DIY Upholstered Headboard Tutorial

So… I’ve sat on this post for just about a year now…

Sorry about that.

You’ve all seen the glamour shots of my beautiful upholstered headboard, but it took many comments, posts, and private emails from you guys asking me for a tutorial, to get me to put together my upholstered headboard tutorial!!!!!

I’ve conquered my laziness, and prevailed.

For anyone new to the blog, let me rewind a bit… before starting this project (which let me just add, was one of the biggest DIY undertakings I’ve done to date) I’d obsessed for months and months about having an upholstered headboard in our bedroom.  Pinterest was my best friend, and for a while all I was pinning was lovely pictures of bedrooms with overstuffed, soft upholstered headboards.  I loved them all – thick velvet headboards, classic linen headboards, dark headboards, light headboards, tufted headboards, rounded headboards…. headboards with nailheads… headboards with pattern… headboards with detailed cut-outs and sloping sides.

Getting a new bed last year (an upgrade to a California King for my tall honey-bunch) was the catalyst for this project – our brand new shiny bed needed to be decked out, and so the hunt for a headboard started.

To say I felt defeated as I shopped online for an upholstered headboard is an understatement.  They are freaking expensive, people!!  For a California King, we were faced with a thousand dollar price range – especially once shipping and delivery surcharges were factored in.  No way.

After coming up empty handed, I turned to the internet for inspiration, and after reading a few headboard tutorials, I was on board to try my hand at making my own!  This was around the time when I turned to my lovely parents for assistance, so this DIY project became a family affair.

Let’s dive right in, shall we??

It started with this picture:

It isn’t the sexiest thing, but it really helped me determine what shape I wanted.

Belgrave… for me it was all about Belgrave (and with a strapping name like that, why wouldn’t it be??)

Actually, I wanted something like Cavendish or Grosvenor originally, but decided to KISS (keep it simple stupid… remember that??) and that a simple design = less of a chance to royally mess this up.

Once the shape was decided on, my mom and I went shopping.  I want to brag for a second… I am the LEAST decisive person ever, but when we walked into the fabric store, and I spotted this fabric it was all over.  Done.  Easiest decision of my life.

It has a beautiful, rough weave, and it’s the perfect color of greige (grey / beige) with nubby bits here and there.

Not only will it conceal dirt fairly well in the long run, but the rough weave promises that it will never look like I was trying (and failing) to “match” other fabrics in the bedding to it (btw, every time I type “rough weave” I can’t help but think of something like this)


We also ordered us some of these from Beacon Fabrics:

It’s a roll of nailhead trim.  Best. Decision. Ever.

The trim comes as one long strand, and every 5th nailhead or so, you hammer a real nailhead through to anchor it down.  The trim comes in different colors / finishes – we went with the French Natural, and I love it.

Initially, my mom tried to convince me that we should do individual nail heads.

Cannot. Fathom.

We will get to that later… but trust me you guys, nailhead trim is the way to go unless you have about a bazillion hours to kill and the patience of a saint.  As it was, I almost lost my s*** installing the trim so I can’t even imagine the individual nail heads.

Sorry.  It still brings up a lot of emotion thinking about the nailheads.

Ok, moving on.

What else do you need for this project besides fabric and nailheads??

– A big piece of cardboard
– An even bigger piece of plywood (and beware, plywood is heavier than you think!)
– A friend with muscles to help lift and carry heavy plywood
– Batting
– Rubber mallet
– Spray adhesive
– Jigsaw
– Sandpaper
– Staple Gun
– Pencil
– Upholstery Backing
– Straight Edge

If you want to attach legs, you’ll need a few extra items…
– Solid wood (my dad used two pieces of pine)
– Wood Stain (for the legs)
– Bolts (we used 4)
– Bolt cutter
– Industrial Strength File
– Patience

Step one – decide how high you want your headboard to be.  It was incredibly helpful for me to visually see a mocked up headboard behind our bed to determine height with the pillows all stacked up in front of it.  It also helped me determine how big and at what angle I wanted the cut outs to be.

