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Upholstered Headboard: A Tutorial

September 4, 2010

Looking for an easy homemade upholstered headboard?  We have a solution.  While I don’t normally post on the weekends, this is an easy project that could be done over a holiday weekend. This post is heavy on pictures and text, because based on some conversations I’ve had following this project, I know there are a couple of you planning to try it out, and I want to make sure I give you all the details so you can execute!

Our project below is adapted from a tutorial we found here, though our project has quite a few more steps as we decided to make it a little more complex.

1) Measure the Headboard Size and Purchase Wood Materials. First, measure the size of the headboard that you want.  Ours was 5’ x 3’.  Then, head to your local hardware store to pick up some MDF to create the frame.  If you intend to tuft your headboard or are looking for a more rigid frame, you will also want to pick up a large lightweight piece of wood/MDF (ours was about as thick as cardboard, but a little more rigid—like balsa wood).  Now, you could just as easily use heavy duty or high quality wood if that is something you want to do.  I would have 3 caveats about that—1) heavy duty wood is expensive, 2) You want it to be lightweight so that you can hang it directly on the wall to, and 3) You are going to upholster it anyway.  Here are the materials we used (note to self–setting white materials in front of a white background makes them kind of hard to see. Duh.).

2) Create the Frame. Next step, create the frame.  We used a miter saw to cut all four pieces at 45 degree angles.  Remember to measure to the longest part of the wood.  We cut 2-3’ pieces and 2-5’ pieces.

The next task was to attach the four pieces of the frame together.  Originally, we had purchased MDF nails, but quickly discovered that the nails caused the MDF to crack and were actually going to weaken the overall structure.  As a result, we switched over to a heavy duty staple gun combined with some wood glue.  We glued the two pieces together on the angles.

Then we stapled them together using a square to ensure our frame met at a 90 degree angle.

After that, we used the staple gun to attach the large piece of wood/MDF.  Of course, this piece was a little too large and we had to cut it down to the correct size.  With our jigsaw on the outs, we were short on tools, but because of the light weight of the piece we were using, we applied the “box cutter and bend it” rule.  We used a level to draw lines on the wood for the proper size.

Then we used the box cutter to “etch” into the wood.  We then bent it back and forth until it broke and trimmed it down using the box cutter.

A little ghetto perhaps, but it worked, and it doesn’t require anybody to go out and buy a new tool.  Don’t judge. You’re reading how to do it after all!  Here’s what it looked like when the frame was ready to go:

3) Purchase Fabric Upholstering Materials. Once everything was attached, it was time for a reality check—fabric, buttons, glue, and “poofy” material.  We headed off to JoAnn’s where we found fabric on sale for $7/yd, of which we only needed two yards, and since we were determined to tuft the headboard, we wandered around (two times) at JoAnn’s until we found the appropriate buttons.  Of course, we picked up the 2” foam, only to get to the check stand and discover it was $29.99/yd rather than $29.99/sheet.  I had already suggested to Chris that we could use quilt batting, but he was not going to go for it.  Yes, we looked at several other routes—the second place idea was to use an “eggshell” mattress (like you used to sleep on in your dorm room at college).  Of course, they don’t make those quite like they used to, and we weren’t able to find a single one which had at least one completely flat side.  Chris conceded that the quilt batting would have to do—and I gave in and bought 6 packages of quilt batting so that it would be “poofy” enough for his taste.  Luckily they were on 40% discount.  We also picked up a can of spray adhesive.

4) Measure Holes for Tufts. Next step?  Measuring the holes for the tufts.  I meant to do this first, but got a little overzealous and had already glued down one sheet of batting.  I drew several pictures of the potential patterns and once we had selected one, we used our laser level and an ice pick to make the holes.

5) Attach Batting to Headboard. After the holes have been punched for the tufting, the batting needs to be attached to the headboard.  We used 6 sheets of quilt batting, and sprayed a layer of 3M spray adhesive between each layer.  Then, after all the batting is attached, turn the headboard over, wrap the batting around the back of the headboard and use a heavy duty staple gun to attach it to the frame.

6) Attach Fabric to Headboard. Lay the side of the fabric that you want to have showing FACE DOWN on a flat surface.  Then, lay the headboard down on top of it.  Wrap the fabric back around the sides of the headboard and attach it to the frame, again using the heavy duty staple gun.  When you pull the fabric around the edges, make sure to pull evenly.  If you pull harder in some areas than in others, the result will be a “wrinkling” or “puckering” of the fabric.  For those of you who have upholstered seat cushions before, this is the same process, just on a larger scale.  Below you can also see how I create the corners (staple all the way to the edge, leaving just 1” on each side of the corner.  Then pull that area straight back over the corner, making it as flat as possible before stapling).

