Reupholstering and Tufting a Storage Bench

When it comes to DIY projects, I am huge proponent of practice. For someone like me who isn’t a natural crafter, it’s especially important. I have big plans to upholster and diamond-tuft a velvet headboard for our new bed, but king-sized headboards are very large, and velvet is very expensive. If that were my first upholstering and tufting project, I could end up with a very costly mistake. So, I practiced.

I bought this storage bench from Target a few years ago. I still like the function of it, but I was over the fabric.

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Target storage bench

I wanted to practice reupholstering and tufting, but I couldn’t find a tutorial for doing both on a storage bench. I did find this tutorial for reupholstering a bench very similar to mine, so I knew it could be done. And of course, there are tons of diamond tufting tutorials – this one is my favorite – so I just decided to kind of wing it.

Here are the supplies I used:

  • Phillips head and flat-head screwdrivers
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Ruler or level
  • Pencil
  • Sharpie
  • Drill
  • Staple gun
  • Button cover kit (I used 5/8″ buttons)
  • Scissors
  • Fabric (I think I used about four yards, but I would have been better off with five – measure around the perimeter of the bench and across the top to see how much you need, then add at least an extra yard to account for the tufting)
  • A long needle, around 5″ (I used doll needles)
  • Waxed button thread
  • Paring knife, pipe, hollow broom handle, etc (some way to make holes in the foam)

Prep work:

Step 1: Look at pictures of other tufted items online to figure out how many buttons you want. Use your button cover kit to make the buttons.

Step 2: Cut your fabric. Measure all the way around the base of the bench, then add about 4″ for overlap in the back. That’s your bottom piece.

To measure the top, you need to add double the foam thickness for each tuft, because the fabric needs to go in and then come back out. Make sense? I didn’t think of adding fabric for the tufts when I measured mine, but this is what I wish I had done:

(Foam thickness x 2 x Max # of buttons across long way) + Length of board + (Foam thickness x 2 for ends) + 4″ for stapling the bottom = Total fabric length

(Foam thickness x 2 x Max # of buttons across short way) + Width of board + (Foam thickness x 2 for ends) + 4″ for stapling the bottom = Total fabric width

My foam was 4″ thick and I planned to have 4 buttons across the length and 3 buttons across the width. So this should have been my math:

(4 x 2 x 4) + 38 + (4 x 2) + 4 = 82″ length

(4 x 2 x 3) + 18 + (4 x 2) + 4 = 54″ width (this happens to be the width of the fabric bolt – how convenient!)

That was SO confusing to try and explain. Leave questions in the comments if you’re confused and I’ll try to do better!

Then, onto the actual reupholstery and tufting process. I started with the top because I was dying to get the tufting out of the way first.

Step 1: Take off the hinges, feet, and any other hardware.

Step 2: Remove any fabric lining on the inside of bench top so that you can see where the previous fabric was attached. Try to keep it completely intact, if possible, so you can reuse it at the end.

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Top of Target storage bench

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Top of Target storage bench close-up

Step 3: Remove the fabric from the top of the bench. If you’re feeling ambitious, attempt to use the flat-head screwdriver and pliers to pry out the staples. This isn’t easy. If you can’t get them out, give up and cut it off, like I did.

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Parts of Target storage bench top

Whatever. It’s fine!

Step 4: Get that old fabric outta there! You should have a piece of wood, a piece of foam and a piece of batting.

Step 5: Using your ruler/level and pencil, measure out where you want your tufts to fall. This part is a little bit tricky. Your rows of buttons should alternate from odd numbers to even numbers. I had three rows, with three buttons on the outer rows and four on the inner row. To measure, I spaced out the three outer buttons evenly across the board, and then offset the buttons on the center row. They should be halfway between the buttons in the row next to them. Does that make sense?

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Top of storage bench marked with tufting spots

Maybe this diagram will help:

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Diamond tufting diagram

See the diamonds?

Step 6: Drill holes through each button mark. I used a 3/8″ bit, I think. It just needs to be big enough to fit the tip of your Sharpie through, so that you can …

Step 7: Lay the wood on top of the foam, and poke the Sharpie through the holes to mark them on the foam.

Step 8: Make holes in your foam that are a little wider than your buttons. I used a paring knife, but I found it pretty difficult and they came out really messy. Next time, I think I’ll just use a pipe or hollow broom handle.

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Upholstery foam with holes for tufting

Step 9: Lay your batting on the floor, then flip the foam over and put that on top of it. Put the wood on top of the foam, with the marked side up. If your batting is big enough, wrap it around the foam and board, and staple it down. My batting wasn’t big enough, so I should have used spray adhesive to attach the foam to the board, but I didn’t, because I’m a dummy.

