Slipcovers: The Ugly Couch Makeover
If you haven’t looked at slipcovers in awhile, you’ll be surprised at how much they’ve improved in design, fabric choices and durability.
I know, I know…but these are not your grandmother’s furniture throws in mustard and brown quilted polyester with orange-tassel trim. If you’re looking for throws like that…well, remember that old, dusty box in the corner of the attic? Look in there. Just watch for spiders.
Meanwhile, today’s furniture covers are a great option for freshening up your living space, if you plan to redecorate but cannot afford to drop a bank on new furniture, or if you just want to protect the condition of your existing furniture.
Types of Slipcovers: Covers vs. Throws
There are almost as many slipcover options for furniture now as items to cover. Assortments of fits, fabrics and matching pillows make choosing a slipcover solution easier. However, now with so many choices, it’s equally easy to pick the wrong piece for your couch type, design choice or intended use.
Furniture covers for sofas are generally marketed in four styles: full throw, partial throw, loose and fitted styles.
Full Throw: Designed like a blanket, this style offers complete coverage to the floor for standard and odd-sized sofa types alike.
Partial Throw: This type provides only partial coverage of the couch – generally only contacting select areas of the seat, back and arms – leaving the couch to show underneath. Used mostly for homes with pets and kids, for wear, stain and spill protection.
Loose: A casual style often shown in magazines, loose-fitting covers drape to the floor like a full throw, but are gathered, tied or ruched at the arms, and some are pleated or ruffled along the front edge. Some loose styles may have separate covers for the seat or back cushions.
Fitted: Tailored to the lines of the couch, fitted styles generally use edge elastic and stretchy fabrics to yield a conformed and upholstered profile. They are a bit more customizable to fit back and seat cushions individually.
Premade to Order
For those of us who have difficulty sewing a straight line, or even remembering how to thread the machine to begin with, the thought of sewing your own slipcover is pretty daunting. I envision the worst-case scenario of buying 20 some-odd yards of expensive fabric and notions only to construct something that turns out uglier than the existing couch.
But that’s just me. Well, maybe that’s a lot of folks…which might explain why premade furniture covers are so popular.
For the rest of the population comfortable with stitchery, here’s an article you might like about measuring and constructing your own sofa slipcover. There are other great resources on upholstery and slipcovering, especially on Pinterest, for those unafraid of needles.
The Anatomy of a Couch
Slipcover manufacturers have identified the most popular couch shapes, styles and sizes as the basis for their design offerings. For the purposes of this discussion (and because I want to be respectful of your time), we will be omitting chaise, sectional, daybed and futon designs.
Here’s a great infographic illustrating the basic couch styles.
Overall, the main variants include the shape of the arms (rolled or square), the height of the back relative to the arms (a tuxedo has arms the same height as the back), and the shape of the back when viewed from the front (rounded, camel, square).
The area supporting the seat cushions is called the deck; it can be raised on high legs, lower on block legs, or may have no visible legs at all.
The cushions may be T-shaped, square or slightly rounded, may be affixed to the back, may be partially attached to the back…or may not be present at all.
The decorative frame of the couch may be visible – like on an ornate settee – partially visible (wood accents in the arms or deck frame), or not visible at all.
As far as dimensions go, couches have standards, too. The overall length of a standard couch runs 78” to 90”, the depth 34” to 38”.
If you stick to these basics, you’ll find it less overwhelming to shop for a slipcover or throw.
One more thing on measurements.
The manufacturer of the slipcover should offer a measuring guide for their product. I can’t recommend purchasing from any manufacturer who won’t disclose the fitting range or specifications of their design. “It should fit a 72” inch couch” just doesn’t cut it…there are so many variations, right?
Generally, the width of the deck (seating area, inside arm to inside arm), the overall length (between farthest outside edges) and the widest width of each arm should be the minimum measurements required for a throw or partial throw. For the fitted options, the cushion (box or T-shape) will also be needed.
We don’t all have pets and kids, but unless you choose to cover your furniture with plastic, there’s bound to be an incident requiring cleaning. Just wait.
Choose a fabric stronger than your lifestyle. Don’t settle for comfort alone; other benefits of great fabrics and construction include durability, ease of cleaning, stain resistance, strong seams, preshrinking (this is especially important if making your own slipcover!) and shape retention.
Because I do have pets, I look for pet-friendly fabrics like leather/pleather, canvas, microfiber, denim and outdoor performance fabrics. Any fabric with a tight weave that will not trap hair is optimal, as well as something I can easily spot-clean or launder.
And although I just love the following fabrics, these are not pet-friendly at all: chenille, tweed, silk and velvet. Try vacuuming up dog hair woven into a tweed couch…it doesn’t pick up. You’re better off using a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers. Not a fun way to spend your Saturday afternoon.
Other Features, Thoughts and Considerations
When covering a dark or strong pattern with a lighter color, be sure to check the opacity of the product (or request a swatch). Thinner cottons, linen or twill might not deliver the degree of obliteration required to conceal that obnoxious plaid or hideous harvest gold and avocado floral.
Leather is slippery and therefore tricky to cover without some skid-padding. Rubber shelf liner (buy by the roll in housewares) is the best product to apply between the leather and the cover to take the “slip” out of your slipcover.
Many folks have reclining sofas with attached cushions. While slipcovers for reclining chairs are available, I have not yet been able to find a custom fitted option for a reclining couch. That said, the loose-fitting and throw styles should work, although may need to be re-tucked and readjusted after the reclining chair is returned to its upright position.
What do pool noodles and document shipping tubes have in common? Both are great “tucking” grips to slide in creases to hold slipcovers in place (or use these tuck grips). Wooden spoons are also useful to tuck in extra fabric down deep in the crevices where hands don’t fit.
Make Your Divan Divine
So before you resign yourself to shelling out the equivalent of a mortage payment on a new furniture piece, just take a look at your slipcover options…a new look is quickly achievable (now that you know what you’re up against) and would be a fraction of the cost of a new one. Who knew you could find that kind of savings…just by looking in the cushions of your couch?
What are your “couch challenges”? Do you have an old couch that could use a makeover? Share your story below!
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”