • Thank You!
    I’ve been wanting to make “handmade footstools” for a long time ~ I’m always staring at them wondering how I should do it and dreaming about all the possibilities for fabrics…

  • Here are some answers.
    The cardboard center was to tall for the height I wanted. The finished height is right around 17″. You could make a taller one by leaving the cardboard in and also adding supports around the sides.
    As for the legs, I do sell those legs and many more. Go to my etsy shop to see the three legs that are offered right now. Convo me about what you’re looking for. I have access to many, many styles that you won’t find on the internet. shelly leer

  • WOW! What a great idea. Seems relatively easy. I look forward to checking out what others can do creating their own “salvaged spool ottoman!”

  • This ottoman is genius! I have a few old spools at home and now I know exactly what to do with them… Thank you!

  • My husband has been begging me to make him an ottoman. Now with your helpful instructions I may be able to figure this one out afterall. Thanks!

  • Great basic upholstery tutorial! This one would be awesome for a beginner like myself. I plan to feature my very first re-upholstery project on my site soon… no matter how scary/messy it may be… haha!

  • Hi,
    I love this project. Now, if only you could tell me the color and brand of paint that is on the wall (the gray.) It’s PERFECT, and I have to say, finding the perfect gray paint has been tough. Thanks!

  • Great tutorial, however in my version I had problems getting the fabric on the sides to be smooth. There is still slight puckering. Are there any tips for getting the sides smooth all the way around ?

  • I love it! Is there any chance to translate all this into Spanish?
    Thanks for sharing!

  • This is a great idea for the wooden spools! I work at a wire harness place and we always have empty spools to throw away. I’ve kept some through out the years but never had an idea for this one! thank you

  • I also had problems with the sides and top being as smooth as the one in the photo. How were you bake to get it to look so perfect?

  • I love this–beautiful job! I was able to beg an electrician to give me some spools but they are 24″ (2 are even 27″). Do you have any idea how much fabric I’d need for 24″ circles? Love it! Definitely doing some this year.

  • Well done! I’m tired from reading through all the steps. Can I just pay for you to make one for me???

  • Great! my husband and I have been setting posts using the cardboard part for surrounding the base where the concrete goes. Ex: did hole put pole in put cardboard form over pole and down into hole pour concrete its now a form. Today I was looking on how to unscrew those nuts on that my hubby has been hitting them apart (insert eyeroll here) I wanted to save the wooden tops and bottoms for projects. I like your foot rest stumbled on here today…may consider that idea. Thank you for giving a great repurpose idea to the world. :)

  • Great! my husband and I have been setting posts using the cardboard part for surrounding the base where the concrete goes. Ex: did hole put pole in put cardboard form over pole and down into hole pour concrete its now a form. Today I was looking on how to unscrew those nuts on that my hubby has been hitting them apart (insert eyeroll here) I wanted to save the wooden tops and bottoms for projects. I like your foot rest stumbled on here today…may consider that idea. Thank you for giving a great repurpose idea to the world. :)