When I came up with the idea to redecorate my daughter’s bedroom, I knew I wanted it to be something special. Nothing to complicated or sophisticated for a little girl, but not cookie cutter either. And since I’ve been wanting to try my hand at making an upholstered headboard, I figured this was the perfect opportunity. So without further adieu, here’s a step-by-step tutorial for making an upholstered, tufted headboard of your own. If you prefer not to tuft, ignore step 2 and stop at step 6.
- Plywood (opt for FSC certified or reclaimed if you can help it)
- Jigsaw (if you plan to cut a shape) or a carpenter to cut it for you
- 1- or 2-inch foam
- Spray adhesive (still trying to a less toxic alternative)
- Scissors (Xacto knife or electric knife are optional, but could make the job easier)
- Staple gun
The rest of this list applies ONLY if you plan to tuft your headboard.
- Upholstery needle
- Covered button kit
- Embroidery floss
- Washers (to anchor the buttons)
Step 1. Cut to shape or size.
I immediately knew I wanted the headboard to have a sophisticated shape — ie. not square. But because we’re in apartment and therefore lack the space to rent and use a jigsaw, I hired local carpenter to cut the shape for me. Cost me $35 for the labor and materials, and it was well worth the cost. However, if you prefer a rectangular headboard, so you can simply get your local home improvement store or lumberyard to cut a piece of plywood to size. To determine the size I wanted, I measured the width of the bed, frame and all, and added an inch just to make sure once the bedding was added, the headboard wouldn’t seem too narrow. For the height, I just measured to what looked right. Some people prefer to use legs, but to make sure the headboard would be nice and sturdy, since I didn’t plan to attach it to the wall, I used a solid piece of plywood all the way to the floor, with the shape cut only from the top.
Step 2. Drill holes for tufting.
It may seem like this is coming early in the process, but you’ll be happy you did this now. Only you can decide how many buttons you want to do. Because of the shape of my headboard, I decided on a stacked pyramid of buttons, with 5″ of space between them vertically and 10″ horizontally. This took some careful measuring, but the result was awesome. I measured and marked the spot where I wanted each hole, then drilled a small hole through each mark, just large enough to accommodate a long upholstery needle. On the back side of the wood, I circled each hole to make sure I’d be able to see it later when it came time to tuft. If you just want a simple upholstered headboard with no tufting, you can completely ignore this step.
Step 3. Cut foam to match shape.
This part of the process is pretty simple and straightforward. Depending on the size of your foam, you’ll need to put two pieces next to each other to cover the entire width of the headboard. Because I was making a twin headboard, I got lucky in that the foam was wide enough. I still needed 2 pieces stacked on top of each other, but the second piece was an easy, straight cut. I used 1-inch thick foam, but 2- or even 3-inch will result in deeper tufting. Lay your foam on the floor, and put your cut plywood on top of it. Use a marker to trace the outline of the headboard shape onto the foam. Remove the plywood and cut out the shape. I used scissors, which worked OK, but the edges would’ve been cleaner had I used an Xacto knife or an electric carving knife, which I’ve heard cuts the foam like butter.
Step 4. Adhere foam to wood.
Spray adhesive is some pretty toxic stuff, and I actually tried some non-toxic glue that was supposed to adhere the foam to the wood first. When that didn’t work after several attempts, I resorted to the spray adhesive. I opened all windows and doors before using it, and it wasn’t terrible, but I’m definitely trying to find a better alternative. Anyway, this stuff gets tacky fast, so spray and be careful to line up your foam accurately when placing it on top of the plywood. Allow to dry for about 30 minutes. As you can see, the foam doesn’t quite go all the way to the bottom. Not a big deal, since that will be hidden behind the bed anyway.
Step 5. Cover with batting.
I managed to find undyed, unbleached 100% cotton batting at my local craft store, and again, it was just wide enough for my headboard. Place batting on the floor and put the headboard on top of it, foam side down. Cut the batting in the shape of your headboard, leaving at least 2-3 inches on all sides to accommodate stapling. I would suggest stapling the corners first, then tackling the most ornate edge of the headboard which will result in cleaner lines. Pull as taut and possible and try to make your folds around any corners as clean and snug as you can. There’s no science to it, but you’ll know if you have too much fabric piled together.
Step 6. Cover with fabric.
This step is very similar to the last. I used a little less than 2 yards of Mod Green Pod’s organic chocolate solid fabric, and it is the perfect weight for upholstery. Again, place fabric on the (clean) floor and put the headboard on top of it, batting side down. Cut the fabric in the shape of your headboard, but this time, I’d leave 3-4 inches on all sides for stapling. This is where I learned the lesson about stapling the most ornate side first. I made the mistake of stapling the three straight sides first, so when I got to the top, I didn’t have a lot of room to pull the fabric and form the shape properly. It still came out nicely, but I learned a lesson for next time. I wasn’t about to pull out 20+ staples to start over, so I did the best I could. But heed my advice: Staple the corners first, then staple the most ornate edge of the headboard. You’ll thank me later.
Once you’re done with step 6, you can stop for a minute and pat yourself on the back. If you have no desire to tuft your headboard, you’re done! Do a happy dance and admire your work. But because I like a challenge, I decided to tuft.
Step 7. Cover buttons with fabric.
While I was recovering from all that bending and stapling, I took the time to cover my buttons for tufting. Most craft stores sell covered button kits that come with instructions. Just follow them and you’ll be OK. It requires cutting out quite a few fabric circles and lots of pushing, so it can get time consuming if you have a lot of buttons. I planned to do 10 (pyramid of 1 button, 2 buttons, 3, then 4) , but realized too late that I only had 8 buttons. I stopped the tufting at 3 rows instead of 4, figuring I could always add the last row of buttons later and that they’d be pretty low on the headboard and covered by pillows anyway.
Step 8. Tuft!
After reading a ton of online tutorials, I decided I like my fingers and didn’t want to end up with a bunch of tiny cuts, so I used embroidery floss to attach my buttons. Thread a long length of floss in your upholstery needle and tie the ends, like you would if you were sewing by hand. Anchor the floss to a single washer by wrapping it around the outer circle, then pulling the thread through itself. Go through your pre-drilled hole from the back of the headboard to the front. Pull the thread through the back of the button, then go back through the same spot where you pulled out the needle and back through the hole in the headboard. This can be tricky and requires patience, but if you have a long enough upholstery needle, you shouldn’t have have too much trouble finding the holes, even from the front of the headboard. Once you go through to hole to the back, pull as taut as you can to achieve a nice deep tuft. Wrap the thread around the washer as many times as necessary to maintain a nice, tight pull. In some cases, I also stapled the embroidery floss to create an even tighter anchor. Repeat for all your buttons.
Warning for this step: If your spray adhesive isn’t completely dry, your needle can become very tacky when you push it through the holes and therefore a pain to work with. The batting, in particular, will start to get stuck to the needle. I’d definitely recommend letting the adhesive dry until this is no longer an issue.
Voila! You are done!
Time spent: 3.5 hours. Not bad considering it was my first attempt at doing anything like this.
Cost: About $140. $35 to hire carpenter, $60 for fabric, and the balance went to supplies like foam, batting, etc. This is a fraction of what it would cost you to buy an upholstered headboard from a retail store, especially if it is upholstered in organic fabric.
More on Ja’Naya’s room redesign: