Can You Use a Regular Sewing Machine for Upholstery? | Expert Advice

Are you dreaming of transforming your space with stunning upholstery but wondering if your trusty sewing machine can handle the task? The burning question on many minds is: can you use a regular sewing machine for upholstery? It’s a common query among DIY enthusiasts and crafting aficionados alike.

Picture yourself diving into your next upholstery project, fueled by curiosity and excitement. With the right techniques and a sprinkle of creativity, the answer might surprise you. Let’s embark on this journey together, exploring the possibilities and uncovering the secrets to success in the world of upholstery.

Salient Points

  • Regular sewing machines can handle light upholstery tasks like throw pillows with appropriate needles and thread.
  • For heavier upholstery work such as sofa reupholstering, investing in a heavy-duty sewing machine is recommended.
  • Thick materials and multiple layers may cause issues like broken needles or tension problems on a regular sewing machine.
  • Proper adjustments like using a walking foot attachment can improve regular sewing machine performance for some upholstery projects.

What is a Sewing Machine and How Does It Work?

A sewing machine is a versatile tool that revolutionized the art of stitching fabric pieces together. These machines are powered by either electricity or manual foot pedals, offering efficiency and precision in sewing tasks. At its core, a sewing machine works by using a needle to interlock thread through layers of fabric, creating stitches. The needle moves up and down rapidly, aided by a mechanism called the sewing machine’s shuttle, which holds the bobbin and regulates the lower thread.

The process begins when the operator selects the desired stitch type and adjusts the tension settings accordingly. As the foot pedal is pressed or the machine is activated, the needle descends into the fabric, pulling the upper thread along with it. Simultaneously, the shuttle mechanism moves, looping the lower thread from the bobbin to create a secure stitch. The speed and precision of this process allow for efficient seam construction and embellishment on various fabrics.

Different types of sewing machines cater to specific needs. For instance, a straight stitch machine is perfect for basic sewing tasks, while a serger is ideal for creating professional-looking seams and finishing edges. Advanced machines may feature computerized controls for intricate embroidery designs or quilting patterns, offering versatility to users.

To understand the mechanics better, imagine a simple hand-sewing process where you use a needle and thread to stitch fabric manually. A sewing machine automates this process, speeding it up significantly while maintaining accuracy and consistency in the stitches. Additionally, sewing machines come with various attachments and accessories like presser feet and needle plates to facilitate different sewing techniques, making them indispensable tools for both hobbyists and professionals alike.

Upholstery Unveiled: Can You Use a Regular Sewing Machine for Upholstery - Facts & Tips

Can You Use a Regular Sewing Machine for Upholstery?

While regular sewing machines are primarily designed for lightweight fabrics like cotton or polyester, they can handle some upholstery tasks with proper techniques and considerations. However, there are limitations to keep in mind.

Upholstery typically involves sewing through multiple layers of thick fabric, foam, and sometimes even leather or vinyl. Regular sewing machines may struggle with the thickness and density of these materials. They often lack the necessary power and stitching capabilities required for heavy-duty upholstery work. Attempting to force thick materials through a regular sewing machine can lead to broken needles, tension issues, or motor damage.

However, for lighter upholstery projects such as making throw pillows or recovering chair seats, a regular sewing machine can suffice. It’s essential to use the appropriate needles and thread, such as heavy-duty or upholstery-grade options, to ensure smooth stitching and durability. Additionally, adjusting the tension and using a walking foot attachment can help feed thick materials evenly through the machine.

For more substantial upholstery tasks like reupholstering a sofa or sewing thick layers of fabric and foam, investing in a heavy-duty sewing machine specifically designed for upholstery work is advisable. These machines are equipped with more powerful motors, larger needles, and sturdier construction to handle the demands of upholstery projects effectively.

All in all, while regular sewing machines can handle some upholstery tasks, they have limitations when it comes to thicker materials and more significant projects. Assessing the scope and requirements of your upholstery project will help determine whether a regular sewing machine is sufficient or if upgrading to a heavy-duty model is necessary for optimal results and longevity of your machine.

