Fabric armrest covers: the dirty little secret of confirmed cat ladies everywhere!
Okay, okay. They’re not really just for cat ladies. Whether it’s pets, kids, thrift store scores, stains, or just extra-comfy seats that have seen better days, it’s amazing how quickly a simple fabric armrest cover can transform a ratty looking couch or chair into a piece of furniture that’s pretty and presentable. So, after my darling Pixel-the-Cat simply couldn’t resist sinking his claws into my poor living room couch like a vicious tiny tiger (oh, would that we had discovered Soft Paws claw caps earlier), I decided that something had to be done to disguise the damage. And, having zero interest in, say, reupholstering my entire loveseat, I whipped up a set of quick and easy DIY fabric armrest covers to hide the offending holes and scratches.
Want to spiff up your most welcoming rooms before the start of the holiday season? Here’s how to make your own set of custom fabric armrest covers:
Please note that the links to supplies and tools that are provided below are affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you choose to make a purchase after clicking through.
* Heavy cotton, canvas, or upholstery fabric, ½ yard for each armrest cover
* Machine sewing thread, a color that will match your fabric
* Pellon Tru-Grid graph material or pattern paper
* Fabric scissors
* Paper scissors
* Clover Wonder Clips or straight pins
* Quilting ruler
* Sewing machine
* Pen or pencil
The armrest cover pattern consists of three rectangular pieces. Measure the length and width of the armrest on your chair/couch as shown in the first illustration, then use the measurements to draw each of the three rectangles on a piece of paper. Add a ½" seam allowance around the outside edge of each rectangle as shown in the second illustration, then use fabric scissors to cut out each pattern piece.
If the arms of your chair/couch are rounded instead of rectangular, you can round the top of piece A to fit the curve on your armrest.
For each armrest cover, cut 1 each of pattern pieces A and C, and 2 of pattern piece B out of heavyweight cotton or upholstery fabric.
With piece C in the middle, sew the two B pieces to the longest edges on each side of piece C.
I didn’t want to worry about my armrest covers unraveling in the wash, so I used french seams with a ½" finished seam allowance to enclose my raw fabric edges. (The first photo in this step is the right side of the fabric, the second photo is the wrong side of the fabric with french seams visible.)
If you’re not familiar with the technique, you can see my french seams tutorial from CRAFT Magazine here.
Press the seams flat.
Now, here’s where things get fun!
You’ll be attaching piece A to the large rectangle that you created when you joined pieces B and C in step 3. And, just like in the previous step, you’ll be enclosing the raw edge of the fabric inside a french seam.
Here’s how it’s done:
Using the guide in the illustration above, pin piece A to piece B with wrong sides together, and sew the first seam as shown with a ¼" seam allowance, starting at the bottom left corner and stitching toward the center (look for the blue dots in the illustration, and line those corners up). Remember, you’re sewing a french seam, so you’ll be sewing on the right side of the fabric first.
Continue on, sewing the second seam and third seam. Reposition the fabric edges as needed while you sew to keep everything aligned, especially once you get to that last seam. The corners where the seams meet can be a little bit tricky, so go slow and pull slightly on the fabric to smooth out any bunching under the presser foot. If your fabric isn’t behaving, you can also add a few shallow notches at the corners to allow the fabric to curve more easily.
Once you’ve sewn all three seams, use fabric scissors to trim the fabric edges close to the seams, then clip the points off of the corners.
Press the seams flat.
To finish this final french seam, turn the armrest cover inside out so the wrong side of the fabric is facing out.
Fold the fabric together around the edges of piece A along the seam you just sewed, enclosing the raw edge of the seam between the two pieces of fabric. Use pins or clips to secure the fold, then finish the french seam with a ¼" seam allowance.
Press the seam flat.
Tip: Press all the french seams flat in the same direction to ensure that they lie flat against the armrest.
Finish the armrest cover by sewing a ¼" hem along bottom edge and around the back opening.
Now, doesn’t that look nice?
