My New Slipcover

October 1st, 2004. Finished at last! Had I not had this week of vacation-from-paid-work in which to toil, this project would have taken me forever. As it was, it was a solid week of work, and then some if you count the prep.

Materials used were

total cost with shipping, tax, etc $213.55. Considering that a ready made one would probably have been $150-250 (and not pleased me at all), and a not-by-me-custom made one upwards of $600 (assuming I could find someone to do it for me), the money side of the deal was not bad. Not great either when you consider the opportunity cost of how many manhours I had to put in, which I'm guessing was around 30. But I definetly get a lot more personal satisifaction from having done it myself, and it's not like I would have spent those hours earning money if I hadn't spent them on the slipcover so ::shrug:: all in all, I'm a happy camper.

Since I have lots of pictures, and since it's going to be a long time before I do this again, and would like to remember what I did back in the day, I'm going to go into detail about how I went about this project. And who knows, maybe that'll help someone out there in internet-land who's contemplating a similar project of their own, so bonus. Not to mention explain my absense to people who've notice my slip off the face of the earth this week!

Prelim Work: Making the pattern

Despite a few awkward curves here and there, a couch is actually a pretty docile subject for making your own pattern from. It doesn't complain when you stick it with pins, it doesn't get bored, or physically tired of sitting still. Not to mention, all the straight lines of which the human body is distinctly lacking.

The first step was to mentally divide it up into rectangles. One over the arm, one for each half and side of the back, across the top, cusions, front of the arm rests, etc. Of course some of those pattern pieces aren't quite rectangular, but the key is to imagine the size of the smallest rectangle that can contain the irregular shape in question. So for the back, for example, I measured the highest point of the hump, added a couple of inches for seams and some extra to tuck in at the bottom, and that became the height of the rectangle, 32 inches. Then I measured the distance from the center divide to the furthest point out on the side, the maximum width the pattern piece could possibly be, and that became the width of my rectangle, 46 inches.

Once I had all my rectangles determined, I measured and marked each on cheap muslin fabric with a fabric marker, and then cut them all out. Next came the fitting. I laid each piece out where it was supposed to go on the couch, and used pins to attach adjacent pieces to each other, seam out, following the curve of the furniture underneath. I could have just left it with pins, but for a bit more thoroughness, I went back and basted the pieces together with one inch stitches, just to make sure the way the pins tweak the fabric wasn't effecting the shape any, and so that I could double-check the fit by turning the thing inside out so that the seams would be inside and trying that on.

And here's an example of a pattern piece turned inside out:

Once the fit looked good, I used the fabric marker to mark 1 inch seams, and chopped off the extra fabric, making my roughguess rectangles into actual pattern pieces. Then I took out the stitching, and voila, pile-o-pattern pieces.

And during the process, I discovered that the original way I was planning to do the seat cushions, with a separate piece for each of the 4 sides and a slit in the middle of the bottom to get the cushion in and out, wasn't going to work. So I altered my pattern for a more traditional zipper-around-the-sides option which has the bonus of allowing me to flip the cushion over if it gets dirty on the top side. Moral of the story, trying stuff out is good!

Using the rectangle figures, I set out to figure out how much fabric I would need. I started by drawing a rectangle on a piece of paper, and trying to figure out how I could fit all my pattern pieces in it given that the width was 54 inches, and then length would be however much fabric I'd need to buy. After a lot of scribbling, I determined 12 yards ought to do it, so I bought one extra just to be sure.

Thu/Fri/Sat: Making the throw cushions

I didn't have a whole lot of time Thursday and Friday evenings, so I started with the simplest thing, the two plain throw pillows, to be made of cinnebar dupioni silk. I cut a 22 inch square for the front and two 22 inch X 18 inch rectangles for the two back pieces. I hemmed one long side of each of the two back pieces, than folded that side in about 2 inches and ironed it flat. Then I laid the two pices, folded flap upwards, ontop of the front piece, lining up the raw edges of the back to the raw edges of the front, and overlapping the two folded edges by a couple of inches. Then I just sewed around the 4 edges, catching the folds in the seam as I passed over them. You could also sew the fold flat along its length, but I didn't want stitches to show on the outside.

Turned inside out, wiggled the pillow through the opening, and done for the day. The next day, I did the same for the second one while watching TV.

Saturday, I had time for the more complicated striped pillows. I'm not 100% sure I like how they look, but they are slowly growing on me. I probably should have spent more time playing with stripe width/color combinations, but I was anxious to get on to the main project, so I just went with something doable.

