How to Upholster a Bench Cushion

  • 01 of 06

    Materials to Create a Cushion Cover

    Picnic bench cushion for comfortable seating
    The Spruce / Debbie Colgrove

    A picnic bench is super handy if you need extra seating while hosting a party or when the whole family comes over. Topping the bench with a custom cushion will make it much more comfortable for your guests. Fortunately, bench cushions are very easy to make, and it's fun to customize them with your favorite colors and fabrics. 

    If you decide you'd like to make your own picnic bench cushion, read through this tutorial thoroughly before you begin. If it sounds like a project you want to tackle, gather the following supplies : 

    • Foam: Measure and cut to fit the bench top.
    • Fabric: Make a sketch of your needed pieces. You'll need to buy fabric that is as wide or as long as your longest piece. (You can cut back on the amount of fabric by seaming the side pieces.) Always preshrink your fabric and trims before cutting and sewing.
    • Thread: Choose a high quality thread in a coordinating color to your fabric. 
    • Cording: You will need to buy enough that it goes around the edge of the top and bottom pieces of fabric.
    Continue to 2 of 6 below.
  • 02 of 06

    Cut the Foam to Size

    How to cut thisk upholstery foam.
    The Spruce / Debbie Colgrove

    Cutting a piece of thick foam can be a challenge and can leave you with an uneven, choppy surface. There are many cutting methods, but an electric knife will get you the best results. With a little practice, you can achieve smooth edges when you cut your upholstery foam.

    To cut the foam:

    • Measure and mark the foam to be the same size as your bench top. Using Rotary Rulers will help assure that you are marking true square. 
    • Use an electric knife to cut the foam. If you've never cut with an electric knife before, practice on a scrap piece of foam. Protect the surface under the foam with cardboard or a piece of wood so you do not damage your work station
    Continue to 3 of 6 below.
  • 03 of 06

    Calculating Your Fabric Needs

    An example of how to calculate how much fabric you will need to sew a cushion cover.
    The Spruce / Debbie Colgrove

    For this example, we'll be using a 1/2 inch seam allowance.

    Top and Bottom of the Cushion

    Cut the fabric to the length of the cushion plus 1 inch and by the width of the cushion plus 1 inch. Remember, you'll need two pieces—one for the bottom and one for the top of the cushion.

    Sides of the Cushion

    Cut the side panel by the thickness of the sides of the foam plus 1 inch BY the distance around the cushion plus 1 inch (Note: If the distance around the cushion is longer than your fabric, you will need to seam the sides. Make calculations so that your seam will be at the corners. Remember to add 1inch  for each seam for the 1/2 inch seam allowances. See the examples provided in the cutting diagram explanation below.)


    The ties are what secure your cushion to your bench, and you need to sew them into all four corners of your cushion. To know what size tie you need, measure from the cushion bottom to the legs of the bench and add enough extra to be able to tie a bow or knot. Mark a piece of ribbon to gauge how long you'll need to make your ties, and then measure it to determine your length. 

    Cut four, 1-inch wide strips by the length you calculate with your ribbon. These strips will be folded in half lengthwise and then both edges brought in to the center fold to enclose the raw edges, ending up 1/4 inch wide. If your fabric is very heavy, you may want to experiment on a scrap to make sure making a strap is possible. Use ribbon or twill tape that matches your fabric if the fabric is too heavy to make ties. You may want more ties if you want to tie the cushion on to the legs versus tying the ties together.​

    To Understand the Diagram

    In this example, the bench is 11 inches wide by 64 inches long and the foam is 4 inches thick.

    • The top and bottom piece of fabric would be 12 inches by 65 inches.
    • The sides are 5 inch (the thickness of the foam plus 1 inch) by 151 inches (the distance around the cushion plus 1 inch).
      • Alternatively, you could use one piece that is 109 inches (64 inches plus 12 inches plus 12 inches plus 1 inch for the front and both sides) by 5 inches for the thickness and one piece that is 65 inches by 5 inches for the back of the cushion
      • Another option (shown in diagram) is to use two pieces that are 65 inches by 12 inches (for the front and back) and two pieces that are 12 inches by 5 inches for the ends and two pieces that are 65 inches by 5 inches for the front and back sides.
    • The ties for this bench need to be 25 inches long so they will be cut 1 inch by 26 inches and four of them will be needed.
    Continue to 4 of 6 below.
  • 04 of 06

    Create and Place the Ties

    Controling the ties so they don't get caught in your sewing.
    The Spruce / Debbie Colgrove

    Now it's time to make the ties for your bench cushion: 

    • Fold one end in by 1/4 inch to enclose the raw edge. It's helpful to use an iron or pins, depending on what kind of fabric you are using. 
    • Fold the strips in half lengthwise and press the fold.
    • Open the folded strip and bring the raw edges ​into the fold.
    • Press well. 
    • With the strip folded sew along the edge to hold the folds closed.
    • Press again.
    • Measure the bench to know where you need to place the tie. Mark this measurement on the bottom fabric.
    • Pin the end of the tie that is not turned under to the edge of the bottom at the marking, aligning the end of the strip and the edge of the fabric, so the end of the tie will be in the seam allowance.
    • Baste the tie in place.
    • Repeat for all four ties.
    • Bring the ends of the ties together on the center of the bottom. Tie and pin them on the bottom fabric so they will not be caught in your other sewing.
    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Apply Trim and Sew Side Sections to Top

    Sewing the sides on a cushion cover.
    The Spruce / Debbie Colgrove

    Place the trim so the seam allowance of the trim will meet your 1/2 inch seam allowance with the seam allowance of the trim on top of your seam allowance on your fabric. 

    Sewing the Side Piece(s) and Attaching the Sides

    • If using one continuous piece for the sides: 
      • Place the ends of the strip, right sides together, making sure that the fabric is a straight continuous loop and there are no twists.
      • Fold the top length in half to find the center. Mark the center.
      • Place the seam of the side sections at the half mark.
      • Match the edges and pin the side section to the top section
      • Sew the sections together using a 1/2 inch seam allowance, pivoting at the corners.
      • Apply a seam finish.
    • If using multiple pieces for the sides:
      • Place each end of the front section even with one end of a side section.
      • Join the ends, good sides together, using a 1/2 inch seam allowance.
      • Repeat to add the back section to the other ends of the side sections.
      • Align the ends of the strips and sew them together using a 1/2 inch seam allowance to create one continuous strip. 
      • Match the seams to the corners of the large, top section of the pillow.
      • Align the edges of the side sections and top section.
      • Pin in place.
      • Sew the pieces together, using a 1/2 inch seam allowance and pivoting at the corners.
    Continue to 6 of 6 below.
  • 06 of 06

    Attaching the Bottom and Finishing the Cushion

    Leaving an opeing to turn the cover right side out saves you using the seam ripper.
    The Spruce / Debbie Colgrove

    This final step is mostly the same as attaching the sides to the top, but there are a few additional tasks to note: 

    • For both methods, mark the center back of the bottom section.
    • Mark an equal distance from the center for an area that will be large enough to place the foam inside the cover.
    • Leave that area un-sewn to place the cushion inside.
    • Apply a seam finish (like zig zag stitch) to all seam allowances.
    • Turn the cover right sides out.
    • Press.
    • Gently guide foam through opening, making sure the cushion reaches into all four corners. 
    • Once the foam is inside the cover and everything is smooth, pin the opening closed and hand sew the opening closed. Use a slip stitch to have the stitching as invisible as possible.