How to Design and Sew a Slipcover, Part 1 – DIY Home Decor Tutorial

So you’ve got a perfectly comfortable, functional couch… it just looks like hell. With a custom made slipcover, no one will know what evil is lurking underneath all that handmade awesomeness!

We scored a couch, loveseat, and chair set at a secondhand furniture store when we first moved in.Β  The upside is that it’s the most comfortable couch I’ve ever had the pleasure of napping on. The downside is that the couch takes quite a beating, especially from our two cats. It also doesn’t help that we’re total movie and tv junkies, so we spend a lot of time EATING on it. So even though it was in Like New condition when we bought it, five years later… not so much.

I’d been thinking about slipcovering it for a while, and once Spring Fever hit me, I decided now was the time to do it.

Step 1
I decided on the fabric first. Actually, I decided on the fabric, and then I started doing rough estimates of cost and started asking myself if it was worth it. I even decided I wouldn’t make my own. I started looking at some of the “cheap” slipcover options (meaning not custom made and under $200, which was my estimated fabric budget). I liked none and all had mediocre-to-bad reviews, so I made the final decision that DIY was the way to go.

I saw a commercial a few years ago that featured two women sitting on a couch that was covered or slipcovered in a sort of crazy quilt type patchwork. I fell in love. I was initially going to cover each surface with a different print (left side plaid, right side polka dot, one cushion in damask, another cushion in stripe), but after doing a few sketches I decided to scale it back. It was looking busier than I wanted, and would have required more extra fabric/expense to do it that way. I decided I’d do the base of the couch in one fabric, the cushions in another, and the back pillows in a third fabric.

Too busy.

To choose my fabric, I did a few sketches on the computer, inserting various Home Dec fabrics I found online, until I found the ones I liked. After I sketched it out, I decided to also do the backs of the pillows in a different fabric.

Just right!

All of the fabrics I bought are by Premier Prints, which I ordered from It made it especially easy since they’re all sure to match, not that I was too worried about that with the Mix and Match look I was going for. I’d also bought from them before when I made cushions for a chair, so I knew I liked their prints and their quality.


They’re all 100% cotton canvas, except for the solid green base fabric, which is a 100% polyester indoor-outdoor canvas. Looking and touching the fabrics, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the polyester and the cotton if I didn’t already know. I could have gotten a similar green in the cotton, but decided to go for durability. We’ll see how it holds up.

(The diamond print and zig zag print in the photo are for a throw pillow.)

I should note that I chose canvas because I wanted something with a decent weight with no nap. The original couch cover is a chenille type fabric, and the nap makes the wear and tear extra obvious. It also acts like a lint brush on the cats. No sir, I don’t like it! So if you’ve got pets, nap is something to consider.

I also wanted something I could wash. If you’ve got kids or your piece of furniture gets a lot of use, I would avoid any fancy pants fabrics that need to be dry cleaned or won’t hold up to a lot of wear.

I read somewhere that not prewashing your slipcover fabrics will retain the brightness and stain resistance.Β  Well, that’s all fine and dandy for some people, but I have cats that puke, and said puke seems magnetically attracted to my couch. I’ve had to wash the cushion covers enough times over the years that I know I’ll be washing them somewhere down the line, and that means I must PREWASH.

Step 2

Measure the couch. It’s easiest if you make a diagram of the various parts you’re measuring so you can keep everything straight.

You might not need certain measurements, but when in doubt, measure it. You never know when it might come in handy.

Here are my measurements. (Don’t forget to measure underneath the cushions!)

Step 3

Figure out how much fabric you need. This is easiest if you break each piece of the couch into a rectangle.

Instead of trying to figure out how to layout that oddly shaped back piece of my couch with the little round bumps from where the arms are, I’ll just say I need a piece that’s 92″ wide by 19″ long. Always use the biggest measurement for a piece. Even though most of the back of the couch is 84″ inches wide, the widest part is 92″, so we use 92″.

Actually, first we need to account for SEAM ALLOWANCES andΒ  SHRINKAGE (if you’re planning on washing your slipcover ever, you must prewash the fabrics, and any natural fiber like cotton WILL SHRINK). I added 3″ to all of my measurements to account for shrinkage and seam allowances.

That 92″ x 19″ back piece really needs the fabric to be 95″ x 22″.

There are certain pieces of my slipcover that will be tucked into the couch when in place. Some spots had a 5″ tuck, some had a 3″ tuck.

