Guest Room: Upholstering a Headboard

Many moons ago (aka, when it was cold enough outside to wear sweaters), Stephen and I tackled another DIY project for our guest bedroom.  This time we decided to make an upholstered headboard to replace the too-big-for-the-room bedframe we sold on Craigslist.


You might remember this sneak peek photo of our project from this post.  Several of you guessed we were making a headboard, and you were right!

Paper added for curve

We started by measuring the width of the metal bedframe and having the guys at Lowe’s cut a piece of 1″ MDF to that width.  Since sheets of MDF are 4′ x 8′, this meant the upholstered part of our headboard could only be 4′ tall.


We wanted the headboard to make as much of a statement as possible in the room, so we left the MDF full height.  I taped on some freezer paper (it was what we had on hand) and started sketching a curve for the top edge.

Sketching Curve

Once I finished sketching one side, I cut it out and taped the cut portion on the second side to make sure the curve would be symmetrical.

Cut and trace

A little more tracing and we were left with a template for our headboard.

Both cut

Where did we come up with this particular curve?  It’s actually very similar to lots of the headboards I found online (and pinned on Pinterest).  Here’s a look at one of the images I referred to many times during my sketch.  I don’t remember the source, but I know I tore this page out of a magazine at my MIL’s house!

Inspiration Shape

Finally it was time to trace the curve onto the MDF.  I started with a pen but quickly switched to permanent marker because it was much easier to see.

Tracing onto MDF

Oh la la!  Check out those curves! 😉

MDF Traced

Then it was time to pull out the jigsaw.  My hands got really tired from holding that saw and guiding it along the curve, but I was determined to do it myself!

Jigsaw MDF

Thankfully there weren’t any mishaps!

Curve cut

Because the top of the curve was really difficult to end smoothly, I got out the palm sander and smoothed the top edge of the MDF.

Sanding Curve

Here’s where my smart engineer of a husband came in.  Figuring out legs for the headboard and how they would attach to the bedframe was making my brain hurt, so Stephen took over.

Measuring for legs

He measured and cut two 4″ wide boards for the legs of the headboard.

Cutting legs

Then he drilled 2 holes per leg (one at the top and one at the bottom), all the way through the MDF.  This is where we attached the legs to the MDF.

Attaching Legs

I’ve decided the person who invented the Pronged T-Nut was a genius.  We hammered 4 pronged t-nuts into the 4 holes Stephen drilled in the MDF.  They essentially created threaded holes in the headboard that we used to bolt the legs in place.

Pronged T-Nuts

Here’s an upside-down t-nut and the hole it belongs in and then an action shot of the hammering.

Attaching T-nuts Hammering T-nut

Voila!  A threaded hole.

T-nut in

Here you can see the 4 t-nuts in place.  This is the front of the headboard.  The legs got attached from the back using bolts.

Position of T-nuts

For every t-nut, we had a bolt and washer.

Assembly parts

We used them to attach both legs to the back of the headboard.

Close up of Bolt and Washer

Leg Attached

That engineer of mine made sure we wouldn’t get the legs mixed up later down the line by marking the legs and the back of the headboard with big Ls and Rs (for left and right).

Legs Attached

Here is a look at one of the t-nuts from the front side of the headboard once the legs were attached.  See how the end of the bolt is visible in the middle of the t-nut, but it doesn’t come all the way through?  This ensured a smooth finish during the upholstery step.

Front View of T-nut

Once the legs were on, it was time to bring the headboard into the guest room for a dry run.  Thankfully the height was right and the width of the legs worked perfectly with the spacing of our bedframe.

Headboard Dry Run

We lined the legs up with the ends of the bedframe and marked where the bolts would go to attach the two.

Measuring Bed Frame

Once the legs were marked and drilled, we removed them while I got to work upholstering the headboard.

Different upholstery tutorials give different advice about what kind of batting and/or foam to use on your headboard.  We knew ours needed to be cushioned but not too thick (for an added detail later on), so we chose to use batting only.

Adding Batting

It was cheaper to buy twice as much thin batting than it was to buy one length of thicker batting, so that’s what we did.  Tina made it clear that she expected us to save the leftover batting for her.  This photo is so blurry because she was running and pouncing on that fluffy white stuff like a crazy cat!

Tina Helps

For the first layer of batting, I started by stapling the sides in place with my manual staple gun.

Attaching Batting

The MDF was tough enough that the staples didn’t go all the way in, so I had to hammer every staple in flush with the back of the headboard.

M Staples Batting

Here’s how the headboard looked after one layer of batting.  I flipped it over to make sure the batting was smooth before adding the next layer.

Batting Added

You’ll notice the batting didn’t come all the way down to the bottom edge of the headboard.  This is because my board was 48″ tall and my batting was 48″ wide.  Since I had to cover the top curve of the headboard, I ran out of length at the bottom.

This really didn’t matter since I would be covering this with fabric and the bottom of the headboard would be hidden behind the mattress.  I stapled the batting in place at the bottom so it wouldn’t get pulled up or wrinkled when I added the second layer.

Bottom Edge Sans Batting

I had to cut the second layer a bit more liberally than the first since it had more area to cover.

Close up of Batting

Luckily batting is pretty forgiving and flexible, so stapling around those curves wasn’t very difficult.

Second Layer Batting

Finally it was time to add the fabric.  The fabric we chose was a linen-like material in teal from Joann’s Fabrics.  It doesn’t look very teal in these no-natural-light photos, so you’ll have to trust me on that one. 😉

Adding Fabric

The fabric was much more difficult to mold around the curves than the batting.  Lots of creative cutting and pulling was necessary to get the right curves.  I also had to make sure I avoided the 4 holes we made to attach the legs later on.

Stapling Fabric

You can see how messy the back of the headboard looked once I was done upholstering it, but that’s ok!  Nobody will see this part when it’s in the room anyway.

Fabric Added

Look at all those staples!

Messy Corners

The inside curves proved to be the trickiest to get smooth, but if you have time and patience (and several episodes of The Office queued up), you can do it!

Lots of Staples

Finally the upholstery was done and it was time to reattach the legs.

Reattaching Leg

This is the lovely view our guest room wall will have once the headboard is in.  Sucks to be you, wall!

Legs Added

And here’s a look at the upholstered headboard in the light of day.  See?  I told you that fabric was teal.

Upholstered Headboard

I know you’re probably excited to see the headboard in its new home, but you’re going to have to wait one more day.  There is a bit more to our headboard than MDF, batting, and fabric, so tomorrow I’ll share the final details along with photos of our new headboard in the guest room.

I hope our tutorial thus far was easy to follow!  Let me know if you have any questions or decide to tackle a headboard of your own.  Anybody have any favorite upholstered headboard photos?  Have you built your own headboard before?  We’d love to hear!

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