How to Make A Drum Lampshade

finished shade

Why are lampshades so boring?  When redecorating my living room, I searched high and low for lampshades with some character.  I found one I liked at Anthropologie, but after they were unable to provide me with more than one that didn’t have a design flaw (don’t even get me started!), I was back to the drawing board.

Like almost everything else in my living room project, I finally came to the conclusion I was going to have to make it myself.  I guess my tastes are just too weird to run with the current decor trends.

Thankfully, I found out that lampshades are not horribly difficult to make.  Much like with my couch tufting, the hardest part is tracking down the materials and all the necessary tutorials.  Since my couch DIY was so helpful, I thought I’d once again type up all the gory details for those interested.

What You Need To Buy

1.  Lamp Base:  You’re welcome to use one you already own, but you need to have it in hand.  It’s important to know how big your lamp base is, what it looks like, what kind of fittings it uses, etc.  You can’t order your parts to make the shade until you know what the shade is going on.  I find most lamp bases in stores currently to be just as dull as the lampshades.  Any that are interesting tend to be overpriced.

mercury glass lamp

I bought this working antique mercury glass lamp off of Ebay for less than $30 including shipping.  Ebay has tons of cheap antique lamps, many of them still in good working condition.  Even if they they aren’t working, you can rewire them with a lamp kit from Home Depot for $12.  I got this lovely milkglass base for another project for a mere $15.

milkglass lamp

2.  Fabric:  There aren’t many limitations on what kind of fabric you can pick, which is the beauty of making your own lampshade.  The special paper you have to use for the inside of the shade doesn’t stick very well to synthetic fabrics, so stick to natural fabrics like cotton and linen.  It’s also best to use a lightweight fabric because if it’s too thick, the light might not shine through well.  Still, there are thousands of lightweight cotton fabrics out there.  Go crazy.

look at your pattern

If you are wondering where I got my fabric, it’s a hand marbled fabric I bought from an artist in Oregon named Marjorie Lee Bevis.  She was very easy to work with, answering a few questions I had, and even sending me pictures of a couple different samples.  It’s even more stunning in person.  She sells lots of different colors at her website

Unless you’re making a really large shade, a yard of fabric is probably going to be enough.  In the Directions section, I detail exactly how to measure how much you need.  If you’re worried, do your calculations before you buy your fabric.  My fabric was $42/yd, so I made sure.

3.  Lamp Rings & Maybe Some Parts to Make Them Work: So, first thing, decide how wide (diameter) a lamp shade you want.  I wasn’t entirely sure, so I tried a few different lamp shades from other lamps around my house with the base I was going to use.  I liked the look of a shade that was 12 inches in diameter, so that’s what I went with.

Almost all of our lamp parts will come from The Lamp Shop.  You need to order two lamp rings, one plain bottom ring, and one top one that works with your fitting.  This is where you need to look at your lamp base.  See what type of fitting it uses so you know what kind of lamp ring to get.  Here’s a graphic of the most common types.


Scenario 1:  You have a harp or a harp/reflector bowl fitting and a finial you want to use that came with your base.  Great!  You just need to order a top ring for a spider fitter, which is called a washer top just to be confusing.  It should be the same diameter as your bottom ring.

Scenario 2:  You have the bottom remains of a harp, but are missing the harp and/or the finial.  This was my problem.  You can get a replacement harp and finials at The Lamp Shop, too.  Amazon also has a selection.  Get your washer top ring, too.

Scenario 3:  You got nothin’ but a place to screw in a light bulb.  Don’t panic, we can work with this.  You can do one of three things.  The most sturdy fitting is the harp/spider, so you can order a harp base in addition to the harp, finial, & washer top from the previous scenarios.  As they are a whopping 28 cents, this is not much of an additional hardship.  You could also buy a UNO top ring, but as I didn’t use one, I can’t tell you how to measure what size you would need. If you’re replacing an old UNO shade, measuring it would be a good place to start, though.  You could also buy a clip on fitter with a washer top ring and finial, but they slide around and have a hard time clipping to corkscrew fluorescents, so I wouldn’t recommend them, either.  However, sometimes with certain lamps you just can’t put a harp base on and they’re your only choice.

Pressure Sensitive Styrene:  This is the magic lamp making stuff.  It’s the slick, plastic-like coating that is on the inside of all lampshades that protects the fabric from the heat of the lightbulb.  The Lamp Shop sells it by the foot or yard, and it has an adhesive backing on it.  You just peel the paper back off and stick it straight to your fabric, easy-peasy.

Glue:  The Lampshop sells the quick drying glue you need already pre-loaded in an applicator bottle.  I wasn’t sure if that amount would be enough for my project, but I risked it.  It was more than enough.  I could easily make another shade with what is left.

