As promised, here’s a quick rundown of what it takes to re-upholster vintage luggage. It’s relatively easy but takes quite a bit of time due to the precision needed in order to have it look professional. First & foremost, assess the interior of your suitcase. Some vintage luggage is in good shape! Our hat box didn’t need re-upholstering because the interior still looks great. For the sake of being sustainable and not jeopardizing the value of your vintage find, you should leave it as close to its original condition as you can. However, because of the very nature of luggage, many vintage pieces are pretty scary inside with stains and odors. We’re talking 30+ years of use…there’s bound to be a few shampoo spills in a suitcase’s life span. That’s when re-upholstering can really bring new life to your luggage!
So rip out that old interior lining and pick out a fun new fabric! You’ll be left with a wooden shell that looks something like this. Pay close attention to the old fabric and how it was originally attached. I’ve learned a lot just by analyzing the upholstery during “deconstruction.”
Assess the amount of fabric you’ll need and think about how many pieces it will take. This particular suitcase only took 4 pieces of fabric, cut to size. The other 2 that I’ve re-upholstered have taken 6, but the lid on this one is very shallow and so it only needed 1 piece, without side pieces. The lower portion of the suitcase, however, is much deeper. It will take one piece in the center and 2 for the sides.
For the sake of brevity, I’m hoping these photos will explain more than words. (I hate reading long instructions!!) Here are the basics. Cut the fabric pieces to the appropriate length and width, adding 2-3 inches on each side. This extra fabric will be folded under and stapled to the wooden structure. I find it easiest to iron the pieces so that the edges make a crisp line along the perimeter of the suitcase. During this process, I’m continually laying the fabric in place to make sure it’s going to fit perfectly.
Then it’s time to pin and staple! If you have a helper, you don’t need to clamp the fabric in place, extra hands are very valuable (but not always available!) Before stapling, I cut 1 inch strips of card stock and put that at the very edge of the folded fabric. Again, this helps maintain that crisp edge, and is a trick I discovered when ripping out the original lining. It also allows you to staple farther away from the actual edge of the suitcase which usually has metal fittings that the staples won’t go through. 😉
Make sure to find the smallest staples you can, these suitcases are not very thick and you don’t want sharp staples sticking out of your suitcase! Once one side is stapled, I clamp the other side in place and work underneath the fabric, stapling the other side. The depth of the suitcase allows for this slack in the fabric. The lid of this suitcase was not deep at all, so I was only able to staple one side and used upholstery tacks on the remainder.
Now, only the sides remain. For this suitcase, I decided to add 1″ foam to the sides to give it a little cushion. The upholstery tacks that I’ve been able to find are longer than my staples, so having thicker sides helps the tacks not go all the way through the suitcase.
Cut the foam to size and wrap the fabric around it like a present. I usually secure it with staples or tape. Then I place the upholstery tacks at each corner and typically one in the center. Once in place, hammer the tacks until they are secure in the wood. This leaves a nice tufted look to the sides.
And voila! Your updated luggage is ready for use, travel or otherwise. 😉
This was a quick tutorial, let me know if you have any questions!
Update: If you liked this post, you might also like our “Top 10 Ways to Use Vintage Luggage!”