DIY: Customize Store-Bought Slipcovers

I am not an expert seamstress, by any means. I can almost sew a straight line (almost), and this is enough to get me through most small projects. But the new kitty has really made a mess of our seagrass dining chairs, and they were in dire need of slipcovers, and my almost-straight-line-sewing prowess really wasn’t enough to get me through making custom slipcovers. The problem is, I really hate the look of poorly fitting covers. Here’s how I turned some generic store-bought slipcovers into semi-custom creations, with little more than a a few straight lines and some hot glue.

Before:                                                    After:
chair-before chair-after


Supplies:

  • Store-bought slipcovers (I bought stretchy ones with no complicated folding)
  • Matching thread
  • Seam Ripper (You could use small scissors or a utility knife, but the seam ripper will go much faster)
  • A sewing machine (borrow one from a friend or family member!)
  • Pins with brightly colored heads (no losing them and stabbing yourself that way)
  • Trim (you can use home decor trim, or get creative in other departments – I found mine in the lace section)
  • Chalk or a tailor’s pencil
  • Hot Glue or Fabric Glue (Hot Glue is not machine washable, but it’s a whole lot easier)

Instructions:

  1. Turn the slipcover inside out and inspect how it was made. The slipcovers I purchased could easily be adjusted by simply tightening up the back panel. I wouldn’t recommend attempting anything more complicated than this unless you have much greater sewing skills than me. Look at how the corners come together, and plan out how you will duplicate this when you’re doing it yourself.
  2. Use the seam ripper to remove the back panel from the slipcover. Be careful not to tear the fabric. If there is an elastic panel in the back, remove it by ripping the seams holding it in place and pulling out the elastic strip.
  3. Place the front section on the chair inside out and use the pins to attach it to the chair in the position you would like it to be in when it’s done. I used one on each corner and a few in the middle sections to hold it taut.
  4. Take the back panel (also inside out) and pin it to the chair and the front panel of the slipcover, first lining up the bottom corners and working your way up. Make sure there are no awkward gaps where one piece of fabric is longer than the piece it is lining up to on the other side.
  5. Carefully pin the corner folds in place. You will want to make sure that all the folding is only on one side of the chair (for me, it was the side). If you sew folded fabric on both sides of a corner, the cover will not fit.
  6. Take out the pins attaching the slipcover to the chair, carefully remove it, turn it inside out, and gently put the cover on right-side-out. This step is optional, I only did it one time even though I sewed 4 covers. It’s just to check and make sure you aren’t missing anything obvious. Check to make sure the bottom hem is parallel to the floor, that all the seams are at the right angles, and that everything is pinned securely.
  7. Return the slipcover to the pinned inside-out position on the chair, and use chalk or your tailor’s pencil to mark the line you will sew along. This should run along the pins, not inside them. It is better to end up with a slightly loose cover than a too tight one. A too-tight slipcover simply won’t slide on.
  8. Set up your sewing machine. I could go in to detail here, but let’s just assume that you know how to sew a basic hem. If you don’t, maybe you should start with a simpler project 🙂
  9. Sew along your chalk line, starting at one corner and working your way around. Be careful at the corners, making sure to leave one edge free (don’t sew down folds on both edges).
  10. When you’re done, turn your slipcover right-side out and try it on for size. You can still do some adjusting at this point. If a section is too small or a line is too crooked, use the seam ripper to take out just that section of the line, re-chalk and pin it inside out, then sew back over that section, plus a couple inches on each side. On one of my chairs, I had to re-do the corners 3 times.
  11. Trim your excess fabric on the inside. This will help your seams lie smoother. I left this part out because I’m kind of lazy.
  12. Attach your trim along the bottom edge using hot glue. Make sure to start it in a low-visibility spot, because you will probably be able to spot the break in the line. You can either use a little glue to fold under a piece of the trim (if you’re using a flat trim), or carefully melt down the edges with a candle (if your trim is a synthetic material), to keep it from unraveling. Use the bottom hem of the slipcover as a guide to keep your line straight.

The pinning and sewing portion of this project took me about 3 hours. The gluing trim would have been very quick had I chosen solid, straight-line trim. As it is, the lacey stuff took me an hour and a half for one chair. I do think it is worth it, though, the graphic pattern really stands out against the dark background.

The whole project cost me $70 for 4 chairs (much cheaper than buying new chairs), and adds a nice custom touch to our décor.  Here are some more pictures to help you visualize the process:

Pinned:                                                   The Chalk Line:
chair-pinned chair-chalk

Happy crafting!

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