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Tips On Making Slipcovers With Drop Cloths

I had no idea there would be such an interest in learning how to work with drop cloths in a home decor application, but several readers seemed very excited about it.  I aim to please, so here it is!

First of all, let me say that I was skeptical and hesitant to jump on the drop cloth bandwagon.  I have always made my slipcovers out of white cotton twill and you can purchase that for about $3.00/yard at Wal-Mart.  What finally pushed me to try the drop cloths was a pair of wing chairs I wanted to cover that had a high contrast blue and white plaid fabric and it showed through my usual twill.  I needed something that was a heavier weight.  The drop cloth was my cheapest option.

So, I went to Lowe’s and bought a couple of Finish Factor Canvas 8oz weight drop cloths.  They run anywhere from $5.00/piece for a small one up to about $30 for really, really big ones.  I’ve been purchasing the ones that run about $13.00.  It takes about 1 1/2 4’x 15′ to cover a wing chair with piping, pleats, and a “T” cushion.

So, here are the things I have learned along the way…
1.) Drop cloths are very stiff and dingy-looking right out of the package.  They at least need to be washed.
2.) How to bleach a drop cloth: I know it may sound silly to write out directions for how to bleach something, but I’ve tried several different ways and this is what is the easiest and most effective.  Put your drop cloth in your washing machine.  Start the regular wash cycle and allow the tub to fill with warm water.  Add a couple of cups of bleach and make sure the fabric is fully submerged.  Stop the cycle when the tub is full.  Close the lid and leave it for several hours.  Once it has soaked for a while, continue the cycle and allow it to run.  Repeat this entire process a second time, but add laundry soap in addition to the bleach.  Repeat this one last time, but only add laundry soap, no bleach.  Dry in the machine on high.  If you’re making a slipcover with this, you want it to be preshrunk, so that’s why you want to use warm water and a high drying heat.

3.) Drop cloths are thick.  Make sure you get heavy duty needles and use a new one when you’re starting a drop cloth sewing project.  I think I broke four needles on my wing chairs and one on my dining room chair slipcovers.  If you’re fighting with your machine (and it’s not the bobbin thread), try using a new needle.  When the needle is dull or slightly bent, you are going to have all kinds of problems.

4.) Because of the thickness of the fabric, drop cloths do not ruffle well.  If you want a girly touch, pleats will be less frustrating.  Trust me.

5.) Despite all of the bleaching, they will never be perfectly white.  They end up being a grayish off-white.  They also have a little bit of a nubby, rough texture and look slightly rumpled.  If you want something that looks perfectly white and crisp, you will not be happy with drop cloths.

6.) Drop cloth canvas will tear in a straight line, which is so handy for people like me, who don’t like measuring.  This means, if you want your pleated skirt to be four inches wide, you can make a small cut at the four inch mark and tear it the rest of the way.  The line will be perfectly straight.  A lot of home decor fabrics will do this as well, but not all, so be careful!
7.) And my last tip is to use the hemmed edges to your advantage.  You have four hemmed edges on each drop cloth, so use those for an edge you would need to hem anyway.  This saves tons of time and sewing.  I used the hemmed edge for all of my dining room chair skirts.  One less thing for me to sew!
So, are you ready to give drop cloths a try?
As a P.S., I wanted to answer a question I had about washing the painted slipcovers.  Acrylic paint will survive just fine in the wash.  It will get a little softer and slightly faded, but that only adds to the antique grain sack look.  I have not tried bleaching the fabric after it’s been painted, but I don’t think that will be an issue, either.

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  1. those are stunning! how is it that we have the same sewing machine, but mine wont do that for me? 😉

  2. I wish I had more time to slipcover! Those are lovely. I have found the drop cloths from Wal-mart to be lighter in weight but more on the tan side. They might be easier to work with.

  3. I really have been thinking of giving this a try!!! Thanks for the tips!!!

  4. love what you've done!!! such talent!!! i cannot sew very well but would like to try to make a simple slipcover.
    big lots has slipcovers too really inexpensive! several sizes and textures to choose from!((i've used them for curtains))

  5. Wonderful tips. Thanks so much!

  6. So cute and you make it look doable. Thanks for the hint about using the hemmed edges to our advantage.

  7. Great tips! Thank you.

  8. I'm so excited to try making one! I have drop cloth curtains and just love the texture of them. I've long wanted to try slipcovers, but have been hesitant. Thanks for the tips!


