Calculating fabric requirements for upholstered goods

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If you’re in the market for new upholstered goods, budgeting for the furniture itself is only part of the equation. Most manufacturers of upholstered goods, whether it’s sofas, loveseats, or chairs, quote their products as COM (customer’s own material), meaning the customer purchases and provides the fabric.

The same is true if considering re-upholstery of existing soft goods. Most upholstery shops will provide the internal upholstery supplies such as poly (foam) and Dacron, but the customer typically is responsible for the fabric.


The price of upholstery fabric varies greatly, ranging from a few dollars per yard to several hundred dollars per yard. In many cases, the cost of the fabric can exceed the cost of the frame. The lead time for fabric is typically measured in weeks or even months, taking the option of reordering―or adding to an existing order―off the table. Another consideration is variation by dye lot, meaning that fabric ordered today might not be an exact color match to the same fabric ordered a month or two later. These factors further emphasize the importance of calculating the correct fabric requirements for your project.

Fabric Upholstery

Estimating the quantity of fabric required can be as simple as referring to a chart, but certain factors can affect the yield, raising the possibility of fabric shortages or costly excess in attic stock. Understanding basic principles of fabric and upholstery can help you make informed purchasing decisions. (see Figure 1)

Fabric is universally sold by the bolt and measured by the yard. One yard of fabric measures 36 inches along the length of the bolt, with most bolts measuring 54 inches in width. There are exceptions, but 54-inch goods remain the industry standard. Therefore, one yard of fabric has 13 and a half usable square feet, or 50 percent more than a true square yard. Actual yields of fabric will be somewhat less, as allowances must be made for variables such as seams and scrap. This is especially true in fabrics with patterns that require matching, even more so with large repeats. (see Figure 2)

Fabrics are often designated as “railroaded” or “right way.” These terms refer to the direction of the pattern relative to the length or width of the bolt. One direction is not necessarily superior to the other, but it must be considered when estimating fabric requirements. (See Figures 3a, b)

Other factors affecting fabric yield are pattern direction and fabric quality. Piece counts also affect yield, as larger quantities provide more opportunities to optimize cutting patterns, making more efficient use of the entire bolt. Finally, design itself has a lot to do with yield. Omitting upholstery elements, such as skirts or welt cord, saves fabric, as does specifying attached or semi-attached cushions instead of traditional loose (or reversible) seat and back cushions.


Natural leather is sold by the hide, each measured individually by the square foot. There are many different sizes of hides, but a nominal value of 50 square feet has become an industry standard. Because they’re a natural material, there is a great deal of variability from hide to hide. This variability adds to natural beauty and appeal, but often presents its own set of challenges. Variability includes slight differences in color and texture, as well as the inherent defects such as branding marks, bites, nicks, and scratches from the living animal from which the hide was harvested. Consequently, actual yield tends to suffer as upholsterers work around or remove these defects during cutting, sewing, and upholstery. (see Figure 4)

Fabric Yield Factor 1

Factors affecting fabric yield

Fabric Yield Factor 2

Understanding basic principles of fabric and upholstery can help you make informed purchasing decisions.

As with fabric, most manufacturers of leather upholstered goods quote their products as COL (customer’s own leather). But instead of buying yardage of fabric, the customer will be providing a quantity of individual hides. In theory, converting between yards of fabric and square feet of leather would be a simple as multiplying the COM requirement by 13 and a half. But because of the natural irregularities, a multiplier of 16 or 17 is advisable. This allowance provides the upholsterers the extra leather required to cut and sew the patterns free of visible defects.

Fabric Yield Factor 3
Fabric Yield Factor 4

In many cases, the cost of the fabric can exceed the cost of the frame.

Fabric Yield Factor 5

Whether you choose fabric or leather for your next upholstery project, selecting the right material and ordering the proper quantity of each can help to keep the project on time and within budget. Purchasing sufficient attic stock is a good way to prevent shortages in production and enables fast resolution if repair or re-upholstery becomes necessary down the road.