Here’s a diagram showing where my couch tucks. I then made a little drawing of all the pieces laid out similar to the way they will be sewn together. This made it easier for me to remember what pieces needed tucks and where. (Black dotted lines show tucks. The white dotted line is a fold, because I figured out that I could cut the outside back and inside back as one piece.)

So for the Under Cushion fabric, for example, my measurements are 70″ x 34″. Accounting for seam allowances, shrinkage, and tucking, I want that piece to be 83″ x 41″.

Now that you have minimum fabric requirements for each piece of the couch, we need to figure out our total yardage needed.

Draw out a piece of fabric in 1 yard increments. Make sure it’s to scale. Graph paper helps. I did mine on the computer, so I set up a grid that was in 6″ increments. My fabric should be 9 grid squares wide, and 6 grid squares for each yard of fabric.

Here’s my fabric layout:

I need 8 yards of fabric for my base, 4.5 yards for the cushions, 2.5 yards for under the cushions, and 6 yards for the pillows (I wanted reversible pillows, so I got 3 yards of 2 different fabrics).

Go head and get at least an extra half yard of each fabric. It’ll be worth it if you realized halfway through your project that you measured something wonky and need a little extra. Nothing would cramp your style like realizing you’re an inch short, only to have to order the whole piece of fabric over again!

Some important notes:

Pay attention to the widest parts of your couch if you’re using prints. Since I’m using a solid, I didn’t have to worry about it, because I can lay the fabric sideways and it looks the same. Some prints like stripes, dots, and plaid would be okay turned sideways.

However, if I’d chosen one of the damask fabrics (like the cushion or pillow fabric), turning it sideways isn’t going to work. Instead, I would have had to sew two pieces of the 54″ wide fabric together to get a piece wide enough to cover the back of my 94″ couch. That’s okay if you need/want to do that, but you’ll probably need extra fabric to match the pattern up at the seam. If your couch sits against the wall and you’re sure it ALWAYS will, then you don’t really have to worry about that as much.

The other thing I want to talk about is cost. A couch with a base cover AND cushion covers AND pillow covers requires a lot of fabric. You’ll notice my total yardarge is 21 yards. If I had used all one fabric, I could have squeezed a little more out of that, but even so, it’s not a cheap project. I got lucky and the fabric was on sale when I was buying it, AND I had a 15% off coupon. I skated in at about $120, which was $80 less than my budget. Woo!

But what if you’re set on some more expensive fabric, or you just don’t have that much to spend? You can make a one piece slipcover instead of the base/cushion/pillow separate piece deal. Just measure your couch like you measured the base, but pretend the cushions and/or pillows are permanently attached. It won’t have quite the upholstered look that one in all separate pieces will, but it’ll cut out a ton of yardage. If I had done it that way, it would have been about 11 yards instead of 21.

One thing not on my chart is piping. I wasn’t going to do piping on my couch, even though the original upholstery has piping. Then I decided, ah, what the hell. Let’s go for the gold.

The red lines are where I want piping. Additionally, each pillow and cushion edge has piping. I added the lengths around all those pieces and found I needed about 27 yards of piping. Let’s say 30 yards and call it a deal. You can buy it premade or make it yourself. I’m going to do it myself. So I need 30 yards of cotton cord and enough fabric to cover it. I figured out that 1.5 yards of 54″ wide fabric is just more than enough to cover 30 yards of cord.

How I figured it out: 54″ wide fabric cut into 2″ strips (wide enough to cover the cord + seam allowance) will yield 27 strips.
If I bought 1 yard, that’d be 27 one yard strips (which doesn’t account for seam allowances to sew them all together). Not quite enough for 30 yards.
Make it 1.5 yards and you’ve got plenty extra.

Next time we’ll cover making a muslin, so in the meantime, go buy yourself some thrift store sheets to use for that. (I got 3 twin sheets for $9. Score!)

Β Part 2 is here!


*** Update 11/17/11 ***
This tutorial has been seeing a lot of action this month, and that’s rad! Except that everyone keeps asking where part 2 is and uh… there sort of isn’t one yet.

Please don’t start throwing things at me.

First, my apologies on the lack of a Part 2. There WILL BE a Part 2, I promise.