Step 10: Lay the fabric that you’ve cut for the top on the ground, then put the batting, foam and board on top of that.

This was when I realized that I hadn’t given myself nearly enough fabric on the width. I wasn’t going to be able to do the deep tufts I had hoped for, and I wasn’t sure how deep I could go without running out of fabric, so I left myself as much slack as possible and stapled the edges. This way, the staples would keep me from pulling the tufts too tight.

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Marked top of storage bench with fabric

Step 11: Flip the whole thing over so that the fabric is on top, but you have access to the wood underneath. I put one end of the board on my coffee table and the other end on my chaise.

Step 12: Measure out an arm-length of thread, then thread your needle. Tie a single knot so that the thread will stay put.

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Doll needle with thread

Step 13: Starting in the middle of your top row, poke the needle up through your first hole, all the way through the foam, batting and fabric. I made sure it came through in the right spot by placing my hand over the fabric, then poking around gently with the needle until I could feel it under my hand on the other side. Don’t stab yourself, though!

Step 14: Once the needle is through the fabric, put it through your button.

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Tufting a storage bench

After threading the button, push your needle back down through the fabric, batting, foam and wood. It isn’t easy to find the same hole in the wood, but you’ll get the hang out of it. You just have to poke around.

Do a few buttons before you start pulling them tight. This will make it easier to see how much fabric slack you’ll need between them for the tufts.

Glitter and Goat Cheese - View of tufting from underneath top

Step 15: Pull on a few buttons at once to get an idea of how the tufting will look. Your fabric can’t be too tight, or you won’t be able to create the folds that form the diamonds. Once you’ve gotten the hang of that, start stapling your thread to the board. You’ll want to use a few staples for each thread, pulling it in different directions so it can’t slip through. It helps to have an assistant for this part: One person pushes down on the buttons on the top, and the other person is underneath stapling.

As you’re stapling, create the diagonal folds by kind of poking the fabric in on itself. It’s easy, I promise. You’ll also want to create horizontal and vertical folds (straight, not diagonal lines) from the outer buttons to the edge of the bench top.

Step 16: Once you’re done with all the buttons, wrap the rest of the fabric tightly around the board and staple it down.

Step 17: Cut off your extra fabric. I used pinking shears so it’d be less likely to fray. It should end up looking like this:

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Bottom of tufted storage bench with staples

Step 18: Put the lining back on top, and staple it down.

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Tufted storage bench with cover stapled on

That’s it for the top! The bottom is easy.

Step 1: Lay your fabric on the ground, then put the bench on its side on top of it. I didn’t remove the old fabric – I just went over it.

Step 2: Wrap the fabric tightly all the way around the bottom of the bench. Staple one end to the back of the bench. Then, fold over the other edge (you can hem it if you’re fancy) so that it looks nice and clean. Wrap it tightly, then staple at the top and bottom of the bench. The staples shouldn’t be visible from the outside. You can use fabric glue to reinforce it.

Step 3: Staple the fabric all along the perimeter of the bench on the top and the bottom. Make sure the staples are in spots that you won’t be able to see when the bench is shut.

Step 4: Cut off your extra fabric.

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Bottom of reupholsterd storage bench

Now, time to finish up! Just one step: re-attach all the hardware and the feet. Or rather, ask someone else to do it for you, because your fingers REALLY hurt.

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Close-up of inside reupholstered storage bench

The end! Here’s my finished product:

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Reupholstered and tufted lavender storage bench

It’s far from perfect, but I like it.

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Top of reupholstered and tufted lavender storage bench

Because the fabric on the top is so tight, the folds won’t stay put and keep pulling themselves out. The tufts aren’t deep enough, either. And lastly, two of the buttons have already come apart.

Oh, well!

Glitter and Goat Cheese - Tufted and reupholstered lavender storage bench
(There’s a sneak peek at our new bed!)

I learned a lot from this process, which was the whole point, so I consider it a success. My key learnings are:

  • Leave lots of extra fabric for the tufting.
  • If your buttons don’t feel secure when you’re making them, they probably aren’t going to hold up to any kind of use (i.e. someone sitting on top of them or leaning against them). I’ve already come up with a much more secure method for button covering – I’ll share it in another post.
  • Attach the foam to the board in some way before you start tufting so that you’ll be sure it isn’t moving around.
  • You can do this with a hand-powered staple gun, but you (or your assistant that you stuck with the stapling) are going to hate your life. We’ll be investing in a pneumatic one for the headboard.
  • Cutting through foam with a paring knife isn’t as easy as you would think. I’ll report back when I figure out what works better.

Because everyone loves a before-and-after:

Glitter and Goat Cheese - DIY tufted storage bench

I think that covers it! Longest post ever. Any questions?