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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Upholstered Headboard How-To

My entire life, I've dreamed of having a big, four-poster, canopy bed that sits imposingly in the middle of a ginormous bedroom. What I have right now is a little bitty bedroom and a bed on a metal bed frame. Oh, that metal bed frame. We've shopped for an actual bed, with a headboard and foot board, but we've run into some roadblocks. First, our bedroom is so small that any bed that adds length to the bed (like those scrolly sleigh beds) is right out. Also, it's hard to tell what we want to get, since right now our bedroom is a mish-mash of hand-me-down furniture and bedding that is comfortable and functional, but doesn't really reflect us. (And by "us," I mean me. D's contribution to the decor in the bedroom is a Harry Caray figuring on the bedside table. Yes, I sleep with Harry Caray watching over me.) Oh, and a bed isn't exactly in the budget. So the best option for us was for me to tackle the daunting task of putting together an upholstered headboard myself. It wasn't especially difficult, and I'm pretty pleased with the results. Most importantly, the total project cost was around $85. I did a lot of research before I started this project and my process was a mess of steps from lots of different sources that I chose because I liked the way they looked, was able to understand them, and though they'd be the easiest way to do it. The bulk of the instructions came from a website called When I went back to check my link it was gone. Odd. The steps here are modified from mostly that source.

So here is the much-anticipated tutorial on making your own upholstered headboard:

1. Decide on the size and shape you're after. The width is easy - just measure the width of your bed. Our king-sized bed is 77 inches wide, but measure yours - apparently, there are some big discrepancies. A classic rectangle is the easiest option, but I wanted a curvy line at the top of mine. (There are already a lot of boxy rectangles on that wall - two cornice boxes, a big rose picture, the bed itself. . . I wanted to soften up all those lines.) To figure out the height, you might want to painters-tape off what you think you want on your wall and live with it for a couple of days - it needs to be high enough to clear your pillows when they're set up, but if it's too high, it might overpower the room. I made ours pretty low because the room is teeny-tiny.

2. Gather your materials:

1/4 inch plywood that's big enough for your project (for mine: 77 x 27 inches); make sure it's not warped or damaged: about $25 at Lowe's or Home Depot

2 inch foam as big as the headboard (at Hobby Lobby, sold in big rolls): about $25 - if you can't find one piece that's big enough, it's not a problem to put two side-by-side; you won't be able to tell on the finished product

batting to cover the whole thing, plus six inches on all four sides (at Hobby Lobby, with the fabric and interfacing - you can buy the cheap stuff; it doesn't have to be super-soft): about $12

interior decorator fabric - enough to cover the headboard, plus about six inches on all sides (shop at IOMetro Home on Walton and F Street in Bentonville first - they have modern fabrics for $7.95 a yard - that's a ridiculously good price): about $20

buttons to cover (at Hobby Lobby, they're with the zippers and thread in the sewing department - I chose 3/4 inch buttons, and I got six of them): about $6

something to fasten the headboard to the wall - a 2x4, flush mounts, or French cleats - see step nine for details

a staple gun with 1/4 inch or 3/8 inch staples

a roll of butcher paper or wrapping paper, if you're going to design a curvy top

a jigsaw to cut out a curvy top - if you're just going to do a rectangle, they'll make a cut or two for you at Lowe's or Home Depot, so you don't have to make any cuts yourself

a superlong needle to attach the buttons - I used a doll needle

embroidery floss, toothpicks, glue, tape measurer, pencil, marker

3. Cut out plywood in the shape you want. If you're doing a curvy top, measure out the width of the headboard in butcher paper, then freehand the design. Decide which side you like better, fold paper in half (so you'll have a symmetric headboard) and use that side as the pattern to cut out the paper. This is a good point to stop and tape this up to the wall for a few days to figure out if you like the design, and if you have the height perfect. (I didn't do that. I just went for it.) Lay the butcher paper out on the plywood, measuring to the desired top of the headboard and matching that up with the top of your design. Trace around the top, remove the butcher paper, and use a jigsaw (or a dad who's gifted in the art of carpentry) to cut out the design. (The top picture has the butcher paper laid out on it - you can barely see it because it's so close to the color of the wood. The next picture is the cut-out shape in the wood. And my carpenter-dad.)

4. Measure where you want the tufted buttons to go, and drill small holes through the plywood. I used six buttons in a diamond pattern. You can definitely do more than that if you want a more padded look. The more buttons, the fluffier it'll look. If you want to do streamlined (or if you've chosen a fabric with a strong pattern or a monogram) you don't have to do buttons at all. (This picture shows P doing the measuring. I would caution that having a 2-year old do this step isn't your best bet. I know she looks like she knows what she's doing, but her math was a little off. . .)

