Frugal Slipcovers: How I Made Over My Living Room for $200

I’ve hated my slipcovers for a few years. When I bought the couch and chair about 10 years ago, I bought a kind with sage velvet covers. Gorgeous, and dry cleanable. At least until I took them to a dry cleaner who machine-washed them and shrank them. I didn’t even think to sue them for the replacement cost. Instead I was miserable for two years.

This is the before: you can see the white stretches where the fabric is pulling and the bottom where it doesn’t quite cover. They also wouldn’t zip up the back.

When the covers became worn in the stretched spot, I got it into my head to make new slipcovers myself. Nevermind that I hadn’t sewed since I was 13. I could do it for less than $200! Pre-made covers wouldn’t work with my couch, and custom covers would have cost four times that. I’ve completed the process successfully and I’m thrilled with the price and the result. Here’s how I did it.

Be Over-Confident

Following the success of my $14 kitchen makeover, I got ambitious. Even though I hadn’t sewed a thing in more than two decades, I figured I knew the basics and it wouldn’t be a problem. I think that over-confidence was key because it turned out to be way more difficult than I expected.

Locate a Sewing Machine

I don’t have a sewing machine, so I asked a friend to lend me hers for a month or so. If I hadn’t had access to that, making my own slipcovers wouldn’t have been as good a deal.

Measure Carefully – Three Times

I measured my couch and chair and got a rough idea of the amount of fabric, then I blocked it out on paper. I realized some measurements seemed too small, so I referred to the book. It turned out I’d mis-measured and forgotten key measurements, so I took them again and blocked it out on paper again. When I made the muslin, my figures were still too small, so I took them one more time.

Research Fabric Prices and Widths Early in the Process

The Los Angeles fabric district is huge, so I had an advantage there, but you can find affordable fabric online at places like Denver Fabrics. I found a sage twill for $5 a 66-inch wide yard. That’s a steal!

Make Little Pieces of Graph Paper 

I cut up little pieces of graph paper to match my measurements and laid them over another sheet marked with my fabric width to determine how much I needed. Then I added what I thought was 10% for mistakes. I actually bought 5 yards more than I needed.

Make a Muslin

Next, I bought $1 a yard fabric in the same width (or close to it) to make a muslin. A muslin is a test layout that you can use as a pattern. You handstitch it together to test the fit. Since I’d under-measured, making the muslin first saved me a LOT of wasted fabric.

Make a Lot of Space

I tried to cut the fabric on a cutting mat on my coffee table, but the process went something like this:

  • Lay out fabric
  • Lay out pattern piece (the muslin.)
  • Smooth fabric.
  • Remove cat from bottom of fabric.
  • Cut pattern piece.
  • Tug next batch of fabric over mat.
  • Remove cat from bottom of fabric.

As you can see, this would have taken hours. So instead I laid my cutting mat on the floor and then made space around it to stretch out several yards of fabric at once. The cat quickly got bored of laying on it when I wasn’t fighting with him.

Pin, Swear, and Dodge the Cat

Once you have all the pieces cut, you have to pin and baste them. At this point, I realized just how slow and tedious this process would be. I stuck myself and swore repeatedly. I also swore repeatedly when my cat decided that hiding under the section I was working on was a fun game. I did not agree.

Work in Sections

Rather than do all the pinning at once, and then do all the sewing at once, I worked in sections so we could use the couches in between. It slowed the process, but it worked. My sections were:

  • Couch deck, back, arms
  • Couch cushions
  • Chair deck, back, arms
  • Chair cushions
  • Velcro/hems

Finally, Start the Sewing

Once I’d pinned, basted, and checked the fit, trim the seams a bit, I stared sewing. It included more frustration and swearing. It also took longer than I expected. I also learned here that the sides don’t always match, so I had to pull the seatback seam repeatedly to finally get it to lay right when I turned it right-side out. That’s why they recommend fitting it right-side out and covering the seam overages with cording. Fortunately my backing is covered by a large cushion, so it doesn’t look bad.

Revel In Myr Success

The final step was putting down the cover and sitting on it. It was hard, but so worth it. I love my covers.

Total Time and Cost:

Muslin fabric: $24
Final Fabric: $130 (I ended overbuying by 5 yards)
Notions and supplies: $42
Time: 70 hours (weekends, some evenings, a holiday)
Cost for a custom slipcover from an online company: at least $800.

This is the after:
They’re not perfect, but they aren’t overstretched and they were cheap. They also brightened the room up because the old covers had become dingy.

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