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.
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.)
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!