Voila!  Now the fabric is on your headboard.  If you aren’t tufting your headboard, then you just need to hang this up and you’re done!

7) Create upholstered buttons. Next, I used the template to cut out the fabric for the upholstered buttons.  These were actually one of the more expensive portions of the project, running $4/for 3 buttons.  I folded the fabric in half when I cut out the ½ circle so that the whole thing was done in one fell swoop.

You then center the fabric over the portion of the button with teeth, pull the fabric over the teeth, and then snap the button back on.  Easy as can be!

8- Tuft the Headboard. This part is probably the most difficult, and quite frankly, I was grateful for my other half’s patience as we worked through this.  Thread a very long needle, and start at the back of the headboard (the side that will go against the wall).  Push the needle & thread straight through the hole that you created back in step 4.

Thread the button onto the needle & thread on the front side of the headboard.

Now, push that needle back through the SAME hole and pull it out on the backside.  (That’s the tricky part—finding the hole that you can’t see…it will likely take several tries, but just keep at it).  Now you have both ends of the thread on the backside of the headboard.  Pull the thread toward you until the button on the front side is as deep as you want it to be, and then tie the threads to the washer so that they don’t keep back through.  Repeat for all other tufts.

Ready to see the finished product?  Wait no longer:

We’d love to hear your thoughts, and if you try this out and it works for you, please let us know: we would love to share your project so everyone can see it! [P.S. Anyone notice the bigger pictures embedded in the posts this time?  Like it, hate it?  Let me know!]

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Barb Pond permalink
    September 4, 2010 8:24 am

    Looks terrific and now Jen has directions and pictures to follow to make hers:) Wonderful!

  2. Gina permalink
    September 4, 2010 8:29 am

    It looks like you have created another very easy to do project that turned out looking great!! I really like the bigger pictures in the post, it makes seeing the smaller details/items much easier.

  3. September 4, 2010 9:11 am

    Great job, Katie & Chris! Just curious though, how durable do you think this will be in the long term? Is it something against which you can put your weight to read a good book or watch a movie? Or is it mostly just decoration? (I had a hard time wording that question. I hope it makes sense.)

    • September 4, 2010 10:24 am

      Hi Wendy,
      It’s in the guest bedroom, so we are definitely anticipating that the “wear & tear” would be less than if we had put it in our bedroom. That said, because we attached the solid panel, we created more sheer and support in the overall frame which means it’s sturdy enough for someone to lean against it. The original tutorial I had read did not include a solid panel, which means that you would have ripped the batting by leaning against it. While the primary purposes were decoration and function (to prevent pillows from wandering off the back edge), it is fairly sturdy. =) Hope it helps!

  4. Grandmom permalink
    September 4, 2010 5:05 pm

    GOOD JOB, Katie and Chris. Really looks good.
    I do like the larger pictures.

  5. Jen permalink
    September 6, 2010 7:13 am

    Thanks Katie…this looks SUPER easy (because we aren’t intending to tuft them) so I think that it may be something we can finish before we have the kids next.

    It looks great!

  6. ArtistWannabe permalink
    June 27, 2011 2:01 pm

    I’m going to try something similar to this. Right now I have a mission style headboard & footboard with plenty of narrow slats. I don’t particularly care for this look. The slats are framed inside solid wood pieces on all sides…so I will put fabric where the slats are (and batting/foam). I’ll building something like you did here on a board, but then attempt to attach it to the frame of the headboard and footboard. Any pitfals I should avoid?

    The tufting looks nice, but I guess it can be any button — doesn’t have to be the same fabric.

    The set will be finished in a Bombay Mahogony stain, and I’m looking for a fabric to compliment that, if you have any suggestions.

    • June 30, 2011 3:43 pm

      Thanks for stopping by! Sounds like an exciting project.

      The only tip I might add is that if you’re planning to attach a piece of wood to the existing headboard you have, and then planning to tuft over that, you’ll need to line up the tufting in such a manner that you won’t be hitting the existing wood slats. There are lots of tutorials on tufting out there–and you could definitely use any fabric for the tufted buttons. You may want to note that buttons for tufting are generally a specific type (not just any button) because they have to be quite durable to “pull” in the foam or fabric to create the look. I haven’t seen a headboard tufted with regular buttons before.

      Just my advice–and good luck!

      I’d love to see the finished project!

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