Ask an Upholsterer

Do you have an upholstery question, need help, advice or professional support on an upholstery project. With 48 years of furniture upholstery experience, I may be able to help. My name is Joe Gramm, owner and upholsterer at Cape Cod Upholstery Shop. Submit your upholstery questions at the bottom of the page and I will try to answer them from a professional upholsterer’s perspective. Please allow a day or two for my reply.

To help me answer your questions, please include a link to photos of your upholstery project. Use a service like Dropbox or Google+  and include the link with your question.

4,078 thoughts on “Ask an Upholsterer

  1. Can #16 cotton kitchen twine be used to tie down springs in the reupholster of a chair base? Or does it need to be something different, and why?

  2. Hi Joe. I am recovering tufted back cushions on a dining room bench seat for my daughter, but she doesn’t want the tufted look any longer. What do you recommend before recovering so the indents don’t show? Should the buttons be removed?

    • At the very least, fill in the button holes with cotton batting, making the holes as even with the rest of the back as possible. You can spray a bit of adhesive into the button holes to make the batting stick better, but the spray adhesive is an option. Then you’ll want to cover the back with an additional layer of either batting or 1/2″ foam with batting, etc. Then your finished fabric.

      At the most, all new padding, equal in thickness to the old.

  3. I am making a button tufted ottoman 42: x 42″ x 18″ H. I’m using 3″ foam and have calculated a minimum of 71″ wide fabric. However, the fabric the client has chosen only comes in 54″ W. I was wondering if I could sew up two panels to the proper width and then run the seam down the center?


    • Sorry for the delay getting back to you. I was away on vacation camping up in the White Mountains in New Hampshire with very spotty internet.

      Putting a seam down the middle will not look good. You will need to do either of these two options for the best results:

      1) Go as far as you can with the tufting with the 54″ width and simply continue with a new piece of fabric to finish the tufting.

      2) Determine how much width you will need to complete the job and create a seam that will conform to the location of your buttons. This way the seam will be hidden in the tufting.

      Hope this makes sense. Let me know if you have questions.

  4. Hi Joe, when making a cover for a one-piece flat sofa cushion should the box strip of fabric be cut with the grain just as the top and bottom, or against the grain of the fabric? Thank you!

    • Sorry for the delay getting back to you. I was away on vacation camping up in the White Mountains in New hampshire with very spotty internet.

      The boxing should match the direction of the top and bottom cushion.

  5. Hi Joe! I’m redoing the foam and batting in my 20 year old purple couch cushions (2 cushions). I looked online, asked Joann Fabrics, and read all the posts and comments on your blog dating back to June 2016, but I cannot find the answer to my question.

    I’m confused what size foam I should order and what thickness and kind of batting I should order based on my measurements. I measured the cushion as is and I also measured the foam in the cushion because I read you can do it that way as well. But the discrepancy of the two measurements (the cushion and foam) complicates my decision-making. Im not sure if this helps or not but my couch is big and comfy, and must be high-end quality for as much as I paid for it 22 years ago.

    Cushion measurements — 5 1/4” x 25 3/4” x 34”
    Actual foam measurements — 4 3/4” x 23 1/2” x 31”

    Thank you in advance!

    • Sorry for the delay getting back to you. I was away on vacation camping up in the White Mountains with very spotty internet.

      Strange measurements indeed. I can see why you’re confused.

      I would take one critical measurement before you order foam. On your sofa, measure the distance from one inside of the arm to the other, paying attention to measure approximately where the cushions will meet the arm. Once you have that measurement, divide it by two and that should give you the approximate width needed for your new foam. Based on your cushion measurements the width divided by two should be around 34″.

      Your actual foam must have been wrapped in a substantial amount of batting in order to make up for your cushion measurements.

      What type of feel are you looking for in a new cushion. Do you want the cushion to be relatively flat or have a crown.

      • Thank you so much for getting back to me!

        Who needs internet while camping? 😃 Hope you had a wonderful time!

        Yes I’d like a crown but I guess it would be a medium crown. I’ve seen big, firm crowns and no crowns on couches. It *was* a lot of batting! The batting measured 3 1/2” after I peeled it from the foam.

        My measurement from arm to arm about where the cushions begin is 69 1/4” so now I’m more confused lol. I still have one cushion intact and remeasured it again and got the same measurements.

        If I divide that new number in half and buy that length foam, what thickness batting do I need and do I get the bonded Dacron?

        Thank you!!