So I used my rotary cutter and mat to cut two 4.5" strips from the curry-colored silk, two 4" strips from the curry-colored silk, three 4" strips from the pale gold-colored silk and six 1.5" strips from the cinnibar-colored silk. I then assembled them (thank you borrowed-from-quilting chain-stitching technique! just feed 'em in one after the other, don't bother cutting the thread as you finish each) with the two wider curry strips on the outside, alternating gold and curry with a cinnibar strip between each.

Turns out I didn't like the red bars as wide as they were, and my original plan for doing this complicated exterior seam thing wasn't working out right, so I just put a fold down each red bar and stitched it from the outside, forming a ridge, which effectively narrowed the width. Then I cut the two front 22" squares from the length of my striped material, and assembled the pillows in the same way I'd done the red ones. One has a back made of the pale gold silk, and the other made of the curry-colored silk. So if I get tired of the stripes, I can always just flip them around to the plain side.

Sunday: Much Cutting

Saturday I had set up the living room for the project, putting a card table with my sewing machine in the corner, displacing the couch itself a bit and moving various furniture out of the way, so come Sunday, I didn't have anything to do but sit down and start working.

I cut a whole mess of 1.5" strips of the green jacquard and seamed the ends so that I'd be ready to pipe.

And with John's help, I managed to wrestle that 13 yard piece of fabric into some semblance of flatness on the ground so that I could place the pattern pieces on it.

Then, after a little hyperventelating (::omigod, imgonnacut, imgonnacut, noturningbacknow::) I cut the pieces apart.

Then I stacked them by group (arm pieces, back pieces, cushion pieces, skirt pieces) labelled them and called it a day.

Monday/Tuesday: Seat Cushions

Monday came, and it was time to get cracking. I started by ironing over a 1/2 inch fold on each side of  the two pieces that would form the zippered part of the seat cushion. I cut the zipper to length and laid it on the ironing board, placed the folded edges flush with the edges of the zipper, pinned, and then basted. Finally, I took it over to the sewing machine, and with a zipper foot, secured it in place.

I then attached the non-zippered cushion side piece using the sewing machine, so that I had one long strip to wrap around the sides of the cushion. Then came the hard part, actually assembling the thing.

For the first cushion, I actually basted the whole thing together, and then unbasted a small section and basted in the piping. For the second one, I skipped the two-bastings, and just pinned the first round and then basted for the first time with the piping. Having everything basted already when inserting the piping was helpful because there was always the tension from across the way and down below to give you a good idea of where the seam needed to fall. But needless to say it was terribly timeconsuming, and with a little care could be done without, so if I do it again, I'll probably go with the second method.

Either way, I started by laying the ironed top face down on top of the pillow, and lining up the zipper where I wanted it. Then I basically replicated the same process as I'd used when making the pattern with the muslin, pulling the adjacent edges together, pinning them about where I felt the seam should be, then basting in place. When I was adding piping, I would insert that between the two pieces, laying it down alongside the existing piping to get it to go straight.

Corners were of course the hardest part, and had to be coaxed. It didn't help that having been in use for 4 years, I think the cushions themselves are a little crushed around the edges.

Crossed the ends of the piping where they met, trimmed the excess fabric a bit...

... took over to the sewing machine, and using the zipper foot again, sewed right up close to the piping. Turned the whole thing inside out and put in place.

And then the next day, I did it all over again with the other pillow, except this time having already made the zippered piece the day before, and skipping the extra basting, went much quicker.

Wednesday: Arm Rests

Okay, onto the arms!

Put the fabric loosely in place, then proceeded to insert piping, pin, and baste as with the seat cushions.

I put in a little tuck under the curve of the arm, which seemed to help a bit with an underarm sag problem I was having, but didn't fix it entirely. Once it was basted, pulled it off, sewed on the machine, put back in place and repeated the whole process on the second arm.

The back part of the arm I just zig-zag hemmed and stuffed into the crevaces of the couch to anchor it in place.

Thursday: Back Rests

Drill was pretty familiar by now. Draped the pieces in place, used pins to anchor a small section of piping at a time, then basted, sewed by machine, turned inside out and returned.

Did one half of the front (top and front piece only) and then the other, and then joined those two together down the center. as with the arms, the edges are tucked into the crevasses. Only I didn't get around to hemming these, and that will definitely need to be done before I launder. Meanwhile, I imagine they're not going to unravell too badly all wedged in there. At least that's what I tell myself, because I'm definitely in need of a break!

