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Here is a guide on how to upholster a headboard written by a professional interior designer with 22 years of experience. The headboard example is not a Ready to Cover unit but the instructions still apply. Happy Decorating!
After you’ve made your selection of headboard style and desired fabric, you need to figure out how much yardage you need of foam, batting and fabric. Bear in mind that you only need for your foam or batting to come down as far as the top of your mattress, but you will likely want your fabric to extend past that point around 3” for a finished look. It is helpful to cut the batting or foam off at the top edge of your mattress for ease of putting on your sheets when you make the bed, otherwise, it’s a tight squeeze.
I. Choosing Fabric
If you are unfamiliar with fabric types, here’s a quick lesson for you:
“Dressmaker” fabrics are suitable for apparel and are available at both fabric specialty shops, discount stores, or on-line. There are a few dressmaker fabrics that might be suitable for your headboard if they are heavy enough to use staples on and are wider than 36”. Most dressmaker fabrics are 45”—60” wide.
Good examples of dressmaker fabric that might work for your headboard include denim, corduroy, wool blends (a handsome houndstooth or Scottish plaid for example) or even bridal silk or cottons specifically for quilting. If you choose a lighter weight of fabric, such as silk or cotton, you can add heft to them by ironing on a lightweight fusible interfacing which will help them hold up to the pulling and stapling involved in constructing your headboard. If seaming is required to meet your width requirements, iron on the interfacing before seaming.
“Designer” fabrics are suitable for upholstery or drapery and are much more substantial in weight and weave for purposes such as your headboard. Almost all designer fabrics are at least 60” wide, and some come as wide as 110”. Most of the designer fabrics are also “railroaded”, which makes for easier use in upholstery work. More on that below. Designer fabrics are available at most large chain fabric stores and Designer Specialty shops, as well as on-line. If you’ve chosen ready-made bedding with matching drapes, you might consider ordering a pair of the drapes to utilize their fabric to fashion into your headboard for a truly custom look!
First measure the width of the wood headboard you’ve chosen. Allow for enough fabric to easily wrap around the back of the wood, and give yourself enough room to pull it taut and staple it. We recommend an additional 6” on each side, top, and bottom. Total up your measurement of width of the headboard plus 12” to wrap. This is the length you need of fabric. For foam and batting, deduct about 3”, explanation to follow on that. As for the height of the fabric, top to bottom, a single width of your fabric will likely be enough even if you use 45” goods.
If your fabric pattern is “railroaded”, which means your pattern runs down the length of the fabric, you can then divide the total length measurement by 36” (in a yard) and that’s how much fabric you need. Here’s an illustration of what “railroaded” means:
The headboard we're demonstrating on is “Classic” style in queen size. We are customizing this design by adding three large covered buttons just to show you a design option, and we are using a “regular” fabric to show you how to seam it properly to meet the width requirements. We also wanted rounded top corners, so we trimmed them with a jigsaw, using a large mixing bowl to first trace the rounded edge with a sharpie marker.
The width of the queen size classic headboard is 60”.
First we found the center of the headboard, at 30”, and 12” down from the top edge we drilled a small hole to position our center covered button through. Then we measured 15” out towards each edge for the other two covered buttons. Using a very small drill bit, we drilled holes for each button to be pulled through later.
II. Foam & Padding
Foam: We purchased 1” thick hypoallergenic foam which was pre-cut to a width of 36”. We bought 2 yards of it then trimmed it down to 62” so that we could overlap the sides and top edge by 1”. The photo here shows the back side of the board, so that you can see the 1” overlap of foam on the front. Apply the foam to the board using carpenters glue and let it dry. Lay the whole thing flat while it dries.
Batting: We used 36” wide quilt batting pre-packaged in a 5 yard roll, and over-lapped the foam by about 3”, cutting the 5 yards down to the size we needed and rounding the corner of both foam and batting:
III. Cutting Fabric
Fabric: We purchased 54” wide designer drapery/upholstery weight fabric with the pattern running across the width of the fabric. In other words, NOT railroaded. We positioned the center piece of fabric, taking care of how we wanted the flowers to fall, in the center of the headboard using pins through all the layers then trimmed it at the bottom to fall about 3” below the batting. This photo was shot at an angel, but it was on there straight!:
Then we removed the fabric from the headboard and moved it to our work table. Next we positioned another piece of the fabric on the right side, FIRST MATCHING THE PATTERN REPEAT before cutting the same length as the center piece at both ends. Actually, it’s easier to tear the fabric on the grain that way you are ensured that it is perfectly straight. You might want to try this on a scrap piece first. Snip with scissors where you want to tear, then pull evenly:
Since we only needed about 14” extra on each edge, we cut the side piece down the center of the width, and used the opposite edge to match the pattern on the left side. Then we pinned the outside seams, being careful of the pattern repeat, and stitched them together. Then we trimmed the seams with pinking shears and pressed the seams open with a steam iron:
IV. Applying Fabric
Working again from our center position, we pinned the fabric onto the headboard, foam, and batting. When we had the pattern in the proper position, we marked a straight edge as a guide at the bottom edge of the fabric onto the headboard, to help us keep the fabric straight as we stapled, starting on the bottom edge first:
Then we moved to the top edge, beginning in the center, and pulled the fabric from the front around to the back, using the fabric to roll over the foam and batting for a nice rounded edge. The first top staple went in at that center point and from there we also marked out straight edge as a guide line:
Being careful to keep our edge and pattern straight, and our tension consistent, we continued stapling out each side across the top edge, working from the center out in each direction. When necessary, we tapped the staples in tighter with a hammer.
Once we got to the sides, we trimmed excess material down to about 4” , about the same amount we had from the top:
At the corners we eased in the fullness, stapled, then trimmed off the excess fabric.
Here’s a shot of the back of the headboard after the fabric has been completely stapled on and trimmed:
V. Finishing Touches
Now you are ready to add the finishing touches. Cut a piece of drapery lining, which also comes 54” wide the width of your headboard and about 12” past the length as where you ended your designer fabric. Fold it over the front side of your headboard, then pull over a few inches around back. Staple a line across the back above the staples you used to secure your designer fabric in place, then flip the lining over the back :
Using your hands, flatten the lining along the edges, then using the snip and tear method, cut off the excess lining so that the bottom is even with where you ended your designer fabric. Pull the bottom corners tight and anchor with a staple. Then staple all the way around the edges until you have a finished lined back. No one will ever see this as it will likely be against the wall, so it doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does make for a nice finished product.:
Now on the front side, pull out any slack or wrinkles and re-staple at the very bottom. Then using a hot glue gun and some gimp, finish off the bottom front edge. Viola! Look what you made! Your headboard is now ready to attach to your bed with included bolts.
Make it up pretty, add a couple of throw pillows out of the same fabric as your headboard, and you will be the envy of all your friends!