Even better: The cats must not like the texture of the fabric that I used for my armrest covers, because all couch-related scratching stopped the moment I installed them in my living room. (If I’d known that armrest covers would be such a great scratching deterrent, I would have done this so much earlier!)
Love this, thanks for the tutorial!
Brilliant, thank you. With 2 dogs and a cat these will save my new sofa
That is brilliant. I have two rectangular wicker outdoor couches. How do I find out how much canvas I need for simple(??) drop covers, to protect them from the weather? AQ\ny ideas?
This makes it seem easy. Thank you. My husband finds the arms of his rise and recline chair is rough on his skin so I can make these now and make them long enough to cover all the chair arm.
Thank you so much. The instruction were clear and was really easy to follow.
May I use Felt?
I don’t see why you couldn’t. Depending on the kind of felt you use, you might have pilling or tearing issues, though.
OK – thanks
I have a weird rounded end to my recliner arms I need to cover. But I guess it would be the same concept. Thank you. I’ve already ruined fabric trying make them, so this will help a LOT.
I’ve just been teaching myself how to sew over the last few months, made possible by good tutorials like this one! I just got done w/ 1 cover & honestly, I’m surprised how good it came out! I used teal velvet upholstery fabric for a teal leather recliner and it looks gorgeous! You are a great instructor!
Thank you! I’m so glad your stitching is going smoothly!
I wasnt able to understand the “fancy french seam” but I was able to help a good friend out – she has a really nice recliner has has recently been confined to a Wheelchair, So she wanted to make sure the arms of her chair stay nice. I used black flannel – she LOVES them!! Thanks for such an easy and really easy to understand pattern!! Now I am going to make covers for my sofa/sectional! I dont see if I can add a photo
Is the ½ yard of fabric enough for all arm covers? The arms of my couch are 9 inches wide.
Thank you for the amazing tutorial for arm covers – On the first picture you actually have a back rest cover (3 pieces sewn together) That really sparked an interest for me. Do you have a pattern for that? I would love to make it.
I’m so glad the arm covers worked for you! The back rest cover you mentioned is actually just a lap quilt I designed that’s folded in half. Here’s the tutorial: https://www.redhandledscissors.com/2014/07/tutorial-giant-hexie-flower-lap-quilt-12-hexies-less-blog-hop/
I thought I would make it easier on myself and just purchase some from Amazon, but they all were cheap, itchy fabric. And the colors were all… just Yuck!
Now I can just pick a nice cotton canvas that will perfectly match my sofa and feel good against my arms.
just made some rectangular love seat covers and they turned out beautiful. I was doing a dry run before my custom fabric for the loveseat arrives. Thank you for great instructions! I have searched everywhere for printable instructions and so glad I found you. Many thanks again.
I’m so glad you liked the pattern!
Thank you so much for such clear instructions and great photos, Haley. I’ve just ordered two new chairs for my apartment, and unfortunately, they are cream colored (not my choice, but they will be comfortable chairs for visitors). Since I have to wait for them to be delivered, this gives me the chance to look at fabric for arm covers. Guess I will go back to the store and do my measurements and then I can have fun looking for fabric. Look how long your post has lasted, and think about how many people you have helped! Thank you again!
Aww, thank you! I hope you find the perfect fabric!
How do I keep the arm rest covers in place? Do I put elastic on them?
I don’t attach mine with anything, they stay put on my couch arms just fine. I suppose, if you wanted something more secure, you could probably use some Velcro or you could paint anti-skid rug backing onto the inside of the armrest cover.
Another way to keep them in place is to use upholstery twist pins. They’re usually clear plastic “buttons” with a curled pin attached on the underside. You just gently twist them through your cover and sofa arm (perhaps one each near the back on either side?) and they should hold your armcovers nicely in place. They’re available at sewing stores but probably are less expensive at Walmart (I’ve seen them there). Good luck!
OMG you have sent the best tute. I just realized how awful the arms of my favorite chair looked and was agonizing over what to do , and here it is!!!! Thanks and great job.
Hallelujah! Where have you been all my life? Thank you for the tutorial for arm rest covers!!
This comment made me chuckle so hard! I hope you enjoy your new armrest covers!