Building an Upholstered Headboard

This bittersweet tale started back when I refinished my bedroom dressers.  I had been on the prowl for a bed frame that I could refinish to match the dressers.  Then I had the great idea to build my own upholstered headboard – and started browsing tutorials online, as usual with project ideas.  In the words of Shaun’s family: heavily researched.

Many DIY-focused bloggers have written tutorials on this topic.  Which one is the best?  It depends on what you’re looking for and the tools you have available.  I saw this tutorial from 4 Men 1 Lady and thought it sounded easy-peasy, since we didn’t have a jigsaw (to cut curves) and wanted to keep the look of the headboard simple.  So we drew up a rough sketch plan.  The main idea was to use plywood as the base, cut the shape into the plywood, then line the edges with 1″ x 3″ boards to stabilize as well as provide a shape to fit the foam padding into.

We measured our queen sized bed and added an inch or two on either side to measure 62 inches wide.  We measured 50 inches from the ground to the top of where we wanted the headboard to be.  So from about half way down the mattress to the top of our proposed headboard we measured 28 inches.  This gave us our plywood measurements: 28″ X 62″.

Then the 1″ x 3″ boards: we needed two boards that would cover 62 inches each (for the width of the top & bottom) and two boards that would cover 50 inches each (for the length of the right & left side, all the way to the ground for legs).

So one weekend in January we went out to the local home improvement warehouse.  They cut our plywood to the size we wanted, 28″ x 62″ (in a rectangle only, no specialty shapes).  Along with the plywood, we bought all the rest of the supplies, including: staples (we already own a staple gun), wood screws (we already own a drill, but make sure the screws aren’t longer than the thickness of your wood pieces), and spray adhesive for the foam.

Next we spent too much time at the three different fabric stores in Modesto.  Thank heavens that Shaun is a real sport and hung in there… but the real problem was that I couldn’t decide what color fabric to use.  I was leaning towards a teal/turquoise blue to match the… well, to match the fact that it’s my favorite color.  Beverly’s had the 1-inch foam and a heavier batting – check.  Jo-ann Fabric didn’t have anything I was interested in.  Home Fabrics & Rugs seemed to have a bigger selection of thicker, upholstery-type fabrics.  They did have foam but it was much more expensive.  We ended up buying a blue-greenish fabric at Home Fabrics because I wanted to get the project started & finished that day.

So we got home and started building the frame.  Did I mention that I didn’t even want to wait to borrow our friend’s power saw?  No, instead I chose to use this vintage handsaw.  Seriously.

It was actually fun.  Creating something with your hands for nearly an hour that could have been done in seconds with a power saw.  In any case, we traded off turns with the saw until we notched out the corners for the shape of the headboard.

Shaun even went a little crazy with the file to ward off any splinters.

Next we drilled pilot holes for the wood screws and attached the 1″ x 3″ boards to the plywood.  Shaun did most of this but I tried to help without drilling too many sideways holes, or stripping the screws.

The finished frame.  At this point in the project, Shaun & I were both very happy with our work.

Next was the foam.  I used a box cutter to cut the shape we needed.  The foam fit really nicely inside the frame and probably didn’t need the adhesive spray.  After cutting the shape and making sure it fit, I sprayed the plywood with the adhesive and quickly put the foam into position.  It’s pretty smelly stuff, so don’t try to sleep under this headboard the same night you make it!

Next was the batting layer – I chose a heavier batting so I would only need one layer.  The headboard was placed face down and the batting was pulled and stapled around the edges.

Then there was the fabric.  Now I had read plenty of those blog tutorials on DIY upholstered headboards, and they all said to make sure the fabric was pulled tight and even before stapling.  What I did not see much of was the frustration of doing this.  Maybe it was our right angle notch design, but there was absolutely no way to get the fabric pulled tight in those corners.  If you are reading this with the intention to build one yourself, and you’re an inexperienced upholster-er like myself, please choose a plain rectangular design!  You will thank me when you think it was an easy project!!

So after I dragged this project on into the night, I finally called it quits.  The picture above shows the headboard with wrinkles that I could NOT get out.  The backside of this thing looked like I went a little too psycho with the staple gun and scissors, and you could probably see the cut fabric if the picture was more zoomed in.  On top of all that, once I put the thing up against my bed, I hated it.  The fabric had a slight texture to it that I could not keep straight, and it turned out to look much more like dull grey with a hint of blue/green.

Back to the drawing board.  I was almost going to scratch the whole project and burn the dang thing.  Definitely my anger thinking there.  Luckily Shaun wasn’t so hot headed about this project and thought about “modding” the frame to add curves into the notched area instead of the problematic right-angle.  Finally I calmed down enough to realize that he had a really good point.  So, on went the project…

We took off the fabric and used the piece of plywood we had cut out to draw a curve.  Shaun even went out and bought a jigsaw to cut the shape.  Luckily he used it on another project for his boat, and I’m hoping to get more use out of it in the future :).

So we nailed this curved piece into the plywood.  I bought some new fabric at Jo-Ann – a celery green suede to match the green in the bedding.  It looked much brighter and fresher than the first round fabric.

This curve was still hard to work with the fabric, but we did it.  And just to let you see what you may be dealing with, here’s a picture of the problem area:

We even put a little dab of superglue in the corners of the cuts so they hopefully won’t spread.

I don’t know if I am just totally uncoordinated with fabric or if this is a real problem for other people.  We found some black dust cloth at Jo-Ann and covered up the ugly back-side.  Even though no one will ever see the backside, I felt so negative about it – I just had to do it.

You can still see some problem spots, but at least the whole thing looks a little more professional.  Lastly, to give the headboard a classy finish, we chose to do a nailhead trim.  We bought a nailhead trim kit online (Beacon Fabric) in “French Natural” (a bronze color).  This seemed much easier than hammering individual nails.

We put some fabric over our hammer to soften the head, but some of the nailheads were indented anyways in the end.  The curves were tough to work with.  We had to cut the trim into smaller bits (2 or 3 nailheads) and make sure there was a little tab left to hold under the next small piece of trim – otherwise the edges of each piece of trim would pop out.  Sometimes it was even easier to just use a few of the single nails on the curved parts.  But after the last stretch of straight nails, it was finally finished!

And so this ends the bittersweet tale of upholstery.  I love the headboard now!


$19.00  Plywood
$ 8.00  1 x 3 boards
$20.00  Screws, Staples, Spray Adhesive
$32.00  Foam & Batting
$14.00  2-yards of fabric, round 1 (even though I didn’t use it :()
$25.00  2-yards of fabric, round 2
$28.00  Nailhead Trim Kit (online, with shipping)
$ 8.00  Dust Cloth
$154.00  Total

Yikes.  Higher than I hoped.  But if you cut out the Fabric #1 and assume you had the screws/staples/spray adhesive already at home, then:

$120.00 Adjusted Total

Compare that to this option worth upwards of $450.00.  I think mine is prettier anyways.

And remember, if you want to tackle a project like this, think long about the shape you want.  A more “gentle curve” may have been easier to work with too, but for other first-timers, I would highly recommend using a rectangular shape!

– Jen


One thought on “Building an Upholstered Headboard

  1. next thing you know, we’ll be seeing your product line hanging in there with louis vuitton!
    well done! looks pro diggity!

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