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Upholstery 101: 10 Projects to Get You Started

by Grace Bonney

There was a moment a few years ago when I seriously considered signing up for upholstery school. I’ve always loved textiles and am constantly looking for ways to incorporate them into everything. But at the end of the day, I decided to leave the major projects to the pros and instead embrace more manageable projects that I could do over a weekend. So today I thought I’d round up 10 projects that will get your summer upholstery projects going. Whether you’re brand new to the idea of sewing or just need some creative upholstery ideas to fill your summer vacation, these projects are guaranteed to teach you skills you can continue to use (and adapt to different projects) for years to come. For me, these projects aren’t so much about creating the perfect chair or bench, so much as they are about learning skills that will allow you to easily and affordably create a space around you that speaks to your style. So the next time you see a great chair upholstered in an old blanket, you can create your own rather than having to save up to buy something new. Happy upholstering! xo, grace

*If these projects inspire you to keep going, check out our full Upholstery Basics series right here. Amanda Brown of Spruce in Austin worked so hard to share the nuts and bolts of her incredible skill set and her ideas are both creative and fun. Be sure you check out her tool list, too!

Click through for all 10 DIYs after the jump!

Before you get started, here is a list of basic tools you’ll need for most upholstery projects

Dining Chair Do-Over
A Basic Chair Makeover: This project will walk you through the basics of making over a classic dining chair- or any chair where all you’re doing is removing the seat and changing out the fabric and/or padding. This is a great place to start if upholstery is totally new to you. You can easily finish it in an afternoon (or an hour if you’re fast!) and have a totally new look.

Picture Perfect Backs: Now that you’ve mastered the chair seat, it’s time to move onto the back. These can be trickier because they’re often curved, but this project will walk you through the details of making it all look seamless.

Boxed Cushions: Boxed cushions are the foundation for a number of projects: floor pillows, pet beds, you name it. This simple shape is great to master if you want to make something beautiful out of some leftover fabric. I find this is the best way to make a cute and custom pet bed (small or large), but if you want to make a stack of our own floor pillows for extra guest seating, this project is perfect for that, too.

Upholstered Ottoman: I prefer upholstered ottomans to just about any other coffee table option because they are infinitely more comfortable for foot rests. And let’s be honest, most of us like to kick our feet up on the table after a long day at work. This tutorial will build on the box cushion skills from the previous project to create a custom upholstered ottoman you can make to any size you need for your home.

Utility Bucket Ottoman: Did you know you can turn a utility bucket (yep, those plastic guys from Home Depot) into a cute ottoman? The team from Revive PDX and Commonwealth Vintage shared this clever project from us that turns Pendleton fabric and a simple plastic bucket into a petite little upholstered ottoman.

Simple Slipcover: If you’re like me and you have pets (or children), you know that upholstery isn’t always safe with little ones running around. The ease and practicality of a slipcover can be your best solution when you want to showcase great fabric but also want to be able to clean it easily and regularly. This project will show you how to make a simple chair slipcover that you can take on and off to clean as often as you need. So pets, sleep away on our favorite chairs- we’ve got your pet hair covered (literally).

Upholstered Door: Why do chairs get to have all the fun? Doors are a great place to experiment with something unexpected, so if you’re scared to tackle something with so many curves and rounded bits (like a sofa), give this project a try. Megan Pflug of One Kings Lane taught us how to wrap and upholster a door like a package, creating a truly unique (and easier than you’d think) custom entrance for any room.

Fabric Lampshade: You may not consider lamps prime upholstery territory, but they’re a great place to practice working with fabric. This project will show you have to turn a small bit of your favorite fabric into a brand new shade for any lamp at home.

Upholstered Room Divider: If you live in a small space, room dividers can be a powerful tool for creating private areas for work and rest. This project is simple and while it is a rather tall piece, the straight edges of the divider make for a quick and easy upholstery tutorial without all those pesky curves of chairs and sofas.

Grommet-Top Shower Curtain: I’ve always wondered why cute shower curtains seem to cost an arm and a leg. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to spend $200 on is a shower curtain. So instead, I prefer to collect beautiful fabric and make my own curtains. I tend to prefer a waxed cotton or ticking stripe, but just about any fabric will do (as long as you use a clear liner in front of it). This project will teach you how to quickly turn fabric into a simple shower curtain you can attach with hooks and grommets.

Suggested For You


  • I love these projects but my results would not look like this. My family can still be reduced to tears of laughter remembering some of my previous attempts. I think I should start a comedy tumblr where I show my DIY projects. Actually, there’s an idea!

  • I’m finishing up a dining chair seat project tomorrow. It’s my first attempt at it, and it’s been fun. Maybe I’ll have the courage to tackle more complicated projects when I’m done.

  • Thanks for sharing all of the great ways to use upholstery! It has always intimidated me to take on a project like this. But these ten ways are very inspiring as a girl who loves inferior design and DIY.

  • Nice projects, for sure. But, not all of these are upholstery. Some are home dec sewing projects. Maybe I’m being persnickety, but there is a difference between the two, and your readers shouldn’t be mislead about that.

  • The emerald door with the brass tacks is beautiful. The simple slip cover looks fantastic for a relaxing garden atmosphere, but I bet you could dress it up with a bow around it, too.

  • I wish to goodness I had the nerve to do a shower curtain in something this bold. When I built this farmhouse/craftsman style house, I got laughed out of town for painting my dining room coral. In fact, it WAS almost the same color as the back wall in your pictured bathroom. So beautiful! It is almost my favorite color! Personally, I love unexpected decorating…i.e. formal, creative, expressional, fun and funkie all mixed in but, sadly, I must list the house for sale and need to appeal to the masses. I have a refurbished clawfoot tub in my master bath that I want to stand out big time. (belonged to my Grandpapa, circa 1875) and am in the process of trying to hang shabby chic lace but now I don’t know. Do you think the theme should continue throughout the house? My taste is very much like yours in that my kitchen is very similar to yours (less those beautiful appliances of yours that I could never afford but….) I want it to show so well that, of course, it’s irresistible and that tub is the statement piece in that bathroom! What’s your opinion as far as irresistible style for perspective buyers? What do other women LOVE these days?

  • Is there a tutorial for how to line drawers with fabric? I haven’t found any online that don’t involve gluing the fabric directly to the wood (which I don’t want to do) or gluing fabric to cardboard and inserting it in drawers (which I also don’t want to do). I would really appreciate adding a lesson of this nature to the 101 series. Thanks.

    • Why don’t you want to glue fabric to cardboard and insert it into the drawers? It sounds like the perfect solution!

  • I am needing to reupholster some kitchen chairs and the seat has a whole in the middle. The previous padding had some springy type cushion. If I just replace it with a regular foam you would fall through the opening when you sit on the chair. Any idea where I can get a more dense/supportive cushion?

  • Thank you so much for this post Grace, it really came very helpful, I didn’t know where to start with my first upholstery project, getting into DIY can be intimidating :)

  • I didn’t realize that you could re-upholster boxed cushions. That is good for me to know because I just got several chairs with box cushions from my grandmother. The fabric on those cushions is really worn. It would be great to get new fabric on the cushions.