Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tips & Tricks for Slipcovering a Recliner

I am five weeks from my due date, and trying my best to finish up projects before the baby arrives!

I wasn’t dead-set on anything particular for the nursery, but I did know that I wanted a comfortable upholstered recliner!  I shopped around last fall, and was shocked that 1) upholstered gliders are really expensive, and 2) they don’t usually come slipcovered.  I wasn’t prepared to spend upwards of $800 for a chair.  I also couldn’t believe that a piece of furniture used primarily for nursing didn’t come slipcovered!  Wouldn’t the fabric get gross over time?!?

I perused Craigslist for several weeks, and eventually came across a $50 glider/recliner.  When I went to check it out, I found it to be the perfect size for my petite frame, and super comfortable.  Sold!

Now came the hard part…making a slipcover.  I’m not going to walk you through making a slipcover here - there are very talented people out there with excellent instructions.  But I do want to share some tips and tricks I came up with along the way that took my slipcover from “gets the job done” to “pro-style”!

Don’t say I didn’t warn you: making a slipcover is not easy, or fast, or even cheap (8 yards of fabric adds up quickly!).  But if you have the skills and patience, it can be very rewarding!  This project cost $80 in fabric, another $20 in supplies like velcro and elastic, and about 15 hours of work.

1. Buy more fabric than you need

I googled the suggested yardage needed for a recliner slipcover, and ultimately ordered 8 yards.  I had a little over one yard left over, which I plan to use to make a matching dog bed.

If your fabric is directional (mine couldn’t be turned 90 degrees without losing the pattern), and especially if it can only be placed in one direction (up must be up), you should order more fabric than suggested.


2. Pre-shrink your fabric

The reason you’re making a slipcover is so that it can be washed.  Many upholstery fabrics recommend dry-cleaning only, even though they are 100% cotton.  This is because they shrink.  A lot. 

Cut a sample of your fabric and run it through a normal wash and dry cycle to see what happens.  If it comes out OK, wash and dry all of your fabric to pre-shrink it.  I cut my fabric into two 4-yard pieces to wash it.

My fabric shrunk 5%.  If I hadn’t pre-shrunk it, it probably wouldn’t fit on the chair again after its first washing!

3. Start with the largest pieces first

The smallest pieces can be made from scraps at the end of your project if you're running short on fabric, but you can never get those large yardages back once you cut them up!

Cut the pieces for the largest parts of your slipcover first.  You won’t regret it!


4. Decide on a centerline for your fabric

I had two options for my fabric - the shapes with the flowers inside, and those without.  I photographed the fabric with both ones on the centerline of the chair, and the shapes with the flowers just felt right.  I made sure to use those shapes as the centerline for all the largest pieces of the slipcover.

5. Pin your pieces together on the chair

Why take it off and on a billion times?  Just fit the pattern to the chair!

I wasn’t quite sure how to handle the odd-shaped back of the chair, so I pinned the flat back on first, then draped the front piece until everything looked right.  I never would have designed a pattern this way, but it just felt right when it was all pinned in place.

Also, start with huge seam allowances.  If you have 2-inch seam allowances to start with, you won’t be short on fabric if you have to make adjustments later.  You can trim these down once you’re happy with the entire slipcover.

6. Use any removable pieces as patterns

The seat of my recliner is removable, and even had a zip-off cover.  I removed this and used it as the pattern for the slipcover. 

On top of that, I salvaged the zipper from the original seat cushion and reused it in my slipcover.

Having a separately-covered seat cushion makes a slipcovered piece look much more professional.

For the front “legs” of the chair, you can make a paper pattern by holding up a piece of paper and lightly tracing the edges with a pencil or creasing with your fingernail.


7. Make a separate cover for the foot rest

The downfall of many recliner slipcovers is in the foot rest.  If you have a snug slipcover, the foot rest won’t want to function.  You can fix this by creating mini slipcovers for the foot rests.

Mine looked like hairnets, essentially long rectangular boxes with an elastic band around the edge.  They still didn’t want to fit nicely, so I also added straps that secured with velcro around the back, to hold them in place.



8. Use velcro instead of a hemmed skirt

My chair didn’t seem like a good candidate for a skirt around the bottom.  To give it a clean edge, I velcroed the fabric around the bottom of the chair.  One side of the velcro was attached to the slipcover, and the other side of the velcro was stapled to the inside of the chair.  This gave the finished product a beautiful and clean edge, but the slipcover is still 100% removable.


9. Secure all your seams by zigzagging or serging

All those raw-edge seams hiding inside your slipcover are going to ravel when you first wash the slipcover.  You can prevent this by going over all the raw edges with a zig zag stitch or with a serger.

10. Take care of problem areas

One reason the people listed this chair on Craigslist for so cheap was that the recliner lever had torn through the cushion seat.  This was because the rubber cover had torn, leaving raw metal exposed.  I fixed this by making the lever it’s own padded slipcover.  Look, it's camouflaged!

If you notice problems like this before you purchase the furniture, make sure you have an idea for how to fix them.  I knew I could fix this, so I wasn’t worried about it!


Look how well it turned out!  Snug-fitting, clean lines, the pattern matches up - you can't even tell it's slipcovered instead of reupholstered.  I can't wait to spend many hours in this chair with my baby girl!!!

Hopefully these tips will help you make an awesome slipcover for a chair in need of a little love!  I’m so pleased with how this one turned out - for a fraction of the price, I have a comfortable, custom recliner/glider for my nursery, and it’s washable!!!

You might also be interested in these posts:

Facelift for a sad sofa
Overdye a comforter for a new look


  1. I've always wondered about the leg rests on those things... So smart!

  2. OMG...can you please make me a slip cover for my sons toddler recliner?!

  3. Great job! Looking over many tutorials on slipcovers and yours is the most form fitting I've come across. Looks like an actual reupholster. Thanks for taking the time to share your tips!

  4. I need to do this on a double recliner with a middle console. I am hoping your easy to follow instructions will help me do this.

  5. This turned out wonderfully! I only hope to be able to tackle my project just as well.

  6. Nice! Would you recommend a thick fabric so it lasts longer?

    1. Yes! I used washable midweight upholstery fabric for this cover, as well as the second one I made earlier this year :)

  7. Thanks for your post. I am looking for tips on slipcovering a sleeper sofa and I think some of your ideas can be adapted for that.

  8. I fully agree that just a little extra work makes it look like a custom upholstery job instead of a slip-cover. I've always made separate slipcovers for cushions. I even avoid zippers, because I hate sewing on zippers, by making the cushion covers similar to pillow shams, with an overlapping panel opening in the middle of the back and then Velcro or snaps to secure it.

    I never thought of using Velcro for a chair that didn't want a ruffle skirt, that's genius. Wish I saw this before I did a modest cover on the hideous lazy boy my mother in law cursed me with. It was a similar modern style to your chair but with lime green and yellow zigzag fabric. I had to finally accept that it wasn't going to vanish and cover it but I never thought it looked good with a skirt. Maybe someday I'll use this trick!

  9. Thanks for your help. I just bought a trailer and the recliner theatre style are covered in crappy plastic, not even good fake leather. I bought a slipcover from ikea for the loveseat (I have to remove the bottom cushions which are attached since (I guess) it is a sofa sleeper. I am going to attempt to make slipcovers for the recliners.

  10. WOW! What a fantastic job you made of this! I've been considering making loose covers for my sofa and 2 armchairs for ages now, but couldn't work out how I'd deal with the foot rest, but having see your tips, I think I can figure it out now, so thank you so much for sharing, even if your little one is in school now, lol.


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