Can You Use a Regular Sewing Machine for Upholstery

How Can You Use a Regular Sewing Machine for Upholstery?

Upholstery involves covering furniture with fabric or leather to provide padding and decoration. Regular sewing machines are typically designed for lighter fabrics, but with proper techniques, they can also be used for upholstery projects.

  1. Choose the Right Needle:
    • Use a heavy-duty needle designed for sewing through thick fabrics like denim or canvas.
    • A needle with a size of 90/14 or higher is recommended for upholstery fabrics.
  2. Select Suitable Thread:
    • Opt for a strong, heavy-duty thread such as polyester or nylon.
    • The thread should be thicker than what you would use for regular sewing to withstand the stress of upholstery work.
  3. Adjust Machine Tension:
    • Increase the tension settings on your sewing machine to accommodate the thicker fabric and thread.
    • Test on a scrap piece of fabric to ensure the stitches are secure and balanced.
  4. Use Proper Stitch Length:
    • Set the stitch length to a longer setting to prevent the fabric from bunching up.
    • A stitch length of around 3mm to 4mm is suitable for most upholstery fabrics.
  5. Support Heavy Fabrics:
    • Use support materials like interfacing or stabilizers to reinforce seams and prevent stretching.
    • Layering the fabric with a lighter lining material can also help improve the sewing process.
  6. Sew Slowly and Steadily:
    • Avoid rushing through the sewing process, especially when dealing with thick layers of fabric.
    • Sew slowly and steadily to maintain control over the stitching and prevent the machine from jamming.
  7. Utilize Proper Techniques:
    • Use basting stitches or clips to hold multiple layers of fabric together before sewing.
    • Consider using a walking foot attachment to help feed the fabric evenly through the machine.
  8. Finish Seams Securely:
    • Reinforce seams by backstitching at the beginning and end of each seam.
    • Trim excess threads and finish raw edges with pinking shears or a zigzag stitch to prevent fraying.
  9. Practice on Scrap Material:
    • Before starting your upholstery project, practice sewing on scrap pieces of fabric to get a feel for how your machine handles the thicker materials.
    • Adjust settings and techniques as needed to achieve the desired results.

Factors to Consider when Using a Regular Sewing Machine for Upholstery

When utilizing a regular sewing machine for upholstery, there are several crucial factors to keep in mind to ensure successful results.

Machine Strength and Durability

Regular sewing machines are designed for light to medium weight fabrics. When working with upholstery, which often involves thicker materials such as canvas or leather, ensure that the machine can handle the heavier workload without straining the motor or breaking needles.

Consider investing in a heavy-duty sewing machine or using a walking foot attachment to aid in feeding the fabric evenly.

Needle and Thread Selection

Choosing the appropriate needle and thread is critical when sewing upholstery. Opt for heavy-duty needles, such as denim or leather needles, which are designed to penetrate thick materials.

Additionally, use strong polyester or nylon thread that can withstand the stress of sewing upholstery seams without breaking.

Stitch Length and Tension

Adjust the stitch length and tension settings on the sewing machine to accommodate the thickness of the upholstery fabric. Longer stitch lengths are preferred for thicker materials to prevent puckering and ensure strong seams.

Test different stitch lengths and tension settings on a scrap piece of fabric before beginning your project to determine the optimal settings.

Presser Foot Pressure

Modify the presser foot pressure as needed to accommodate the thickness of the upholstery material.

Decrease the pressure for thicker fabrics to prevent them from getting caught or bunched up under the presser foot, and increase the pressure for lighter materials to ensure they are fed smoothly through the machine.

Practice and Patience

Mastering the art of sewing upholstery on a regular sewing machine requires practice and patience. Start with small projects to gain confidence and familiarity with handling thicker materials. Take your time and pay attention to detail to achieve professional-looking results.

