this sofa will be the death of me…

Marian ParsonsFurniture Makeovers, upholstery79 Comments

I don’t know about you, but I always start projects with great optimism and enthusiasm.  And most of the time things go smoothly.

This is not one of those times.

Stripping the upholstery was pretty easy, because three of us worked on it in turns…

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And painting the frame?  No problem.

I added a layer of batting to the back, so it would soften the foam a bit…


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And I used the pieces of fabric that were removed from the sofa as templates for the new fabric pieces.

That back piece was huge!  I happened to have an antique hemp mattress cover (that would’ve been stuffed with hay or feathers, depending on how affluent the owners were) that was long enough once opened up.

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We pinned all of the pieces in place and cut them out.  I cut the back piece much larger than the fabric template, because of the tufting, but cut the rest to size.

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And I used my new magnetic bowl that a sweet reader sent me for Christmas.

Life changing.

No more spilling my pins!  And, as a little bonus, the bowl also sticks to my metal stool.

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I spread the large piece of fabric over the back, making sure it was centered from left to right, top to bottom.

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Everything up to this point went exactly as planned and expected.  Smooth sailing.

And then I started the tufting…

Enter black clouds and ominous music.

I’ve tufted before and it was time consuming, but it didn’t take every ounce of my patience and make me break out in a sweat.  It didn’t take me over an hour to make six tufts.  SIX!

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I was about ready to throw in the towel after two tufts, but knew I just needed to figure things out.  It was tufted before and it can be tufted again.

Oh yes, it will be tufted again.  

I just could not get that stupid needle through all of the stinking batting under the foam!  It’s like 6″ of batting and foam and the needle just would not go through.  And the harder I pushed, the more the fabric on the back side would give.  I pulled until my hands turned red.  I used pliers.  I actually sat on the floor, pulling on the needle with the pliers with my feet pushing the sofa away from me.  I tried cutting holes through the batting to make way for the needle, but it was too thick to get scissors through.

I kept wandering to our supply closet, hoping I would find something that would help.

I finally figured it out.  First of all, I wore gloves, so I could grip the needle and push/pull it through better.  Second, I drilled a hole in a small board, so I could press on it as I pulled the needle through.  The pressure from the board prevented the back from giving so much.  (I’ll have to show a picture of it, because it’s a little hard to explain.)

I actually let out a cackle when it worked and I was able to do one tuft in about 2 minutes instead of 10.  Kriste looked over her should at me.  Eyebrows raised.

Of course, this all seems totally ridiculous when I see people on YouTube whipping their needles through a sofa as they’re tufting, but they must have some strength that I just am not in possession of.  Either that, or I’m missing some crucial step or tool that would make sofa tufting a total dream.  (If you know of that, please don’t let me go on with my board with the hole in it!)

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Now that I have my system figured out, I am planning to pace myself and do 10-12 tufts each day.  Maybe I’ll get in a groove and be able to do more, but I feel like that’s all I can handle in one day.  And retain my sanity.  (I was cackling at the sofa after just four tufts…)

If I do suddenly go silent on my blog and social media and I’m found on the floor of my studio with a tufting needle in my gloved hand…

…the sofa should be the first suspect.

For more on the tufted sofa series, follow these links…

part 1 | stripping & painting the frame

part 2 | making fabric covered buttons

part 3 | troubles with tufting

part 4 | tufting success

part 5 | burlap backing

part 6 | braided jute trim & tacks

part 7 | tufted sofa reveal

this sofa will be the death of me…

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79 Comments on “this sofa will be the death of me…”

  1. Oh dear! I feel for you. It’s awful when things don’t go as you’d expected. But looking on the bright side: the tufting you’ve done so far looks incredible and you are Miss Mustard Seed so you will succeed in the end. So hang in there! I’m looking forward to seeing it finished. I’m sure it will look amazing.

  2. Marian is the batting polyester based? Did the sofa have cotton batting before? Sometimes synthetics are a pain to get through. Have you tried candle wax or soap on your needle? It may help it slide through. Also I don’t know how long your needle is but there are doll needles that are 5-9″ long. Hope this helps!

    1. I’m having no problem getting through that top layer of poly batting, because I just pull a hole in it and there is already a hole in the foam… It’s the cotton batting that is under the foam. It is so dense that it takes a lot to get the needle through. I tried hammering it, but it just bounces back! I’ve never had anything like this happen, so it’s some crazy stuff!

