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the awl that quite possibly saved my life


Remember my struggles with the tufted sofa?  I’m not usually paranoid about inanimate objects, but I felt like I needed to keep an eye on that one.  It silently threatened to “do me in” with its seemingly bulletproof batting and ridiculous amount of tufts.

I finally learned how to speak a language this sofa would understand…


Let’s just say that the sofa got the point.  It understood the awl perfectly.  (Jeff thinks I should’ve said it understood “awl-fully well”, but I just couldn’t go that far.)

The wooden handle of the awl and the sharper, thicker needle allowed me to push through all of the layers and make a way for the thinner upholstery needle.  (For those who asked about the needle, I was using a needle made for tufting, so it was relatively thick, sharp and six inches long, but it wasn’t enough to get through this sofa.)


So, I would poke the awl through and rotate it to create a clear hole.  I could actually see daylight through the created hole (most of the time) and I was able to get the needle straight through.



 I ended up being able to do 25 tufts in one afternoon and then finished the remaining 15 yesterday.  I still got blisters on my pinkies from tying all of the knots on the back of the sofa, but the experience was greatly improve by the awl and I haven’t resolved to never tuft again.

Each tuft is secured at the back of a sofa with a double-knot tied around a piece of batting, which holds the knot securely in place.


And the sofa is really coming along!  I still need to staple the “shirt tails” of the back of the sofa, but I plan on doing that tomorrow, along with the back and trim.


Since I was using an antique hemp mattress cover, there were seams and I just went with it.  If you’re doing this “the proper way”, you hide the seams in the diamond pattern of the tufting, but you know me…   I like to just go with it.


Some people are going to hate the seams, but I think they are charming and an homage to what this fabric used to be.


This is the original stitching that held the mattress closed after it was stuff.  I backed it with a smaller piece of hemp fabric, so the yellow foam wouldn’t be visible through the gap.


And then it’s on to the cushions.

I can hardly wait.

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  1. Omgosh! It looks absolutely AMAZING!!! So worth the effort! Can’t wait to see he cushions!

  2. Rebecca M says:

    The sofa is beautiful…………seams not so much. You do beautiful work with what you have. If you don’t keep it somebody else will love it! I love your blog!

  3. Janine R says:

    Love the tufting, but really dislike the seams. Not only unsightly, but I don’t think they will hold up well over the long haul.

  4. Tufting is beautiful, also don’t like the seams.

  5. I am proud of your persistence! What a labor of love. I like the charm of the seams showing, it’s cheeky, in regard to an upholstery style that is so often formal. I can’t wait to see the next step!

  6. P.S. Thank you for sharing your awl trick! Good tip!

  7. sandi says:

    Well I guess if there was a survey, I’d say’ no’ to the seams also. This is a sofa, it will get a lot of use and those seams will eventually pull apart (especially when you said that you added batting to NOT see the foam). It’s not going to be so beautiful when those seams start to fray.

    I think with all the time spend on those beautiful tufts, I would have one leaned on the ‘perfect’ side for this project.

    There’s always a lesson with your projects, and for that your readers will always thank you for that! :)

  8. Maggie says:

    No to seams, looks like it need reupholstering.

  9. What? I LOVE THE SEAMS!!!! Love them love them love them!!!!!!! I completely get it, the seams elevate this piece, give it soul and style and such an individual story! The imperfections are what make this so beautiful and perfect, I’m knocked out and wouldn’t change a thing. I spent 8 years working with Anthropologie, and I have to say this setee would have been so very at home with our associates, clientele, and merchandise. Bravo for your brave choice to keep this piece so special… its art!

  10. Robin Leach says:

    I love the seams, too! It is beautiful! I wish this sofa was in my living room! I admire your sure pays off!

  11. Marion, I am again amazed at what you will tackle!! It is lovely….seams and all! While you purposely
    create with imperfections, you teach. So when I work on a piece and have to make little compromises (mistakes) , I can still feel a sense of accomplishment…….after all that is the beauty in a piece to me. I love the worn , weathered, and loved.

  12. It looks so great! I especially love the seams…they look like scars, and scars have stories. Perfect!

  13. Sheyenne says:

    If that sofa is missing, I confess to stealing it. I love it seams and all….

  14. Julie says:

    I like the seams. They are a reminder of our own flaws and imperfections and the way the Father loves us in spite of them.

  15. Lesley says:

    Wait, did I miss a post? Did you pull and staple the edges AFTER finishing the tufts? How did you get in to the bottom back, just shove it in there? And the deck, was that part of the back, or a separate piece? I know you’d said get the full look after tufting with plenty of cushion, which I can see now, just wondering how you got in there where it’s hard to see what to staple to.

    • marian says:

      Yes. I did the tufting first, leaving the edges of the fabric unstapled. I then stapled on the decking, pulling it through the back, and then stapled the back of the seat (the tufted fabric on.) I still haven’t stapled the “tails” that are pulled through the back, but I’ll do that next time I spend more time with the sofa! :)

  16. I have a major tufting project waiting for me… Where did you find the lifesaver awl????

  17. Looks great! I’m about ready to tackle my first wing back slipcover using your tutorials. Any advice on working with drop cloth material?

  18. Sandy says:

    Gorgeous sofa. You do amazing work! If I was going to buy it I would pass due to the seams, sorry. I’m sure some folks won’t mind. I’m just being honest. The rest of your work is amazing! I wish I could make slipcovers. I’m so impressed the way you reupholster furniture and tufting….wow!

  19. Susan says:

    The sofa looks great! I have a similar one that needs to be upholstered. It belonged to my grandmother and I had it redone years ago. It’s time again. Thinking about a drop cloth this time. Any thoughts?

  20. AMAZING!!

  21. MaryS says:

    OH MY GOSH…. having done just a little with the “buttons” on a headboard and bench, I’m complimenting your accomplishment. That’s quite a hard thing and you nailed it! Congrats! I’ll have to invest in an awl the next time I have to deal with buttons. It’s beautiful. And just what we all expected from Miss Mustardedseed. :)

  22. Susan Alps says:

    Yea! Beautiful! I knew you could do it!

  23. Great Job!!!!!! Have been waiting to see this!

  24. Denise Potter says:

    I love your perservance! You did it! This will be a gorgeous piece when you are done .

  25. So .. maybe a stupid question here – but how did you do the buttons? I see the cheezy kits and then I see the button making machines which are wildly expensive … how did you do it?

    • marian says:

      When I did the tufting for my headboard (a project in my book), I used the “cheesy kit”. For this one, I was able to use a button machine. One of my friends bought a lot at an auction from an upholstery shop that was closing. She ended up with two button makers, so she gave me one! It worked so well, but I know it’s not a practical purchase for everyone.

  26. Wow looking good!! Can’t wait to see it all finished :) Great work as usual Marianne

    Lauren | Lovely Decor

  27. Sheila says:

    I personally love the seams and time will tell about how they will hold up. The one thing I’d like you to demonstrate is how to fold the fabric as the diamonds are created while you are doing the tufing. I can’t figure that out from your post.

  28. Alice says:

    By now, you surely must be thinking that, ” if I spent that much time on getting blisters, why the heck didn’t I just go ahead and do an upgrade on the fabric as well.” So, now, I ask you, “why?” That seam looks like a bad surgical scar done by the hospital’s janitor. Surely, you’re not that hard up!

    You ask, you got it!

    • marian says:

      Aw, I love the stitches. I love celebrating things that are old, worn, used and repaired, so I don’t mind them at all. I know it’s not to everyone’s taste, though, so you are definitely entitled to dislike them! :)

  29. Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous!!!

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