Upholstery Basics: Choosing Your Fabric

Choosing the right fabric for your upholstery project depends on two things: the amount of fabric and its weight.

Choosing Fabric

The Three Basic Steps to Upholstery

1.   Find out how much fabric you will need.  If you Google “upholstery chart” you will find many guides to determine how much fabric you need for your particular project.  I always buy more than I need especially if it has a pattern that I want to match up.

2. Strip furniture noting the order in which you remove panels of fabric.

3.  Replace new fabric in the opposite order you removed the old panels.

How much fabric do I need?

Finding out how many yards of fabric you need will depend on what you are upholstering.  Are you upholstering a seven-foot camel back couch or a set of dining room chairs?   A headboard for a bed or a wingback chair?  The easiest way to find out how much fabric you need is to refer to an upholstery chart.  <– This is a good one but you can find others with a simple google search.

Upholstery Fabric Chart
Here is a great upholstery chart found at DLT Upholstery Supply

An upholstery chart shows pictures of all different types of furniture and the estimated yardage needed to cover each piece. Find the item that most resembles your piece of furniture on the chart and see how many yards it recommends then add a couple of yards to that.  I recommend buying a few yards more than what the charts say to give yourself some wiggle room and even as much as 5 yards more if you are trying to line up a pattern.

For my wingback chair, 5 yards was the recommended amount but I went ahead and bought 11 yards in case I made a mistake and so that I could match up the pattern.   Plus I like to use it to make accent pillows.

Buy all your fabric at the same time because chances are it will not be available if you need more later.  In addition, when you buy fabric from multiple bolts you run the risk of not having a perfect match as dyes might be slightly different from bolt to bolt.

What weight fabric should I buy?

When choosing upholstery fabric it is important to pick a fabric that is medium/heavy to heavy weight.  Most upholstery projects will be furniture and you want a fabric that isn’t going to wear out over the years.

If you are in a brick and mortar fabric store you can feel each fabric and, usually, can tell if it will be a hardy fabric.  Fabric stores, typically, have a home decor section where most fabrics will be heavy enough.   When in doubt, ask a store attendant if your fabric is a good choice for an upholstery project.

The technical weight of fabric is measured in grams per square meter (GSM). As long as you find a fabric marked medium/heavy to heavy weight, though,  it will work just fine.

The only time you might need to use GSM is if you are ordering fabric online.  Most of the time it will say in the description if a fabric is light, medium, heavy weight.  Occasionally it will only give you the GSM.  In this case, pick a fabric that is between 250-650GMS.  I highly recommend ordering a swatch of fabric before buying all your yardage for a project if you are ordering online.  Something that looks great on your computer screen might look completely different and the weight may have been mislabeled, so getting a sample before spending money on many yards of fabric is really important.


While you are there you will also need batting so go ahead and buy about one yard more than the upholstery chart recommends for your project. I usually to choose a thinner batting but if you are wanting a very puffy and voluminous look get a thicker batting (about 1/2- 1 inch thick).

Good Upholstery Fabrics

Heavy Weight:

  • Cotton
  • Linen
  • Wool
  • Polyester
  • Silk
  • Brocade Silk
  • Canvas or Duck Cloth

Fabrics to Avoid:

  • Quilting Cotton
  • Chiffon
  • Gauze
  • Flannel
  • Lace
  • Batik

Once you have your fabric you are ready for step two, removing the old fabric from your upholstery project!! Stay tuned for more on Upholstery Basics!

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