Slipcover or Reupholster? Which to Choose?

Reupholstered chair
This chair was reupholstered – it was formally orange velour.

When it comes to having chairs and sofas redone, there’s usually two choices: slipcover or reupholster. But, which to choose? Either will give you a lovely end result – a new outside garment for a piece of solid furniture – but slipcover or reupholster? Having this type of sewing work done for you can be expensive, too, if you’re hiring someone else to do it. Which to chose? Reupholster or slipcover? Do the work yourself or hire someone?

Here are some points to consider in making that decision and they involve love and desire. Who knew furniture could evoke such emotion?

Slipcovered day bed and cushion cover
My slipcover projects: a day bed with pillows and a cushion with pillow – easier to sew than a slipcover for a sofa but still good for napping.

Slipcover or Reupholster? Which to choose?

Love: do you love the chair? the sofa? If so, invest the money and pay to have your piece reupholstered or slipcovered. If the furniture is well made and quality workmanship, then do it. If the furniture is cheap and flimsy, don’t bother and keep looking. I think second-hand or vintage furniture is usually well made and better constructed than what most of us are buying today. To buy quality, new furniture today is very expensive. I have purchased new furniture (well, it was 20 years ago) and have been very happy with it but it was when I worked for Ralph Lauren and I got a big, fat discount on my purchases.

Slipcovered ottoman and chair
A cozy reading corner in my daughter’s bedroom with a chair and ottoman. I pulled the ottoman from a dumpster years ago!

I’ve also paid nothing (free chairs are plentiful on street corners in my neighborhood) or spent as much as $25 for a chair at an estate sale. I’ve had chairs reupholstered and been happy with the results. I haven’t had a chair or a sofa slip-covered but I’m not opposed to the idea especially since it can be washed. This sofa of Annie’s of Plenty Perfect is very appealing to me because fitting a slip-cover or cushion cover back on can be a bit like re-stuffing a sausage. Annie’s sofa slip-cover seems like it’s easy to wash and put back on quickly.

Pillows are easier to sew
Pillows are a good starting point for slipcover sewing and they’re smaller. These are in our office otherwise known as “The Lincoln Bedroom.”

Desire: do you want to sew a slipcover or tackle reupholstering? If so, go for it! According to every sewing book I’ve read, they’re easy to make and if you can sew, you’ll save a bundle of money. I’d practice with inexpensive muslin fabric, first. I’m always happy when I make mistakes on inexpensive fabric rather than sewing with a more expensive, finish fabric. I like to sew a practice version of a new pattern, even if I’m just sewing a skirt.

I’ve only sewn slipcovers for ottomans, tissue boxes, or other small items because a chair or sofa is too much of a project for me to think about. If I keep my expectations low (and small) of what sewing projects I can start and finish, I’m much better off. Don’t get me wrong – I have lots of sewing projects that are almost done – but I know better than to start a chair or sofa because that would take me a while.

Tissue box slip-cover
Yes, tissue boxes need slipcovers, too.

Be sure and use upholstery fabric, too. Upholstery fabric is heavier and thicker than regular fabric or home furnishings fabric. I had a chair reupholstered and didn’t use upholstery fabric and it’s now wearing through in several spots. It’s lasted about 14 years which isn’t too bad but I’d rather not spend the money to have it re-done again. My strategy is to drape a wool throw or blanket over the worn spots and act surprised if anyone notices what’s underneath.

Wool throw on a chair
The wool throw is hiding worn spots on my chair. My strategy is to act surprised if the wool throw gets moved.

This was a question asked by Ruthie. Thanks, Ruthie! That’s what I would do and I hope that helps.

What would you do? Slipcover or reupholster? Sew it yourself or hire someone else?

Go Gingham related links:

iPod slipcovers – small and cute -you can easily sew these
This began as a joke but it’s super cute: wine bottle slipcover from an old dress shirt
What every room needs: a tissue box slipcover
Toilet tank slipcovers – I know this is wrong but I couldn’t help myself
A tray table with a slipcover – because tables need slipcovers, too
Ottoman slipcover hides shoes, socks and whatever else my kids stuff under there!
A tour of “The Lincoln Bedroom” is here

13 thoughts on “Slipcover or Reupholster? Which to Choose?

    1. Oh, Minnie, thank you! You’re so sweet. It’s just practice really. If you can follow a recipe, you can sew. I also really enjoy doing sewing projects or re-do projects that make our house a home. Thank you 🙂

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  1. Very timely! I blogged just yesterday about having a chair reupholstered. It was my first time having it done and I’m thrilled with the results. But, as you said, it was a chair I loved and a family piece as well, so I was happy to spend the money.

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    1. Julie, I love how your chair turned out! It’s a great piece and even better because it was your husband’s grandparents’ chair. You have great fabric taste, too. I really like what you have it covered with. Thanks, Julie!

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  2. I like your strategy of acting surprised – I’m using the same one with a throw to cover the back of a leather chair that the cat scratched accidentally with a quick take-off. We’ve done both in the past – we’ve reupholstered auction find sofas and our love seat is currently slipcovered, though I’d like to have it reupholstered again soon. It’s worth keeping good furniture by refashioning it instead of discarding it and buying new.

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    1. Heidi, acting surprised also works when you put a hole in your last pair of tights and you’re late for a meeting 😉 not that I know anything about that!! I’m sorry your cat did that to your leather chair. You’re right about keeping good furniture. Thanks, Heidi.

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  3. Thanks for the shout-out, Sara! That slipcover over a slipcover was one of the smartest things I have ever done and I highly recommend this trick for ease of use! I have personally had many things slipcovered and frequently recommended it for clients. I just think it is so practical for cleaning! The woman who has made slipcovers for me uses muslin to make a pattern directly on the piece of furniture and I love how the fit comes out. I am sure, with your sewing skills, that you could slipcover ANYthing if you had the time!

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    1. Annie, you’re welcome. I’ve always loved the look of white slipcovered furniture but would never dream of doing it because of it showing the dirt. I think your solution is super smart and it should just come with all furniture! Thank you, for the nice compliment, too.

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  4. Great post! I bought new slipcovers for my sofa and wingback chair last spring from Surefit (no, I’m not getting a commission from them–just a satisfied customer) and love them. With small children, I’m a big fan of being able to toss things in the washer. For anyone who plans to purchase a slipcover for a sofa (or chair with a removable cushion), I highly recommend a 2-piece slipcover–one for the cushions, one for the base piece. You don’t have to readjust them every time someone sits on them, and I think it looks nicer.

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  5. Thanks, Kris! I’m so glad to know this about Surefit because I’ve often wondered if they really worked. Yes, even with big kids, it’s good to toss things into the washer!! And, I agree, I wouldn’t want to adjust (or fluff and puff as I call it) every time someone gets up from sitting down. Thank you for your tips!!

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  6. The Surefit sofa covers have an adjustable elastic band at the base of the back side of the armrest. There is material which envelopes it to cover it (which is good because my sofa floats in the middle of the living room). Not sure I’m describing it well, but it allows me to adjust the cover so it looks fitted, not baggy. My previous cover (which lasted through 8 years of constant use) had ties–I like the elastic band better.

    I agree, it’s always nice to hear from someone who has tried a product to get the real story!

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