March Mending Month
How-To: Mend Torn Upholstery
By Diane Gilleland

If you have a sofa or chair with a rip in the cushion, don’t despair! Torn upholstery can be simple to fix with the right tools and a little care.
Use a very strong nylon thread for this project, and a curved needle. This kind of needle is usually packaged as a “mattress needle” or “upholstery needle.” The curved shape allows you to sew easily on a flat surface, like a sofa cushion.
You can also make your own curved needle by bending a crewel embroidery needle with needlenose pliers. It won’t be perfect, but it will do the job.

1. Assess the rip.
First, take a moment to study the rip. This rip, for example, happened along a seam in the cushion. The fabric on the left side of the opening is intact, but the right side is fraying. This tells me that I’ll need to watch that right side carefully when I’m sewing.
2. Stop the fraying.
If you have frayed edges, apply some Fray Check. This clear liquid will harden the edge of the fabric slightly and prevent further fraying.
3. Turn under the edges.
Fold the edges of the rip under, pressing the folds with your fingers. In this rip, I’m folding the frayed side under a bit more than the intact side. I don’t want that frayed edge too close to my stitching, because it can become a weak point in the repair and lead to more damage later.
I don’t recommend trying to pin the edges of the rip together for sewing — this can pucker the fabric too much, which can result in a crooked repair seam.
4. Stitch.
Instead of pinning, try gently pinching the 2 folded edges together as you sew. Begin the seam by taking a stitch only through the right-hand edge. This allows you to hide the knotted end of the thread.
From there, each stitch involves passing the needle through a tiny bit of each folded edge, as shown. Keep your stitches small and close together. A textured fabric, like the one I’m working with here, will help hide your stitches. A smooth fabric will require very small and regular stitches.
Since, in this rip, we’re most concerned about that frayed right side, keep checking as you sew to make sure this side is folded under consistently.
When you reach the end of the seam, you’ll see a pucker like this. Not to worry — it formed because we turned under the edges of the rip, which changed the seam line.
To blend this new seam with the original seam, gently pinch the edges of the fabric together and continue stitching, gradually pinching less and less fabric until the new seam joins with the old and you have a smooth edge. (You might need to repeat this process at the beginning of your seam, too.)
5: Knot.
When you knot your thread at the end of the seam, make sure it’s very secure — the knot is another potential weak spot in the repair. Try this method: on your last stitch, pull the thread through until there’s a loop, as shown. Then, pass the needle through this loop twice, forming the basis of a surgeon’s knot.
Pull this knot tight, and then take a few tiny stitches back along the seam line, stitching away from the knot. This helps anchor the thread. Cut the end of the thread close to the fabric.
See? Good as new!
About the Author:
Diane Gilleland produces CraftyPod, a blog and bi-weekly podcast about making stuff. Her first book, Kanzashi In Bloom, will be out in July.

Goli Mohammadi

Goli Mohammadi

I’m a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at [email protected] or via @snowgoli.

  • Anonymous

    Any reason you wouldn’t use a slip stitch here?

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, very helpful. Just one question: what if the rip isn’t on a seam?

  • Diane Gilleland

    If the rip isn’t on a seam, I’d use the same process: turning the edges of the rip under and using a tiny whip stitch to join them. I would definitely add a gradual tapering off to each end of the seam so that the repair wouldn’t pucker the fabric.
    You might also find Becky’s post on mending a cat-scratched sofa helpful:

  • Diane Gilleland

    You certainly could use a slip stitch. I prefer the whip stitch because I think it’s sturdier, and would stand up better to the pressure of people sitting on or near the seam. If you were repairing an area of the sofa that people don’t sit on, the slip-stitch would indeed give you a nice, smooth finish.

  • Malinda

    I’m fine with bending a needle into a curve but every time I try it doesn’t bend it breaks. How did you bend the needle?

    • Shawna

      You can buy curved needles at the craft store

  • Marie

    Thanks for the great how too!

  • John Howard

    Thanks for showing me how to do upholstery repair. The drivers seat in my car needs some repair. I think I’m going to fix it tonight. I hope it turns out as well for me as it did for you.

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  • Eliza Lawrence

    I think that working in upholstery would be a pretty hard job. You definitely have to be really talented and really crafty. It seems like it would take a lot of training to be able to do things like this. I really respect these workers for the skills that they have.

    Eliza Lawrence |

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