Second, my excuse, which is 2 parts.
1. We decided not long after I started this project to move. Not only has the househunting/buying/moving process taken up a lot of time that could have been used to make slipcover tutorials, but it seemed wise to let the old couch get beat up in the move and THEN slipcover it.
2. One of the aforementioned puking cats died unexpectedly. πŸ™ Our remaining vomiting kitty got lonely in the subsequent months, so we got 2 kittens. Two kittens that pretty much treat the entire couch like their own personal scratch post. Yet another reason to let them destroy the original cover before I slipcover it!

So there you are… my lame excuses for no Part 2. The good news is that we bought the new house. Now we’re fixing it up and should be moving in the next few weeks. It’ll probably still be a few months until the slipcover tutorial is done with the holidays and all (though Part 2 might be ready before that). Keep checking back, or better yet- subscribe to the newsletter, and I’ll send out an update when the other parts are ready!

88 thoughts on “How to Design and Sew a Slipcover, Part 1 – DIY Home Decor Tutorial

  1. Thank you so much Lex! This was incredibly helpful. I can sew but I can’t figure out out to make a slip cover for my little sofa and this completely laid it out for me. You are so nice to share your talent πŸ™‚ a big HUG to you!

  2. THis is awsome. im trying to figure out how to make a slipcover for a victorian-y style wing back chair that i got from a yardsale. its super cute but looks like its been through a shredder.This is gunna help sooooo much. thanks!

  3. One idea for animal lovers, kids etc..Buy a drop cloth for painting for a heavy duty, easily cleaned material…..about $15 for a canvas 9 & 12 … is a neutral color but should be a breeze to take care of….and the price is right!!!

    1. Margaret, that’s a great idea – I’m thinking with the new upholstery spray paint you could have whatever color you want.

    1. Not yet! I’ve been completely swamped with work, which means no time for personal sewing, so I haven’t actually finished the stinking slipcover yet!

  4. Hooray for you and your post, and who cares if it’s not done yet! This is great – step-by-step. Perfect for me (who needs to dissect everything down to it’s most simple and basic matter).

    Can’t wait to go digging through the “good-buy” bin at the local fabric mill πŸ˜€

  5. This is fantastic! Thank you for this tutorial. I am curious as to how you made your sketch on the computer using the fabric graphics. Can you tell us? Thanks!

    1. Not yet! I’m still working on it. πŸ˜›
      We got 2 kittens and I’ve decided to let them destroy the old couch and not my new slipcover!

  6. What fun…. I think slipcover are just MAGIC! How did we live without them? I’ve made lots and lots of them… And the first one I did for my sofa was assorted fabrics….I loved it… Looking forward to seeing the finished product.


  7. I have a couch that is almost identical to yours! Mine is a Cisco. I got it about 15 years ago, and it came slip-covered. My original cover had 4 different patterns and resembled yours, except the color scheme. Needless to say, I have gotten more than enough wear out of my slip cover and since its basically worn thread held together by some piping, I think I need a new one. However, the company charges between 1200-2500 to make a new one. I can’t afford that!! I’ve been looking desperately for something else. And much like yourself, I have previously bought pre-made ones from different companies, and they always look like ****!! They always reminded me of a toddler who dressed herself and had her shirt on backwards and inside out. Something just never looked quite right about them. I did find a really interesting ‘wrap’ that is diy and I was literally shopping for fabric to make it, that is until I saw your tutorial. My secret shame is that I can’t really sew. I do have a sewing machine, but I have barely used it. I don’t have any family to show me how to sew, and much to my surprise I can’t find classes anywhere near me, in Roanoke, VA. The wrap I was considering just calls for sewing a hem, which i’m fairly certain I can manage. I have used fabric tape to make a hem before. So, my question is finally here…do you think there is a snowball’s chance in hell that i could actually sew this?? If not, I think I will purchase the fabric, cut out the pieces and then pay a local seamstress. Doing the leg work has got to save some money. Anyway, I’m very excited to find your site, and hopefully will be able to learn how to actually sew something!! I also wanted to know if you have part 2 up yet.

    1. Susan, check out I also have a sewing machine but don’t reallly know how to use it and I have just purchased 2 classes on craftsy to orient me to my machine and start teaching me to sew. You should check it out!

  8. This is really cool! I’ll have to tell my girlfriend about it – might be good for our flat. By the way, we found this on our startup website and wanted to see if the repost was welcome. We’re a small Berlin-based company and don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. Please contact me at if you want a link. CHeers!

  9. Love it, Love it, Love it. Keep it coming. I have a set of Ethan Allen furniture in denim that I want to reserect. I really want to use your methods to do it. I’m shooting to start early in 2012. Can’t wait for part two.

