How To: Slipcover a Reading Chair

updated Jul 4, 2019
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Time: 2 Weekends
Cost: $120

This is one project that most (including ourselves) consider TOO HARD. Recovering a reading chair? Forget it. But NicoleMari’s patient, smart, inspiring instructions will soothe your nerves and give you confidence. NicoleMari submitted this project to our January Jumpstart Contest and tied for second place in her category (Thanks, Nicolemari!)…


Tell us the tools and resources you used for the project:

I bought all my materials and notions at, and the foam at Economy Foam and Futons on 8th St and 6th Ave, New York (though I found quite a few foam stores online that will custom cut foam for you).

For prepping the chair
Batting (crib-sized, 45×60 inches)
1″ foam

bread knife
staple gun

For the slipcover

Upholstery-weight fabric (Amy Butler’s Nigella fabric in Ivory Woodfern)
1 spool all purpose thread
1/4 yard cheaper fabric for the seat


measuring tape
Rotary cutter
seam ripper
straight edge
sewing machine (borrowed from a friend)
Visio, or graph paper


Share step by step instructions for how you completed the project:

Over the past months, I’ve been redecorating my living room on a tight budget with fresh paint on the walls, new framed photos, and restored bookshelves. But the one drawback in this makeover is that my favorite reading chair stands out even more as an eyesore! For years, family and friends had begged me to buy a new one, but I love this chair because it’s the perfect proportions for me and it’s really comfortable—perfect for spending a lazy afternoon reading with my cats. I thought about having it reupholstered, but quotes were way out of my budget ($400 plus materials), and the chair is so old that reupholstering would basically mean remaking the chair. So I borrowed a friend’s sewing machine and decided to make a slipcover, the final step for finishing my brand new living room.

This project requires a lot of patience and perseverance, but I don’t think people should be discouraged from trying to make their own slipcover. You don’t have to be an expert sewer, just a patient one. I used a borrowed sewing machine, and haven’t sewed anything since high school, and in two weekends and just over $100 I reclaimed a favorite chair that was pretty much ready for the curb!!


The first step was measuring the chair and figuring out how much fabric I needed. I divided the chair into the following sections and measured the width and length of the widest part:

Chair: inside back, outside back, outside arm (x2), inside and front of arm (x2), seat, front of chair
Cushion: top/bottom (x2), front, side (x2)

I then added 2 inches to each measurement so I’d have a 1 inch seam allowance on each side.

Using a Visio page (or a piece of graph paper) to represent the length and width of the fabric, I drew a scaled down rectangle for each section of the chair and laid them out to figure out how they would fit. Once I was done, I realized I needed 6 yards of fabric! This step is really important because it lets you figure out how much fabric you need before you order it, and you can work out all the problems of cutting the fabric without cutting into expensive material. (For a rough estimate, you can add up all the length measurements.)

My next step was to prep the chair. If your chair is in better shape than mine, you won’t need to do much, but my chair was sagging and threadbare and the cats had shredded the arms and corners (down to the wood in one place!), so I wanted to pad it out a bit. I stapled batting over the arms and across the front of the chair using a staple gun. I also pulled the skirt off because I didn’t want the slipcover to bulk over the skirt (using pliers to remove any stubborn staples). I also added a bit more foam to the cushion. I wanted to replace the cushion entirely, but foam is more expensive than I realized and I had a tight budget, so I bought a one inch piece for $15. To cut the T-shape, I placed the cushion on top of the piece of foam and traced around it, then used a bread (or serrated) knife to cut the foam.

Finally I was ready to sew my slipcover!! Using my Visio drawing as a guideline, I cut out the fabric for the slip cover (make sure to pre-wash your fabric). Measuring the length and width of each rectangle on the drawing, I cut the fabric using a straight edge and a rolling cutter.

Once I had each rectangle, cut it was time to fit the pieces to the chair and sew. My original plan was to put the fabric on inside out and pin along the lines of the chair like I’d seen in countless DIY shows. However, I quickly figured out that method didn’t work very well at all. What fit when the fabric was inside out didn’t fit when I turned the fabric right side out. So I came up with a method for pinning that works much better:

1. Lay one piece of the fabric flat right side out on the chair.
2. Lay the other piece of fabric right side out on the chair, then fit it to the line of the chair and fold it against the other piece where want the seam to go.
3. Horizontally pin the two pieces together as close the seam as you can. (You’re basically basting with pins here, I used a running stitch to baste a few of the more difficult areas, like corners).
4. Remove the slipcover from the chair.
5. Fold the fabric so your seam is at the edge of the fabric, then iron.
6. Flip the fabric inside out and pin vertically to the crease made by ironing.
7. Sew along the crease made by ironing.

I started by fitting the inside back to the chair, using darts, then starting from the middle of the chair, I pinned the inside back to the outside back. Then built out from there, finishing by attaching the sides to the front of the chair. I made a separate cover for the cushion, and used Velcro to fasten it. Once I was happy with how the slipcover fit, I trimmed the excess seam allowances and finished the edges with a zigzag stitch.

Finally, I hemmed the slip cover by lying on the floor and pinned the hem to the right length (I laid my hand on the floor and used that as a measurement, so the hem was about 1/4 inch from the floor).