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A Tufting Tutorial
The definition of tufting is pretty simple: make depressions at regular intervals in a cushion by passing a thread through and pulling it taut. And really, it is that simple. If (and there is always an “if” isn’t there?) you have the right tools and make sure you measure and mark with precision. Thanks to the creative minds at Dritz®, you can easily get all the tools you need to make things easy. We show you the techniques to use those tools to do stitch tufting and button tufting on a standard cushion width, as well as how to tackle bolster tufting with those extra long needles… they’re not as scary as they might look!
The process of tufting has been with us for centuries. Long before coils and memory foam, mattresses were filled with feathers, cotton rags, and other materials. Tufting was used to keep this stuffing from shifting to one side or the other when the mattress was flipped.
Sew4Home Tufted Round Patchwork Floor Cushion
As furnishings became more elegant, tufting evolved as well. Although it retrained its function of keeping thick layers from shifting or sagging, it took on more of a decorative capacity. Tufting gives the surface a wonderfully wavy appeal, and when buttons are added, the result is rich and textured.
You don’t have to be doing high-level upholstering to employ tufting. We’ve used it on simple floor cushions and decorator pillows. It’s an excellent way to add dimension. And, as mentioned above, it you need to hold multiple, thick layers of fillers and fabrics in place, tufting is the go-to technique.
Sew4Home Decorative Sofa or Bed Bolster
Dritz® has a full Home Décor category of tools and notions, each one designed and tested to make the DIY process as easy as possible. Their variety of straight and curved needles is excellent. The waxed thread is a must-have whenever you need super strength; it’s waxed surface allows the thread to pass more freely through foam and other fillers. And, their cover button kits are our first choice for ease-of-use and variety of sizing. Plus, because it’s Dritz®, you know the products will be easy to fine in-store or online.
Sew4Home projects. Top row, left to right: Happy Pom Pom Pillows, Round Piped Pillow with Gathered Top, Big Round Floor Cushion with Fussy Cut Wedges; middle row: Decorative Stitch Pillow Power, Tufted Multi-Color Pom Pillow; bottom row: Bundle of Box Style Floor Cushions, Outdoor Living Bolster, Hexagon Pillow with Wraparound Cording.
This is the original form of tufting. It uses a heavy thread in combination with an extra-long upholstery needle. The strength of the thread is key to withstand the pulling during construction as well as the pressure when complete. The stitching will be visible from both sides of the cushion, so that will determine the type of thread you select. Twine, button thread or waxed thread are the best options.
The Dritz® waxed thread is available in just the one “twine” color, which may or may not be the color option you want. If it works for your project, we would always suggest sticking with this very tough thread. If you need a different color, look for a high quality button or carpet thread and, as shown below, use multiple strands. With thinner materials and softer fillers, even a standard sewing thread can work. In the sample below, we used all-purpose thread for our tufting but quadrupled our strands. If you’re just starting out, go for the heavier thread until you really get the “feel” of pulling and knotting without breakage.
Remember, there will be a visible knot on one side with this type of tufting, so it is best on projects for which there is a definite front and back.
- Collect all your materials. Tufting is usually one of the final steps in a cushion project. For our tutorial, we simply created some tiny sample shapes that would allow you to best see the technique in the photos.
- Mark your cushion for tufting placement.
- The distance between tufting points will vary based on your project’s size and thickness There really isn’t one rule-of-thumb for spacing. It’s all about the look you want for the finished surface.
- You want your mark to be a small “X” shape. The mark should be easily visible, but you are working on the right side of your fabric and the marks may not be completely covered by the stitching. Make sure you select a fabric pen or pencil that will easily wipe away or will vanish with exposure to the air.
- You need a set of matching marks on the opposite side of the cushion.
- Select a needle that is longer than the thickness of your cushion.
- Cut a length of thread that is the height of your cushion doubled plus 10”. So, if you are working with a 3” thick cushion as we were in our sample, you want a length of thread at least 16”.
- Double (at least) the thread and pull it through the needle, but do not knot the ends.
- Insert the needle into the marked point from the back side of the cushion. You are starting at one of the top points of the drawn “X”. Leave a tail of about 5” in length.
- Push the needle up through the cushion so it comes out on the front (top) of the cushion. Adjust this exit point so it lands at the point of one of the two tiny diagonal lines that make up your drawn “X”.
- Pull the thread through, making sure you still have that 5” tail extending out the back.
- Insert the needle back into the cushion at the opposite end of that tiny diagonal line of the “X” and push it through to the back.
- Take a small stitch (about ⅛”) at the back and push the needle in again, back to front. The image below shows the needle being inserting back in.
- This second time, adjust so the needle comes out on top at the point of the opposite side of the “X”.
- Push back through at the bottom of this second side of the “X” and once more push through to the back.
- Slip off the needle and pull the ends taut, creating the depression of the tuft. As with the spacing, the tightness of the tuft is a matter of personal preference. The fibers of the thread and the fabric are likely to loosen with time, so it’s best to pull nice and tight.
- Tie the ends together into a square knot. Pull taunt and tie a second time.
- Tie a second knot for security. From the back you have two parallel stitches.
- From the front is the more decorative “X” stitch.