Bulldog or Binder Clips:  The tutorials suggest using bulldog clips, which you can buy at the Lamp Shop or an office supply store.  However, unless you’re dying to own a box of bulldog clips, this could be one of the pricier parts of the project at $15.  I found basic office binder clips I had lying around in various sizes worked fine.  Plus, if you need to buy them, a box of small binder clips (the size that worked best) runs you $1.19 at Office Depot.

Items You May Need to Buy Depending on How You Finish Your Shade

You can finish out your shade in two ways.  I chose to put a bias tape trim on mine.  That’s what that plain purple strip of fabric is on the bottom and top of the shade.

finished shade

You can also make a basic looking shade where you just have one kind of fabric without any trim, like this blue shade:

basic lamp shadeIf you want to make a lamp with the bias tape trim, you’ll also need to buy:

Paper tape by the yard from the Lamp Shop, and make sure you buy enough, because I couldn’t find this in any craft store.  3/4 inch is the size you want.

Trim of Your Choice:  You can use ribbon instead of bias tape if you like, but double fold bias tape was easy.  You can either make your own bias tape, if you want it to be the same fabric you used for the shade, or you can buy premade bias tape.  I bought the premade stuff. Not only is it cheap (around $4 at Hancock Fabrics), it comes in many colors, and I liked the look of the solid color contrasting with my pattern.

bias tape

Plus, while making bias tape isn’t difficult, it’s one more step, and it does require a sewing machine.  If you feel up to the task, though, there’s a great video tutorial how to do it here.

If you want to make a basic lamp without trim, it’s helpful if you buy this molding wand from the Lamp Shop.  It helps you tuck the fabric up under the rings.

burnishing tool

Other Tools to Have On Hand, but You’ll Likely Already Own

  • A yardstick or measuring tape
  • Pen, pencil, chalk–something to mark your fabric & styrene with
  • Scissors or rotary cutting tool and mat
  • A couple heavy books


1.  First things first, you need to finalize the exact dimensions of this shade.  If you have your lamp base, and you’ve tried other shades from around your house with it, then you hopefully have a good idea now how big a shade you want.  You need to decide two things, the diameter (how wide across the shade should be) and how tall you want it to be.  This is a drum shade, which means there’s no slant to it.  It will be straight up and down.

Just to be all equal like, I decided I wanted a shade 12 inches in diameter and 12 inches tall.  That’s kind of a tall shade, but I really liked my fabric, so I wanted to see more of it.

Once you have those measurements, keep them handy, because you’re going to need them multiple times.

2.  Calculate how much pressure sensitive styrene you need.  Okay, folks, we have to use the MATH here, with Pi (3.1416) no less.  Get a calculator.

measuring lamp paper

The piece of styrene you cut out is going to be a rectangle.  The height of the rectangle is the height of your shade.  To find the width of the rectangle, we have to do some weird circle math and figure out how much styrene we need to wrap completely around the shade.  To do this, you have to multiply the diameter you chose (for me it was 12 inches) by Pi.  So:

12 inches x pi (3.1416) = 37.6992

Next, so we have a little fudge room with the styrene, add a half an inch to your total:

37.6992 + .5 = 38.1992

Finally, round up to the nearest half inch so we don’t have to mess with all those decimal points.

38.5 inches

Okey dokey, 38.5 inches is the width of the rectangle of styrene you need to cut out. The height is the height of your lampshade.  For me, once again that was 12 inches.

So, I needed to measure out and cut a piece of styrene that was 12 inches by 38.5 inches.

If your styrene keeps curling up on you, just grab some jars or cans from your pantry to weigh down the corner.

3.  Cut out the styrene.  Use scissors or a rotary cutter, whichever you have/prefer.

4.  Lay out your fabric and decide which exact piece of it you want to be the shade.  That piece of styrene you just cut is the exact dimensions of your shade.  Place it over sections of the fabric to help give you an idea of how big a piece of fabric you are working with.  If you’re using a solid piece of fabric, this step is unnecessary, but if it has a pattern, especially like mine, where the pattern never exactly repeated, you want to choose the part of the fabric that’s your favorite.

trace around 1

Once you decide where that spot is, lay your piece of styrene on top of it, and trace around it.  If your pattern has stripes or other elements you want to keep straight, use your yardstick to help you with alignment.

trace around 2

5.  Depending on how you wanted to trim your lamp (no trim vs. bias tape) this is where things begin to diverge.  If you opted for no trim, then you need to measure and mark a second line a half inch out from the edge of the styrene all away around it.  That’s the line you’ll use to cut your fabric out, but don’t cut it yet! You need extra fabric hanging off in every direction from the styrene.  You should also watch this Martha Stewart video, as that’s the kind of lampshade  she makes.