        • Here is what I do for a standard cushion without any kind of special instructions from a client. For a cushion with a finished 3 1/4″ boxing, I use 4″ foam completely wrapped in 1.0 oz stitched dacron. Depending on the cushion or the type of fabric, I may add a layer on the top of the cushion of 1/2″ or 1″ bonded dacron.

          More foam will hold up better than more dacron. So in your case with a 5 1/4″ boxing, you could use either 5″ or 6″ foam. 6″ foam I would use 1.0 oz stitched dacron with maybe a layer of bonded dacron. If you use 5″ foam simply use more dacron to make up the difference, like a layer of 1″ dacron top and bottom then completely wrapped in 1.0 oz stitched dacron.

          Keep in mind an option you have is to bring your cushions to a local upholsterer and have them stuff the cushions for you.

  6. I am finishing upholstering the back of a chair that used ply grip to attach the fabric to the top. I removed the ply grip and it is pretty bent up, but I think I may be able to reuse it. Would you recommend this, or must you always use new?

  7. Hi, What is your opinion on “best” outdoor cushion construction? 1) Fast dri / dry foam vs. foam wrapped in a water resistant wrap vs. something else. 2) What type of fabric, sunbrella, sunbrella rain, other? Thank you.

  8. Hi again, I previously posted June 24 regarding help needing a fine wire staple. You graciously responded with BEA #7 1” nose. Can you be more specific? Is #7 part of the 71 series? I went online and just don’t have enough information to find this stapler. I did find a BEA Fine Wire 22 gauge 3/8” stapler for 71 series or Senco C style staples. If your description was a little more detailed maybe I can find it online. Thanks so much.

    • With all due respect, I can not get more detailed than I already have.. I gave you links to the #7 stapler I use in the shop. I’m not a staple gun expert. Instead of relying solely on my information, I would call both BEA and Senco customer support and you could get the exact information you’re looking for. That’s what I would do. Please keep in mind I’m an upholsterer and and not a staple gun company.

  9. Hi Joe. My name is Robert. I am in process of starting my upholstery shop. I was hoping to get some advice on how to deal with collecting state taxes. Is it true that if I buy materials from my local upholstery supplier and I don’t get charged taxes on that material, am I supposed to then apply taxes for that material upon completion of the upholstery project to my customer’s invoice? Also, do I apply taxes to services such as upholstery? If I don’t add any materials to a project and the customer supplies the fabric, and I only use my labor or services to complete the project, is it exempt from sales tax? Your help would be appreciated.


    • Hi Robert, every state is different. If you are starting the business in Massachusetts, These are the sales tax regulations for an upholstery shop. See Sections (3) & (5e).

      If you don’t live in MA, you’ll need to check with you state’s sales tax regulations as I’m only familiar with MA.

      If you live in MA, these are the answers to your questions:
      1) Is it true that if I buy materials from my local upholstery supplier and I don’t get charged taxes on that material, am I supposed to then apply taxes for that material upon completion of the upholstery project to my customer’s invoice? Yes
      2) Do I apply taxes to services such as upholstery? If I don’t add any materials to a project and the customer supplies the fabric, and I only use my labor or services to complete the project, is it exempt from sales tax? YES, upholstery is considered a “Fabrication”. Tax is charged on the total invoice amount, including labor, even if the customer supplies the fabric. The only items that I know of that are exempt from tax are shipping, pickup & delivery & certain repairs like gluing a dining room chair.

  10. Hi! I am reupholstering a cane back chair and the back panel (not cane) has tufted button upholstery. The tufting was done on a heavy cardboard backing which, when mounted to the chair after upholstery on it is complete, is stapled around on the inside back of the chair. A premounted panel on the back outside hides everything. To hide the inside edge, double piping surrounds the stapled on back upholstery piece and is in place with fine wire staples placed in between the piping. I have 2 pneumatic staplers and both of the staples are too large and bulky. Can you recommend a stapler that can handle a delicate job like this and uses fine wire staples? The size of the staple to use would help also. They look like desktop staples but measure 8 mm crown; 12 mm depth. Although it is thin wire, the staple is very sturdy. Thanks

  11. Hello. I have 2 cushions on my se tons that have the spring coming upwards. My cushions are not removable, and I looked at the bottom on the couch and everything seems intact. You can see the deformity in the 2 cushions before you even sit on it. I tried looking on Google and YouTube but found no help. Hoping you can help

    • I’m sorry to say if the seat cushions are attached and not removable, there isn’t much I know of to repair the cushions. During the upholstery process, the seat cushions are basically the first step in the upholstery process. This means you need to lift up all the outside sides and back in order to get to where the cushions are stapled to the frame. Then the cushions could be removed and repaired. The only other option is to cut the cushions free from the the sofa. This is not a particularly could option because re-attaching them would be difficult.

