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How to Make Loose Covers for Armchairs

How to Make Loose Covers for Armchairs

Many people, who would think nothing of making a dress in a weekend, balk at the prospect of making a loose cover for an armchair. But once you know how —and if you take your time—the method is more straightforward and you need fewer techniques.

The advantages of a loose cover are that it protects the upholstery of a chair and can be removed for cleaning. A well-cut cover is also a good way of disguising shabby upholstery or blending it with other things.

Start by measuring the chair as given below in the sections on measuring the parts of the chair. Keep a note of all the individual measurements because these will be needed both for calculating the amount of fabric to buy and again when you cut out the fabric. If you are using a patterned fabric which will need careful positioning on the chair, it is also advisable to add the measurements for the turnings and tuck-ins on each side of the sections separately.

making loose covers for an armchair

Use a fabric tape measure and take all the measurements in inches. To estimate the length of fabric required, add together the lengths of the sections, including allowances.
If you are using patterned fabric with a oneway design or a large repeat, or if you are making several covers from plain fabric, it is always worth drawing up an accurate cutting chart. The way to do this is described in the section on making a cutting chart below. This will show how pieces can be dovetailed and where the repeats will fall. You may well find that you can save quite a lot of fabric in this way.

Measuring the chair

The professional way of making loose covers is to cut a block of fabric for each section as in Figs.1 and 2, and then fit it exactly. Measuring the chair gives the sizes of the blocks.

When fitting the cover for the back and seat, the fabric is folded in half lengthwise and fitted on half the chair, so that the two sides will be identical. For the arms and scrolls, the pieces for opposite sides of the chair are placed together and fitted to one side at the same time.

Because of this, it is simpler to take the initial width measurements across half the chair too, in order to save confusion later on. If you are right-handed, you will find it easier to do the fitting on the right-hand side of the chair (the side which is on your right when you are sitting in the chair). If you are left-handed, fit the cover on the left-hand side. Take the measurements on thesamesidethatyou will befitting on.

Remove the seat cushion if there is one, then mark a line up the centre of the outside back, down the inside back, along the seat from the back to the front edge and down the front border. If you are going to fit the cover straight away, mark this line with pins, pushing them into the existing cover. If you will be taking longer and do not want to leave in pins, mark the line with tailor’s chalk and then tack along it. All length measurements should be taken along this marked line.

Outside back

For the length, measure from the seam line at the top (point A) to the bottom of the chair. Add 1 in. (25mm) at the top and 6in .(150mm) at the bottom for the turning and tie-under. For a skirt instead of a tie-under, measure to the floor, add 1 in. (25mm) at the top for the turning and subtract 6in. (150mm) from the bottom. (The length of a skirt is 7in. (175mm) finished, regardless of the height of the chair’s legs.)

For the width, if there is no extra piece of fabric inserted at the side of the chair between the outside and inside pieces (a side scroll), measure from point C across the back to the centre pin line. If there is a side scroll, measure from the seam joining it to the outside back piece, to the pin line.

Inside back

For the length, measure from the seam at the top of the back (Fig.1, point A) down to where the back and the seat meet (point B). Add on 1 in. (25mm) at the top for the turning and 6in. (150mm)  at bottom for turning and tuck-in.

For the width, measure across the widest part from seam line (point C) to centre pin line. Add 1 in. (25mm) at the side for the turning. Measure again at the bottom of the seat and add 6in. (1 50mm) for the turning and tuck-in. Use the greater of these two measurements for the calculation and cutting-outsize.

Seat

If the chair has a removable seat cushion, the cover for this should be made following the method given in home fabrics 1 6. To cover the section below this, or the seat itself if it is a fixed one, for the length measure from the back (point B) to the seam at the front (point D). Add 6in. (150mm) at the back for the turning and tuck-in, 1 in. (25mm) at the front for turning. For the width, measure across the widest part from the side of the seat to the centre pin line. Add 6in. (1 50mm) for the turning and tuck-in.

Seat border

For the length, measure from the edge of the seat (point E) to the bottom of the chair. Add 1 in. (25mm) at the top and 6in. (150mm) at the bottom for turnings and tie-under. If you are having a skirt instead of a tie-under, measure length from point E to floor, add 1 in. (25mm) at top and subtract 6in. (150mm) at bottom.

For the width, measure from the inner edge of the arm to the pin line. Add 1 in. (25mm) to the edge for the turning.

Arms

Because the shape of the arms would distort the grain of the fabric so that any pattern would finish by slanting at the bottom of the chair, the arms should be covered in two pieces. The inside piece should start at the bottom of the seat and finish on top of the arm at its outer edge (the ‘sight line’). Decide on the position of this line and mark it with pins.

