Hidden Art Friday, Emily Needs Help! Edition 1

Happy Friday, everybody!  Now that we’re back from our summer hiatus, it’s time to start spending our Fridays celebrating the hidden arts of homemaking–cooking, decorating, organizing, etc.  But as you know, I’ve been off my feet for the past six weeks, so nothing of that sort has been happening around here.  Instead, I’m going to ask you guys for help brainstorming what to do with my couch.  Here’s our family room couch.

IMG_2397We bought it on sale at Art Van Furniture the week we got back from our honeymoon, 11 years ago.  It was never my style, but it was cheap and neutral colored.  My husband thinks it is comfortable. So do my kids, who usually roll around it until I want to scream with frustration because it almost always looks like this, plus a hundred toys:

IMG_2396Over the years, it has faded in the sun, had tea, spit-up, paint, leaky diapers, and random food rubbed into it, and most recently, my toddler decided to draw on every side of every cushion with a non-washable marker that somehow escaped the Great Marker Purge of last year (after an incident involving walls and other furniture).  I even took a bunch of pictures to illustrate the state of various surfaces:

yucky couchI think that pink stuff in the top center picture is strawberry milkshake from yesterday’s trip to In-n-Out.  I’m not sure.  I’m just the cripple sitting in the corner with my foot up who buys my kids fast food for dinner when I’ve forgotten to pull a casserole out of the freezer.  The center pic is what happened after one cleaning attempt.  Oh, and do you like the cording busting out and the way the top of the couch is literally coming apart?  I’ve been saying for years, “The next time we move, we’re getting rid of this piece of junk!”  Problem is, we’re moving this fall (more on that another time), and we don’t have money to buy a new couch, but we will be hosting a ton so can’t afford to lose any seating.  And can we all agree that this couch, in its current state, is too yucky to move into a new house?

So here are my options. First, I buy a cheapo slipcover and just cover up the grossness.  They do not make this couch anymore, nor do they make slipcovers for it (that I can find).  My sister-in-law bought some generic ones for their couches that look not too bad.  Problems with that solution: I grew up with slipcovers (my parents had the same problem with outdated couches and no money to replace them), I thought they always looked messy (not that I’m one to judge, see pictures above), and most of them are made with microfiber, which is a magnet for kid junk in our house.  Also, and more importantly, the loose side and back pillows model of this particular couch wouldn’t work as well with a slipcover as a more traditional shape of couch.  And I’ve tried draping a quilt over the worst stains when company comes, but see the photo above of how my couch usually looks, pillows askew and everything everywhere, so something non-fitted is not really a solution.

Second option, I reupholster it myself (I cannot afford to pay for it to be done for me).  When Anna did this, I was in awe.  It sounded so complicated and intense.  But I’ve had a lot of time to sit and browse pinterest this past month, and I’m feeling optimistic that I can do it so that it’s mostly like a removeable slipcover.  The cushions are all really straightforward, and I have done tons of quilting and garment sewing as well as a bit of home decor work.  I can do it.  I think.  So this leads to options 2A, B, and C (are you still following me?  I worked out this mental outline in my head in bed last night).

A) I use white canvas.  Pros: It’s the cheapest fabric at JoAnns.  I could probably do the whole couch for just over $100.  Also, I read this blog post about how every mother of young children should have a white slipcover couch so that she can just wash and sun bleach the cushions every time they get dirty.  Just the day before, I’d been discussing white couches with my college roomie, who said the same thing about washing and bleaching her white slipcovers.  Cons: Judging from the state of aforementioned mom’s blog, she spends more time on her house than I do.  In fact, her mention of slipcovers made me realize that our other, less-gross couch, has slipcovers that could be washed.  In the seven years we’ve had that one, I’ve never thought to wash them, which tells you all you need to know about the state of my furniture care.  Also, my roomie doesn’t have kids yet, so she said to take her experience with a grain of salt.  I mean, back before I had kids, I dusted every week, and you could eat off my floor.  I’m not sayin’ that kids necessarily make your standards of cleanliness drop, but for me, it’s true.  I can just picture myself with a white couch that has lovely pink dry erase marker and splotches of chocolate ice cream ground into it, bugging me daily, but not enough to wash the whole thing.

B) You may ask why I don’t just do another cheap plain color, because JoAnns has about 10 of them.  Part of it is the whole moving-to-a-new-house thing.  The other neutral colors available would clash with the walls of our new place.  Maybe I could get away with cream, but I have to look at our paint chips again.  To make a long story short, I had to pick from a limited palate, I can’t repaint the walls, and this couch will be up against a wall.  And I feel like bright and/or dark colors would show just as much dirt and be harder to clean because I can’t bleach them.  Also, we’ll be getting direct sun in almost all day, and my one piece of furniture that was once a nice chocolate brown has been bleached into ugliness by way less sun exposure, so I’m afraid to go dark and bold again.