      Word of advise to anyone listening. DO NOT BUY furniture with attached seat cushions. The filling in the seat cushions is usually the first thing to go bad, rendering the furniture not usable.

      Lifting up all the outside pieces and the front seat deck to get to where the cushions are attached to the frame, is your best option for repair.

  12. Hi Joe! I have a fairly new couch, about 4 years old. The cushions are horribly our of shape and we can feel the springs through the foam. To replace the cushions, should I replace the foam around the springs, or get new springs as well? Could I simply replace with foam or are the springs necessary? Thanks!

    • I would not just replace the foam around the springs. For the average person, making a brand new spring core cushion is not an easy task. I’m inclined to tell you to replace the cushions with a solid piece of foam wrapped in dacron batting with a 2.6 or higher density and a medium compression of around 35lbs. If you want the cushions on the firm side you can go up to a 45lb firm compression.

  13. I have these very old chairs to redo, the seat is drop in so no issues there however the back is a little confusing to me. would you suggest they be done as one piece with fabric attached as a backing that shows through or is there a method for this type?

    Thanks so much!


        • Thanks.
          1) Staple/tack your finished fabric facing to the outside of the back.
          2) Pad only the area where your outside back is. 1/4″ bonded dacron or batting will do.
          3) Staple 2-4 strips of 3″ webbing
          4) Cover with a piece of burlap
          5) Attach/glue your padding leaving 1/2″-3/4″ away from the outside edge of the frame.
          6) Staple your finished fabric to the outside edge of the frame.
          7) Three options to cover the staples…double welt, braided gimp, decorative nails

  14. Hi Joe. I have three plywood framed/shaped benches. They are boxed style with solid top and sides – basically a long rectangular cube w/ a curve at the halfway point making one side a seating height of 18″ and the other side approx. 13″. Hollow at the bottom. Looking to cover these with heavy wool felt. No padding. Is there a special upholstery adhesive to use for this situation? Have you done this? Do you have any tips? Thanks so much.

    • I haven’t used wool felt for padding before, but I have used synthetic deck padding. A good quality foam adhesive should work fine. It’s possible you would not need to use an adhesive at all because the wool may not slide on the plywood. Test a piece with and without the foam adhesive and see what you think.

  15. I ordered a sofa and the cushions do not meet my spec. They are supposed to be flat and boxed. Instead they are crowing/domed. They were made with a spring inner core and wrapped with memory foam and they are also encased in something. Also the back cushions are sort of collapsing, not boxy. Finally, the frame is too tall (but you can’t fix that). Can you possibly advise on how my cushions can be fixed? Thank you. See link

    • I don’t see a way to fix your cushions especially being they have a spring core. If you were to take the wrapping off that is covering the springs, in an attempt to flatten the cushions, you are likely to feel the springs thru the fabric.

      You could replace all the cushion inserts, but you would still need to fill the cushions according to the current boxing size. If you wanted to replace the inserts and have a lower profile cushion, you would most likely need to alter the the height of the cushion boxing. Replacing all the inserts alone would be a big expense. Altering(cutting down) the boxing would be an even bigger expense.

      If the sofa is new and does not meet the specs, I would simply contact the company you bought the sofa from and request a return.

    • If whoever made it won’t take it back, trying one cushion will tell you if it will work, and there’d be no need to take apart the pocket springs:
      In a pinch, you could unwrap the pocket springs, use ruby twine at each of the problem bottom hog ring points to snug down the crowning/poufy areas (Loop it, catch the loop above, loop again at the top, and knot it). Re wrap, and insert it back in….
      I hope they take it back though, they ought to…..

  16. Hi Joe,
    My client wants to use cowhide for her new cushions on her sofa. It is a wooden sofa with loose cushions, no upholstery involved only sewing. Can you give tips on working with upholstery grade leather? Is it necessarily to glue each seam allowance before top stitching the seam? I bought DI needles for leather and plan to use nylon #90 for sewing and thread #132 for top stitching. Love to hear your advice and suggestions from you please. Thank you

    • Hi Aung, I am not the one to ask about leather. I stopped working with leather many years ago. Maybe some of the members here can answer your questions or simply Youtube it.

  17. Hello, I started doing upholstery about a year ago as a hobby on old furniture. My first ever client that isn’t a friend or family is asking what I would charge to recover 4 of her dining room chairs. I am wondering how I even start to price out work for people that ask for a quote without seeing the furniture. What is the pricing process for someone who is just starting out?

