Three months ago, a new opportunity presented itself and Jared and I packed everything we owned into a Upack Relocube (like an off-brand POD), shoved a few suitcases into our '99 Subaru, and left Boston for Los Angeles. (I know, huge culture change, but that's a discussion for another day.) We brought some of our furniture (our bed, one bookshelf, a vintage trunk, our IKEA desk, and a little dining room table), but for the most part had to start fresh in the home furnishings department. And, even though I thrifted nearly everything else, it was EXPENSIVE.
So, even though I was dying to splurge on a statement midcentury modern couch like this one or this one, I knew I had to be realistic. And realism, in my case, meant an IKEA Karlstad sectional in Isunda Gray that we got off Craigslist for $400 plus the cost of the moving van. It was big and comfy and in a neutral color, so it was fine, but I knew it could be better. And, $25 in supplies and a few hours' worth of work later, it was better! So, so much better. Here's what I did:
What You Need
- Fabric that coordinates with your cushion. I ended up using a piece that was about 18" x 18" to cover 84 buttons.
- Button tufting or upholstery twine (NOT upholstery thread)
- A long upholstery needle (I used the 10-inch size)
- Bare buttons with wire loop backs and button kit (I used these, in the 7/8" size)*
- A ruler or measuring tape
*NOTE: The buttons that I linked to do not handle thicker upholstery fabric very well, although some people say they've had success using them if they cut small notches into the edge of the circle of fabric before pushing it in. You can also cover them by hand instead of using a kit, as in this tutorial. I got around this by taking my cushion cover with me to the thrift store and finding a pair of pants in a thinner fabric whose shade matched my couch great. Ahhh, thrifting, the sport of champions.
Step 1 - Mark Your Cushions
The first thing you need to do is decide where you want to place your buttons. Grab a cushion and, using a pencil or piece of chalk, mark the spots where you want buttons to go. To ensure even spacing, use a ruler or measuring tape. Buttons will go on both sides of the cushion, so make sure to flip the cushion and repeat the process on the other side. Count up how many buttons you'll need, total (don't forget the ones on the reverse side!).
Step 2 - Make a Button Template
You'll need to figure out the right diameter for the circle of fabric that will cover your button. You'll probably just have to do a bit of trial and error but, for reference, I ended up using a circle that was just under 1.5" in diameter for my 7/8" buttons. Once you figure out what circle size works best, create a cardboard template so that you can easily trace and cut for the rest of the buttons. Make sure to trace on the wrong side of the fabric (the side you don't want to show).
Step 3 - Make Your Buttons
The button kit is fairly self explanatory, but next you center your cut circle over the rubber button maker.
Then center your button on top of the fabric, and push in.
If you've centered it correctly and pushed evenly, you should have a little "skirt" of fabric poking up around the edge. This is where you'll be able to tell if you've cut the right size circle. If it's too small you won't have enough fabric poking up to tuck under the back of the button--too large and the back won't be able to press in because the fabric's in the way.
Next, grab the back of your button and center it over the hole. Hold it in one hand while you use your other to prod all of the fabric underneath it, so that it's all facing inward rather than poking up. Now, using either both thumbs or the little pressing tool included in the button kit, press down HARD to push the back of the button into place.
You'll know you've done it correctly if the back is lying flat and all of the fabric is securely tucked into the rim.
For the record, this is how much of the pair of pants I had left over after finishing all of the buttons--it doesn't take much fabric at all. If only they were stylish, I could have hemmed them into shorts for a double win!
Step 4 - Attach Your Buttons (Tuft!)
Now that your buttons are all finished, it's time to attach them to your cushions! The first step is to cut a length of twine (more trial and error, but my pieces were around 14" each) and tie a knot to attach it to the back of your button.
Thread your needle with the twine, leaving most of it as a "tail," and keeping the button close to the eye of the needle (closer than pictured here!). Insert the needle, push, and poke it through the other side of the cushion where you've marked for the other button to go.
Pull the needle all the way through, bringing the tail of the twine with it. Push another button down the twine until it's resting right-side-up on the cushion where it should go, press it down with one finger, and pull the twine as tight as you want it.
Once it's as tight as you like, wrap the twine around the button a couple of times to hold it in place.
Lastly, tie a slip knot or a couple of other knots to secure it in place (I'm sure any real upholsterers out there would be appalled by my knot technique, but so far I haven't had any issues with buttons staying on). Repeat repeat repeat on every cushion until you're done!
If you mess up and your buttons aren't aligned exactly the way you want them, just tug on one until you see the twine underneath, snip it, pull the buttons off, and do it over!
It's definitely a few hours' worth of work, but I'd say it's 100% worth it. Just look how much better (and more expensive) it makes your couch look:
After: Some seriously simple midcentury modern magic. All for $25! I heart budget home makeovers!
I've seen some other people add midcentury legs to their couches, and am thinking that might be a next step, if I ever find the time or motivation. I think for now I'll content myself with adding some more fun throw pillows and figuring out what to do with the white, white walls in my living room.
Do you have any tips or tricks for midcentury modernizing your home? Let me know in the comments!