Ask an Expert

Ask an Expert: 10 Upholstery Tips from Amanda Brown of Spruce

by Grace Bonney

Few things make me happier than watching the people we work with here at D*S do well. Amanda Brown from Spruce has been our resident upholstery expert for a while and we were thrilled when she told us she was working on a book. That gorgeous book, Spruce: A Step-by-Step Guide to Upholstery and Design, officially launched yesterday and is chock-full of beautiful (and helpful) upholstery instructions, illustrated by more than 900 step-by-step photographs. Upholstery has always been daunting to me, but Amanda is an excellent teacher and everything she’s shared in this book will help you master the techniques and skills you need to reupholster any piece of furniture to suit your own taste and style.

Today Amanda is sharing her 10 tips for anyone looking to tackle home upholstery. From small projects like chair seats to larger slipcovers and couches, Amanda knows how to tackle every project with ease and that comfort comes across in her teaching. If you’re looking to get her expertise in person, you can check out her book tour dates for cities and times! Thanks so much to Amanda for sharing her advice here today and congrats on the new book! xo, grace

Amanda’s 10 Things Everyone Should Know About Upholstery:

  1. Aesthetics and comfort are often the two most important factors in how long you’ll love your furniture, so save your dollars for premium padding and showstopping fabric. As long as the shape is pleasing, I’m attracted to the dirtiest pieces with the ugliest fabric for a fraction of the cost. They also make the best transformations!
  2. Think beyond a fabric exchange or removing a skirt. We’ve shortened sofas, changed arms from round to square, and turned coffee tables into ottomans all at the hands of upholstery.
  3. Always refinish and repaint when furniture is completely stripped. Old fabric and padding often cover the exposed frame, resulting in a sloppy-looking paint job when pieces are reupholstered.
  4. Pneumatic tools are an upholsterer’s best friend, saving loads of time and worn-out hands.
  5. Think outside the box for fabric, using blankets, vintage curtains, tablecloths, and rugs. Have a special textile that seems too thin for upholstery? Have it backed to add thickness and durability.
  6. Instead of spraying a stain blocker on your furniture after upholstery, have fabric treated before putting it on the furniture. This gives you stain resistance even in the nooks and crannies and protects exposed wood from stain blocker overspray.
  7. When attaching fabric, shoot staples in halfway (sub-stapling) while you’re perfecting the position of the pattern and smoothness of the upholstery.
  8. Upholstery requires very little sewing. When I began upholstery, I hadn’t sewed much more than a straight line, and it took very little time to pick up the rest.
  9. Piping/welt cord is easy to make. Contrary to popular belief, it requires no skill just the right sewing machine attachment.
  10. Don’t be intimidated by leather. It’s surprisingly easy to work and lasts forever.

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  • Well, if I can’t order Amanda herself to come directly to my home and teach me, then her book is the next best thing. Added to my wish list!! Hoping even someone with no experience, but with some common sense, can tackle a project with her guidance. Thanks, Amanda! You’re amazing!

  • An amazing top-ten. New life can be breathed into older pieces and new furniture can be born out of something completely different. I love Amanda’s view on tackling more than just upholstery to transform a piece; I’m wondering what coffee table I can turn into an ottoman! I will be sure to pick up her book.

  • Having just bought an old armchair in need of love this is excellent timing. Any top tips on how to remove old stud nails without damaging them? I’d like to reuse them if possible as they are clearly very good quality.

  • My other dream job. It’s creative while still requiring active, physical work (I’m an artist behind a computer). Plus, there is so much satisfaction in the results! She’s practically a magician. How generous to lend her skills for all to learn! :)

  • Wonderful! And I know the class you took was probably at ACC, because I took it, too. Actually twice, because that’s how long it took to finish my chair. I wish they had something like that in Charlottesville, where I now live.

  • Oh, and do you have an industrial sewing machine? I find that I can’t work with heavier fabrics with my singer!

