Recently updated on March 2nd, 2023
Perhaps you’ve been in this situation: you’re browsing the fabrics at the fabric store (whether virtual or real), and you come across one fabric that catches your eye, only to discover it’s a piece of upholstery fabric. No matter what you do, you can’t help but wonder: can you make clothes from upholstery fabric?
Sewing garments requiring structured, mid- to heavy-weight fabrics can be done using upholstery. Upholstery fabrics can indeed be a fantastic option for coats and jackets since they are often stain-resistant, which is a feature you want in outwear. The prints on upholstery fabrics are often larger than those on garment-weight fabrics, making them ideal for creating a fashion-forward garment with an eye-catching print.
Be sure to keep a few things in mind that SewingWithEase notes for you when using upholstery fabric for your next sewing project.
What Is Upholstery Fabric?
Furniture fabrics, such as upholstery fabrics, are designed for use on couches and chairs. Upholstery fabrics are usually durable mid- to heavy-weight fabrics since furniture is often subjected to heavy use. To achieve this durability, a fabric can be backed to prevent it from stretching out, or it can be treated to make the surface waterproof or stain-resistant.
Fabrics for upholstery can be made from various fibers, such as cotton, wool, linen, silk, polyester, rayon, nylon, and others. Cotton canvas or duck is commonly upholstered on couches, wool tweed, bouclé, linen, and velvet. Due to their water-resistant properties and lower cost, synthetic materials such as faux leather and faux suede are also commonly used in couches and outdoor furniture.
How Does Upholstery Fabric Differ From Garment-weight Fabric?
The wide range of upholstery fabrics makes it challenging to generalize, but we’ll try. The following are some of how upholstery fabric differs from garment-weight fabric:
The fabric for upholstery tends to be thicker and stiffer than for garments. Many upholstery fabrics are water-resistant, stain-resistant, or designed for heavy use, so they can withstand much abuse.
Due to the scale of furniture rather than the scale of a human body, upholstery fabrics often have larger prints than garment-weight fabrics.
What Types Of Clothes Should You Sew Out Of Upholstery Fabrics?
We recommend using upholstery fabric in structured garments such as coats, jackets, and tailored pants, but there are exceptions to every rule, and fabric choice is very personal. Upholstery fabric should not be used on drapery garments like loose palazzo pants, boxy dresses, and tops with relaxed silhouettes. As a result, we have clothes that make me look like a stiff, wide box, which is not flattering.
Below are a few specific examples of how we suggest using upholstery fabrics in different types of clothing.
Cotton Twill, Canvas, Or Duck?
Printed cotton fabrics with tight weaves are frequently used for cottage-style couches, such as cotton twill, canvas, or duck. The array of colorful prints is truly dazzling! These fabrics work well in pleated skirts since they have a stiffer hand. (Avoid using them in pencil skirts or skirts that hug the body; they will look stiff and unflattering.)
Consider pattern placement when cutting out your pieces using a large-scale printed fabric. Sew everything carefully, so you don’t inadvertently place a gigantic motif on your lady bits!
The tailored jacket was also made using tightly-woven cotton fabric (that was originally a curtain). Materials like this one are perfect for tailored garments because they are easy to press, the stitches disappear into the lightly-textured fabric, and they are substantial enough for tailoring.
Water-resistant cotton upholstery fabrics can also be used to make raincoats. Ensure you choose a pattern for a tailored or structured coat, not one supposed to drape loosely. We made this classic trench coat using water-resistant cotton twill (made using McCall’s 5525, a classic trench coat pattern with all the details).
Textured Fabric Like Tweed, Basketweave, And Boucle
Solid-colored couches are often covered in fabrics with subtle textures, such as tweed, basketweave, or boucle. An elegant tailored coat or blazer made from these fabrics would look fantastic.
Because upholstery fabrics are typically quite thick, you must consider bulk when sewing these garments because they are fitted close to the body. Trim your seams wherever possible to eliminate bulk.