      My needles are 8″ and 10″ long and made for tufting, so they should work.

  3. Ooooh my Godness !!!!
    I’m a french reader, following your adventures with curiosity and admiration since, oh, many years now.
    Today… I’m laughing.
    Yes.
    I know, this is not very nice.
    But I can’t help, because of the way you describe the situation.

    You’re WonderMustard , you can do it !

    1. Yeah, that is a thought! The problem is then having the needle follow in the same path as the awl. 🙂

      1. Try a stitching awl that has a hollow handle that holds a bobbin allowing for punching through and threading in one motion.

  4. Special needle, indded! That’s what you need!
    The structure of the batting must be the first barrier. You might prepare your holes before pocking into the whole stuff!

    Another reader from France 😉

    Good luck and stay Zen… this is just another Sofa!

    1. It’s the batting that’s underneath the foam that is causing the problem. It’s a really dense cotton batting and the needle just does not want to go through it!

      1. I feel really crazy suggesting this, since I’ve not tackled that type of a sofa but is it possible to drill a hole through the batting first? Or would the hole just get lost because of the first two layers of batting and foam on top?

  5. You have me rolling on the floor laughing and extremely glad I am not tufting a sofa. The work so far on the sofa is gorgeous….can’t wait to see the finished piece and I know you will be glad also to have it in your rear view mirror !
    STAY safe and sane in the snowy weather coming our way in PA xox

  6. I am in awe that you are tackling it at all! I would LOVE to have a sofa like that but I could not re-cover it – it would have to come to me room ready! What you have done so far looks amazing….baby steps! You are so willing to learn how to do all these lovely repurposing projects….you go this!

  7. You are a brave woman. Tufting is so hard and there are so many! I bet there is a cardboard type layer between the battings. They may even have a hole for the thread and needle, but good luck finding it after is has been covered up with layers of foam and batting. I think the person who recommended the awl is probably right. Making a hole first might work. Good luck and I can’t wait to see it finished.

  8. Sounds horrid! I’m pretty fit, but have bony little hands that don’t have much strength no matter what I do so I really feel your pain. Great idea to pace yourself.

  9. I so enjoy reading and learning from your furniture re-do posts! Thanks for your transparency in showing your process of perseverance. It truly is encouraging to know that even the most experienced undergo frustration, trial and error. You WILL beat the sofa!

  10. I have a sofa exactly like this one bought it 30 years ago from a small antique dealer who said it came from an estate sale in Miami Had horsehair stuffing I recovered it in a light pink/rose with small dots and i still love it. it would look beautiful in a neutral also
    can’t wait to see your results

  11. Those 6 tufts are so much better than I could create on my best day. You’re an intrepid soul and I have no doubt you will succeed!

  12. I know you will figure this situation out and the end result will be fabulous! You have the talent and ultimately the patience to see it through to the finished product. Love the sofa!

  13. I have been enjoying your posts for a few years now, but just had to take a minute to say you are right to cut that sofa into smaller bites. Otherwise, your enthusiasm might quickly turn to rage and the sofa might turn itself into a tax deductible donation. (Yes, I did, but only after my fingers looked like pin cushions and my trapezius muscles were knotted and sore.)
    On the positive side, you should be able to skip your spin class and free weights after a few laps around Mr. Tufts. So far it is looking pretty fabulous.
    Keep up the good work and no matter how much it whispers to you to come back, walk away until your back stops aching!

  14. Ok, my hands are just hurting reading this. I don’t have a solution for you…sorry! Sounds like you’ve found something that will work if somewhat sliwly. It’s going to be beautiful. Best of luck!

  15. I will remember this when I find a project taking way longer than I thought. Have you ever heard of Bernard Palissy, the French Huguenot potter? It took him 16 years to figure out the secrets of enameled pottery. Hopefully it won’t take you that long to finish the sofa :).

  16. If you try the awl, maybe push the needle in tight against the awl before you pull the awl out? Just a thought from an inexperienced imagination. Beautiful tufting so far.

  17. Hmmm, no, I will never ever do tufting! Yikes, it’s way more than I can handle! You go girl, I can’t wait to see the finished project! Good luck!

