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Saturday, November 1, 2014

DIY: Making White Slipcovers Without a Pattern

The holidays are approaching, and I have a to-do list as long as my arm. Nothing like the prospect of entertaining guests in your home to get you to finish off all those tedious five-minute projects that would otherwise never get done. Projects such as caulking the kitchen backsplash, painting trim, hanging shelves - post-move projects that I had put off for the summer months. Well, now here we are in November and its crunch time. It took this weekend and last, but I crossed a big one off the list: slipcovering the little mod settee in our entryway.

If you are wondering why I didn't just ship this off to professional seamstress Trish Banner at Cottage by Design, who had sewn the new slipcovers for my old sofa, chair, and ottoman, I did try! But the old slipcover was made of a stretchy poly fabric and, 30-years-old, the material simply crumbled in my hands as I was stripping it off. I had nothing that could serve as a pattern. And as Trish is located on the opposite coast, she couldn't just stop by our home for fittings. I briefly considered cutting and pinning and sending the fabric to her. But quickly realized that the cutting and pinning is half the work anyhow. In addition, the curved shape of this settee was going to present some challenges that would require quite a bit of pinning and alteration work to really get it right.

Nothing for it, this was a DIY project. So, how do you go about making a slipcover without a pattern? 

The first step is choosing your fabric. I thought about matching the beautiful nubby linen Trish had used on the living room slipcovers:

But the settee sits in our foyer under a very bold painting we call the "Fake Pollock" that seemed to call for an equally bold primary color for the slipcover. I first considered lipstick red, and even purchased the fabric. I left it draped across the settee for a few weeks to live with it and see how I liked it and though I love red, in the end I felt it was too blue a red for the Farrow and Ball "Blackened" paint color we have on the walls. I finally decided on white - which was the original settee color. But canvas. 

White canvas is actually a great choice for removable slipcovers because it washes and wears well and if you find stains you can bleach them. In a home like ours with pets, white canvas slipcovers are one of the most easy-care choices available. 

The second reason is that I am a self-taught and not very accomplished seamstress, and sewing stretchy fabrics requires fairly advanced sewing skills.

So, I purchased about 10 yards of white cotton canvas at my local fabric store at $4 per yard. I estimated my yardage using Cottage by Design's handy fabric yardage chart. 

Cottage by Design
In the end, I probably could have gotten by with 8 yards. But I didn't know that I might not want a skirt until I was nearly finished. Also, when I'm sewing without a pattern I tend to over-cut, to give myself more margin for error.  While I was there, I also purchased 6 yards of white piping with lip, which I find invaluable in making slipcovers and pillows.

White piping "with lip"
As you will see, you simply match up the edges of your two pieces, then flip them inside out, pinning the piping between the two pieces with the lip on the outer edge. Sew a straight line, keep close to the actual piping. Tie off your thread, turn it right side out, and voila! A professional looking edge.

So, a quick step by step to making slipcovers without a pattern:

Step 1: measure and cut. 

When I don't have a pattern, I use a tape measure to cut a rectangular piece of fabric, lay it across the furniture and trace using a pencil or tailor's chalk, then trim to fit.

Step 2: Look at the outlines of your furniture and figure out the lines (where two pieces of fabric will join) that you want the piping to accentuate. 

I chose to accentuate the straight lines of the back then follow down the curved arms of this  settee. 

Step 3: Turn your two pieces inside out, join the edges with piping and pin in place.

Step 4: Sew the fabric-piping-fabric edge together, stitching as close to the piping as possible. Tie it off, then turn right side out.

Step 5: Do this for all of the edges where your pieces meet. Cut, pin, sew, fit. Cut, pin, sew, fit.

Until all of the pieces are joined and you have the beginnings of a slipcover.

I'm not going to pretend to be one of those perfect bloggers who gets it right the first time. The curvy lines of this settee presented me with quite a few challenges. The biggest issue came at the end - how to finish the hem. 

Did I want a skirt? Should I leave some length and let it skim the ground?

I decided against either of these. The original slipcover was very snugly fitted, to accentuate the curved lines. And the feet of the furniture are carved walnut, quite beautifully shaped. I wanted them to show. Furthermore, the furniture has beautiful curved arms that I wanted the fabric to hug.

So, how to make coarse canvas fabric fit snugly? I decided to trim the fabric short and put a drawstring in the hem. Pulled tight, the drawstring would gather all of the loose edges in at the bottom, right under the seat.

How do you get the drawstring in the hem? I don't know how real seamstresses do it, but I use a wire hanger - the kind that come with your dry cleaning.

Step 6: Remove the cardboard tube from the hanger if there is one. Untwist the wire leaving a small hook on the end and knot your cord tightly.

Step 7: (Sorry, I missed a photo - probably because this was a very tedious step.) Slip the hanger into the hem of the slipcover and push it through, bunching up the fabric along the wire as you go until you come to a complete circle then pull the cord through giving yourself enough slack to be able to fit the slipcover over the furniture and tie the ends.

Step 8: Fit the slipcover, pull the drawstring snugly, and tuck the ends of the cord under the hem so they don't show.

Before and After

Step 9: Sit back with a glass of wine and enjoy your handiwork.

White was exactly the right color to complement the "Fake Pollock"