the awl that quite possibly saved my life

by | Feb 4, 2016 | All Things Home, Furniture Makeovers, Tutorials, upholstery | 84 comments

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.


  1. JoanMarie

    Hi Marian! LOVE the seams! The couch is going to be spectacular – beautifully done!

  2. Julie @ follow your heart woodworking

    I am one of those annoying people who couldn’t live with the seams, but I still think you did a fabulous job on the tufting and the couch looks so much better already!

    • Kimberly

      I, too, am one of those annoying people who normally couldn’t live with anything that is meant to be ‘perfect’ yet doesn’t turn out that way, Julie, though I must say in this case that I LOVE everything about this sofa, seams included! I think because there are a bunch of them in random places, and knowing the history of the upholstery material, all that really adds a ton of charm to this piece. It’s a very special, one-of-a-kind piece that I’d love to own and would happily live with. Marian, you’ve done a beautiful job with it thus far, I’m sure the finished piece is going to be gorgeous. I love that you beat the tufting into submission and didn’t let it get the better of you! Go, girl!

  3. Leah Prevost

    Wow! It looks gorgeous! I love the seams 🙂

  4. Karen

    Ooh I think I’m in love! It’s so beautiful. Are you keeping it or selling it?

  5. Joan

    It’s amazinggg!
    Love, love, love, how you went with the seams, hand sewn touch, sort of a quilters, make-do patchwork look..nice farmhouse rustic touch,…
    these seams, hand sewn, that’s classic…it adds alot of character of the materials, it’s beautiful..
    hey and the right tools make all the difference in any end result, eh!!!
    Way to persevere and find them Marian!
    (IF you see this, a quick question…re your hemp sheets..just wondering, would you call that the medium weight hemp you used….and is it only workable with a heavy duty sewing machine if I slipcover with that weight for my dusty barn family chair that I plan to re upholster for my first project…(straight forward, no arms, just a back and seat with no tufting)…or could I use my My EXCEL 18 W by Janome ….it can sew a jean hem if it’s not tooo thick in the leg seams..hmm…, if you know?…..the fabric you used looks like it’s sort of softer, not too stiff, or thick..? medium weight of your hemp sheets, is good for my simple chair maybe???….sorry for all the questions!

  6. Teresa

    I love the sweet original stitching in the seam. So glad you left it. The seams tell a story. ?

  7. Saskia

    I knew you would pull it off! Beauriful work. The seams add history to the piece.

  8. Dorene @ Seasonal Chapters

    The sofa looks incredible. Your perseverance is paying off with outstanding results and you are truly inspiring. I love the history and story that this piece holds and can not wait to see it finished. Thanks for sharing this project.

  9. Betsy

    I love the seams so much! They’re magic. That one hand-stitched wonky one? So perfect.

  10. Laura C

    Love, love, love.

  11. Tanya

    What kind of thread are you using to tie the buttons into place? It is seriously thick! I have a settee waiting to be reupholstered and it’s tufted. After reading about your struggles, I may decide to go with just a smooth back and skip the tufting, but I’ll wait and see what the settee thinks before I commit.

  12. Tammy

    Wow! The most tufting I’ve ever done was 7… that had to have taken forever. But such a beautiful job!

  13. katienearchicago

    Can see the beauty in the hand-stitched seam, allowing it to tell the story of the past. But having so many visible seams are a distraction, to me. The ‘make-do’ style conflicts with the more formal tufted grace of the piece. Others will love it and no doubt you will find a very happy buyer.

  14. Shelley


  15. Anya

    I wish I had the heart-eyes emoji here. Its just beautiful!

  16. Nancy

    I personally think the seams and tufting are so pretty and charming, but a couch like this would never survive in my house with kids who think couch is for gymnastics and dog who thinks its her personal bed. Someday I can have a white tufted couch.. Someday… BTW do not give up Marian,- finish strong with the cushions

  17. Karen

    Love the sofa, can’t say I love the seams.

    Saying that, you are a trooper for sticking with it. I love all DIY projects but have never gotten excited about upholstering. You make it look easy.

