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Slipcovers Save Furniture--and Money

August 25, 1990|JANET KINOSIAN | Janet Kinosian is a regular contributor to Home Design

As evening approaches, you anticipate cradling up into a comfy couch or an overstuffed chair. The only problem is you've curled up once too often and your favorite piece of furniture is aching to be restored.

Or, you found a tattered brown couch at a garage sale for $50 and you'd like to dress it up.

How do you make it attractive?

Reupholstery is one answer, but it's not the only way to give a tired couch or chair new life.

Slipcovers--fabric that's matched, cut, sewn and fitted over existing upholstery--generally cost about $150 less per couch and about $100 less per chair than reupholstering. They are also removable for cleaning.

But perhaps their best advantage is their versatility. Slipcovers used on couches, chairs and ottomans can be made from an unlimited array of fabrics.

"You can have a spring look, a winter look, a modern look, a sleek look--just about any type of look you want," says Judy Mulder of Judy's Custom Workshop, an upholstery shop in Laguna Hills that has specialized in slipcovers for 16 years. "The basic piece of furniture fits into your room, and then you can just change with the seasons or your moods."

For that frumpy country English style popular at summer homes in the Hamptons, homeowners use traditional fabrics such as chintz, chambray, sateen, pique, linen damask, twill, gabardine, faille, antique satin, rayon and cotton.

For a warmer look, use corduroy, velveteen, some mohairs, imitation furs, tweed, herringbone and flannel. About 14 yards of fabric are needed for an average couch and 9 yards for a chair.

And you have a choice of trimmings. Flounces come in box-pleats, double gathers, swags, scallops, pencil pleats and kick-pleats. Lace tie-ups, large bows and detailed edgings such as piping, welting or fringe set between the various sections add an attractive finish.

Laura Ashley Home Furnishing stores have slipcovers available for their Baker furniture line. Depending on your choice of fabric--either cotton or chintz--the cost is about $1,400 to $1,600 for a couch and $600 to $800 for a chair.

Pierre Deux, a country French home furnishing store in Newport Beach Fashion Island, offers traditional cotton for about $40 per yard and chintz at $60 to $85 per yard. For tapestry fabric, or something equally as heavy such as a screen of the Duchess of Windsor's garden, expect to pay about $225 a yard.

Finding someone to make your slipcover is your next step.

"Slipcover making is definitely a lost art here in Southern California," says Barbara Golden, manager of Pierre Deux. "The East Coast and the South still use slipcovers in force, and of course the English have perfected them."

Sherri Johnson, now an interior designer with Johnson & Titus Interior Design in Irvine, says, "It's been a bit frustrating not to have a plentiful supply of slipcovers available here in Orange County. (Back East), I'm used to having people come over on an afternoon, cut patterns, leave with materials and come back the next week with wonderful slipcovers."

Can you make your own slipcovers? Yes.

Is it practical? Yes, if you're an expert seamstress or if you enjoy doing handiwork that requires a lot of time and effort.

Complications arise when measuring and cutting the fabric. Experts measure furniture in a step-by-step order.

"My mom taught me how to measure them," says Mulder. "Most people don't know how to make them properly. Instead they have that loose, doll-house look."

If fitted correctly, slipcovers should look like upholstery.

If you feel confident in sewing your own slipcover, accept this one piece of advice:

Make a pattern first out of muslin, so that any false cuts will be made on it rather than your expensive fabric. Leave 1 inch all around for the seams, and pin each piece to the furniture. When you're sure the muslin is cut correctly, take the pieces off the furniture and use them to cut your final fabric.

A pattern will also help if you ambitiously decide to make another slipcover for the same piece of furniture.

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