When you are first starting out learning upholstery, or any new skill really, you want to make sure that you choose simple, easy beginner projects at first. This will set you up for success by boosting your confidence while simultaneously teaching you important skills and techniques that you need for other projects. I know sometimes it is hard, because there might be a project you really want to tackle, like that wing back chair or a sofa in  your living room. However, starting your upholstery journey with a project like that, will most likely end in frustration. Upholstering project like a wing back chair or sofa requires a bit more skill and knowledge. It will also require more tools and materials. Your First Upholstery Project should be something easy in order to help you build confidence and learn skills you can apply to other projects in the future.

When starting something new, it is crucial to set yourself up for success not frustration. If you are frustrated initially you are less likely to continue, and that is definitely not what we want! We want you to be successful and find joy as you learn to upholster! 

4 Tips For Choosing and Getting Started On Your First Upholstery Project

Tip 01: Select a simple and uncomplicated project, such as a dining room chair, ottoman, or headboard, to boost confidence and gain transferable skills

Projects that I typically recommend to beginners include an armless dining room chair with an upholstered seat, headboard, or ottoman. These projects are wonderful for those looking to get started with upholstery, learn a few transferable skills, and not spend a ton of money up front.  

Check out the following blogs and videos for a more detailed guide on getting started with these beginner projects:  

Reupholstering Your Dining Chairs | A How-to Guide

How to Reupholster an Ottoman | A Beginner Project

Upholstering a Martha Washington Armchair

Starting with one of these beginner projects will reduce the overwhelm that usually accompanies starting something new. It will also allow you to work through the steps, learn new terms or lingo that you might not be familiar with. The end result will provide you with satisfaction and a feeling of pride that you can do this! 

Keep in mind, however, your first project will not be perfect! At least if you are anything like me, and that is perfectly okay, which brings me to our next tip.

Tip 02: Don’t expect perfection

Your first few attempts at something are rarely perfect. Actually, even when you’re advanced in skills, you still make mistakes! Don’t let it upset you! It is perfectly fine! It can always be fixed. More than anything though, mistakes or imperfections serve as learning experiences that you will take with you on your next project!

A project like a Martha Washington style chair or even the Queen Anne style chair, which features an upholstered seat and back that touch, can look intimidating but it is actually a great beginner project. This project will provide experience making cuts where the inside back meets the seat area and where the deck meets the inside back post, but you won’t have to deal with the complication of the arms or wings.

Tip 03: Take Pictures

This tip is important when working on any project, whether it is your first or fiftieth, and that is to take pictures at all stages so you can refer back to. As you begin to tear down your project, take pictures. This is so beneficial if you need to remember how something attaches or goes back together. Taking pictures in the later stages and once completed will also help you compare and grow as an upholsterer. You can refer back to previous projects to see if something you tried before worked or not, or if there was something you could do differently to yield better results. 

Tip 04: Buy Less Expensive Fabric and Extra Fabric

Another important consideration when choosing your first upholstery project is the fabric! Even if you have a sewing background, working with upholstery fabric and completing upholstery projects is different. When starting out, I highly recommend selecting inexpensive fabrics to alleviate the stress and cost. I also recommend purchasing extra fabric in case of a mistake.

It is important to remember and for me to reiterate that mistakes are okay and a huge part of the learning process! Don’t look at a mistake as if you did something wrong. Instead, think about how you can learn from it and take that insight with you on your next project!

For example, if I made a mistake cutting fabric or pulling the fabric wrong when securing it down.  Then on my next project, I’d recall that moment and say to myself okay, last time I made the cut here and I ended up with a bare spot on the outside of the arm. This time I need to think through where I should have made those cuts so that I still have enough fabric to cover up the areas that I needed to cover; or I’m pulling the fabric tight on the seat area of a chair, and I’ve got all these dimples happening in the fabric. Well that’s because I’m not pulling it even front to back across that surface.

These examples are all things that I call learning opportunities, not mistakes. We all have to start at the beginning. Remember, nobody starts off upholstering their first piece of furniture and has it come out looking flawless. That’s just not how it works.

Your First Upholstery Project

We all have to start somewhere! Everyone learns differently and at a different pace. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. My biggest tip when selecting your first upholstery project, and even your second or third, is to start small and not set your goals too high. Focus on starting simple to set yourself up for success and have pieces that you’re proud of. Starting with something easier will also bring you more enjoyment (not frustration) and you’ll want to finish the project. If you start to get frustrated by a project, chances are you will never finish it. Then your garage is going to still be full of unupholstered pieces of furniture, which we definitely don’t want! 

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See more Tips for choosing your first upholstery project in this Upholstery Life Video: Choosing Your First Upholstery Project

Kim’s Upholstery is all about helping and equipping others to learn the art of upholstery for pleasure, and if they want, enabling them to create an income for themselves – all on their own schedule! 

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