  18. Jenny B.

    Every time you post about doing upholstery, I have a renewed respect for the job, Whenever I finally get my chairs reupholstered, the upholsterer will earn every penny. It looks like awl-fully hard work! 🙂

    • Carrie Schindler Schwab

      Jenny, my sister and I took an upholstery class at our local community college, and it IS a lot of really hard work. My hands have never been so tired after all of the staple-pulling, string-tying, and tack tapping! And we weren’t doing anything nearly as complicated as the projects that Marian takes on, so I also have great respect for what she accomplishes. I agree that paying an upholsterer is worth every penny! It takes lots of patience, real talent, and strength to do a good job! (My class project, an ottoman, is a bit wonky, but I love it because I did it myself!)

  19. Emily

    I dream of couches like this! It’s beautiful even now so I can’t wait to see it when it’s done!

  20. Jody

    I love the sofa and especially love the seams! Can’t wait to see it finished!

  21. Karen

    Great job, it’s so lovely!

  22. Julie

    I love this sofa SO MUCH!!! You’re just amazing Marian, do you anticipate a YouTube tutorial on this one? I think I might tackle a ’round bed’ with a tall tufted curved ‘shell’ headboard now….

  23. Suzy

    Thank goodness for professional upholsterers!

  24. Melissa Leach

    What a beautiful journey! I’m not a fan of the seams. I am however one of your fans. You are an inspiration, I’m not sure I would have “tufted” it out. There is one for you Jeff. Can’t wait to see the finished product.

  25. Cheryl

    I think it looks fabulous!!!

  26. Sada

    What a labour of love. I hope this stays in your family forever!!xxS

  27. Candice

    It’s gorgeous! I love the seams and as you said, they tell a story of a past life. So beautiful. I wish I lived closer so I could take a class as I have several pieces of furniture that I’d love to tackle myself. Cheers!

  28. Bonnie

    I think you are doing a beautiful job on this tufted sofa!! ??

  29. Stephanie

    It’s stunning! I’m getting ready to tackle my first uphostery project (French chairs – I’ve watched your tutorials a couple times) and I hope I don’t mess up the hemp sheet I ordered!

  30. Melinda

    It is sooooo beautiful a sofa!!!

  31. melanie

    I love this sofa!!!! Wish I could find just like that.

  32. Colette J

    Awesome! It’s coming along really well!
    Have you considered using a “sewing awl”? It’s much like the awl you have, but with an eye at the pointy end (like a needle). Basically you would make the hole and thread it in one. It could save you some time for the next one? Just a thought.

  33. Irene Peterson

    I’m going to put a large wooden button in the center of a down filled pillow. Do I need to get an awl along with a strong 6″ needle?

    The tufting looks just wonderful.

    Thanks, Irene

  34. Laurie

    Good work!! I knew you’d lick it! SailRite has a good video on tufting a chair if you haven’t seen it already. They were not hesitant to add more stuffing if they thought it needed it, which I thought was interesting because they reused nearly everything that was original. Your sofa looks special now and with it’s pedigree you should get top dollar for it. I know you don’t care much about that but in this case you deserve it!

  35. Irene Peterson

    I’m going to put a large wooden button in the center of a down filled pillow. Do I need to get an awl along with a strong 6″ needle?

    The tufting looks just wonderful.

    Thanks, Irene


  36. Lisa

    Awls are amazing tools. I’ve used on for years, ever since I began restoring and framing old art. Trying to twist eye hooks into the back of a hundred year old frame with your fingers is painful. Use the tip to poke a starter hole where you want the hook, position the hook, slide the awl through the eye and spin it.

  37. PJ

    Lovely, Marian! I am so glad that you found a solution to your challenge.

  38. Dianne

    Congratulations. I grew up with a mom that upholstered and I can remember how very difficult it was when I had to help her with tufts. I know it feels great to “beat” the sofa. It looks awesome!

