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tufting a sofa | fabric covered buttons

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I totally understand that tufting is intimidating.  It’s tedious and it can look really bad if it’s not done well.  And, if you’re tufting from scratch, it involves math.

Geometry at that.

So, if you’ve shied away from tufting, that’s okay.  You are in the company of many, many other good people who would just rather buy a piece of furniture than deal with tufting.

I generally don’t buy tufted pieces for this reason, but this one sort of fell in my lap.  It was a leftover from Lucketts last year and the dealer, my friend Edie, gave it to me for free.

Who can say no to a free Belgian sofa, tufting or no?

After eye-balling it for a few months, I finally mustered the gumption to tear the sofa apart and start putting it back together.

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I’m not a tufting rookie, which is probably why I’m not eager to tackle it again.  I actually made a tufted headboard (and wrote a tutorial about it) for my book.

Have I talked you out of this, yet?!

Ha!  It’s not my intention to scare you away, but to let you know what you’re in for.  It’s not hard.  It’s just a pain.  And what makes it a pain is also what is going to make it look really good in the end…

And that is having lots of tufts and lots of padding.  Tufting looks wimpy and “DIYed” when it doesn’t have enough tufts and when there isn’t enough filling behind it.  If you can get those two things right, your tufting will look great and it will be worth the effort in the end.

Lots of tufts means lots of buttons.  That means lots of buttons that you have to cover with matching or coordinating fabric.  You can buy pre-made fabric-covered buttons, but it looks really sharp when the buttons are custom and match the sofa fabric perfectly.

 

how to make fabric covered buttons

What you’ll need…

  • button cover kit  with mold and pusher (I used 5/8″ for this project)
  • extra “cover” buttons with wire backs
  • scissors
  • fabric
  • pencil
  • small hammer

For this sofa, I need 44 buttons, so I bought one package of buttons that came with the mold & pusher, tools you need to cover the buttons…

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…and two “economy packs” of buttons without the tools.  That was a much more economical option, since I needed so many.

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The mold is the clear rubber piece you push the button into and the pusher is the blue plastic piece you use to push the back onto the button, pinching the fabric into place in the process.

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Usually, on the back of the package or inside, is a template to use for cutting the fabric to the right size.

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Cut that template out…

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…and trace it onto your fabric…

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…and cut the circles out.

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Place a fabric circle centered over the opening of the mold (face down) and then put a front piece of the button on top (also face down).  Push both into the mold with the pusher.

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If you’re using a thin fabric, you can skip this step, but I was working with a thick hemp/linen, so I needed to trim some of the excess fabric to reduce the bulk.

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Here’s how it looks trimmed…

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Just make sure you don’t trim too much!

If you’re working with a thin fabric, like a quilting-weight cotton, use two layers of fabric or one layer of interfacing under the fabric, so the metal button doesn’t show through.

Push the fabric into the center of the mold, so it’s tucked into the curve of the button.  Place the back of the button, wire-loop-side-up, into the mold and press into place with the pusher.  With a thicker fabric, you will need to give it some gently taps with a small hammer.  Easy does it, because it’s an aluminum button and a plastic pusher.

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So, this is what it looks like when it’s put together in the mold…

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Push the button out of the mold and there it is…

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Of course, the first one will take you, like, 20 minutes, but then you’ll get faster and more proficient at button covering. You’ll be a pro by number 43.

There will be some of this along the way, though, so order a few extra buttons…

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 Only forty-one more to go…

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PS – A few of you have asked where I bought the tight-woven burlap fabric.  I haven’t received it in the mail, yet, and I’d like to see it in person before I endorse it.  You know, to make sure it’s not lame.  I’ll share the link if I like it.

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Comments

  1. Love making covered buttons! Can’t wait to see more about tufting.

  2. Christi weaver says:

    Just a tip I use when making buttons—put a drop of hot glue on before putting the back plate on. A little bit of insurance against the back popping off.

  3. I upcycled a stool as one of my first upcylcing projects. It was far too scary to try and tackle tufting, so i cheated! I ordered new foam for the stool!

    You can see my stool here:
    http://www.homemadebyhail.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/bedroom-furniture-set-and-design.html

    Maybe after following your next few posts I might tackle this again in the future!! Never say never!

  4. I have used these buttons often and they are wonderful….HOWEVER, I would strongly advise putting a tiny dab of hot glue on the back of the button before you push the backing on…I tufted my couch and several of the tops popped off after time. Takes just a sec but saves a lot of headache later!

  5. Ha Christi…sounds like you and I have had the same experience…lol!

  6. Maybe I’ll start by making tuft pillows. :)

  7. Ha! Perfect timing! I was planning to try and reupholster a tufted Victorian chair that’s been sitting in my house for 2 years now and waiting for a “professional” to do it, but I decided to give it a whirl myself. I was concerned about fabric covered buttons because I didn’t want to buy the big, professional contraption for button covering just for one chair. Good to know Dritz makes those little button covering kits! I bet my local Hancock Fabrics store would have them.

