As promised the saga of the tufted panel…. While this wasn’t a complete nightmare, I still don't have the feeling back in my thumb. Hopefully we can save someone unnecessary frustration, time, and their thumbs with a few tips we learned along the way. Bottom line is that the end product came out great so if you are thinking about doing a tufted panel headboard go for it.
I was not sure how to start the tufted panel so I Googled “Tufted Headboard Tutorials.” There were a few of them out there and none of them really seemed to follow the same instructions so we combo'd some of them and ventured out on our own in some places.
Fabric of choice
½ inch plywood
Tapestry/Upholstery Needles (2 sizes – one small and one long)
Polycord (must be thin enough to pass through the eye of your needle, we found ours in the upholstery section of Joann Fabric, they sell it in packs or you can buy it by the yard)
*NOTE: I cannot recommend polycord enough. We initially used upholstery thread as suggested in the tutorial link. You will have to read through the rest of the post to find out why upholstery thread is the devil.
Button covers (we used these Button Covers )
Foam (at least 2 inches thick)
Step 1: Cut Your Plywood
First we cut the plywood panel to size out of ½ inch thick plywood. We didn’t want to go any thicker as not only would it cost more but it would also make the overall headboard heavier.*NOTE: Technically this note should go into the wood frame portion of the headboard but I forgot! You will want to give yourself a bit of extra room in your wood frame portion to account for some bulk once you pull your batting and fabric around the edges of your tufted foam panel. How much you need to leave will depend a bit on the thickness of your batting as well as your fabric. We planned for 1 inch around all sides….that ended up being too much….. our advice is to plan about ¼ inch to ½ inch on all sides.
Step 2: Hole Drilling
Next you will need to decide on the pattern you want for your tufts. We did a diamond pattern verses just a square pattern. Your spacing is up to you but remember closer you space your buttons the more buttons you will need. Below is what we ended up doing for spacing.
First row (long row) = 4 inches down from the top of the plywood panel and 4 inches in from the side of the plywood panel. Buttons were placed every 12 inches.
Second row (short row) = 12 inches down from the first row. The first button was placed 10 inches from the side of the plywood panel (the original 4 inches from the side plus half of the distance between the first 2 buttons on the first row…4+6=10)
Repeat pattern. We had 3 long rows and 2 short rows.
NOTE: We just x’d the spots for where the buttons were going directly on the plywood. You absolutely want to double check your spacing to make sure everything lines up vertically, horizontally, and diagonally before you drill the holes. The husband had made a slight error on the first pass and we would have ended up with miss-spaced holes if the wife hadn’t requested a sanity check….just saying!
NOTE: For the holes you will want to drill a big enough hole to pass through 2 upholstery needles at a time.
Step 3: Buttons, Buttons, Buttons
With no possibility of power tool usable the husband quickly found other things to do while I struggled with covering the buttons with fabric. I think the size of the button worked out well but you do have options to go bigger or smaller depending on the type of look you want for your headboard. Our pattern ended up needing 38 buttons total.
At this point you can also cut your polycord and thread your buttons. We cut 18 inch pieces for each button, threaded it through, folded it in half, and tied it with 2 knots.
NOTE: Covering the buttons was not my favorite part of this project, it was also not my least favorite part. It is a bit tricky to get all of your fabric edges crammed into the button without them popping back out before you can get the stupid backing cover in place. The first few are tricky no doubt about it. Stick with it, by the end I was a button covering fool (emphasis on the fool). This step could be a real bugger if you have thick or stiff fabric….just something to keep in mind as you are making your selections.
Step 4: Foam
With the buttons covered (no thanks to Wood) we were ready to cut and stick the foam to the drilled out plywood panel.
We used 2 inch foam. I would not recommend going smaller as you may not get the dramatic indents on the tufts if you go skinnier on the foam. You could go thicker, but as foam seems to be priced like liquid gold these days and we didn’t want to take out a second mortgage just to buy 3 inch foam, we stuck to the 2 inch variety.
Cut your foam to cover your plywood panel and using spray adhesive tack down your foam to the wood. Don’t worry if you have to piece together the foam between the spray and the battling (next step) it will stay in place and you won’t even know you have multiple pieces stuck together.
NOTE: I did find that spraying the adhesive to the edges of the smaller foam pieces as well as the board helped them all stick together nicely.
Step 5: Batting
Get out your nail gun! Now you are ready to lay your batting over the foam, pulling it tight around the edges of the plywood and stapling it to the back. Try to fold the edges over the corners so they lay somewhat flat. You don’t want a big goober of batting poking out on all of your corners.