For a Chanel-style cardigan jacket, you may want to use an upholstery-weight bouclé. Making the Chanel-style below out of upholstery-weight fabric won’t hang nicely from the body. It wouldn’t hang nicely from the body if you made it out of a lightweight bouclé.
Faux Leather And Faux Suede
Many lower-cost furniture pieces are upholstered with synthetic leather or suede; many versions are water- and stain-resistant. Among its many uses, Ultrasuede is used in boat interiors because it is so durable! Water-resistant jackets and coats made from faux leather or faux suede would look fantastic.
Heavy-weight upholstery fabrics are an excellent option for coats and jackets with voluminous and sculptural silhouettes since they add no bulk to the frame, and their stiffer properties benefit the wearer. It would be best if you also remembered that Ultrasuede (and faux leathers and suede in general) is particularly uncomfortable to wear close to the skin, so either make the garment lose (so it stands away from the body) or line the garment with another fabric that feels more comfortable.
If you wear a fitted garment, avoid using faux leather or faux suede that is upholstery-weight. My first fitted dress, made when we started sewing, was bulky and uncomfortable because it was made from heavier-weight faux leather. Faux leather or lighter faux suede should be used for these types of fitted leather garments.
How Do You Sew Upholstery Fabric?
In the same way, you would sew garment-weight fabric. You can sew upholstery fabric. When sewing upholstery fabric, you should keep a few things in mind:
- If you want to determine whether your fabric shrinks or reacts to washing, prewash a small sample. It is essential to see how a fabric reacts to being washed before sewing it up into a garment that has a surface treatment that makes it water-resistant.
- When sewing upholstery fabrics, you will need a larger needle due to their thickness and weight. When sewing upholstery-weight fabrics, we use a size 100 needle. Before starting your project, test the needle on a scrap piece of fabric.
- Be sure to cut and grade your seam allowances—don’t skip this step! Depending on the fabric, you might be able to avoid trimming your seam allowances when sewing with garment-weight fabric, but with upholstery-weight fabric, you can’t. Trimming seam allowances where multiple seams meet is essential—otherwise, your garment will have an unsightly lump!
Can You Sew Clothes Out Of Other Types Of Home Décor Fabric?
We think it would be very easy to sew clothes out of two other home decor fabrics:
- Lightweight, floaty fabrics such as sheer curtains, and
- Fancy silks such as decorative draperies.
Cotton Voile, Eyelet, And Batiste
Summer dresses and tops can be made from lightweight cotton fabrics, such as sheer curtains. Look for slouchy, loose-fitting silhouettes that are the exact opposite of upholstery fabric. Floaty midi dresses with ruffles and floaty skirts are often made with cotton eyelets. You could make a lovely sheer blouse using cotton voile.
Silk Taffeta, Jacquard, Matelassé, Dupioni And Brocade
Finally, perhaps the most mouth-watering is the decorative silk typically used in high-end curtains. In addition to their vivid colors and patterns, these luscious silks often feature wild textures and patterns. Try visiting the silk brocade department in the apparel Mood Fabrics store and comparing it to the home decor branch of Mood next time you are in New York. You’ll see what we mean. The decorative silks in the home decor department typically have more patterns than the garment-weight section.
Using these decorative silks in structured evening wear, such as tailored evening jackets and structured evening gowns (not those flowy, floaty gowns!). During a trip to Tokyo, we found traditional Japanese brocade that we combined with a modern geometric brocade that we found on Goldhawk Road in London to make this jacket.
Make sure you choose a jacket that fits quite form-fittingly when picking a pattern. By adding additional seams to shape the jacket, we were able to make it more flattering than the first iteration.
To conclude, don’t be afraid to check out the home decor section of your favorite fabric store – you can find beautiful fabrics there. Use the tips outlined above to select the suitable garment to make from the fabric.