Take it from the top: DIY Tufted Storage Ottoman/Coffee Table

I finished the top for my DIY tufted storage ottoman/coffee table and I have to say I am really happy with how it turned out! The in-house reviews are also VERY positive so far…one child wants to steal it for a headboard (I’ll have to add that to my list).

I guess that also means that I can go ahead and build the storage base, which would not have been necessary had this been a “fail.”

(pause for celebratory happy dance)

My last post talked about the plan for my ottoman and how I arrived at my measurements for the tufted top. I also noted that I combined and modified tutorials from different sources. If you’re thinking of tackling a tufted project…I strongly suggest searching blogger posts on the subject (there are many, the two most helpful to me are listed below). It really helps you understand the different variables/styles/techniques involved and how each different DIYer tackles those problems. That familiarity is invaluable when you’re tackling one for the first time.

supplies for DIY OttomanSo, with my roadmap in hand, and the 45” x 45” plywood on my work surface, I used spray adhesive to attach the 3-inch foam to the plywood. I preferred to have the foam overlap the sides of the plywood by about an inch. I cut and pieced the foam as needed using an electric carving knife and sprayed the sides of the foam with the adhesive to help them stick together.
use spray adhesive to connect the foam pieces Trim foam for ottoman cushion

Next, I drew my roadmap on the foam (remembering that I added a half inch to each side), and carved one-inch holes at each tufting location.

Draw the tufting map on the cushion

There are actually upholstery drill bits for this purpose, but I had great success with Kristi’s method from Addicted2Decorating: open a pair of scissors about an inch wide and plunge them into the foam about a half inch to one side of the tuft mark.

cut a hole into the foam ddottotop4

When you reach the plywood, snip the foam by closing the scissors. Repeat on all sides of the hole and remove the plug. Do this for all of the holes…no fear, it goes pretty quickly.

Next, I covered the foam with a layer of batting. I used a light coat of spray adhesive and stapled the batting to the underside of the plywood, smoothing corners, and poked holes in the batting above the foam holes. (I used batting on hand from a chair makeover so I pieced it in the center with no detrimental effects. My hands get sore from stapling, so I also used a 3 gallon air compressor with staple gun attachment that I bought a few years ago…much easier on the hands and helpful on many projects…)

And then I waited for a few days, because I was terrified.

I thought I could handle the basic tufting…but I knew the fabric wasn’t wide enough to cover the width without piecing. And the piecing tutorials were a little vague on some details AND (and this is a big “and”) were tufted using the needle/thread method…and I was incorporating Kristi’s express method using washers and screws…and wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew (which is fine in the privacy of your own home, but less fun when shared with the world).

Then I remembered these are “everyday adventures” and some of mine involve failure and learning. SO, I resumed….and…

Aligned the length of fabric along one side of the ottoman, leaving overlap for each side of the corner (to wrap and staple later), and used my finger to finesse the fabric into the corner hole.


Once I could easily feel the plywood just below the fabric, I double checked the fabric overlap to make sure it hadn’t slipped, then secured the fabric in the hole with a 5/8” self drilling wood screw and a #10 washer. (The annoying LED flashlight on my iPhone was a VERY valuable resource for this step.)

supplies for ottoman top ddottotop13


The fabric wants to twist along with the screw, so you have to hold the upper fabric securely with one hand while applying firm pressure to the drill. Once the screw is in place, you can finesse and untwist any fabric as necessary, but try to minimize the twist from happening.

Regarding the fabric, the “traditional” tutorial suggested using a woven fabric which is a great choice because you can use the grain (the horizontal and vertical directions of the weave) to keep your fabric aligned on the ottoman. 

what is the grain of fabric

Move to the next hole on the same row. You want to keep the fabric coming from the first hole snug, but without pulling it too tight and denting the foam. So, try to draw in new fabric from the length without pulling on the prior hole. It will look something like this:ddottotop9

Repeat along the first row, then skip the offset row, and repeat on the next row where the holes are in alignment with the edge. Again, keep the fabric between the holes smooth and snug without too much pulling or indenting the foam. This is when I trimmed off the excess fabric length (I knew roughly what I’d need, but hate cutting things too close, so I left a lot of excess and planned to trim later.)


Next, I went back to the offset rows, found the center of the fabric section, and using some pressure, screwed the tuft into place.