Attaching the back was tricky, and it's not the most polished looking piece of the slipcover. First I installed a zipper between the two halves of the back, with a bit of overlap to hide it. Then I attached the top of the back to the long piece running along the top the sofa. I gathered the back of the arm rests, trying to pull it taut enough to get the fabric to cling alongside the side of the sofa (which would cause me a headache the next day, when I went to attach the skirt).

I then attached the sides of the back to the arm rests, sewed on the machine and turned inside out. Turns out that the sofa itself is not 100% symetrical. One of the "humps" is a bit different than the other, which I discovered when my perfectly fitted half, when turned inside out and thus needing to be placed on the other half, had a bit of extra poof to it. Pushed a little stuffing fluff in there, and it seems to be okay, if not perfect.

Friday: Skirt Day

Definitely the longest day, could easily have been spread out into 2 sessions, but I was determined not to be *still* working on this project come the weekend, so I trucked on through most of the day with occasional breaks.

I'd already cut out the skirt pieces from the main fabric, but I still needed to cut in the little "fills" that would peep through the folds of the skirt out of the same green jacquard as the piping, and also to cut out the muslin lining. So I did that.

Then I used the machine to turn the 4 muslin pieces into one long strip, and to join the 6 main fabric and 5 jacquard fills into another long strip. I pressed the seams, and then sandwiched the two together and proceeded to sew what I'm fairly certain is the longest seam I've ever sewn, at 28 feet.

Then back to the ironing board, where I pressed the longest seam of my life, turning it unevenly so that the fold was entirely on the good fabric, so that the muslin nor the seam would be seen on the right side. I then sewed the two short ends closed.

Next I layed the skirt on the floor, smoothed it as flat as I could, and basted the top together so that it wouldn't hang funny when I tried to attach it to the rest of the slipcover (okay, actually, first I tried to attach it, and it hung funny, so *then* I realized I had to baste a 28 foot length. But doesn't it sound so much more like I know what I'm doing if I just skip that part?)

Next I kind of floundered. The old pin-piping, baste-in-place-inside-out, sew-on-machine method proved not to be working. And remember the afore mentioned headache? Struck full force as I realized that in pleating the back of the arm rests, I'd somehow managed to hike it up so that the back part of the side was several inches higher than the front part. Which wouldn't have been such a huge problem, as the skirt was long enough to deal with being placed at the higher level all around, except that doing so put the top of the skirt too high for the front of the couch. Several other attempts to deal with the difficulties posed were made. Finally, I settled on this:

I pinned the skirt roughly in place, without folding over the raw top edge on it or on the slipcover. I paid special attention to getting the pleated corners the right width, pinned and basted those folds flat. And I actually slanted it on the sides, so that the skirt was short in front, long in the back, and wedge shaped on the side to transition between the two different heights. Thankfully, this did not turn out to look as funky as I was afraid it might, as the difference is only a couple of inches, not really noticable unless you're really looking. I marked these different heights with pins while it was on the couch.

I carefully unpinned the skirt, and then used the zipper foot to sew the piping across the top of the skirt where the pins showed me the seam was going to need to be, raw edges facing upwards. Took to the ironing board and pressed the pleats. For the portion that would be across the front, between the arm rests, I then went back and attached what I've been calling a "leader strip" of the good fabric, and then a big piece of muslin to that (I didn't feel like wasting a bunch of good fabric underneath the cushions. I put the leader/muslin bottom in place on the couch.

This effectively anchored the front of the skirt in place. All that was left was to deal with the rest of it. I Pulled it around, folding the fabric back along the piping so that the raw edges were hidden and installed a skirt hook between the two ends, so that it hugged the sofa. Just the tension was almost enough to hold it in place, but though I was quite tired by this point, I quelled the urge to leave it at that (or break out the duct tape). And so I just tacked it in place with half inch stitches by hand, in-the-ditch as they say in quilting, so that they're pretty much invisible. 

I don't imagine it's gonna get much tugging, so that should hold it for a good long time, though I will definitely want to use the sewing machine to anchor it in place before it's first wash ::pleasedontshrinkpleasedontshrink::

ooh, speaking of sewing machines, the one I used? A tiny 1960s portable machine that used to belong to my mother:

The flaps fold in forming a hard case (and when they're open, they do a nice job of channelling the fabric up and down from the plate), the pedal fits in the middle. Of course the bobbin winder doesn't work anymore, but a while back I finally figured out I could use my cordless drill to wind bobbins, so it's all good.

Final Pictures