October 7, 2015

How To Choose The Perfect Upholstery Fabric

I didn’t know that choosing fabric for our big green couch makeover would be as difficult as it was. The idea was there, but I just wasn’t finding what I wanted. Anywhere. I even went as far as buying the yardage of fabric I needed from a local source only to decide it was completely wrong. I scoured countless websites and ordered lots of swatches. Nothing was winning until I read randomly somewhere that West Elm sells fabric by the yard! This changed things. Except, the swatches I ordered still weren’t what I was looking for, so randomly Jordan and I were in the Tulsa store and were sitting on a sectional we really liked (and I was internally regretting my recent purchase and pipe dream of reupholstering a couch) and asked if the fabric came by the yard. It did! So it was set- eighteen yards and 3-4 shipping weeks later, we had our fabric!

All this to say, fabric is not easy to choose and it is also not something you want to skimp or settle on. You’ll be seeing it everyday and when you are tired of it, you’ll have to go through the whole process of re-reupholstering your couch. Something I do not recommend.  So here are some guidelines and questions to ask yourself (and your family!) to follow when choosing your upholstery fabric.

1. What fabric is on the couch/chair do you have now? Do you like it? What do you like/dislike about it? One thing my husband and I thought was that we would love is leather. I love it on everything, so I thought. I quickly learned I don’t enjoy leather couches. They are cold, sometimes sticky, and not the most comfortable option out there. I would love it as a couch that was more formal, and less used. So leather was out for us. My second option was velvet….we decided we can save this option for a wingback chair instead. So looking at the furniture we currently had made it easy to make the decision of what we were looking for, which leads me to….

2. What will you be using this piece of furniture for? What space are you using this couch/chair in? A formal dining or living room that is less used? A playroom? A living room where you like to eat dinner on the couch, take long Sunday naps and lay back while watching an episode (or five) of Friends? We chose the latter. Making the vision of what we are using the couch for was our filter for all further decisions.

3. Choose some inspiration. This is the fun part! What does your dream couch look like? What fabric does it have? You can find this out by reading the description on the website. Don’t limit your inspiration to Pinterest and furniture websites! I developed a habit of checking out every.single.couch.  I came across. It was and still is the first thing I notice about a room. Take note of the fabric, if it is comfortable to sit on, especially for a long period of time. The good thing about taking inspiration from couches at friend’s homes, coffee shops, offices, etc. is you can see how it has held up over time.

4. Order swatches. Some stores charge you for swatches, but it is worth it if you are really interested in the fabric. Buying the fabric without seeing a swatch can lead to wasted time and money (been there, done that). West Elm kindly sends all swatches for free and you can also pick them up in the store! I ordered a few swatches I didn’t like as a small square and then saw the exact fabric on a couch and loved it…so if you can see it in action, that is best.

5. Get the right fabric. Not all fabric is equal. Not all fabric works for the same purpose. When you are searching online, make sure you use those filters and look for upholstery fabric. If you are looking in a store, make sure you aren’t looking near the baby blanket fabrics! Usually, upholstery and home fabrics are towards the back. When in doubt, ask someone who works there!

6. Think outside the box. I do want to know that even though not all fabric is equal, you don’t have to stay in one box. I have a friend who made slipcovers with drop cloth for an incredible price and they have held up fantastically. So if you are on a tight budget, consider using a heavy duty material that isn’t made just for upholstery projects. You can even dye the fabric to make your perfect fabric!

7. Determine how much you need. There are lots of resources out there that estimate how much you’ll need to reupholster a couch or chair (like this one). But I don’t think they are all exact.  Do some measuring before hand. It is better to have excess than not enough. This can be crucial in choosing fabrics to make sure you don’t fall in love with a fabric that only has 10 yards left when you need 20.

8. If you don’t love it now, you never will. I can’t tell you how important this is. Choose something you love! Don’t settle. We almost went with a seafoam greenish color that I liked and the idea of something different was nice, but after working hours upon hours on this gray couch I know I’d be sick of seafoam by now. I’m so glad I didn’t settle on it! If you don’t find the fabric of your couch dreams now, you will. Be patient and you’ll find it!

Here are some great online fabric sources:


West Elm



Online Fabrics

The Leather Hide Store (Also check out this reupholstery guide!)

That is my list of how to choose the perfect upholstery fabric, what are your tips?! Any favorite fabric stores that I’m missing?

My couch is finally complete and I’ll be sharing the complete before and after on here in the next week!