  10. OK… that settles it! I’ve gone back & forth on whether to purchase a slipcover or attempt to make one myself. After perusing the various slpcovers for sale , & reading the reviews on them, I thought that I wouldn’t be that happy with the”bought” one, so I had put your blog on my favorites to go back to read it again… I think I can, I think I can. The funny thing is that I had purchased fabric about 4 yrs ago to attempt this project & it’s just been sitting there stored away! I’m doing it! Thank you for the detailed drawings of how you put it together!

  11. I’m working on making a cover for a couch at work in our common area. This tutorial seems super easy to follow and I think even I can do it! Thank you thank you and yes, keep the tips coming!

  12. Thanks for this great tutorial. I will be referring back to it when I’m ready to do my slipcover, and I love the use of different fabrics on the sofa. Also, I noticed your old Singer sewing machine in the background of the photo. It looks just like mine, which was hand me down from my mother when I was 10 years old (in 1970). She’s had about 3 new machines since then because they just don’t make them like they used to! Is it not the greatest sewing machine ever??? (If all you ever do is sew straight stitches, like me, that is!) I would not trade mine in for a new model for anything!

    1. That machine can sew through ANYTHING! The only time I ran into trouble was when I was trying to fix a rip in a shearling coat, and I have no doubt that the machine would have sewn through it- it was just too thick to actually get under the foot of the machine. The best part is that I got it for $30 at a garage sale! I will never buy a new sewing machine… they made the old ones too good, and they’re so easy to find cheap!

  13. Here i was looking for a boat neck knitting pattern and arrived here, but all good, I so want to do this too. Well done.I was looking at recycling some old shirts and pants to use as a slipcover, now i have the pattern, i shall attempt it soon. good luck for part 2, cheers tam

  14. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this tutorial. I’m going to _attempt_ a slipcover for an overstuffed chair. So sorry about the loss of your kitty, but hope you are enjoying the two new ones. Looking forward to Part2. πŸ™‚

  15. Have looked all over the web for something like this. Your couch isn’t exactly like mine, and I have T-cushions, but there’s still a chance that I can do it. LOL

  16. I have a Ralph Lauren Tuxedo couch – 9 foot and matching love seat – 6 foot and they are precious to me and I am going to make them new and if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have dared – I am taking measurements now – costly but well worth it. I want to use a central pattern – an Indian theme Blanket – right down the center – and on the arms – cut down some of the cost and it’s a beautiful blanket – the rest of the material I will purchase – will have enough of the blanket left to do four pills as well.

  17. Thank you for posting this tutorial. The sketches of the couch with the needed measurements are very helpful. I am trying to make a slipcover for my brother in another state, and this will allow me to design from a long distance.

  18. Thank you so much for the tutorials – your couch is the same shape as mine, so I am delighted to have the information at hand. Don’t know when I’ll get around to it though…I am continuously surprised and delighted by the generosity of what people share on the internet – ciao!

  19. It is great to have come across your tutorial. I am about to make a cover for our sofa but needed a tutorial like this just for confidence. Thanks so much!

  20. I recently made some slip covers for a clients couch and was unsure about pricing the piping? How much do I charge for piping?

  21. Love this!! It’s exactly the tutorial I was looking for. Thinking of doing a solid and print slip cover and couldn’t figure out how to make it work, so thanks!! πŸ™‚ As for the cat puke (hilarious to share BTW) I have long hair cats myself and found the better the food the less I see of it on my carpet/couch! (why do they like soft landings??) lol

  22. Hi, I love your tut and your fabric choices. I have been wanting to make a slip cover for my sofa ever since Pinterest. I have a question for you. My sofa is a double recliner. Do you have any idea how to go about making a slip for it? The cushions are connected to the base. (I hate the sofa, but its fairly new and hubby loves it . . . ugggggggg) Have a good day

    1. Hmmmm, tricky! My thinking is that you’ll need to make separate slipcovers for each “moving” piece. I’m thinking a cover for the chair back, a cover for the seat, and then a cover for each section of the leg rest.
      This has a very basic explanation of making a slipcover for a standalone recliner chair that might be helpful:

  23. Thank You so much! This post is really, really helpful. I’ve just bought some fabric to sew cowers for my old couches. I needed a tutorial like yours to make sure that i can do this on my own.