This is when the diamond forms, which you can start to see as you begin stuffing the fabric into the hole.

IMG_0579Once you’ve installed the screw and washer, it takes a minute or two of playing with the fabric to smooth out the gathers into nice diagonal pleats/folds. Try to smooth out the folds so that they all work in the same direction, i.e., facing downward.

Lesson learned: I was so worried about indenting the foam that I found, while doing the offsets, that I had left the fabric too loose between each hole, see?
ottoman fabric was too loose

I went back from the middle outward, took out each screw and redid the tufts, one by one…Sometimes practice makes perfect. It didn’t take more than an hour to redo and the result was much better.ddoottotop14Then, as planned, I ran out of fabric width. I finished that row with a half diamond to keep leftover fabric selvages from puckering (trim or fold into place as shown above.)

If you’re making a smaller ottoman and don’t need to piece your fabric, you can continue reading.

IF you’re making an oversized ottoman and need to piece the fabric, I’ve made a separate post (because this post is already SO long). Click here to see how to piece or join fabric for an oversized tufted ottoman.

Finishing the sides:

This is where I departed from Kristi’s tutorial, but again, I highly recommend reading as much as you can from several sources about this process and do what works for you. Information = confidence.

Rather than trying to neatly fold the bulky material into pleats at the sides as Kristi did, I took the suggestion of a tutorial that said to make a cut into the foam from the center of each hole directly out to the side.

This cut helps guide the fold and seemed to reduce the bulk of fabric, making it easier for me to make the sides nice and neat. DO NOT CUT ALL THE WAY THROUGH TO THE PLYWOOD. I made the cut about 1.5” deep with the electric slicer. (And every time I push the button, Kelly appears out of nowhere looking for slices of turkey or roast.)



Using the cut channel, tuck in a part of the excess fabric following the grain line from the hole outward, and secure with a staple near the top of the plywood edge.

Then cut the fabric from the side selvage to about a half-inch from the staple.


Next, I secured the fabric between each divided section with a staple,

went back and finessed and folded over the excess and secured the neat perpendicular pleats with staples,

ddottoside6and continued and repeated this until all sides were smooth and secure.


I finished the corners bed-sheet style, so there was a crisp pleat at each corner.


Finally, I flipped the tufted cushion over to the back and smoothed and secured the overlapped fabric with staples, trimmed away the excess, turned it back over and enjoyed the compliments from the fam, who were mucho impressed with mom!

Not bad, considering I still have to make the bottom! In the interim, they’ve already put it on top of the old coffee table, and all six pairs of Dirr feet have enjoyed their sneak preview over the last week (which is how long it took me to document the process, lol).

DIY oversized tufted ottoman

And speaking of the bottom of the ottoman…I have a slightly new plan! So, I’ll save some of the details like the covered buttons and finish trim until then.

On the tutorials:

Thank you bloggers everywhere who share information so we can all learn from each other. Today’s post was assisted by the inspiration of:

Kristi at Addicted2Decorating… She is a marvel; a fearless designer who tackles things of interest to the beginner DIYer one day, then takes rooms down to the studs the next, then changes her mind and comes up with something else that’s wonderful. Her blog is always full of inspiration, education and surprises. Get some coffee before you visit, you’ll want to stay!

Laurie Medford, Traditional diamond pattern deep tufting, Upholstery Journal Magazine, July 5, 2011.


  • julia dance

    Thank you for inspiring me to make a tufted box with my own stuff with the storage in. Your tutorial was very clear and explained every thing. Do you glue covered buttons in after to cover the screw and washer is the only finishing question I would like to ask? Thank you again for waking up my creative urge! Julia

    • EmDirr

      No way!! That’s so cool 🙂

      Thank you for your nice compliments, Julia! I’m really excited that you’re going to try an ottoman of your own.

      No, I did NOT go with the covered buttons. Originally I had intended to, but I liked the industrial vibe of the screws and washers (even though they are not readily visible through such a deep cushion). So I left them as is/was. I never really miss them. BUT…the button look is really nice as well. Check out Kristi’s tutorial…she DID glue her buttons on and she offered great tips on how to simplify that process as well. Here’s the link: http://www.addicted2decorating.com/diy-ottoman-coffee-table-part-1-how-to-do-diamond-tufting.html

      Finally, I hope you’ll share a photo of your finished work…I’d love to see your take (we learn from each other)!

      Kind regards, Em