Step 6: Fabric preparation
The fabric we selected was a microfiber with a bit of a crinkle texture. I wanted something that would wear well, had a nice feel to it, and wasn’t too thick or stiff. I wasn’t completely sold on the crinkle texture as I was a bit concerned it would just look “messy” but it was the fabric selected by the brother and it was his headboard.
Iron out any creases in your fabric before you lay it over the batting. Make sure you have extra fabric along all of the edges as you will need to be able to pull it around the sides.
Step 7: Positioning the buttons
We ended up positioning our headboard against our coffee table so that we could work on both sides of the panel. If possible recruit a helper for the tufting process as it really did make it easier with 2 people.
Be warned this part is a hot mess. It takes a long time and a lot of muscling through.
**Starting with one of your long rows in the middle of your panel poke your long upholstery needle through from the back of the panel (side without the fabric) through to the front of the panel until you see the needle poke out through the fabric on the other side. It is helpful to have a second person on the front side making sure the fabric is somewhat taut and lying flat in addition to guiding the needle out.
**Thread the button through the smaller needle. Both polycord threads should be threaded through the needle.
From the front of the panel using the large needle that is poking out through the fabric as a guide, poke the smaller needle through to the back of the panel. The person at the back of the panel can watch for the tip of the needle coming out the hole in the back. As soon as you can see the needle coming out the backside pull out the longer needle as it is no longer needed as a guide for the hole and it is easier to get the small needle with the polycord through to the back if the placement needle is no longer in the hole. Because the polycord is rather thick the person on the backside of the panel will most likely need to grip the smaller needle using a pliers and pull through.
NOTE: Be careful here not to stab yourself as you are pulling the needle with the polycord through to the back. I had multiple times when I was seriously concerned I was going to impale myself in the heart. Thankfully that did not happen, but all the same be careful. At this point you may be asking yourself why not use a thinner thread so that it is easier to pull through…why indeed? Because it breaks! We may or may not (MAY) have done the entire panel twice. Once using the tutorial recommended upholstery thread and once using the polycord. The thread was a complete nightmare. We not only had things break while we were setting the tufts but we woke up to find that 4 buttons had busted during the night sending the small projectiles across the room. After much swearing, and maybe a little crying on my part, we decided to not only redo the ones that had broken but the entire panel. We were concerned that as soon as someone leaned against the headboard additional buttons would let fly and potentially someone could lose an eye. (If you hadn’t noticed by now I have pretty good fear of bodily harm…impaling myself in the heart, having a button shoot my eye out…etc.) Even though the polycord is a bit of a pain to get pulled through we didn’t have any breaks and I never once feared for my eyes.
**Continue placing the buttons for your long rows (just get the polycord pulled through, don’t nail or pull to tuft) until you get them all ready to pull and tuft. Don’t work on the short rows yet. Do those after you have your long rows completed so that you can really set the pleats on the tufts.
Step 8: Tufting
Once all of your long row buttons have been pulled through you are ready to set the button and staple it in place. The husband and I found the best way to do this is again to have one person on the front of the panel pushing the button hard against the board while the other is behind the panel pulling the polycord tight and placing the staples.
The stapler will make at least 4 zigzags with the polycord and staples to make sure that the cord doesn’t just slip out. If I had to do this over I would volunteer for the stapling job verses the pusher as this is the step that has the potential to make your thumb go numb. In order to really get a deep tuft you need to apply a pretty good amount of force to the button. Don’t let up on pushing the button after the first staple is placed as it will most likely still slip until at least 2 of the staples are inserted.
After you have your long rows set you are ready to pull through the buttons for the short rows and then the fun of tufting begins!
You will set your short row buttons in the same manner, however you will want to pay attention to how the fabric gathers as you push in the button. Work the fabric with your fingers in order to get it to bunch-up how you want it. Once you get it tufted how you want you will set the staples in the same manner as before.
Step 9: Attach the fabric to the back
After all of the pulling, pushing, stapling and tufting you are now ready to flip your panel over and pull the extra fabric around to the back. Just like with the battling you will want to pay special attention to the corners. Try to make it pretty and reduce the bulk at the corners so that your panel will lay flat inside your wood frame. You don’t have to worry too much about bulk as the screws you will be using to attach the panel to the wood frame will help pull the 2 pieces together nicely.
You now have a tufted panel!
Next up....securing the tufted panel to the wood frame....