Since I decided to finish my lamp with the bias tape trim, all the pictures from here on out will reflect that method, which is why I refer the others to the Martha Stewart video.  If you opted for the trim finishing method, you don’t need to make that second measure line.  Once you’ve traced around your styrene, you’re set.

6.  Remove a few inches of the paper backing to expose the adhesive on the styrene.  Use those tracing lines you just made as a guide to keep it straight, and slowly stick down your styrene to your fabric. Smooth out lines and air bubbles as best you can as you go.

beginning the stick down process

Don’t get scared by this step, the styrene is pretty easy to work with.  Before you know it, you’ll have all of it stuck down.

all of it stuck downOnce you have it all stuck, flip it over and double check for any little bubbles or anything that might need some extra smoothing.  I had a few here and there.

smooth air bubbles

7.  Now you’re ready to cut out your fabric.  If you aren’t doing trim, cut at your second line a half an inch out.  If you are doing some kind of trim, then cut at your first line, which should be right at the edge of the styrene, like this:

cut out

8.  This isn’t a step per se, but Spidey and I would like to take a brief moment here to point out that rotary cutters are SHARP!  An absent-minded brush against one might result in bleeding and a momentary halt in your project.

don't cut yourself

9.  Get out your lamp rings and lay them on the table.  Make sure they lay flat.  If they don’t, you can bend them a bit until they are even all away around.  My were in good shape.  Get out your binder clips and glue, too.


10.  Okay, now you’re going to roll up your fabric into the shape of a shade. Hold the bottom lamp ring just inside the top of the fabric, and use the binder clips to get the ring to stay in place there.  It looks like this:

1st clip

Once you have the bottom lamp ring in, flip the shade over, and repeat the process with the washer top lamp ring.

1st clip top

At this point you’re not trying to glue anything, you’re just seeing how the rings fit into the fabric you’ve cut and you’re going to mark the seam where the fabric comes together.  The seam is right here:

first clipping for seam

11.  Now that you have both rings clipped in, you want to mark where the seam is.  Take a pencil and on the inside of the shade make a few marks where the seam comes together.  Also make an arrow or a “T” to designate which side is the top.  Your top and bottom rings sometimes are slightly different, so once you’ve marked the seam, you want to keep the the top ring on the side you marked top, and the bottom ring on the bottom.

marking the seam

12.  Remove all the clips and and rings.  Unroll the shade.  Grab your glue and place some glue on the edge of the fabric that isn’t going to show when you overlap the seam again.  Glue your seam together like it was before.

glueing the seam

Don’t clip it all back together, though.  Just set it on your table and weigh down the seam with some heavy books for about ten minutes.

weigh down seam

13.  Now that the seam is set, we’re going to glue in the rings.  Again, depending on no trim/trim this is different.  Either way, do the bottom ring first, so looking for your little arrow or “T,” place your shade bottom side up.

Locate your seam, and place one binder clip there, with the little tab wing up.  Locate the weld joint on your bottom ring and place it in the tab wings of the clip and let it just rest there.  This helps you glue one side of the ring in while keeping the other side from constantly falling down into the bottom.

welded edge in clip

Next, run a line of glue around the rim of the shade, placing the bottom ring along the glue line and securing the ring there with a clip.

glue and clip bottom

If some of the glue smears down below the ring, you can just wipe it off.  I used some Clorox Wipes as needed.  A wet paper towel would probably work fine, too.  You’ll also probably need something to wipe your hands on, as they’ll get some glue on them, too, as you adjust the ring all away around.  It’s important to keep things neat as possible, or it’s easy to start getting glue on the fabric side where it’s harder to clean off.

If you opted for the no trim method, then you’ll have a half an inch of extra material that you can tuck up and around the ring with your molding wand. You might need to add some glue to the fabric, not just the shade/ring. Again, you might want to refer to the video for a visual.

Let the ring dry for about ten minutes again.  Once it’s dry, flip it over and repeat the process with the top washer ring.

let bottom & top dry

14.  If you’re in the no trim camp, you’ve got to be feeling pretty good right now, because you’re done.  For the rest of us who like things just a little bit fancy, get out your paper tape.  The no trim people had extra fabric to tuck under to make sure nothing frayed at the edges.  For us, the paper tape is going to help with that.  Plus, then the bias tape attaches to it.

