It used to be that customizing your nest with fabric — upholstery, curtains and bedding — meant shelling out for an interior designer or trawling Craigslist until the ideal, mint-green, mid-century modern sofa showed up. But an explosion of DIY tools (online tutorials, more readily available textiles) and easier and cheaper ways to hire pros mean that even non-hedge-fund managers can afford to move beyond Crate & Barrel comforters and white Ikea chairs.
“Fabric gives you a unique look,” says L.A.-based designer Kyle Schuneman, author of the new book “The First Apartment: Cool Design for Small Spaces” ($25, Clarkson Potter). “It’s not like, ‘Hey, I have that chair, too!’ Choosing your own fabric and upholstery sets you apart and tells your own story.” Here are some ideas to get you started — whether you can sew or not.
Projects with punch — but no sewing skills required — include decking out a lamp shade (all you need is glue, cloth and a plain shade) or re-covering the seat cushion of a dining chair or bench, something you’ve probably seen countless times on HGTV. “Just unscrew the seat bottom, drape the new fabric over the cushion, and use a staple gun [$20, hardware stores] to affix fabric to the cushion,” says Shannon Hase, who runs Arlington-based Yuppie Decor (Yuppiedecor.com), a vintage furniture and furniture-rehabbing business, with her husband, Aaron. The same kind of technique also works to make a bed headboard from some plywood, foam, batting and your chosen fabric.
Pillows are one of the easiest projects for novices. All they need is a little bit of simple stitching, which you can do by hand or with a sewing machine. Or go designer Kyle Schuneman’s route and use Stitch Witchery fabric tape, a fusible bonding web that can adhere two pieces of fabric together with a hot iron. Projects with straight lines and basic shapes are easiest for beginners; there’s only so much you can screw up. “Start with something simple like place mats, a table runner or napkins,” says Francine Stroud, fabrics buyer at local sewing store chain G Street Fabrics.
Or, Call in the (Cheaper) Pros
Still, turning Great-aunt Evie’s Victorian wing chair into something more downtown D.C. than “Downton Abbey” might require home-ec skills you don’t have. “Reupholstery is kind of a science,” designer Kyle Schuneman says. “For things that take a lot of wear, if you don’t do it right, they’ll be loose and saggy and look like a sad muumuu.”
And upholstery can be pricey, costing around $1,000 for a sofa, depending on the fabric you choose and the labor involved. But if you score a neat bar stool or love seat with good lines on Craigs-list or at Miss Pixie’s, it might still be less expensive — and cooler — to rehab it than rolling into Pottery Barn for a beige sectional.
For simple projects — pillows, a shower curtain — you can buy material and hit up the dry cleaner (just give very specific directions and bring your own pillow insert, sold at West Elm, Pottery Barn or fabric stores). Stitching up a 16-by-16 pillow should cost $20 to $30. Many Etsy merchants also offer to-order work; just search with the words of what you’re seeking — “custom dust ruffle” or “custom toaster cover,” etc.
You can also order custom cushions through Cushion Source (Cushionsource.com), which is particularly good at patio furniture pillows. Custom window treatments can be bought through the Shade Store (Theshadestore.com) or Smith + Noble (Smithandnoble.com).
Many professional upholsterers operate in the area. We’ve had good luck with G Street and Rockville’s Urban Castle Interior Solutions. The latter, which tends to be less expensive than average, charges $520 to reupholster a club chair and $900 for a sofa, which doesn’t include the cost of the fabric. That can be worth it if you have a well-made older piece. “The old cliche is true; they did build things better years ago,” says Paul Carter, co-owner of Urban Castle. Another source: the just-launched, local Estateofthenation.com, where Kathy Kunkel deals in re-covered vintage seats. “Owning a staple gun is so much fun,” she says.
Be a Clothe Horse
Looking for a tweed for your armchair or a floral for a lamp shade? Match the type of fabric to its use: thicker fabric for upholstery, lighter linens or cottons for curtains. Pillows can be made from almost anything — faux fur, an old sweater, flannel. Fabrics are generally priced by the yard, with costs varying greatly, from several dollars a yard for remnants to more than $100 a yard for velvets. So where do you find it?
Locally, you can buy upholstery and craft fabrics at G Street Fabrics (Gstreetfabrics.com), Calico Corners (Calicocorners.com) and Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores (Joann.com). Ikea (Ikea.com) and West Elm (Westelm.com) also sell material by the yard.
Try Fabric.com, Fabricguru.com, Contemporarycloth.com and Calicocorners.com. For hipper fabrics, look for such names as Dwell Studio, Amy Butler and Marimekko. Etsy also sells fabric, including some made locally; that’s where Arlington-based Sarah Jackson sells her hand-dyed batik fabrics (pictured, right; Etsy.com/shop/jacksonfabricarts, $20 to $50 a yard). And if you aren’t finding anything you like, design your own material at Spoonflower.com.
You don’t even have to purchase things by the bolt. Old tablecloths can turn into seat cushions, and vintage curtains can be sewn in to pillows. Katie Briscoe, who writes the local blog DIY Del Ray (Diydelray.com) with Leslie Duss, has used bathmats to cover cushions. “Go to a thrift store and find a great, big pair of jeans and make it into pillows,” she says.