The outside piece extends from this line to the bottom of the chair. This is the only piece of the cover which need not follow the lines of the chair exactly, because if you make it too tight it will be impossible to take the cover off the ohair.

Inside arms

For the length, measure from the seat to the sight line and add 6in. (1 50mm) at the bottom for turning and tuck-in and 1 in. (25mm) at top for turning. Double the length when calculating the amount of fabric necessary to allow for the other arm.

For the width, measure along the top of the arm on sight line and add 1 in. (25mm) to the front and 6in. (1 50mm) at the back for turning and tuck-in. On some chairs, the top of this piece will be shaped round to the back of the chair and joined on to the outside back, so it must be made wide enough.

Outside arms

For the length, measure from the highest point on the pinned sight line to the bottom of the chair. Add 1 in. (25mm) at the top and 6in. (150mm) at the bottom for turnings and tie-under. If you are having a skirt instead of a tie-under, measure the length to the floor, add 1 in. (25mm) at the top and subtract 6in. (150mm) from the bottom. Double the length to allow for the other arm.

For the width, measure across the widest part and add 1 in. (25mm) each side for turnings.

Side scrolls

For the length, measure from the top of the back of the chair on its side face, to the top of the arm. Add 1 in. (25mm) at both top and bottom for the turnings. Double the total when calculating the fabric necessary to allow for a scroll the other side.

For the width, measure across the widest part and add 1 in. (25mm) each side for the turnings.

Front scrolls

For the length, measure from the top of the arm on its front face to the bottom of the chair. Add 1 in. at the top and 6in. at the bottom for the turnings and tie-under. If you are having a skirt instead, measure from the top to the floor, add 1 in. (25mm) at the top and subtract 6in. (150mm) from the bottom. Double the total to allow for the scroll on the other side.

For the width, measure across the widest part and add 1 in. to each sidefortheturnings.

Skirt

For a plain skirt with corner inverted pleats, measure the perimeter of the chair round the bottom and add 48in. If you will not be able to cut a piece of fabric long enough without joining (and you won’t with a patterned fabric) measure each side of the chair and add 12in. to each. By making the skirt in four sections you will be able to hide the seams inside the corner pleats.

For a skirt with spaced pleats, double the perimeter of the chair. For close pleats, treble the perimeter; for a gathered frill, 1 i times.

To calculate the total amount required, divide the length of the strips by the width of the fabric, and multiply this amount by the depth of the skirt.

On professionally made loose covers, the skirt is always made 7in. deep when finished. To do this, cut strips 9in. wide, which allows for Jin. turning at the top and 1Jin. at the bottom for a Jin. double hem.

Making a cutting chart

The simplest way to do this is with a ruler which gives twelfths of an inch, such as a wooden school ruler. Using a scale of 1 in. to 1 ft, draw on a long sheet of paper a rectangular strip equal to half the width of the fabric x the estimated length of the amount required. Mark on this position of the pattern repeats. (For metric measurements, use a scale of 10:1, e.g. 10mm for every 100mm.)

Using the same scale, cut out from another sheet of paper small pieces to represent the sections of the cover. Mark the tops of the sections and which pieces should be placed againstthefold (the inside and outside back, the seat and the front border). All the other pieces will be cut through the doubled fabric.

Place the chair section pieces on to the main strip of paper, adjusting them so that the repeats are central both vertically and horizontally. This is particularly important on the back, seat and front border pieces. You will then see what fabric there is left over for the smaller pieces and for cutting bias strips for piping.

If you are finishing the cover with a tie-under, you may be able to save fabric stitching on separate pieces for this and reducing the length of the outside back, outside arm, front scroll and front border by 5in. (125mm) each. The seam joining the fabric should come exactly at the bottom of the chair, and may be piped (Fig.6).

Cutting out the fabric

Cut out the fabric for each section, following the plan worked out on your chart. Professional cutters always cut the pieces in a set order and mark the top of each piece with a pin for quick identification. You might find it easier and safer to number the pieces in tailor’s chalk, or put a tailor’s tack in the top of each piece, using a different coloured thread for each. Alternatively, pin on labels.

making loose covers for an armchair DIY fabrics

Above. Armchairs often vary in their design, so you should always cut the sections of a loose cover to correspond with the lines of the original upholstery.

Fitting the cover

Starting with the outside back piece, place the folded fabric ‘right’ side out, on to the chair. Having the fabric folded and fitting it to one half of the chair ensures that both sides are identical. Keep the fold level with the centre pin line, and position the fabric so that turnings allowed project at the top, bottom and side. Smooth the fabric out to the side of the chair and pin, keeping the grain of the fabric horizontal.