First, with your lamp shade flat against the table, and a pencil as flat on the table as you can, mark a line all the way around on both the top and bottom of your shade.  This will give you a remarkably straight line all the way around, about an 1/8″ down from each edge.

mark for tapeStarting at the seam, and lining your paper tape up at this pencil line, starting gluing the tape all the way around the bottom of the shade.  There will be a lot of tape sticking up over the edge of the shade.

glueing on tape

Once you have gone all the way around, then run some glue on the inside rim of the lamp shade at the ring, and start tucking the paper tape under the ring as best you can.  The molding tool helps if you bought it.  If not, just use your fingers.  It doesn’t have to be perfect as the bias tape will cover the paper tape.

tucking tape under

If you remember from our calculations earlier when the shade was flat, it was 38.5 inches wide, which means I needed at least 38.5 inches of paper tape for both the top and bottom, for a total of 77 inches of tape.  My brain was not working correctly, and I only ordered a yard of the tape, which is 36 inches.  The Lamp Shop was generous and gave me a little more than a yard, so I was able to get all the way around my bottom ring before I ran out and realized my mistake.  All I could find that was even remotely close to the paper tape in a craft store was decorative Washi tape.  It worked fine, but looks a little silly.

washi tape

For the top ring, applying the paper tape is the same, except you’ll have to cut out some little triangles to avoid the spokes of the washer top.

cutting tape

15.  The last step is gluing on your bais tape.  I’d start with the bottom ring again, just because it’s easiest.  Open up your bias tape and lay it flat and apply glue to the inside for a few inches.

glueing bias tape

Starting at the seam in the shade, glue it on.  The middle crease of the bias tape should rest nicely along the rim of the shade, acting as a natural guide.  Just keep gluing it down a few inches at a time.

keep going

Once you’re done with the bottom ring, just do the same with the top.  When all the bias tape is glued on, you’re done!  Whew, finally!

16.  After you’ve let it dry a bit, attach your new shade to your lamp base, plug it in, and admire your handiwork.

lamp lit







Wall Art for Cheap

I can only conclude from the raging success of my blog post on how I tufted my sofa that my readers might like more posts on cheapskate DIY home decor.  Not to worry, my cheapness knows no bounds.

I would love to have signed originals of pieces that emotionally move me on every wall of our house. Unfortunately, I am no relation to the Chases of the Chase banking and credit card fortune. Like most people, sometimes I have a blank wall staring at me that I have to fill and I don’t have a lot of cash to fill it.

My husband is always willing to offer his Big Lebowski poster that I’ve never let him hang anywhere but a closet. He also has lots of ideas about murals involving lions. In an effort to not have to accept his “helpful” offers, over the years I have found ways to get art on the walls for cheap.

One of my favorite local art shows.  There were many, many things I wanted to buy including lots of reasonably priced prints.

One of my favorite local art shows. There were many, many things I wanted to buy including lots of reasonably priced prints.

Attend local art festivals. Think all art is out of your price range? Think again. I actually have several signed prints and a few originals hanging in my house. Are they by artists that are nationally recognized? Nope. Do they emotionally move me? You betcha. Do I love them years after I bought them? Absolutely. I’ve purchased a number of photographs, prints, and paintings for the whopping sums of $10, $15, and occasionally $30. I do have one large piece over a couch that I paid $75 for.  I also like being able to picture the artist’s face and the conversation we had when I look at it on my wall.

Try to buy standard frame sizes, though, or that’s where this stops being cheap. I bought $15 8×10 prints and then took my 40% off coupon to Michaels, got frames for another $10-15, and came out fine. However, that $75 piece was an odd size, so I had to have it custom framed. That cost me an additional $150—twice the price of the piece itself. If you fall in love with an odd shaped piece that isn’t too far off from a normal size, not all is lost. Take it to the custom framing people and ask them to cut you a mat that will surround the print but then once matted will bring the piece up to a normal size. I had a watercolor that I adored but it was in metric, so was something weird like 7 ¾ inches by 9 inches. To have it matted and framed to metric was very expensive, but to have it just matted in such a way that I could then buy a standard 11×14 frame with my coupon was only $18.

If you love art from someone that is out of your price range, think small. While I was traveling in Connecticut, I stumbled across a wooden ships festival at Mystic Harbor. I think ships, especially wooden ships, are just beautiful. I was already in heaven, but then one of the people at the festival was an artist who painted amazing acrylic pieces of wooden ships. I couldn’t even afford her prints, much less her originals. However, I noticed she also sold greeting cards. They were a more affordable $5 a piece, so I bought some of them instead.

boat pics

They had a nice white border all around the edge almost like a mat. I could have just framed them in a standard 5×7 frame, but I really liked them. I wanted them to be bigger somehow and make a statement. After a bit of brainstorming, I cut the back half of the card off so it was just one sheet. Then I bought some navy foam poster board from Michael’s. They sell it in 20×30 sheets, and I just cut a sheet in half with a utility knife and glued the card about a third of the way down. Some masking tape on the back affixed it to my living room wall with no frames needed. I put all of them in a row in on the wall, and it made a very nice display. All told, it cost me about $25.

flower pictures

I’ve used this foam board trick before with a series of flower photographs that I took at Duke Gardens and had printed with a white border at Wolf Camera.