C) I upholster with a print.  I’m especially fond of the French General Blue collection of upholstery fabric.  Pros: I like these prints better.  I’d feel like my family room was more personalized.  A pattern hides a lot more stains than a plain color, so I wouldn’t have to wash as often.  I am most excited about this option!  Cons: This stuff costs a lot more.  I priced it out at JoAnn’s with the current sales (because like Kohls and other places of that ilk, everything there is perpetually on sale), and my favorite print would be upwards of $250 with the yardage I think I’ll need.  Yikes.  That’s cheaper than a new couch, but more than I’d been hoping to spend.  And what if I totally botch the whole thing and end up wasting 2-3 times what the other options cost?  Double yikes.

So, dear readers, if you have made it this far, what do you think I should do?  Do any of you have a funky loose cushioned couch like mine that worked with a pre-made slipcover (choice 1)?  Any of you moms-of-littles have a white couch (choice 2a)?  How clean does it actually look most of the time?  Or do any of you have, say, a solid navy blue couch (2b) that doesn’t show dirt or is easy to clean and hasn’t been bleached out by sitting in the sun all day?  Or anyone have an idea where I can raise a quick $250+ to do choice 2c, the one I want to do but probably can’t afford?  I’m holding a garage sale as soon as my foot heals, but my garage sales usually bring in less than $50.  Or do you want to help me convince myself and my husband that this old couch, reupholstered in a print I love, is a higher budget priority than new window coverings for the new house?  Or anyone have a super secret source of cute upholstery fabric for under $5/yard so I can do it all and stay in budget?  Basically, if you were in my shoes, what would you do?  Channel your inner Edith Schaeffer (who once used scraps of leather to recover furniture!) and help me out!


By the way, it’s Anna’s birthday today.  Happy birthday, Anna!

In other news, I know I’m always mentioning Rachel Jankovic, but her most recent post, The Receiving Department, is such a refreshing antidote to those horrific videos we’re all seeing.  Go read it!  And have a great weekend, secure in the knowledge that you are not lounging on the world’s grossest couch…I am!

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16 Responses to Hidden Art Friday, Emily Needs Help! Edition 1

  1. Emily SD says:

    We’re working on an upholstery project right now. Your sewing skills are pretty honed–what an advantage! 🙂
    – Have you thought of making the top of the seat cushions in the printed fabric and the sides/back in a complimentary color? You could do throw pillows in the patterned fabric (piping in the second color maybe) to tie it all together?
    – We’re doing a cushion with buttons. The bottom of the cushion won’t be seen, so it’s in a cheaper fabric (a little cost-savings).
    – We have dyed a pre-sewn, white IKEA cushion cover. We just used the washer and dyed it a dusty green color. We didn’t want it to be too bright, so we only put it through one dye-cycle.
    – “Mattress ticking” is usually cheaper and sturdier. You’re stuck with stripes which can be super-cute if that’s your design style.
    We have a sofa in distress too, so you can tell what we’ve been discussing at the dinner table lately!

    • Emily says:

      I have thought about using print for the cushions and solid for the sides/back, but I’d forgotten about that when I made my list. That could be a huge savings… And yes, I love the look of mattress ticking!

  2. Jen says:

    I’m just glad you weren’t thinking of hiring out the reupholstering, because that is NOT worth it (unless the furniture piece is of heirloom-quality).

    We have a surefit slipcover (the stretchy kind) and it goes through the washer very easily and comes out pretty nice, but we also have attached cushions, so I know that’s a big difference.

    Reupholstering yourself might be the way to go. It’s mostly stapling, other than the cushion-covers. You could always skip the piping when you do it yourself (which will make them easier to wash, too).

    I didn’t see the blog post you aforementioned, but the part that I would be most concerned about with kids is the arms. Those ALWAYS get dirty (and those annoying arm covers never stay in place), and unless there is something removable over them, they will be impossible to get clean in white. But maybe something that slip-covers the couch base (incl. the arms) and is still removeable/washable, and then all cushions done individually? It will take a while to sew it all, but that would be the most versatile and easiest to wash. And then you can still do all one color, or 2 colors.
    However, if the more expensive fabric will feel “precious” to you, then just do the white (and maybe an accent pillow or 2 in the patterned fabric). It’s just not worth it to be on edge about fabric being stained. No one needs that extra stress in their life! 🙂

    • Emily says:

      Yes, I think that I’d make the base removable for cleaning, especially if I go the white route. You’re right, the arms take a beating with kids! =)

  3. Josh D. says:

    If you’ve got $200, keep an eye on craigslist for used couches. If you’re patient, you might be able to pick up something in much better condition than what you currently have. My brother-in-law got a 3-piece living room set (couch, love-seat, chair) there for $300…..so maybe keep your eyes open for that.

    • Emily says:

      I am a little skittish about buying used upholstered items unless I personally know the previous owners. Maybe it comes from growing up in a college town? There is so much gross stuff that can get ground into a couch. At least with this couch, it’s MY gross stuff. =) But I am keeping an eye out on craigslist and the facebook exchanges for a good deal!

  4. Dani M. says:

    I like Emily SD’s idea for the printed cushions and solid couch – great money saver.

    If that’s not an option, I vote for trying to swing option 2c. I don’t have any suggestions for making quick cash (I wish!) but if you’re going to go to all the trouble of reupholstering, it should be something you love, you know?