By considering these factors and taking appropriate precautions, you can successfully use a regular sewing machine for upholstery projects with ease and efficiency.

Pros and Cons of Using a Regular Sewing Machine for Upholstery


  • Cost-effective option for occasional upholstery projects.
  • Versatile for various sewing tasks beyond upholstery.
  • Availability of numerous accessories and attachments.


  • Limited power and durability compared to industrial machines.
  • May struggle with thick upholstery fabrics.
  • Potential strain on the machine’s motor and needles.

Tips for Sewing Upholstery with a Regular Sewing Machine

Sewing upholstery with a regular sewing machine can be challenging due to the thickness of the fabric and the layers involved. However, with the right techniques and precautions, you can achieve professional-looking results. Here are some tips to help you sew upholstery successfully:

  • Use the right needle: Opt for a heavy-duty needle, such as a size 16 or 18, to penetrate through thick upholstery fabric and layers without breaking.
  • Choose the correct thread: Use a strong and durable upholstery thread, preferably polyester or nylon, to withstand the stress and tension of upholstery sewing.
  • Adjust the presser foot pressure: Increase the presser foot pressure to ensure that the fabric stays in place and feeds smoothly through the machine. This prevents shifting and puckering of the fabric layers.
  • Lengthen your stitches: Lengthen your stitch length to around 3mm to 4mm to accommodate the thickness of the upholstery fabric and create stronger seams.
  • Use a walking foot attachment: A walking foot attachment helps to feed the fabric evenly through the machine by moving the top layer of fabric in sync with the bottom layer. This prevents uneven stitching and fabric shifting.
  • Stabilize the fabric: Place a layer of stabilizer or tissue paper underneath the fabric to provide extra support and prevent the machine from getting stuck or skipping stitches.
  • Secure seam ends: Backstitch at the beginning and end of each seam to secure the stitches and prevent unraveling. This reinforces the seams and ensures they withstand the stress of everyday use.
  • Practice on scraps: Before sewing your actual upholstery project, practice on scraps of the same fabric to test your machine settings and get comfortable with sewing through thick layers.
  • Take your time: Sewing upholstery requires patience and precision. Take your time to sew slowly and accurately, ensuring that each seam is straight and even.
  • Trim excess bulk: Trim excess seam allowances and bulk from corners to reduce thickness and prevent lumps or bumps in the finished upholstery.

By following these tips and practicing your sewing skills, you can successfully sew upholstery using a regular sewing machine and achieve professional-quality results.

Troubleshooting Common Sewing Machine Issues

Sewing machines are essential tools for crafting and repairing clothes, but like any device, they can encounter problems. Below, we’ll discuss common sewing machine issues and how to troubleshoot them.

ProblemPossible CauseSolution
Machine Not StartingCheck if the power cord is plugged in properly. Ensure the power switch is on. If still an issue, examine the fuse in the plug.Replace the fuse or try a different power outlet. If the problem persists, consult a professional.
Uneven StitchesThe needle may be bent or dull. Incorrect threading or tension issues can also cause this.Replace the needle regularly and ensure proper threading. Adjust the thread tension according to the machine manual.
Thread Bunching UnderneathIncorrect bobbin threading or tension settings are common culprits.Rethread the bobbin, ensuring it follows the machine guidelines. Adjust the bobbin tension if necessary.
Breaking NeedlesIncorrect needle size for the fabric or a bent needle can cause breakage.Use the appropriate needle size for the fabric being sewn. Replace bent or damaged needles promptly.
Machine JammingAccumulated lint or debris in the bobbin area may be causing the jam.Clean the bobbin area regularly, removing lint and debris. Ensure the machine is properly lubricated as per the manual.
Skipping StitchesA dull or bent needle, incorrect thread tension, or improper threading can lead to skipped stitches.Replace the needle, check and adjust thread tension, and ensure correct threading following the machine manual.

Remember, regular maintenance and proper usage significantly contribute to a sewing machine’s longevity and performance. If issues persist, consult the machine’s manual or seek professional help.