Take a multi-media approach. Just because something isn’t a painting or a print doesn’t mean you can’t hang it on the wall. We have a cousin who’s a textile artist, and she made us some pillow shams as wedding presents that were downright masterpieces. As soon as I saw them I knew that hiding them in our bedroom on pillows would never do. I adapted one so it could be displayed on a decorative hanger.

elin's pillow

I’ve done the same with a tablecloth I really liked. Eventually I tired of it on the wall, so I took it down and started using it for its intended purpose on the table. I had numerous friends that were shocked. “I never realized this was a tablecloth!”  They were afraid to eat on it, thinking it was high textile art. No, I assured them. It was just a tablecloth I bought for around $25 that I liked well enough to hang on a wall.

These are plates I actually did myself with mixed metal leaf and some glass paint, but I display my TJ Maxx plates the same way.

These are plates I actually did myself with mixed metal leaf and some glass paint, but I display my TJ Maxx plates the same way.

I’m a bit of a china freak, so I’m forever putting pretty plates on walls. Again, if you put something on a wall, people immediately assign a higher value to it. People sometimes wonder about the significance of the plates. I have some that are art pieces I’ve painted myself, but half of my plates I got at Ross or TJ Maxx and just thought they were fun. Plate hangers can also be found at your favorite craft store, and depending on the size, can start as low as a couple bucks a piece.

Don’t be afraid to deface a book, throw some paint on it, or get aggressive with a frame. I’m a map geek. Even as a kid, I wanted that wallpaper in my room that was all maps. My mother rightfully observed I didn’t want a bedroom; I was trying to create a study. I never actually accomplished it, which is maybe why I’m still trying to always sneak maps into my décor. I bought a really old Rand McNally world atlas off of eBay with the express purpose of ripping it apart. I got it for around $11 including shipping. It was even more gorgeous in person, and pretty fragile. I showed my prize to a friend, and he asked what I was planning on doing with it. I told him. I thought he was going to cry. I could have carefully wrapped it up and hidden it on a shelf, but it has brought me a lot more joy with pages torn out and framed on my wall.

map pics

My husband and I like to travel, and the three countries we have enjoyed the most have been Australia, New Zealand, and Spain. I framed these three country maps and paired them with three postcards. I found the postcards in a postcard book (the horrors, two books!) that was full of recreations of British Empire propaganda posters. I found picturesque posters for Australia, New Zealand, and Gibraltar. These were great art and reminded me of things we had seen overseas. The postcard book, I think, was another $12.

postcard pic

Finally, when it came to the frames, I had to improvise again. The maps were a standard 11 x 14 thankfully, but I couldn’t find a frame I liked. I finally realized I wanted to use the frames from some old unused photographs, but the frames were the wrong color. That was an easy fix. I still had some teal paint from painting some of the furniture in our bedroom, so I slapped some of it on top of my old frames and they were good to go. I’ve done this before when I’ve found a great old frame from a thrift store or antique shop that was cheap but not the right color.

A coat of teal paint and these rustic frames where exactly what I wanted.

A coat of teal paint and these rustic frames where exactly what I wanted.

The postcards were small, though, and needed a 5×7 frame. Those were easy to find cheap at Ross. However, finding a 5×7 frame that hangs on a wall instead of with an easel back is impossible. Instead of driving myself crazy trying to find something that doesn’t exist, I got a pair of pliers from the garage and just ripped the easel back off of the frames from Ross. Now they would lie flat against the wall. I put a piece of tape over the rough edge to make sure it didn’t scratch the wall and nailed a new wall hanger on the back. You can buy little kits with those from Michaels or AC Moore. In this case, I didn’t even have to buy one because we had one free from a friend who moved and didn’t want it anymore.

Don't be afraid to adapt the frame to your needs.  Your the only one that will ever see the ugly back.

Don’t be afraid to adapt the frame to your needs. You’re the only one that will ever see the ugly back.

IKEA Sofa Makeover: Tufted Midcentury Modern

IKEA Karlstad sofa makeover with button tufting

IKEA Karlstad sofa before button tufting

Warning: This is a very long post. However, that’s because it’s packed with a lot of information. This was quite an undertaking that took a lot of research. It wasn’t difficult, just time consuming. I am giving all the gory details in case you’d like to replicate the process, but if you’re only mildly interested, just look at the pictures.