- Fray check or fabric glue thread ends. Cut the thread tails to about 1/8”. You may also wish to add a bit of seam sealant to the ends of the thread, such as Dritz® Fray Check.
- Repeat this process at each of your tufting marks. We used a contrasting thread to best show our stitching for the tutorial. In most instances, we would recommend a matching thread for this technique.
Button tufting follows the same basic process as stitch tufting, but the thread is covered on one or both sides with buttons — usually covered buttons in fabric that matches or coordinates with the base fabric.
We used our favorite Dritz® Button Cover kits, which are available in a wide range of sizes. If you are brand new to working with them, you’ll find them super easy to create. Take a look at our full step-by-step tutorial for all the details.
The majority of button tufting for cushions is done with covered buttons on both sides. This is the process shown below. However, you can use just one button at the top and knot at the back as shown above with the stitch tufting. Since the stitches will be covered by the buttons (in most situations), we strong recommend the waxed thread for the button tufting. It’s the strongest and easiest to work with.
- Gather up all your materials and your finished project. As mentioned above, tufting is usually the final step of a project. For our tutorial, we made a tiny sample cube.
- Mark the position for each of your buttons. For our sample, we selected just one center point in our tiny cube. Remember to mark the point(s) on both the top and bottom of the cushion.
- Make your covered buttons. Remember, we have an excellent tutorial on working with the Dritz® Cover Buttons Kits if you are new to the technique.
- Cut a length of thread that is the height of your cushion doubled plus 10”. So, if you are working with a 4” thick cushion as we were for our sample, you want a length of thread at least 18”.
- Double the thread and insert the looped end through the shank of the covered button.
- Pass the the cut ends of the thread through the looped end.
- Pull the ends all the way through.
- Cinch tight to secure the thread to the shank.
- Select a needle that is longer than the thickness of your cushion. Insert the free ends of thread through the eye of the needle.
- Insert the needle through the cushion at your marked point.
- Pull the thread all the way through, coming at the marked point at the opposite side of the cushion. Keep pulling until the first covered button sits flat against the cushion.
- Flip over the cushion.
- Slip off the needle and find the second covered button.
- Insert one free end of the thread through the shank of the second covered button.
- Keep pulling that single free end through the shank.
- Grab the other free end of the thread and pull both together and straight up. You are aligning the two ends.
- Pull apart the two thread strands and begin to tie them into a knot.
- Continue tightening this first knot until the second covered button flips down into position.
- Continue tightening until you have the depth you want for the tuft. When you have the look you want from both sides, tie a second knot.
- Cinch the second knot securely so it disappears under the covered button.
- Trim the ends of the waxed thread so they too disappear under the covered button.
Tufting a Bolster
A double-button bolster is a classic decorator pillow, but many people avoid the look because they can’t figure out how to get the tufted effect to work on something so long. The process for tufting a bolster isn’t vastly different than either of the techniques shown above. The key is to use an extra long needle and work that needle through the pillow slowly and carefully. Dritz® has us covered with the extra long needles!
- Gather up your materials. As above with the standard button tufting, the thread itself will be covered by the buttons so we strongly recommend the Dritz® waxed thread. Not only is it best in terms of strength, its waxed surface allows it to slide more easily through the pillow form or filler. This characteristic is very important when you are pulling thread across a longer than normal distance.
- Cut a length of thread that is the length of your bolster doubled plus 10”. So, if you are working with a 14” bolster as we were in our sample, you want a length of thread at least 38”.
- Mark the exact center of both ends of the bolster.
- Create both covered buttons, and thread exactly as describe above for the standard Button Tufting.
- Insert the needle into the exact center at one end of the bolster.
- Push smoothly and carefully in order to keep the needle as straight as possible as it moves through the center of the bolster.
- Keep pushing until it comes out the opposite end, again through the exact center point.
- Now… how on earth did we keep it moving as the needle disappeared into the bolster?! If the bolster form you are working with is fairly soft you can accordion the form with one hand as you push the needle through with the other hand.
- If the form is not as pliable, like it might be if you’re using a dense foam, set the free end of the pillow on the edge of a table and push down on the top of the pillow to allow it to accordion against the flat surface of the table.
- Another option is to leave the seam of your pillow cover open during the tufting step so you can reach through and kind of “massage” the needle through the center of the pillow form, working it along its path.
- Once you come out the opposite end, attach the second covered button in the same manner as above.
- Pulling firmly on the thread to create the desired look to the tuft and double-knotting to secure.
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Thank you so much for your detailed instructions that included photos. You have helped me finally be able to finish my 1st upholstery project which is my L shaped sofa.
Hi John – we so happy to hear you found our info helpful! And, big congrats on finishing your project!
Lovely How-To article. It’s a
Lovely How-To article. It’s a pleasure to see something laid out so clear and concise. I also appreciate that you include where to get the needed tools.
@ Finula – Thank you! We love
@ Finula – Thank you! We love hearing that our tutorials are so helpful. We hope you’ll find lots more to love at the site.
Wow! I remember the button
Wow! I remember the button cover tutorial and I already have experience with tufting. But, I always find I learn something new with each article. Keep up the good work!
@DebS – Thanks! We certainly
@DebS – Thanks! We certainly will continue