  9. You are good. And it is not silly to give bleaching instructions, I wouldn't have known to do these steps!! I wondered how your drop cloths looked so good compared to what I see in the store, thanks for sharing your secret!! (if it was one) Janell

  10. This looks wonderful! I love 'elemental' fabrics.

    This is a good hint, not so much an economy as a convenience: sharpen your needle periodically when working with a heavy fabric, by swizzling it on your knife sharpener. You can hear the difference, your needle doesn't 'plunk' through the fabric and the whole thing goes more smoothly.

    I sew linen almost exclusively and this has saved me many a trip to buy new needles.

  11. Thank you, thank you for this great drop cloth post – I feel like you are walking me through the process!

    You are smart to use the size you mentioned – I used a really big one (that was actually used as a drop cloth first) and it was ridiculously bulky and awkward. I had to take it to the laundromat to even wash it. I will test the post-project-sewn bleaching and let you know.

  12. Thank you so much for taking the time to explain the process. I prefer taking advice to "inventing the wheel" any day.

  13. Thank you so much for taking the time to do such wonderfully detailed tips. I have some 'lovely' 1970s vinyl ottomans that I want to slipcover so am jumping on the drop cloth bandwagon. I really appreciate your fabulous tips and I love ALL of your gorgeous drop cloth projects. ~ Tina x

  14. Great tutorial on drop cloths. Such detail…thanks so much! Yours turned out wonderfully.

  15. Great job on the tutorial, detailed instrutions, just what I need for a sewing prject, since it's not one of my strong points. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Good to know! I like the way yours look, so I would most likely bleach them too if I do a project. Also, good tip on not being able to do a ruffle with it. I was thinking of using it to fashion a bed skirt, but I may go another fabric route then.

  17. Fabulous! I really don't know where you find the time to create such amazing projects. These are stunning!

  18. These are really great tips on working with drop cloths. I love the way your little chair turned out, so pretty !

  19. YAY!!!
    and double-YAY for bleaching tips! LOL .. honestly! Mine is currently sitting on my laundry room floor, awaiting your instructions and that is NOT what I would've done.
    So thank you! You rock Missy :)

  20. I have made a few slipcovers, always with decorator fabric or the cotton twill and have loved them, but for the price. So the tip on Walmart fabric was great ($3.99/yd) and also the drop cloths how-to. I am planning on doing another slipcover for my tufted sofa I picked up at a thrift shop,and am wondering what you think about the tufted part showing through…worried it will be a waste of time if I do the slipcover. Hmmm, have you ever done a tufed piece?
    Also, I find your posts very valuable…right up my alley!
    Amy @ Maison Decor

  21. Thanks so much for these tips!!! I have been wanting to try this for a while. I have some very vintage very plaid chairs that I have been wanting to redo…this will work great!!!

  22. Thanks for the tips!!! I would like to add a little tip that many of us never think about…….. When you use bleach, you may not know it, but even after it has been rinsed and washed the bleach is still active in the material and slowly over time causes damage, here is a link that explains this and talked about what to use in the rinse cycle……..

  23. The slipcover is stunning. I like the extra touch with the piping (I am so bad at piping). But I am not sure if I am ready to give up on my cotton for the drop cloth; even if it might withstand two toddlers better:)

  24. I only found your blog a couple of weeks ago, and have enjoyed reading it. I've learned so much!

    Thanks for generously sharing your expertise!

  25. THANK YOU! smiles.

  26. OHHH I LOVE you! THANKS for this tutorial! I think I may have to tackle this for my reading nook!

  27. Hooray…wonderful post…but for your readers who commented about cut yardage at Walmart…don't know about your store, but ours no lnger sells cut yardage…only pre-packaged in 3 yd. lengths…

    Boo Hiss…

  28. Thank you for posting this!!! I have been debating on trying to slipcover my wingbacks in drop cloths for the last two months and this is just the info I needed! I had wanted to ruffle the bottom, but good to know about the pleating.