I think button tufted sofas are very classy looking, and have wanted one in my living room for some time. However, there were three hurdles to overcome before that could happen.

Hurdle one is named Carolina. Our cat still has her claws, and while she doesn’t annihilate furniture, she is known to give it an occasional swipe. I’m constantly telling her she’s why we can’t have nice things. She certainly is why I’ll never own leather furniture, and a lot of the button tufted sofas are leather.

Problem number two is comfort. For some reason all of those buttons often lead to a sofa that’s part décor/part torture instrument. I was willing to forgo a great deal of cushiness for aesthetic value, but the husband was not.

The final and biggest hurdle was price. I swear those buttons are made out of unicorn tears or something, because tufted sofas seem to run around $2000. I am cheap. I was not doing that. Especially since I wanted to buy two sofas at once for my living room.

I was sure I was just going to be saving my pennies for decades or settling for something else.  Then I found this informative blog post about how someone button tufted an IKEA Karlstad sofa. This solved all of my problems at once. It was fabric, very comfy, and affordable. The people at the Our Mid Century blog were fortunate enough to find an upholster to put their buttons on for them for a mere $40. If you can find someone to do it for that price, PAY IT!

If, like me, no super cheap upholsters are handy or if you also want to be a nut and do lots of different fabric buttons, read on. I’m going to tell you how I did this step by step, including where I was able to buy all the materials online. That took me nearly as long as anything.

Step One: Decide what legs you want on your sofa. You’d think it would be buying the sofa at IKEA, but you’d be wrong. The legs on the Karlstad sofa look roughly like someone slapped the ends of 2×4’s on the bottom because the designer got tired and didn’t care anymore. More likely, it’s a cost saving measure, but just changing out the legs on the sofa make a huge difference.

IKEA sofa leg compared to Uncle Bob's replacement legs

You can go two routes here. One is Pretty Pegs. They’re a Swedish company that wisely noticed that IKEA almost universally makes ugly legs for its furniture. All they make is replacement legs that screw right into your IKEA furniture. They come in a number of set models and would likely ship them to you in a timely manner. However, a set of pegs (four) runs you a little over a hundred dollars. This seemed a bit excessive to me, so I went with Uncle Bob.

Who in the world is Uncle Bob? Uncle Bob is some guy in Texas who has a very old looking website that you’d swear is defunct. However, Bob also makes very classy looking custom replacement IKEA legs in a number of woods, stains, and heights. I got the poplar wood, 5 ½ inch, full taper, medium brown stain. For a set of four, Bob charged me the super reasonable price of $36 plus $6 flat rate priority shipping.

The one drawback is that Bob makes all of his legs to order, and he’s a very busy man. I placed my order on April 15. Uncle Bob very kindly emailed me to let me know he had received my order and would put me on his schedule, and I should receive my couch legs in the second week of June. I did indeed receive them two months later as he said I would, and they were beautiful and screwed right into my sofa perfectly. Still, I wasn’t prepared to have to wait two months for couch legs.

Step Two: Decide what you want your buttons to look like. If you want your buttons to be the same solid color as your sofa, often you can get the IKEA customer service people to give or sell you fabric samples of whatever slipcover color you choose. Or, in a worse case scenario, you can purchase an ottoman slipcover, which are cheaper than the sofa slipcovers, and use that fabric to cover your buttons. Look on ebay and Craigslist before you shell out the full price bucks for this at IKEA, though. I noticed a lot of people selling brand new slipcovers on there.

I wanted my buttons to be more interesting than that. In truth, I’m tempted to buy sofas in wild colors and patterns, but the practical part of me usually wins out as I know whatever I pick out might be out of fashion before I can afford another sofa. Better to be bold with my throw pillows. Still, I needed my sofa to be a little bit fun. So, I decided to cover the buttons in a number of bold prints, just in neutral colors that would go well with the charcoal colored slipcover I had chosen (Sivik dark gray).

Buttons covered in Riley Blake Mystique fabrics

I decided on eight different fabrics that were all part of the same Riley Blake color way (a set of quilting fabrics designed to go together): Mystique Damask, Petal, Dot, & Stripe in Gray and Mystique Damask, Petal, and Stripe in Black and Medium Chevron in Black. I bought all of them at the Etsy shop Fabric Shoppe because they had the selection I wanted, good prices, were easy to work with, and they let me buy a just a quarter of a yard of all of those different fabrics. I purchased two of their Pick 4 quarter yard bundles ($10 a piece, plus $4.50 shipping).