Pin on the seat piece in the same way, so that the allowance for the tuck-ins is at the back and side. When the fabric is completely pinned, fold over these allowances on to the seat for the time being.

Next, pin on the inside back piece. Pin it to the outside back piece at the top of the chair, following the shape of the chair exactly. With some fabrics you may be able to ease out any fullness by stretching it slightly; with others you may have to make small darts at the corners.

If you have side scrolls, fit these (with ‘wrong’ sides together) between the outside and inside back pieces. This is one of the more difficult pieces to fit neatly, so it is worth taking some time over it, and re-pinning as necessary. Always keep the grain of the fabric vertical and horizontal. In some places you may have as much as 2in. (50mm) turning allowances, but this can all be trimmed off later.

If there are no side scrolls, pin the inside back piece to the outside back piece at the sides. Work from the top down, keeping the fabric quite smooth. At the arm, you will have to cut into the fabric from the side so that it can be wrapped round to the back smoothly. The fabric below this should be cut so that the allowance for the tuck-in is 1 in. (25mm) at the top, increasing to 6in. (150mm) at the seat (Fig.4).

Fitting the arms

Place the pieces (with ‘wrong’ sides together) for the inside arm in position. Pin the front edge first so the 1 in. (25mm) allowance overhangs the edge of the arm. Smooth it across to the back of the arm, keeping the grain of the fabric as straight as possible. Pin the bottom edge to the side tuck-in of the seat piece and cut the back edge to correspond with the shape of the inside back tuck-in. Clip into the seam allowance over the top of the arm where necessary to get a smooth fit. If it has to join the back piece, cut away fabric to form the correct shape.

Keeping the crosswise thread parallel to the ground, pin on the outside arm pieces. You will probably have to increase the amount allowed for the turning at the back of the arm, and the edge of the fabric may not stay level with the edge of the inside arm fabric. Pin the back edge of the outside arm piece to the outside back piece, but leavethefrontedge (Fig.3).

Fitting the front scrolls

Place these centrally on the widest part of the scroll and pin carefully to the outside arm piece, following the shape of the chair as closely as possible. Continue pinning to the inside arm as far as the beginning of the tuck-in. Mark with pins the fitting line from this point to the bottom.

Trimming the seam allowance

You will probably find it easiest to fit the front border when all the other pieces have been stitched and the tuck-in can be tucked in properly. So, if you are completely satisfied with the fit of the cover so far, trim all the seam allowances to Jin. (13mm) of the pins. Try to keep exactly to the Jin. since this will make the fitting together much easier. Cut notches in the corresponding seams in groups of one, two and three, so that you will be able to fit the pieces together again. Remove all the pins and open out the pieces.

Making the piping

To make quite sure that the piping cord will not shrink when the cover is cleaned, which would have the effect of tightening all the seams so much that the cover would be too small, boil and dry it a couple of times before making up the lengths of piping.

Cut out and join several long lengths of 1Jin. (38mm) bias strips. Make the piping following the method given in HOME FABRICS 3.

Pin and stitch the piping on the seam line all round the vertical and top edges of the side scrolls and front scrolls, along the top edge of the inside front piece, and along the top and back edge of the outside arm.

Stitching the cover

Start by joining the tuck-in seam at the back of the seat and bottom of the inside back pieces. Join the outside arm pieces to the inside arm pieces, then fit these to the seat and inside back pieces.

Join on the outside back piece to the inside back piece along the top edge, and one side edge if there are no side scrolls. If you have side scrolls, fit these between the back pieces.

Leave one of the back seams open for about two-thirds of the way down so that the cover can be pulled on and off the chair—try to choose the side which will be least noticeable when the cover is on the chair.

Join on the pieces for the front scrolls, continuing the seam down into the tuck in section on the inside arm piece—it must not be stitched to the tuck-in section on the seat piece.

Fitting the front border

Put the cover on to the chair with the ‘right’ side facing out. Tuck down the tuck-ins neatly, leaving the seam allowance protruding at the front edge. Open out the fabric for the border and place it centrally on to the chair. Pin it to the seat piece and to the seat tuck-in along the top and then to the lower part of the front scroll. Trim seam allowance to Jin. (13mm) where necessary, cut notches, then remove the cover from the chair. Unpin the border and repin and stitch it with ‘right’ sidestogether (Fig.5).

Finishing off

The opening at the back can be finished with a zip fastener or with a strap and placket as shown in home FABRICS 27. If you are having a tie-under, finish also as shown in home fabrics 27. If you are having a skirt, stitch this on round the bottom edge, following the method given in home fabrics 28, making a Jin. (1 9mm) double hem at the lower edge.

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