  29. Wow! Gorgeous! I almost wished I'd waited now to use drop cloth to recover my monster recliner. Not much sewing on my project because of the moving parts – more staple-gun use. I washed the fabric, but didn't even think to bleach it. Wished I would have now. I still plan to add some pleated accents to the chair, and will surely use your suggestions when I start on that part of the project.

    Thanks for a great tutorial!

  30. My drop cloths are in the washer as I type!!! Thanks for the great tutorial…wish me luck!

  31. You can also add about 10 dryer sheets in the dryer…makes the fabric much softer.

  32. Coming in late on this…but how would you change the washing instructions for those of us with front loading washers? They are great for water saving, etc, but when you are looking to soak something…wellll, not so great! :-)

  33. Rachel – I've not done this, but I would think that you could do it in the bath tub and then transfer it to a plastic bag, transport it to the washing machine to spin the water out of it and then back to the tub for round 2. It's a bit of a pain, but it would get the results you want.

  34. Rachel, When I had a front loader, I would use a large rubbermaid tub for bleaching or tea staining. Put the tub in your bathtub, fill it with water and soak the material. Dump out the water/bleach and repeat. Then, put it in the wash with soap.

  35. I think you're my newest, most favorite person ever! I love your work!

  36. I love your drop cloth slip covers and recently bought a small couch I'd like to try slip-covering. Have you ever tried dying the drop cloth fabric? I'm curious if it would dye well to perhaps a light blue.

  37. About to start my very first drop cloth slipcover project thanks to your wonderful tips! I have a front-loader (that will be my last) so I'll be using the rubbermaid container method for bleaching. Thanks again! :)

  38. How do you make pleats? I cant figure it out lol Thanks!

  39. Where have you been all my life!?! Thanks to you Miss Mustard Seed, I have the courage and to FINALLY start my slipcovers.


  40. AHHHHHH Thank you for your
    drop cloth answers !
    I am getting ready to
    try a slipcover on a chair
    that I have had forever and
    LOVE drop cloth fabric !
    I love the nubby texture ~
    I am so excited to
    start ~
    Than you again!


  41. Been in love with the light canvas slipcover look for forever and now I can do it!!!

  42. Another good source for canvas drop cloths is Big Lots. They don't always have them (in their paint area), but when they do, they are about $10 for the 9'x12' size.

  43. Je me suis agréablement promenée dans votre blog et je m'autoriserai une prochaine visite… Bisous

  44. Thank you so much!!!

  45. Thank you!! I'll have to try something a little different as I have an older front loader that doesn't fill up and doesn't have a soak cycle. But I got the gist of what to do. I'm excited to try!!
    Patricia :o)

  46. Adore these!! As I no longer have a sewing machine how much would you and Mom Charge for a loveseat slipcover in bleached dropcloth ?

    Art by Karena

  47. I searched for "making slipcovers with dropcloths" and here I am again. 😉 I got a new washing machine last fall and it's the high efficiency kind which saves on water and now I can't dye things like I used to with my old machine. I guess it will be the laundramat for me! 😉 We bought a new couch but kept the loveseat and I plan to make a slipcover for it until I can afford the chairs I want. :-) Thanks for the tips.

  48. Thanks for all your great thoughts on drop cloths. I've been using them right out of the bag (not for slipcovers yet…) Now I know it is best to bleach and shrink them! Thanks so much, you saved a lot of people a big headache down the road.
    I love your site, you are a great mentor!

  49. Love the idea! I am trying to decide how to recover some chairs i have that are big time hand me downs. I bet a drop cloth would work well… and maybe some fabric dye would spruse it up even more. thanks for the idea!

  50. okay I know you said you didn't need to describe how to bleach them but…I put in two drop cloths just as you described how to do it but one came out with blue splotches all over it?!!? I know I'm blonde but have you run across the same problem or do you know how to get it out? If not, I'm only out the $10 but it would be nice if I could not screw something up for once 😉 Thanks for all your inspiration and the time and talents you share!

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