You also need to decide how many buttons you want, and how big you want them. I liked the look of Our Mid Century’s sofa, so followed their lead, using eight ¾ inch buttons a side on each cushion. When you button tuft, you have to put buttons on both the front and back of the cushions. That meant I needed 16 buttons per cushion x 4 cushions = 64 buttons for one couch. I did two couches, so I had to make 128 fabric covered buttons.  The bad news is you have to make a ton of buttons.  The good news is you can rotate your cushions this way.  Get a stain on one side?  No problem, just flip it over.  Also, tufting the cushions will help them keep their shape longer, which sometimes can be a weakness of IKEA sofas.

Step Three: Make your buttons. I went ahead and did this while waiting on couch legs before purchasing the sofas. This is a process that is best done while also doing something else like half watching a movie you’ve already seen, listening to music, etc. You’ll likely have to do it in more than one session. My fingers gave out after awhile. You have to push on the buttons pretty hard.

Making the fabric buttons is not difficult. Many places sell a little fabric covered button kit that comes with a template for marking your fabric, the various pieces of the buttons themselves, and a little plastic piece for getting the button to come together. It’s easier to observe the process than explain it. Thankfully, someone has put together a handy dandy You Tube video that shows you exactly how to do it.

I bought my button supplies at the ebay store I Like Big Buttons (terrible name, I know). They were cheap, the transaction was easy, and they were the only ones I could find that would sell the buttons to me in the denominations I wanted. Seventy-five wire shank back buttons size 30 (3/4 inch) and the assembly tool will run you $19.70. Shipping is free. I had a couple of the buttons break on me while sewing them on, but by and large, I had no problems with the product. If you can recruit a button making helper, it’s well worth it to buy an extra assembly tool. I assumed I wouldn’t have anyone who would want to help with the mind-numbing chore. In fact, I had two people who were so interested in what I was doing that they offered to help and probably made at least half my buttons for me.

Step Four: Buy the rest of your tufting supplies. I’m not a great seamstress, but I did have a few tools already on hand. You’ll need a good set of scissors for cutting out the fabric. You can use one of those special disappearing marking pens for tracing the button template, but it’s not necessary. You’ll never see the marked edges, so any marker will do. If you don’t already have a measuring tape and straight pins, you’ll need those as well. I’d suggest your local Hancock Fabrics, Walmart, or similar to buy those if you need them.

Your supplies for tufting.

You’ll need to order two specialty supplies: a 12 inch upholster’s needle and Golden Nylon Tufting upholstery twine. Hancock Fabrics and several online retailers sell a variety pack of upholstery needles that includes a 12 inch by Dritz. Do Not Buy It. I did, and the needles are worthless. After just one of the thicker seat cushions, my needle was bent in so many directions I had to throw it away. The second time around, I bought the good kind, which was very difficult to find, but they don’t bend. Supamom40 on Ebay sold me three of them for $5 with $2 shipping. The only drawback is they are pointed on both ends. This meant I unintentionally poked myself more than I cared to. If you can find good quality 12 inch upholstery needles that don’t have the double bayonet point, mention it in the comments, and I’ll update the information in the post.

I got the twine at another Ebay seller, Victorian Upholstery. You need about 3 inches for every button set (1 on the front, 1 on the back, connected by the same piece of twine through the cushion). So for one sofa of 32 button pairs, you’d need 96 inches, or 8 feet. They’ll sell you a 100 feet for $3.95 plus $2.85 shipping.

Step Five: Buy your IKEA sofa. If you are fortunate enough to live right next to an IKEA where they’ll do in town delivery, count your blessings. For those of you that live a few hours away, I’ll mention here another little cost saving tip I discovered. I don’t own a truck, and even if I did, you can’t fit two sofas in one. The Karlstad has three separate boxes. We have a friend who let us borrow their truck for the day, and we rented a little Uhaul enclosed trailer. It was $28, and you don’t have to pay mileage on the trailers, so that was all I had to pay. The trailer easily fit both sofas as well as a headboard, a nightstand, and a few other odds and ends we picked up for friends when they heard we were making an IKEA run with a trailer. 🙂 The Karlstad 3-seater sofa with the Sivik dark gray slipcover was $499.

Step Six: Assemble your sofa. Follow the directions IKEA provides for assembling the sofa. This is a two person job, by the way. Just don’t attach their ugly legs. Throw them away, resell them on Ebay, repurpose them for your child’s block set—whatever. You don’t even need the screws/bolts they provide. Hopefully by this time, good ol’ Uncle Bob will have sent you your much more attractive replacement legs. Just screw them right into that hole where the bolt was supposed to go. Bob provides the screw for you. You can ignore the smaller holes that were for the wooden dowels. You won’t need them. Bob’s legs will support your sofa just fine. He even applies those nice pads to the bottom of your legs so that it won’t scratch wood floors.

Step Seven: Measure out where you want to place your buttons and mark both sides with the pins. There’s another You Tube video to demonstrate this. There’s no sound describing what they are doing, but you can get the basic gist.