  24. I have been wanting to recover my couch for ages. Now at least I can attempt it. We’ll see whaat happens. Thanks for your advice. I’m going to give it a try. I think the measurments of your couch are the same as mine so hopefully it will turn out the same…..wish me luck…

  25. Lex, I wanted to ask, do you thing it would be a good idea, in order to avoid slipage, to add velcro to the edge of sofa to advoid splipage of the slip cover? There is some strong velcro that has has a self adhesive back I’ve used in other projects, and you know how kids mess up a sofa with a slip cover, so I was just think of a way to prevent this.

    1. That could work, though I tried that with a couch I had with cushions that wouldn’t stay in place. The cushions were just too heavy for the stick-on velcro, so it didn’t really work, but I could see it working with the slipcover since it’s bound to be much lighter. I would suggest using sew-on velcro, though. It could be easily machine stitched to the slipcover, but you’d probably need to hand stitch it to the sofa itself. Maybe a combination of hand stitching and hot glue for the velcro on the sofa. πŸ™‚

  26. I have heard (not used, just heard) that if you stuff pool noodles down between the cushions and the sofa after you put on the slipcover, that this will help to hold the slipcover in place. Cheap enough and worth a try!

  27. Looking forward to trying this. Will probably start off with the seat cushions first as the sofa is curved & not sure if I want to recover the whole sofa. I do need to remove some of the stuffing on the back pillows as that what has always made the sofa uncomfortable.

  28. Is there a part 2 yet? And my couch is one of those pain-in-the-butt ones where the back cushions do not come off. Any suggestions for that? Thanks!

  29. I live in the uk and have the same problems as you girls. The pre-made covers are not fit to be seen and I also have cats. I purchased a second hand sofa for my new flat as the room was so big and my old furniture got lost in the room. The sofa I have now is so cumfy and this tutorial will alow me to smarten up the sofa and give the newly decorated room a real me feel. thanks for your time and generosity.

  30. Hi, Lex!
    Thanks for tutorial! I was wondering how to make a slip cover for corner sofa-bed. It is not symetrical like your sofa. I have cutted out pieces, and if i sew them together right side out, after turning back to right side it is all opposite. Please help, my sofa screams for new slipcover..;(

    1. Unfortunately, it sounds like you might have cut the pieces out in reverse, or the mirror of what you want. If the sofa is not symmetrical, the only way to salvage it would be to use the fabric inside-out. If you start over, you would want to fit the pieces to the couch right sides out, which would then require you to take it apart, re-piece them together with the wrong sides out to sew, which would then result in the correct layout.

  31. Thank you so much for these detailed instructions! I’m forever grateful. I didn’t want to spend as much for a slipcover for my existing sofa that I might spend on a new sofa. and I wanted my choice of fabric. Your choices are beautiful btw.

  32. For those that can’t afford the high cost of slipcover fabric, drop cloths work perfect too and are not that expensive. Can be bleached before using to make lighter if desired. Hope this helps someone.

  33. Just a quick note to share something. My grandparents had their own business in Chicago when I was little. They created custom drapery and upholstery. We always got new slipcovers and gorgeous curtains to cover old couches with solid frames. One thing I remember that they did to make to cover fit snugly was that they added grommets on the bottom and then laced the base tightly. It really made a difference to the look and looked like you tied a giant tennis shoe.

  34. My sofa back pillows are attached. How do I account for that in my diagram? I am planning to use painters drop cloths as my fabric. Inexpensive and sturdy. Love your site. Thanks Patrici

  35. Hi. great tutorial/instructions. I’m considering sewing a cover since I can’t find one to buy that matches my sofa’s design – attached/rolled back – not pillows/cushions – then 3 squares for the seat.

    The arms on my sofa are shorter than on your drawing so they can’t really be tucked in.

    I need the info for how to assemble the pieces. I can’t seem to find that.

    Can you post a picture of your finished sofa & cover?


  36. You are a life saver. I was afraid I’d have to be alone on this. My question is when using painters cloths tips on washing and sewing them. I have been lucky I have some I never opened. They are very large and I’m hoping not to cut before I pre wash. Also I don’t have a serger.what do you recommend to finish edges for reveling. Thanks again.

  37. I suggest you do French seams. Sew seams with right side up, very close to the edge, then turn over and sew again as you would normally. Questions? Google “French Seams”

  38. #1, Love the name. It made me laugh, and then I finished your tutorial. Such great info. I rave recover several pieces, but nit a slipcover. Gotta get busy. Thanks!!

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