Think Outside the Fabric Box: Sew with Upholstery Samples Instead of Wool Felt

Upholstery Sample Birthday CrownI’ve been loving on these birthday crowns for a very long time, now, but because of my concerns about wool felt, I hadn’t been able to make any for my little girls. I tend to try to rely on the natural properties of a fabric instead of using interfacing, which can be an environmentally unfriendly material (although I will use it when I need to–stuff is there to be consumed when necessary, although ideally not consumed when not necessary), and there’s just nothing like wool felt for sturdiness and rich texture.

And then, my friends, I bought some big books of outdated upholstery fabric samples at my local thrift shop (its name, I swear to you, is Thrift Shop), and I have just been crafting the crap out of that stuff!

Birthday crowns, crayon rolls, scrapbooking embellishments, wall art, bookmarks–upholstery samples are the perfect size for any of these small projects, their paper backing renders them stiff and sturdy and less prone to fraying, their gorgeous patterns and textures give impact and personality to small-scale creations, and they’re sold in books of complementary fabrics and colors, allowing you to make a huge number of mitchy-matchy items.

Here are some tricks I’ve found for sewing specifically with upholstery samples–I swear, you’ll love it!

Upholstery Crown Close-UpTrick #1: Ask around. I scored big-time at Thrift Shop, but the fact is that styles change regularly, and so does the stock of any home dec fabric manufacturer. Ask around at fabric shopes, home improvement stores, or furniture stores (try the independent stores, because one time I called Lowe’s Hardware to ask for a refrigerator box for my girls, and the big-box retail people were total a-holes to me) for their sample books of outdated upholstery fabrics. I’ve also seen sample books on ebay, and at the free give-and-take section of my local Recycling Center.

Trick #2: Sew with a super-sturdy needle. Most upholstery samples are at least partially backed with paper, so you’ll be sewing through both of those layers. I use a sharp leather needle in my sewing machine for my upholstery work, and for my paper sewing.

Trick #3: Don’t even bother trying to turn your seams. Choose alternate methods of attaching two fabrics and concealing raw edges. When I sew two pieces of upholstery fabric together, I butt them up next to each other and seam them together with a satin stitch. I use the same stitch to cover my raw edges, even when I’ve backed my upholstery fabric with flannel or quilting cotton. You’ll get some stray threads, sure, but not many.

Trick #4: Mix and match. My favorite thing about books of upholstery samples is how all the fabrics within the book are complementary. This causes me to indulge in a lot of patchwork, especially for things like birthday crowns and crayon rolls, to show off the pleasing variations in color and pattern.

Trick #5: Use upholstery sample fabric for its strengths. Upholstery sample fabric is stiff, sturdy, often paper-backed, and absolutely gorgeous. Since you can’t turn your seams, however, you can’t neaten off a raw edge completely, and with that paper backing, you won’t want to wash it. Focus, then, on home dec, art, or other non-clothing uses for your fabric–anything to show it off, but not to get it terribly dirty.

How do you think outside the fabric box?

2 thoughts on “Think Outside the Fabric Box: Sew with Upholstery Samples Instead of Wool Felt”

  1. So glad I found this — I scored some at Goodwill a while back. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, but it was too awesome to leave behind. 😀


    Hi, I love these samples and I have used lots. If the samples are cotton, you can use a hot iron to iron the paper and it usually peels right off, if it’s not cotton, use a cloth on top. Or you can launder them and the paper dissolves.
    I use the samples for gift bags, mug rugs totes, and hot pads. It only takes imagination.

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