  18. Ok. First clip the area with sizzors where the needle goes through. No need to take batting into the hole. Next do NOT use the button for tufting. Only tie the button in after you tuft with thread. To much pressure for buttons to hold. Make sure to place cotton or fabric in the knot in back to hold the knot. Gives it strength and will keep the knot from popping through in back. I say all this because once tufted and you lean on back nothing is worse than a button or tuft to pop. ( ask me how I know)

  19. I’m wondering if using a dremel tool with a tiny drill bit might work to make the path easier? I use that when book binding and hand sewing through pages. xo

  20. Your tufting is beautiful!!! Quite some time ago, I struggled with getting an upholstery needle through multiple layers of drapery and header, and a woman who owned a shop suggested special fingertip grippers. They worked wonderfully, but I can’t seem to find the exact product online just now. Perhaps one of your readers would know? I’ll also take another look around my house to see if I can still find the packaging.

  21. I feel your pain really BUT what you have done so far is so beautiful! You’ll have a spectacular result, keep at it!!!

  22. You are hilarious! I can just picture you struggling with that sofa! But I have to say that the tufts you HAVE done look gorgeous!

  23. Oh, but what a beauty it will be! I have a chair I have to tuft… But that is only 12 tufts. Good luck. I am so excited for the After.

  24. I can’t bring myself to just slipcover my sofa yet! I’ve watched your videos, gotten a book on slipcovering, but I haven’t gotten to the fabric store yet. I think I’m in approach-avoidance mode! Thank you for sharing your struggle and letting me think, “If Marian can do that, I can do this!” At least I hope so….

  25. Marion, it seems like a horribly hard job to me as I have trouble opening a bag with my weak hands, but what a treasure you will have when you are finished. It looks beautiful already. Maybe it will lift your spirits to know that I just finished a small piece with MMS Milk Paint. I have never tried it before and am so happy with the outcome, I think I am a customer for life. I follow you all the time and admire your skills..Happy Weekend..Judy

  26. Not only do I enjoy reading your blog but love the great people that gives the heartfelt comments for you. Such camaraderie! (had to look up that spelling) Couldn’t do without my daily Miss Mustard Seed and friends FIX!!!

  27. Uh oh. I have 6 Carolina mahogany chairs that have the rose at the top. They had red velvet, tufted. I’ve stripped half of the chairs, and would like to modernize these chairs by making the wood pale, and NO tufting on the seat or back. Now after reading this, I realize that the tufting would be a challenge, so glad I don’t I don’t want them.

  28. Now I know why the upholsterers in the city where I used to live charge $25 per tuft, over and above the usual labor charge, for reupholstering a tufted piece!

  29. Oh pls don’t give up. I can see it. It will be beautiful. I know you won’t give up.

    I only wish I lived nearby to be able to participate in your workshops and visit the flea markets Miss Mustard Seed.

  30. My first upholstery piece was a tufted chair 22 buttons in all so I can feel your frustration. Mine had the cotton batting also plus I used more to make it more comfy. Good luck!

  31. I worked for an upholsterer and he had a needle with a wood handle. You might check a upholstery supply co. Good luck.

  32. i’ve never upholstered anything in my life, and probably never will. But i am always up for a challenge and refuse to let ANYTHING get the better of me! You mentioned that you used a drill to make a hole in a small board” that you pressed against as you pulled the needle through. What about using a thin drill bit to sort of make a clear pathway that you could then push the needle and thread through? Im curious as not what type of thread you use to make the tufts to be sure they won’t ever ‘pop’ later on? Cant wait to see how you win this battle. The 6 tufts you did so far are beautiful and the sofa will be AMAZING once you show it who’s boss!

  33. Got an old chair with leather seat and back that was tufted. I had great plans to just follow the sample piece like you did. Thought I’d lose my everlovin’ mind…. needless to say, the chair is finished and it IS NOT tufted. Such is life!

  34. Some things certainly can be trying, so sorry,just can’t wait till your finished it will be so beautiful.

  35. I have seen a couple of vintage chairs recently that had tufting on the backs but the upholstery was an ugly color or pattern. I’ve tho’t of buying them but have refrained because not having reupholstered anything before I was leery to try a first project with tufting. Now that I see the effort and frustration you’ve been having with that couch, I don’t think I would ever attempt it. On the other hand, I think, well, with the right tools and Marian’s eventual success I could probably do it! I just wonder if people who do this type of upholstery have some secret for making tufting easier. Your followers seem to have some good ideas, but there must be an upholstering book or something on-line that would address the difficulties you’ve been having.