    Option 1 is a no go. Why spend money on something that you’re already 100% convinced you won’t like? We had a (free) plaid couch with a slouchy slipcover that I hated. I tried new pillows, a new spot, tucking it in every five minutes, but I just didn’t like it. Don’t do option 1! I finally took off the slipcover one day and realized that as much as I disliked the Christmas plaid with a tear in it, it was at least better than the mess that was the slipcover.

    Option 2A could work, but in my experience, my cleaning plans are always optimistic. If you know already that you won’t get around to cleaning them much, then that’s a bad sign. 🙂

    To sum up, I vote for Option 2C with budget help from Emily SD’s idea. I can’t wait to see what you end up doing!

    • Emily says:

      Dani, you’re right–when I look at most of the slipcover options and ALL the used couches I’ve seen on craigsist, I look at them and know I don’t like them, and they’re not even sitting in my home. So yeah, it seems silly to spend money on those options… But when I mentioned the cost of 2C to my husband, he laughed at me. More number crunching to do!

  5. Jackie says:

    Personally, I hate slipcovers because they only look nice if you don’t actually sit on the couch. We had one on our basement couch for awhile, and I found myself telling the kids not to sit on it because I was so tired of tucking it back together. I eventually realized this was silly and now we’re back to its original 1970s orange and brown loveliness. Honestly, the white canvas sounds almost as (or more?) labor intensive to me since, if it were my house, I’d be forced to wash and bleach it almost constantly to keep it looking decent. I like the previous commenter’s idea about using a print for the cushions to keep costs down. I’ve also had some luck with upholstery fabric on ebay. Waterproof outdoor fabrics are also pretty good, less expensive, and great in terms of stain resistance.

    • Emily says:

      Jackie, did you find enough upholstery fabric on ebay to actually cover something? I’m thinking I’ll be needing around 20 yards total for the project, though I’ll have to recalculate if I go for separate pillows and base fabrics. I was looking on etsy, and the yardages weren’t enough for the whole thing, but I barely scratched the surface of looking.

  6. Christie says:

    I also vote for Craigslist though I understand your concerns. You could almost definitely find something newer, cleaner and better in the $100-250 range and think about all the TIME that would save. Especially with a move… I really do wrestle with time investments vs. money investments, but lately I’ve been thinking that time and lower stress levels are much more valuable than money. (which doesn’t mean I go out and spend, it just means even more waiting) = ) Not sure what kind of window treatment options you’re thinking of, but could those be sewn? or endured for a year so you could sit happily on a couch you love? Wishing you the best! = ) May the decorating wits of Edith Schaeffer be with us all!! = )

    • Emily says:

      Hi Christie! The time spent isn’t that much of an issue, since we’re not moving for another couple months, and I’m pretty much sitting around for several more weeks with a broken foot (fortunately, not my sewing machine pedal foot!), but if something showed up, I would be open to it. I have been casually stalking craigslist for several “new house” things all summer, and not too much has shown up in my style and price range. But obviously, that’s a possibility if something else shows up! I’ll share my window treatment issue next time… basically, we are moving to a place with a LOT more windows in very different sizes than we have now, and I’m going to re-purpose as much as I can from our current stock of stuff, but a certain amount of buying is just going to happen. I’ll definitely be sewing as much as I can, but that can’t happen until we’re actually there to measure and everything.

  7. Anna says:

    Oh man, if you’re going to reupholster, I wish I could send you my professional staple gun and air compressor. I wish we lived closer! (on many issues, not just this one…) The correct tool made all the difference for me on this last project. But if you just did a basic job on the back and made casings for the pillows, that probably wouldn’t be nearly as involved as my shaped couch. I think my final vote would be more along the custom slip-cover line. But I’m no help in the color department, sorry!

    • Emily says:

      I checked that upholstering book that you mentioned out from the library, so as soon as D can get there and pick it up for me, I’m going to take a look at tools and things. We don’t even have a working stapler, but I have to repair a TON of staples on plantation blinds before we move, so I need to buy a staple gun, anyway. Brand you recommend? If we were neighbors, you’d have inspired me to do this years ago!

  8. Kathy D. says:

    Emily- I completely sympathize with your couch plight. My 8 year old brown microfiber couch is covered with kid grime, dog hair and caveman-like pen drawings. My only recommendation is that you DO NOT go with the white option. Both my sister and my friend have white couches and both regret it. They both went into it thinking that they could just launder it as needed, but their kids have found a way to keep the couches in a constant state of filthiness. It just takes one errant two year old covered in spaghetti sauce to cause a disaster. (Or, as in my household, a two year old with a Sharpie!)

    • Emily says:

      Ha, Kathy, my two year old is responsible for spaghetti stains AND sharpie stains on the couch, so I totally hear you! I appreciate hearing real world experience from moms who don’t spend every day bleaching the couch so that the living room looks pinterest-worthy. =) I think that’s confirming my suspicion that all-over white, at least, is a no-go. Ironically, all of this discussion and pricing out has us reconsidering the buying new-to-us option again. I hate everything on craigslist within a 50 mile radius, but we have time… So many decisions!

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