  39. Linda Clark

    Hi Marion
    I am a little behind on your post, but love this sofa I hope you are keeping it
    I just retired and moved to CO, so I hope I can finally get to some of my upholstery projects . I am ready to start on my 1800s camel back sofa and was thinking. About tuffing the back something like yours, yes lots of work, blisters on hands, but results are so worth it. Now most of us who do this work appreciate professional upholsters. I can’t afford them and have found many of th take shorts cuts, use old fabrics for linings and reuse some materials from original soft goods . Not good especially when you are paying for clean new materials the only material I would allow to be used is horse hair but make sure it is cleaned 1st, old stuff is full of dirt ,dust and who knows what else if you have allergies, a must. I hope my sofa turns out nice like yours. My info is food for thought and for serious consideration to your followers
    You go girl, keep up the great work and info to your followers love It.

  40. Terri

    I Love, Love, Love it! The seams are absolutely the best!

  41. lisa Bivona

    Oh man, I commend you. It may make me try one again. I had a chair with many tufts and buttons, and just didn’t want to deal with them. I like the missed seams. love the sofa.

  42. Tiffany

    Looks good!! A upholstery awl with an eye for the thread might save you a step next time. And tying them off with another button on the back will keep them from popping out when people sit on the couch (and their belt catches the buttons along the bottom of the back…ask me how I know). Can’t wait to see this beauty finished.

  43. Maureen Provost Ryan

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful project. It’s eye-poppingly beautiful, a real stunner. Your work is an inspiration!

  44. marylisa noyes

    This couch project is amazing! I love it…

  45. Donna Doble-Brown

    This is a STUNNING piece! I would just be afraid to sit on it . . . I LOVE your work Marian!

  46. Cheryl

    Oh my! Marion, it looks fabulous. And being I am in no place to judge the things you pont out, I have not done a project like this in any way, all I can share is KUDOS girlfriend!!!
    As always… INSPIRING?

  47. Carol

    I just slip-covered 2 wing back chairs watching your tutorials many times. They are less than perfect but for my first try ever I am so proud of them! I can’t even imagine the challenge of a tufted couch! It is amazing Marian and so beautiful! I hope you keep it!

  48. Naomi S.

    Oh, my gosh, that couch–setee?–is going to be, already is, beautiful! The off-white with the white frame is so gorgeous. I do mind the seams a bit, but I also can appreciate the nod to the history of the mattress cover. Congrats on taming that ornery, old thing! It all comes down to having the right tools, doesn’t it?

  49. Jan

    I am bowled over by this sofa. The juxtaposition of the formal sofa frame with casual rustic fabric is perfect.

    Don’t make us wait too long to see the cushions because I literally (do not like that word) can’t wait. I can’t decide if you are going to use the same fabric, or a gingham check, buffalo check, or a print. Here’s a wild idea….large buffalo check in a silk dupoini that has those little nubs but in RED.

    I’m sure whatever you pick will be perfect.

    But before I go I have a question….when working with light color fabrics such as the hemp sheets do you wear gloves, especially when pulling the fabric taut, to keep from getting body oil or dirt on the fabric?

  50. Lori

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

  51. Rebecca M

    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!

  52. Janine R

    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.

  53. Kay

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

  54. Melissa from Hey,Girlfriend.Net

    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!

  55. sandi

    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! 🙂

  56. Maggie

    No to seams, looks like it need reupholstering.

  57. Ren

    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!

  58. Robin Leach

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

  59. Teresa

    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.

  60. Carrie

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

  61. Sheyenne

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

  62. Julie

    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.

  63. Lesley

    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

      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! 🙂

  64. Jes

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

  65. Megan

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

  66. Sandy

    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!

  67. Susan

    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?

  68. MaryS

    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. 🙂

  69. Susan Alps

    Yea! Beautiful! I knew you could do it!

  70. Denise Potter

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

  71. beth

    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

      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.

  72. Lauren

    Wow looking good!! Can’t wait to see it all finished 🙂 Great work as usual Marianne

    Lauren | Lovely Decor

  73. Sheila

    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.

  74. Alice

    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

      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! 🙂

  75. Jane

    Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous!!!


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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