Maintenance Tips for Sewing Machines

Here are some practical tips to help you maintain your sewing machine:

  1. Clean the Machine Regularly:
    • Lint buildup is a common issue. Use a small brush or a vacuum attachment to remove lint from the bobbin area and around the feed dogs.
    • Wipe down the exterior with a soft, lint-free cloth to prevent dust accumulation.
  2. Change Needles Frequently:
    • Replace the needle after 8-10 hours of sewing or when switching to a new fabric type.
    • A dull or bent needle can lead to uneven stitches and potential damage to the machine.
  3. Oil Moving Parts:
    • Lubricate your machine as per the manufacturer’s recommendations. Typically, every 8-10 hours of sewing.
    • Use a small amount of sewing machine oil on designated areas to reduce friction and prevent wear.
  4. Check Tension Regularly:
    • Ensure the thread tension is balanced. Incorrect tension can result in loose or tight stitches.
    • Refer to your machine’s manual to adjust the tension settings correctly.
  5. Keep Bobbin Area Clean:
    • Remove the bobbin and bobbin case regularly to clean any accumulated dust or lint.
    • A clean bobbin area prevents thread jams and ensures smooth stitching.
  6. Inspect and Replace Belts:
    • Check the belts for signs of wear or damage.
    • Replace worn-out belts promptly to maintain consistent speed and prevent motor strain.
  7. Store Properly:
    • When not in use, cover your sewing machine to protect it from dust.
    • Store it in a cool, dry place to prevent rusting of metal parts.
  8. Follow the Manual:
    • Always refer to your sewing machine’s manual for specific maintenance instructions.
    • Manufacturers provide guidelines tailored to the machine’s model and design.

Regular maintenance ensures that your sewing machine remains in optimal condition, providing you with reliable and high-quality stitching for years to come.


Congratulations on exploring the potential of using a regular sewing machine for upholstery projects! With the right techniques and tools, you can achieve professional-quality results on your upholstery endeavors. By selecting appropriate needles, utilizing heavy-duty threads, and adjusting your machine’s settings, you can successfully sew through thick and sturdy fabrics. 

Whether you’re revamping a beloved piece of furniture or creating custom upholstery for home decor, your regular sewing machine can be a valuable companion. So, unleash your creativity, embrace the versatility of your machine, and embark on a journey of transforming spaces with your upholstery skills. Happy upholstering!


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Frequently Asked Questions

What thread should be used for sewing upholstery with a regular sewing machine?

For sewing upholstery, use a strong thread like polyester or nylon. These threads provide the strength and durability needed for upholstery work. Plus, they won’t break easily while you sew. You’ll be able to create beautiful and long-lasting projects that bring you closer to your community of fellow makers.

How do I know if my regular sewing machine is powerful enough to sew upholstery?

You need a powerful machine to sew upholstery. On average, regular sewing machines have between 8-12 stitches per minute, while industrial models can reach up to 1,500! Consider the type of fabric you’ll be working with and make sure your machine is strong enough for the job.

What types of fabrics are best suited for upholstery sewing with a regular sewing machine?

You’ll want fabrics that are strong and durable, like canvas or denim. Avoid lightweight fabric with delicate fibers, as they may be too challenging to sew with a regular machine.

Are there any special attachments I need to get for my regular sewing machine to sew upholstery?

You need the right tools to sew upholstery. But don’t worry, you don’t have to invest too much – a few extra attachments will do the trick! With these, you can make your regular sewing machine work wonders for upholstery fabric. So don’t hesitate, get ready to create beautiful things with ease!

What are the best techniques for finishing seams when sewing upholstery with a regular sewing machine?

You can finish seams when sewing upholstery with a regular sewing machine by using a zigzag stitch and backstitching at the start and end of each seam. This will help ensure your fabric stays secure and prevents any fraying. You’ll be creating beautiful pieces in no time!

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