Slipcovers are a great option for re-purposing your upholstered furniture. If you have pieces that are comfortable and have great lines but worn or dated upholstery fabric, slipcovers are a less expensive alternative to reupholstery and are potentially washable as well!
I have met many clients who immediately dismiss the idea of slipcovers because they associate them with something that looks like this…
Or this sloppy look…
These sort of slipcovers are a bit like wearing what used to be called a “housedress” (see below) – it does the job, but it doesn’t do anyone any favors in the looks department.
Well, OF COURSE no one wants them if that’s what they think they are! But custom made slipcovers are fitted perfectly for the furniture. Slipcover cutting is an art form and fascinating to watch. Great slipcovers can be so fitted they are hard to differentiate from upholstered pieces, or slightly less fitted for an intentional casual look….and by casual, I don’t mean sloppy.
And most slipcovers can be washed! Beware though – if you want to be able to wash your slipcovers, choose a nice washable material and absolutely pre-shrink it! The trick to reinstalling a slipcover is to put it back on the furniture while it is still a little damp. I have one of those washers that high speed spins things almost dry – it sounds like a jumbo jet landing in the laundry room, but it is extremely efficient and I can take my slipcover out and put it back on my furniture straight out of the washer. If you don’t have the jet engine model of washer, you may need to use the dryer to get it to the slightly damp stage.
Another nifty trick I’ve seen my slipcover fabricator use is to tack things in place with these squiggly upholstery pins.
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They are great for keeping the decking straight or curved arms tucked in. We also often use them when installing bedskirts to secure them in place, making it SO much easier to make the bed without sending the dustskirt askew.
Slipcovers for some styles will require a zipper and designing the piece in such a way that the zipper is hidden or at least inconspicuous is an important consideration. And some pieces may use Velcro to hold fabric in place (as on a tailored ottoman without a skirt).
Slipcovers offer opportunities to add some dressmaker details like contrast welting, pleated skirts, buttons, ties, or trim, but if you intend to wash the piece – please remember to choose embellishments that are also washable (and preshrunk) or removable.
Slipcovers are less expensive than reupholstery largely because they are just dealing with the top layer of the furniture and not replacing any of the guts. BUT, they still take just as much yardage as reupholstery.
The best way to get a DEAL on a slipcover is by choosing fabric that is a deal (not low quality fabric – there is a difference!) and one of the best deals for fabric that is also washable, is bedding! A king size spread is equivalent to approximately 6 yds of fabric. We used a matelasse bedspread for the fabric on this chair and had the workroom use the decorative edge along the hem of the slipcover.
Another option is this company I learned about from Laurel Bern (the goddess of design blogging) called Big Duck Canvas which sells inexpensive washable 10 oz cotton canvas that is the perfect weight for slipcovers. Or you can use canvas dropcloths from the hardware or paint store as slipcover fabric yardage.
If you are very patient/talented and/or masochistic and want to try this yourself…there are many blogs with tutorials. Betsy Speert, a Boston area designer I have long admired, has these step by step instructions from slipcovers she made for her niece. And the outstanding Miss Mustard Seed blog has instructions and video tutorials on slipcovers and other DIY projects.