What Do I Need to Start Doing Upholstery Work?
At Sailrite®, we want to help equip DIYers for any sewing project you want to take on. If you’re interested in learning how to upholster, we have great videos that will walk you through the process of upholstering a variety of furniture pieces step-by-step so you can learn as you go. Before you start your first upholstery project, we recommend stocking up on a few useful tools that will make your job much easier.
There are a lot of specialized upholstery tools that you can invest in later if you want to continue upholstering. But for beginners, we recommend a kit of mostly basic sewing supplies with a few specialized tools. We worked with our staff upholstery experts to create this list to help you get started. So here are our top 10 beginner upholstery tools, in no particular order.
10 Beginner Upholstery Tools
Although upholstery is a lot of pulling and stapling, there is often sewing involved as well. Sew up your own custom piping, new covers for seat cushions and more with a good heavy-duty sewing machine. Upholstery fabric assemblies can get pretty thick and the Ultrafeed® LS-1 Sewing Machine will walk over them all without issue. Ultrafeed Sewing Machines feature a built-in welting tunnel in the standard foot, so you can sew 1/4-inch piping without changing the foot. Offered in three packages — BASIC, PLUS and PREMIUM — there's an Ultrafeed machine for your budget.
An upholstery must-have is a good stapler. Save your hand the workout and use a pneumatic staple gun like the Sailrite® Upholstery Staple Gun. This stapler is lightweight, easy to use and reasonably priced. It comes in two different models, a long-nosed and short-nosed version, and both work great for upholstery projects. The short nose is the industry standard, while the long nose is great for tackling those hard-to-reach areas of your project. You will need an air compressor, hose and fittings to operate this staple gun. Those fittings can be purchased at your local hardware store.
Rawhide Upholstery Mallet
This lightweight mallet is great for hammering tack strips into place. It offers the force needed but also has a soft striking face so it won’t damage your fabric. This lightweight mallet can also be used for setting grommets, snap fasteners, rivets and much more.
Tack & Staple Remover
This tool is great for beginners because it pulls double duty. Use the end of the tool to pry up and remove staples. Then use the side teeth to pry up and remove tack strips. This tool works best when used in conjunction with pliers. Together you can easily pull staples to remove the old fabric from a piece.
Clear Acrylic Ruler
We can't recommend this measuring guide enough! In fact, we use it in almost all of our DIY project videos. It's more than just a ruler. The clear tool features measurements on along all four sides, making it great for patterning and marking lines a set distance from the fabric edge — ideal for marking boxing strips and cushion plates. The ruler also features lines for cutting 30-, 45- and 60-degree angles, which is a huge benefit when making your own bias piping. You can also use the ruler with a rotary cutter and cutting mat to cut strips without having to mark your cut lines with a fabric pencil first.
Soft Tape Measure
Having a soft tape measure is helpful because it allows you to take accurate measurements around the contours of cushions, armrests, ottomans and more. Our 120-inch tape measure is made from fiberglass with metal tips on both ends. It will not tear, stretch, shrink or fade. You'll use it again and again for upholstery projects.
Curved & Extra Long Upholstery Hand Needles
Hand needles are bound to come in handy during upholstery DIYs. These curved needles are used to sew the decking to the chair, to slipstitch cushions, and to stitch springs to webbing or burlap. The long needles are used to add buttons for tufting and to attach springs to bottom webbing.
Straight pins are so helpful for sewing projects. They are truly a sewing staple. Use these pins to hold your sewing together or to mark fabric when pattern matching. The white plastic heads make the pins easy to see in your fabric and easy to grip and remove before sewing. The pins come in a convenient storage box.
Various Marking Tools
Marking pencils, water-soluble markers and tailor's chalks are a must for upholstery work. They allow you to pattern your fabric pieces so you can cut out your panels accurately. The marks made on fabric are easy to remove with a wet rag or simple friction. They're also great for marking the placement of items like buttons, zippers and snaps. The Marking Tools Variety Package (#122190) has every kind of marking tool you could ever need for your upholstery work. We highly recommend it!
A great pair of scissors is essential to any fabric project and upholstery is no different. We really like these Gingher® Knife Edge Scissors. It can also be helpful to have a rotary cutter and cutting mat around as well, especially for making bias piping.
In addition to those tools, you’ll need other materials that can be purchased on a project-by-project basis like fabric and trims. However, there are a few materials that get used in most projects that we think would be worth keeping around your workshop.
Materials to Keep on Hand:
- Cardboard Tack Strip (learn how to use this and other tack strips in our post "3 Types of Upholstery Tack Strips & How to Use Them" #300007XHT)
- Basting Tape
- Jute Webbing
- Cambric Dust Cover Fabric
- Nylon Thread
- Sewing Machine Needles
- Piping/Welting Cord
- #4.5 Zippers
- Foam Lock Spray Adhesive
Armed with all the right tools and materials, you can take on any upholstery project! Ready to get started upholstering? Check out one of our upholstery posts and learn how to re-cover an armchair (#200668XHT), channel back chair (#200673XHT), a recliner (#200680XHT) or a chaise lounge (#300434XHT).
If you want to order all of the materials listed above, check out our easy-to-order Upholstery Tool Kit (#107122). You can find all these tools along with thousands of home décor fabrics right here at Sailrite.
Upholsterers, what did you think of this list? What tools would you add or subtract? Share your ideas in the comments.