  8. lisa Bivona says:

    oh wow, I know the pain of covering buttons. I was burnt out by the time I got to covering my buttons, so my chair? back is without buttons. My fabric was just to thick, even trimming excess off. When I read this post earlier, I wondered if you were going to forgo all the buttons. I will start picking my fabrics with button in mind. lol!!!

  9. Sharlene says:

    I will pass on a tip that someone gave me years ago: you may want to dampen the fabric a bit before the covering process. It makes the fabric give more and form tighter around the curve of the button. Of course you would need to verify that the fabric is colorfast.

  10. Kathy says:

    You can also make “cheater” matching covered buttons by using a regular button with a shank. Make a matching fabric “yo-yo”, put the button head down in the center of the yo yo and gather it around the cap of the button. Tie it off really well. I would use dental floss or button thread. The hard part is figuring out the size of the yo-yo, not too big, not too small… I’ve done this in a pinch, and you can’t tell the difference! So excited for this upholstery series!!

  11. Guaraciara Rezende says:

    Olá, eu moro no Brasil. e sou artesã, gostaria muito de saber como faço p comprar este kit para encapar botões. Achei super prático poder encapar os botões em casa. Será q poderia me ajudar, indicando como faço p comprar este kit. Desde já agradeço. Guaraciara Rezende

  12. MaryS says:

    Boy-wish you luck with this. I’ve never had any luck with these kits. As soon as I tried to install them on the piece they pulled apart – not even sure glue would help. I have to get my buttons covered at an upholsterer… and it’s pricey if you have 40 of them! Yikes. Hope you have success. Look forward to watching this process. Thanks for showing us.

    • marian says:

      I was actually just given a button-making machine today by a friend who bought it at auction from an upholstery shop that closed. That this is awesome and is definitely faster than making them by hand, but most people aren’t going to have that tool.

      I used this kind of button for the tufted headboard in my book and none of them popped off as I as making it or afterwards. It may make a difference what kind of fabric you use or the brand of button, perhaps?

      • Heather Anne says:

        Oh my – this is timely! I just sent fabric to an upholsterer to cover buttons for me because I had such poor success with the thick textured linen that I am using for a large tufted ottoman. I gave up! I figured the cost of having them made was well worth it!
        I have covered a lot of buttons and only a few have ‘popped’ for me, but the kits are getting cheaper in quality. I have a stash of older button cover kits and the shank is deeper and the aluminum is sturdier than all of the new ones I bought recently.
        I can’t wait to see your finished couch! I’m excited about your button machine gift – you’ll certainly get lots of use out of it! Hey, it could be a side business for your boys one day if they get the hang of it. It’s kind of fun!

  13. jo @Simple Pleasures Vintage Reimagined says:

    Eddie’s style is gorgeous and you got a steal! Looking forward to seeing the end result!

  14. Candy Hill says:

    Hi, Marian…I found something perfect to put those buttons together, in case, a person’s fingers get sore and the fabric is thick. You can take an appropriate sized socket end, place over back of button, but inside the edge, and tap with hammer. No broken plastic, aluminum, or sore fingers! And is really fast! :)

  15. “Make sure it’s not lame,”…LOL! This is why I love you. You are so normal/funny. Keep being you.

  16. Marian! Before you get much further on the tufting of the sofa, consider getting just the buttons made at an upholstery supply shop. I did the exact same method as you shared in this tutorial for a chair and after a month of sitting on the chair every day the tops of the buttons popped off and I had to hot glue them to get them to stay. And I really pounded those suckers until I thought I had them super tight and secure. I vowed to not do them myself again… It requires much tighter/better made buttons for frequent use furniture. Im about half way done on a pair of French chairs that I’m reupholstering and this time I took my fabric to a local upholstery shop that had a button maker (it’s a bigger machine) and they made them for quite cheap– like 40 cents a button I think?… And they are MUCH tighter, more secure.. Just professional. I know you are probably half way done with tufting by now but it still would save you (or whoever buys the sofa) from gluing tufting buttons back on later down the road. Good luck with the rest! I hate tufting so much. Haha!

  17. I guess I’m the only one who took the cheap and easy route when re-upholstering anything tufted. I cut out my circles and then hot glue them on the back. Once tufted, you can’t even tell these aren’t “properly” done. It saves the added expense of the new buttons, too.

  18. Mary T says:

    I’ve tried these and it is very difficult for me to do!! I could not get 1 button in those darn things. I didn’t use the hammer technique but I thought about it. Maybe I will try again. Thanks for the inspiration!!

    Mary T.

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