  • I learned sub stapling from one of Amanda’s first tutorials here, and it has been a game changer! I think I’ll have to go look at the book …

  • Great news! I went straight to order the book. Amanda, you are one of the people who inspired me to take a (very expensive) chance and train as an upholsterer. I really feel like I have found the right job for me after trying to shoehorn myself into jobs that made me feel stressed, dumb or uncomfortable. I am in the early days of setting up my workshop and hope I can eventually make a go of it. Your book will hopefully fill in the gaps in my knowledge and help me progress with my projects. Thanks!

  • I’ve been in the upholstery industry for a long time and reading these 10 “tips” are hardly tips at all. And if think you can do upholstery with no sewing skill you are dead wrong, try French seams in a show car interior for instance…needless to say I am not impressed with reading this

  • We’ve just been designing a whole new decor for the house. I really love our couches and chairs but they will clash. It’d be great if I could just reupholster them.


  • I have made slipcovers in past and am now talking my friend’s dining room chairs. I do know how to make the covered welting but for these chairs I’ll need to do a double welting. Can you advise me. Incidentally, the reason I’m doing my friend’s chairs is because I had an accident on one. I had gone swimming in her pool, came back to her home to have lunch, put a towel down on the chair and when I got up the colors of the towel bled into her chair. Her chairs were in the beige colors and my towel was in pinks and purples. Help! Mimi

  • I admire what you have done. Question: I am working on a high back wing chair w/ band on top of arms going around on top of IB and back down other arm top. Question is how do I cut 2″ band fabric so it “fits” around IB on the outer edge when I go to staple. without it not

  • Thank you for your advice about special textile patters and designs. I often run into the issue of thinking I can’t use anything too thin or too frail without having to use many layers. Great tip about having it backed!

  • Amanda Brown,
    Tufted bed project

    I am going to tackle this project. Question.

    When tufting how much extra fabric is needed for the tufting? So that you have enough to stretch over the back of the head board.

    Obvious factors. King headboard. Flat. Squares probably 8-10″. Plan on using 2″ foam. 2 layers of cotton batting. 1 layer of decron.

    Thoughts? Or if you don’t have a simple way to calculate this, how much fabric did you use?

    I don’t want to get to the end and find I am short somewhere.

    Thanks Jeremy

  • I like that you mentioned to think about having fabric treated before you put it on the furniture. That way, you have a fully stain resistant upholstery, because there won’t be any cracks that you miss. I am planning on reupholstering some of my couches, and I wanted to find all the tips I could. This information should really help, thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks for the tip about having the fabric treated with stain blocker before it’s put on the frame so it’s protected all over. I have a couch that Is really comfortable, but my sister accidentally spilled wine on it, and I can’t get the stain out. It would be nice if I could find a furniture upholstery service that could replace the fabric and have it treated.

  • I like that you mention thinking outside of the box for new things. My sister is looking to get some furniture reupholstering done but needs tips. I’ll be sure to talk to her about just thinking outside of the box and try new things.

  • I like the advice to have a fabric backed if it is too thin to be used for upholstery. I can think of a few fabrics that I’ve seen before that this would work for. My husband and inherited a few old couches and chairs when we moved into our house, and I think that some of them could be reupholstered. There is one chair and ottoman combo that is covered with sparkly green fabric that I really like. Knowing that I can choose almost any fabric to cover it is exciting. I’ll have to see if there is any place nearby that does upholstery.

  • Thanks for going over these tips for upholstery. You mentioned that you should use pneumatic tools for this. I hadn’t heard of these tools before, so I’m interested to learn more about what they can do and how they can save a lot of time, especially if they are used properly.

  • I really like that you mentioned stapling halfway through positioning the fabric to get it exactly where you want and make it more smooth to finish. My wife bought a few chairs from the thrift store yesterday that she wants to bring back to life and upholster them for our dining room. I decided I’d lend a hand and learn how to upholster so we can do it together! Thanks for the tips.

  • It is comforting to know that even leather chairs have the ability to be reupholstered. My fiance has been thinking about getting this done for some of his chairs. I think he would love knowing this and the next step would be finding an upholstery repair.

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