    • First of all you have to see the furniture before you can give a price. The easiest way to initially see the work is to ask them to email you a photo. A text if you prefer that method. Or have them bring you one of the chairs for you to see. Or you go to them and look at the chairs.

      In order to give prices on dining room chairs you need to know things like: is it just the seat that’s upholstered, is the seat removable, is the the seat upholstered to the frame, is there any upholstery on the back, does the chair need new padding.

      Once you know what the job entails, you can decide what your time is worth and that will be your labor. Then figure out what supplies you will need and include the cost of supplies.

      Something like:

      4 dining chairs @ $100 = $400
      4- New Padding @ $25 = $100
      Total Cost- $500

  18. I bought a chair with the intention of recovering the seat. I assumed that the seat unseeded from the frame. So not the case. How do I remove the seat from the frame? Thanks for your help.

    • From your photo showing the bottom of the chair, it looks like the seat does not come off and is upholstered to the frame.

      Could you please link another photo of the chair standing up, showing the top/side of the seat..

  19. Hi I purchased a sectional off EBay in 2014. Now one. Side of the piece is sitting low. And when you sit on it you here and fell the broken springs. Ugh is there s that I could fix? Wasted my money on a sofa that didn’t if last 5 years..

    • You’ve given me zero amounts of information except for the fact that your springs appear to be broken. Whether or not your springs could be fixed is not answerable because I don’t have any information to go by.

      But what is the case, it probably wouldn’t be worth the cost to have a professional fix the springs.

    • Things that can cause puckering with the cushions can include:

      Type of fabric, length of cushions, thread tension, welting not cut on bias, type of padding, cushion cut to big/to small, skill level of upholsterer.

      There are many reasons a cushion can pucker. You either need to explain the issue in more detail or better yet, reply back with a link to a picture of your cushions.

  20. Hi. I’ve torn down a Drexel wingback circa 1995. Hasn’t been used much in the last 10 years. Just wondering how I evaluate the 8-way hand tied springs. Bottom line, do I need to replace, just restring or can I leave them as is? They seem fine to me, but I’m not a pro at this. The webbing isn’t jute, rather a piece of what I think I’ve heard referred to as “sag-less”(?). Anyway, it’s a solid piece of sturdy man made fiber. The springs are clipped on to it. Thanks in advance.

    • If the webbing on the bottom seems tight, none of the spring twines are broken or loose, then you should be fine to leave them as is.

      You can’t directly upload photos here, but if you have Dropbox, you could reply with a link to your photo in Dropbox and I could evaluate more accurately.

  21. Hi. I am reupholstering an antique settee and the previous owners attached the burlap straps on the small amount if wood with so many tiny nails that I am having to try and think if a different method of attaching the straps to the bottom. Maybe vertical attachment to the wood instead of traditional horizontal method. Any advice would be appreciated.

    • Although you can attach the webbing to the sides of the frame, it makes it more difficult to staple/tack your fabric to the bottom. I would staple the webbing to the sides only as a last resort.

      Have you removed the nails from the previous webbing/burlap or are you leaving them in.

  22. Hi! I am sewing new leather upholstery for my 1960 Morris Minor. The seats have a middle section with four vertical tucks in them. I don’t want to topstitch the seams or the tucks, but also want to be sure they are strong and don’t pull apart. Should I use some kind of reinforcement for the seams or would using a basting stitch and good heavy polyester thread be enough? The car will not be a daily driver and will be garaged. Thanks for your help!

    • I’m not an expert on either leather or auto upholstery. I think you could use a single stitch with either a #69 or #91 bonded polyester thread. For added strength you could add another stitch about 1/4″ out from your first stitch line, but that can add a bit of bulk to the seam.

      Maybe someone here in the group who works with leather and auto upholstery can help with a more definitive answer.

      • Thanks! Any help or advice from the community is appreciated! I am using upholstery leather, have a Husquvarna Viking sewing machine, the proper needles and thread. The seat is not large, and the three decorative seams will run vertically at about four-inch intervals and are about 8 inches long. They are very basic, rectangular seats — very straight lines, no curves or complications. My sewing skill is high, but this is my first project of this type and I wanted as much knowledge as possible before I begin.

    • Thread size, thread type, stitch length, type of fabric, type of sewing machine, type of sewing machine foot, size of sewing machine needle, skill level of stitcher, could be anything as you can see. I need more info.

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