    I am confident that you will figure it out and succeed in taming that beastly sofa, Marian. You are one determined little lady! Then, all the rest of us can benefit from your stick-to-itiveness (is that even a word?)!!

  36. Thanks for a picturesque description of your battle with the tufts! Good laugh for today…pace yourself for the next (how many?) tufts left to do?

  37. I have some of my great grandfathers old tools and there is this little tool that has become my favorite a leather handled awl. Sometimes I use a small hammer to make a pilot hole through old stuffing with the awl. The stuffing becomes packed and hard after years of use. Love all your posts!!!!

  38. Way to go you! I’m so impressed & I think you are amazing! You attack anything & everything until the job is done & done well. 🙂

  39. You are more adventurous than I would be! That sofa would have a smooth back instead of tufted…lol It’s going to be beautiful!

  40. Do NOT use any sort of drill or dremel tool!!! You will make a mess! The batting will wind around the tool and … Don’t go there. Is the sofa up on upholstery horses? If not, you may want to do that. Then, lay the sofa on it’s back, on the horses and sit on your little stool and methodically, one by one, wearing gloves or using a piece of skid proof backing, pull the threaded needle through. One hand behind the sofa where you want it to come through. If you look at the back of the sofa you should be able to see the holes where the buttons came through before. And, as someone has suggested you really need to use upholstery cotton with the button twine to hold it tightly on the back. This is a very time consuming project! It takes a long time for upholsterers to learn their trade and perfect their technique. Good luck! 🙂

  41. Oh Marian, I know exactly how you feel but, I’m sure is going to be worth it! Like my husband would say… hang in there and don’t let go! 🙂

  42. I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time! I can relate! You must have some serious self-control to be able to keep from working on that tufting until you’re bleeding and drooling! Lol

  43. Hi Marian,

    When I’ve tufted I’ve used a very long and big needle (I think it’s embroidery). I’d say mine is 5 inches long. It has really helped me get through some serious foam. I bought mine at Hancock fabrics, but I imagine Joann’s carries it too.

    Hope you can find your groove!
    Riley

  44. Some of my favorite finished pieces caused me the most in-process frustration…it might be a rule ! I’m sure it will be lovely.

  45. Good luck! You will have super human strength fingers at the end, but it will look fabulous… Every tuft will remind you of it!

  46. My kids are looking at me funny as i laugh out loud reading this post!! Many times have I myself emitted a cackle at some project piece that resists my LOVING intentions to make it pretty again! I so love how you put it! Keep it up, sister! Your determination will win the day (or at least the tufting war with that sofa!?)

  47. I hate to even mention this, but I use a cadaver needle. It is curved and very strong. Maybe you can find one on the Internet. I work in health care and perform Medicolegal Death Investigations and a friend who works as a mortician actually gave me some. You asked for a suggestion so that is mine. Sorry if it isn’t what you expected to hear…welcome to my world.

  48. Why are these projects ever as easy as they are when we read about them online or on our friend’s blogs? I often feel like that with my painting so I think I’ll wait a good long time before I try a tufted sofa!

  49. Hey Marian, this might be a stupid question but are you using a tufting needle with the tabs on the top for your fingers to push it through? If it makes you feel better, I can already see this sofa finished and it is going to be beautiful.

  50. I watching your posts….because to be honest I have avoided tufted furniture…looks so scary!!
    But you give me encouragement, you always seems to do a great job on everything . I can see me on the floor pushing with my feet and legs too!! Only difference is, I am about 20 yrs older than you….whew!! I am “pulling” for you to win this battle!! Love you MMS.

  51. I can relate. I save tufted headboards that were similar nightmares. But I saw a blog post recently where she had punched holes through the foam and drilled holes through the wood, then inserted a small metal pipe through both layers. Then no pushing of needles was required – simply tilt the furniture slightly and the needle slides through the pipe. Genius.

  52. What kind of needle are you using? I’ve been doing upholstery for about 2 years (after about 150 hours in classes) and what you really need a LARGE needle. Something like this – http://www.amazon.com/Dritz-9021-Upholstery-Needle-4-Pack/dp/B0009V2PZS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1454517984&sr=8-1&keywords=upholstery+tufting+needle. Or this – http://www.diyupholsterysupply.com/417/needlespins.html. And upholstery twine – http://www.diyupholsterysupply.com/button-twine.html that is very strong to use with the needles and buttons. I hope this helps and GOOD LUCK!! I know how hard and frustrating it is to do tufting!

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