You’re trying to get your buttons equidistant from each other and in the middle of the cushion. It takes a little bit of fiddling, and you have to measure several times. If you want eight buttons on each side like I did, I’ll save you the headache and tell you where to mark your cushions.

For the smaller back cushions, place the tip of your measuring tape on the left hand seam. Stick a pin in at 8 inches, 15, 22, & 29 (7 inches apart). From the top seam, your first row starts 6 inches down, and the second row 6 inches from there, or 12 inches from the top seam. The second row of buttons will also go in at 8, 15, 22, & 29 inches. So, your top left button is 6 inches down, 8 inches from the left. Your bottom right button is 12 inches down from your top seam, 29 inches from your left seam. Stick those straight pins in the eight places you need a button–four on the top row and four on the bottom row. Turn your cushion to the other side and repeat the process.

For the larger bottom cushions, you don’t really want these in the dead center. You want them in what appears to be the center when the back cushions are on. That means you want your eight buttons to start a little lower on the cushion. This didn’t occur to me at first, and I had to remeasure. Again, with your measuring tape on the left seam, as you work across the cushion, you want to stick pins in at 8 inches, 15, 22, & 29. This time your top row is going to be 13.5 inches from the top seam. Your second row is going to be 21.5 inches from the top seam. So your second row of four buttons is going to be 8 inches below your top row of four buttons instead 6 inches like it was on the back cushions. So your top left button is going to be 13.5 inches down, 8 inches from the left. Your bottom right button is 21.5 inches down from your top seam, 29 inches from your left seam. Once again, turn your cushion to the other side and repeat the process.

Step Eight: Tuft those buttons! Figure out what pattern you want your buttons to repeat, if any. I decided since I was using eight different fabrics to make sure I had one of each kind on each side of every cushion. Then I got really anal and decided they need to be in the same place in each cushion. Clearly, not everyone needs that level of symmetry, but if you do, lay everything out and pay attention to what you are doing.

The process will go a little faster if you go ahead and cut 30-inch lengths of your upholstery twine. Grab a pair of needle-nosed pliers, too. Getting the needles through the thick foam of the bottom cushions is difficult at times, and a thimble isn’t going to cut it. I had to grab the needle with the pliers and pull.

Watch this You Tube video on how to tuft a button. They show you how to do the slip knot in slow motion. I still had to watch it several times. Once you figure out the knot, though, it goes fast.

I got asked the question a lot, “How do you make sure the buttons all stay at the same depth on the cushion?”  My method was I pulled on the slip knot until I couldn’t get it any tighter, and decided that was the depth it was staying at. To me and anyone else I asked, this always seemed to be at about the same depth. Don’t worry too much. There’s quite a bit of fudge room before you or anyone else will notice a difference.

When you are tufting, you are aiming to poke the needle in one side where you have marked it with a pin, and have it come out the other side where you marked it with a pin. I found on the back cushions this was accomplished easily. They are squishier. The bottom cushions, however, are made out of a thick foam, and there’s not as much wiggle room. If you don’t get the angle just right, in general you have to pull the needle all the way back out and try again.

There were a few things I discovered that made this process easier. First, buy the good needles that don’t bend. Second, use the needle nose pliers to help the needle through the foam. Third, poke both sides of the cushion to sort of give yourself a little pilot hole in each end before you try to get the needle all the way through. Also, don’t bother to thread the needle with the button until you’ve got it in and poking through the other side a little bit. The needle is long enough it will allow you to do that. You can thread it with the button if you like, but while I was fiddling with the needle trying to get it through the foam, my button would usually fall off anyway.

Finally, allow yourself a few centimeters fudge room here and there. There were multiple times the needle would poke out the other side pretty darn close but not exactly where I had marked the button to go. You’ll drive yourself insane if you strive for perfection. If you get within a quarter of an inch, you’re probably fine. In general, I am a perfectionist, but even I decided at some point I was close enough. The only way someone could tell my buttons aren’t perfectly straight is if you got out a measuring tape. The nature of the tufting hides a multitude of sins.

Tufting up close

Step Nine: Admire your hard work and count up all the money you saved.

So the total cost to make one Karlstad sofa is:

  • $499-sofa & slipcover
  • $42-set of Uncle Bob’s replacement legs, including shipping
  • $24.50-8 different fabrics for buttons, including shipping
  • $19.70-button making kit, free shipping
  • $13.80-speciality upholstery needles & twine, including shipping

Grand total: $599

Compare that to Crate and Barrel’s similar Petrie sofa at $1699 or Restoration Hardware’s Churchhill sofa in one of it’s cheaper iterations at $2695!