Decorating / Making / Modern/Postmodern

Modern/Postmodern: Upholstery Fabric

A multi-generational dialog about home

We’re trying out a new format here with what we hope will be a semi-regular feature: Modern/Postmodern. It’s a dialog in blog form in which we share perspectives taking advantage of our mulit-generational experience.


I have two upholstery projects that have been on my radar for a few months now, but I haven’t been able to find fabric that I like. I’m unable to start these projects and practice my mad upholstery skills until I find some fabric! I found both this chair and this bench at an estate sale this summer— I like their lines, and the scale works really well in my living room right now. But the color of the fabric is off– dirty white doesn’t go (with anything!).

I’ve looked at a few fabric stores, like JoAnn, but their upholstery fabrics are really traditional and not trendy or interesting. I’ve looked on etsy, and there is lots of fabric on there, but I can’t tell which are good quality fabrics, and which will look cheap or see-through. I need a few good sources for beautiful fabric. Since both projects need less than 1 yard of fabric, I’m willing to splurge a bit. What brands are good? How do I find good upholstery fabric?
Secondly, I want a graphic and bold pattern that will look good with my living room, without looking too dated in a few years. What patterns should I look for? What colors? I feel like I’d know what I would like if I saw it, but I’m a little lost for design on these projects, which doesn’t often happen!


The fabric you pick for your upholstery project is pretty important. The do-it-your-selfer doesn’t have a heavy duty sewing machine to sew through heavy fabrics. Some upholstery fabrics have a backing that is made from something like latex  that gums up a sewing machine needle – stay away from those fabrics.  When you are planning a project, think about how much you will use your chair or bench. If the chair will be used in your bedroom for example, it will most likely be covered with clothes!  I’m your mother, I know you!  It will be protected from sunlight and dog hair! In that case, you can use delicate silk or cotton. On the other hand,  if you plan to use the chair to slouch around in while eating pizza and ice cream, then use something more durable like a synthetic blend. The tighter the weave, the sturdier the fabric. If you can’t find anything you like, you can always pick a solid neutral fabric and jazz it up with pillows. You have to be practical when picking fabric or you run the risk of hating the project and the entire process because it becomes so difficult to work on that you  put it away and never go back to it. Believe me, I’ve been there.

Here are some tips to get the best results:
  1. Use the best quality materials you can afford  – if you skimp, you will always kick yourself. I know you are laughing because I am the queen of cheap but I always look for quality first…I just look for quality at a cheap price!
  2. Take your time – if you make a mistake, correct it.  it is worth taking the time to do it right, otherwise, you will only see the problem and never see the beauty of your project. Iv’e been guilty of not following this advice from time to time so do as I say and not as I do.
  3. Do your homework. Make a plan, read a how to book. Make a test pattern using cheap fabric before you cut into your expensive stuff. Yes, I’ve made this mistake once or twice.
  4. You will get stuck at some point. Don’t give up. Ask for help and push on. Persevere.  Someone could write a book titled “How to Upholster a Chair and How to Live Your Life in a Few Easy Steps”.  Hmmm,  “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Riding”? Zen and the Art of Upholstering?  There is something there.
My point is this…Your time is valuable so commit to a project only if it is worth your while. Be certain that you will love the project when it is done. You will then be sure to finish the project! The worse thing in just about the whole world is having a bunch of unfinished projects laying around the house. You will never be happy because you have wasted a bunch of money and time and now you have a mess that you have to store (or hide) in a closet that is stuffed with other half finished stuff. Soon, you will feel that your life is spinning out of control, your house is a disaster because you have nowhere to put things and you will trip and fall over your half done chair and you will end up in the emergency room and out of work for a week. Next thing you will know is that that simple re-upholstery project cost you more than you ever thought possible. It would have been so much simpler to buy a new chair…
I’m sorry I got carried away. Did I answer your question about fabric? I have a coupon for 60% off at Mill End Textiles.  I can send you some samples.
About the graphic and bold patterns that you like, they will look dated in a few years no matter how great they look today. You can be assured, however, that they will come back in style in approximately  30 years. That is just how the world works. I don’t make the rules.


Thanks! These are some helpful tips, but you do get a little carried away. Is it from experience??

The chair and bench would be great in my living room, so I want them to be sturdy statement pieces. I’m glad that I haven’t settled for anything that doesn’t seem perfect. I’ll wait until I find some great fabric, even if it will go out of style…. These pieces aren’t huge investments, like a couch.

Also, please send me some samples from Mill End Textiles! I would love it if they had a store out here!

Do you have any other tips or comments or experience with upholstery? We’d love it if you shared with us, just leave a comment below!

-The Just About Home Team, Liz and Peg

4 thoughts on “Modern/Postmodern: Upholstery Fabric

  1. Pingback: I Made a Pillow and You Can Too! « Just About Home

  2. Pingback: Upholstery Fabric Found! « Just About Home

  3. my mom used to be really into making stuff (she made all our dresses for rainbow girls) and would visit this random fabric place in a shady part of town. I’ll ask her where it was..this place had mountains of fabric everywhere.

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