Friday, May 28, 2010

DIY Slipcover

*This is a long post with lots of "talking" to explain the've at least been warned.*

Awhile back, a girlfriend of mine (Hi, Janis!) mentioned that she had a chair for their nursery and she wanted a slipcover made. A friend of a friend had quoted her something like $300 for the job + fabric (which, by the way, I believe is totally fair if you know what you're doing) and she hinted that she'd rather pay someone she knew personally. Well, I told her that I'd never made one before but I'd be happy to try and it could save her some cash. So began my slipcover journey... 
(Oh, and in case you were wondering, she paid me nicely for the job. I'm a pretty nice girl, but not that nice.)

The Front Before

The Front After

While I'm pretty happy with the finished product, there are about a dozen things I wish I had a better handle on. All that said, my friend loves it and I think that's what matters. Before starting, I googled everything I could about making slipcovers, read through my favorite vintage sewing book (which had a TON of great information), and even checked out a book from the library (Sew Simple Slipcovers...which I can't find online). Then I just dove into it. As far as I know, there is no exact formula for creating a custom fitted slipcover and it can drive you batty. But when you conquer something like a curved arm, you get to step back and feel waves of love for your little work of art. 
And there really is a scuptural quality to working with fabric in this way.

The Back Before

The Back After

I really do love the fitted look as opposed to the baggy slipcovers with ties.The only hurdle that I couldn't overcome was the front edge of the hem. Because of the damage to the cushion underneath, I could not for the life of me get the cover to lay flat and keep the hem level. But no project can go exactly the way we want it to...we've all been there.

Here's it is in its home sweet home...
(don't you love the different colored walls in the nursery??)

If you ever get the crazy urge to do this yourself, the overall approach is pretty simple: in essence, you just create your whole cover inside out in pieces and then assemble it.

Inside Out View

I basically placed the fabric wrong side out in sections with the print oriented the way I wanted, pinning where I wanted a seam. Then I'd take it off the chair, sew the seam, turn it right side out, and replace it on the chair to check the placement. Turn it wrong side out to make adjustments, run it through the machine again, turn it right side out, check the fit again, and so on. You can imagine how much placing, pinning, sewing, and repeating this takes for a whole chair.

Back of the chair

Detail of the arm front construction
(before finishing the raw edges)

Generally, I didn't bother basting because it seemed a waste of time. But I can see the value in a seam that would be easier to remove if the placement is way off on the first try.

I used cotton twill tape on the inside edge of the hem to eliminate any raw edges and give it a nice smooth finish. I'm pretty sure that the hem can make or break a piece like this.

Detail of the hem from the inside,
where the velcro meets.

In an effort to stabilize the construction and make it durable enough for lots of baby snuggling and kids climbing on it, I double stitched all the seams to reinforce them and serged or zig-zagged all the raw edges. That's a surprising amount of seams and edges.

In order to get the curves fitted yet smooth, I did little tucks and matched them on both the left and right sides. So the left & right top corners each had 3 tucks in the same place for nice symmetry. The curved arms were similar.
The curves are some of my favorite details on the whole chair.

The tricky part of a fitted slipcover is making sure you can take it on and off. My solution was velcro on either side. It detaches in two stages for easy removal but a snug fit. 

Both sides got a 1st strip of velcro here.

And a 2nd strip here.

Oh, and you may have noticed that this is not an upholstery weight fabric. While I would recommend upholstery/home dec if you do this, you really can use anything if you fall madly in love with a print that isn't available in home dec. This was a lightweight cotton that my girlfriend loved. Because it didn't have much body and wasn't opaque enough to hide the original upholstery pattern underneath, I backed all the fabric with French Fuse (recommended by the wonderful women at my local fabric store and purchased by the yard in 20" widths).

What is French Fuse, you ask? Good question. I didn't know until this project either. It's a lightweight, synthetic, netting-like backing that is fusible on one side and smooth on the other. It gives the fabric a good amount of body (without stiffness) and much more opacity. It's time consuming for sure but can considerably increase your choice of fabrics.

And in case you were wondering, this is what it looks like.

 So there you have it.
One custom order fitted slipcover.
It probably doesn't make you want to run out and do it yourself (no offense taken),
but at least you know you can if ever want to.
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  1. great job! love your slip! esp. the idea of using cotton twill tape for the hem!

  2. Love it love it love it! It looks great in the nursery, too. Thanks sooo much!


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