5. Lay the plywood on top of the 2 inch foam and trace the shape onto the foam - you can use a Sharpie or any marker that will mark on foam. Cut the foam out with regular scissors. (If it's just a touch sloppy, that's okay - you can see mine is a little rough.)

6. Lay your fabric, face down, on a big, clean, open space. (I used my living room floor. So I settled for just any space.) Lay your batting down on top of it. (Fabric and batting should be about the same size.) Oh, lots of how-to sites recommend that you iron your fabric before you start this step. I didn't, and it turned out fine. If your fabric is super-wrinkled, or if it would make you feel better, by all means iron. Then come over to my house. I have some shirts. . . Lay the foam on top of that, then line up the plywood on the top. At this point, you should be looking at a big headboard sandwich with batting and fabric sticking out on all sides about six inches. Peek under the fabric to make sure that it's lined up square - that whatever pattern is on it is going to sit evenly and not be wonky.

7. Gently pull the fabric and batting up over the top center of the plywood and staple on the back on the wood. Go to the bottom center of the headboard and pull and staple there, too. Next, do the center of both sides, so you have four staples in the middle of the four sides. From there, you can flip the headboard over to make sure the fabric hasn't shifted on you and the pattern is straight. (Of course, I didn't check mine. Decorate by the seat of my pants, I do.) Go back to the bottom of the headboard and gently pull and staple your way around, working out from the center of the bottom, top, then sides. When you get to the corners, pull and staple however makes it the smoothest on the front - it'll look like weird hospital corners on the back, but who cares what the back looks like. If you're working with a curved top, you might have to snip the fabric and batting a little bit to make it lay smoothly in the curves - just make sure you aren't cutting fabric that's going to be visible. I think the more staples, the better. Also, I love staple guns. Would use them all the time if I could. (Again, another step not ideally suited for a 2-year old.) When you're done stapling, check one more time to make sure the fabric is straight. Now is not too late to rip it out and start stapling again.

8. Cover the buttons with scrap fabric (there are instructions on the button package - it's very easy). Thread a super-long needle with embroidery floss (all six strands at once) and slide it through the hole you drilled in the back of the headboard. Lace the button onto the needle, then get the needle back through the hole. If you can do that from the front, congratulations. You're probably a decorating ninja. I couldn't get the needle back through the hole, so what I had to do was unthread the needle, then push it through from the backside again, but this time backwards, so the part that came out the front was the eye of the needle. Then I rethreaded it and pulled it through. Kind of tedious, but I was only doing six buttons, so not the biggest deal in the world. I got all the buttons on the headboard before I started tying them. The tying is a two-person job. One person pushes the button into the headboard from the front, making a nice, deep tuft, and the other person ties the embroidery floss in the back. I tied it around two toothpicks, so the knot didn't sink back through the wood, and then I topped each knot with some glue so the thread wouldn't slip. (I used my fancy scrapbooking glue, but Elmers would work.)

9. Time to attach the headboard to the wall. There are a few ways to do this. You could screw the whole thing onto 2x4's, so it looks like it's on stilts, and screw the legs into the bed frame. This is the best option if you're renting or don't want to put holes in your walls. To get the right height on the legs, the headboard should sit one inch below the top of your mattress, and the legs should extend most of the way up the back of the headboard. I also saw a lot of how-to's for making headboards that described using flush mounts, which you can buy at Lowe's or Home Depot, that screw into the wall, and into the headboard, and then the pieces fit together to hold the headboard up. Again, just center the headboard over your bed and let it rest one inch below the top of the mattress. What we did (and by "we" I mean my dad, because at this point we were into "carpentry," which is not my area of expertise, so he took over) was split a 2x4 at an angle, screw one piece horizontally into the headboard, and one piece into the wall, so that the headboard is just resting on that piece, and it's weight is keeping it up against the wall. If you're going to do this, make sure to get the wall piece into studs, and make sure that the screws you use on the headboard are short enough to not pierce through the headboard.

10. Sit back and bask in your decor proficiency. Congratulations. And send me pictures if you try this.
Since I've done this headboard, I keep noticing awesome upholstered headboards in magazines and catalogs. Here are some of the best ideas I wish I had had myself:

I love the line on the top of this one. Interesting, but not too girly.

Monogrammed headboard! I love this idea. Wouldn't have worked for me. (I don't think D would have appreciated a headboard with just my monogram on it. And if it had two, would that just look like a seating assignment?) But for a kid's room? Adorable! (Grrrr - I can't find a picture! I'll keep looking and post it if I can find it again. But you can imagine it, right? It's awesome!)

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I am impressed! I don't think in a million years, for a million dollars that I could complete that project! I think that the new headboard looks perfect in your bedroom.