So our bedroom looked really classy for a week or so with this piece of cardboard behind the bed:

Once I decided on my own we agreed on how big the cutouts would be, and how tall it would stand (for reference, I think I went with 68″ tall, and about 5″ wider than our mattress), we went for it.

Step 2 – trace cutouts and width on the plywood.

Cut it down to size using a sweet jigsaw.

Side note: I love how easy it was to type out that step.  It’s easy guys!  Just cut it down to size. With your power tools.  That you hopefully know how to use!

That step actually should have said, “Dad, put your safety glasses on before using the saw!!!”

Ok now they are on… now that the saw is off.  Awesome.

Anyway – I have the best dad, who knocked these cuts out in like .2 seconds.  Luckily no eyes were lost or injured in this process.  Bad dad.

Anyway, at this point get out the sandpaper and make sure all the edges are smooth.

It’s also at this point that if you’re attaching legs to the bottom of the headboard, that you attach said legs.  If you’re in our family and seek perfection in everything, then you stain the legs a few days ahead of time, so that they are pretty (thanks Dad!)

Why attach legs? you might wonder…

Because I wanted the most massive headboard in the world… no because I wanted it to stand higher than our pillows instead of getting hidden behind them once the bed was properly made.  Plywood comes as a standard 4×8′ and so with just 4 feet in height, it needed a little extra from the legs.

This is also a step where you want to be sure to measure everything well!

That should almost go unsaid, and be a general rule in all DIY projects (I can just hear my dad say, “Measure twice, cut once”) but here’s why it’s crucial to be sure on your measurements when attaching the legs…

This headboard is really big and heavy, so to be sure it was steady behind the bed, we wanted to anchor it to the bed frame (you CAN anchor it to the wall, but because we rent, wanted to avoid putting massive holes in the wall, attaching the headboard to the bed is key).  Long story short, the legs need to line up with the bed frame, so make note of the bed frame measurements before attaching the legs.

Once the legs are bolted on, we cut down the extra length of the bolts, and smoothed the nub down as much as possible with these tools…

Not sure what the technical term for this tool is (industrial strength emery board?), but it’s basically a huge nail file for metal.  Pretend you’re doing manicures.

Ok one more glamour shot of the pretty stained legs…


Now that you’ve got the base built, and legs attached, take the headboard inside – it’s time to cover it in batting and fabric.

Roll out the batting and bust out the spray adhesive.

Because we’re a family of Type A personalities, we had to steam the batting first.  This is entirely optional (but satisfying).

Once the batting is smoothed out from being bunched up in the package, spray the headboard (the front side) with spray adhesive and smooth the batting from the center to the edges.

The excitement around spraying the adhesive is optional.

Once the batting is attached to the front, you’ll want to pull it tight on the edges and staple it to the back.  Super simple.

On the curved corners, we cut the batting like this so we could wrap it around the curve nice and tight – no lumps.

See how that works?  Staple it down so it’s secure, and use a hammer to tap in the staples that didn’t sink all the way in.  Cut off the excess batting around the staples.

Repeat this process with the batting another time for a second layer of batting – this will make for a nice cushy headboard.

You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about foam.

We didn’t use foam on the headboard, which is why we wrapped it with the batting twice.  The plywood is really thick, and at first I was really pushing to use foam, but since we weren’t going to do any tufting (that seemed a bit ambitious for first timers) the foam would have made the headboard too thick to have nailhead.

In the end, no foam for us.  Just batting.  If you are going for a tufted headboard, you’ll of course need to use foam, but since we weren’t doing tufting, the batting is plenty cushy.  I believe the batting we used was the high loft as well (in case you were wondering).

At this point, the headboard should really be taking shape! It’s going to feel like you are on the home-stretch…  but you’re not.

Not yet… it still has to be covered with the fabric (and the nailhead trim is still waiting for you).

The obvious next step is to covering the headboard with the fabric – be sure that your fabric is ironed.  To have wrinkles would be a shame after all this work.  We found it was easiest to lay the ironed fabric face-down, lay the headboard face-down over the fabric, and start stapling from there.

Following the diagram below will be the easiest for you to follow where to staple and in what order:

The order goes like this:
  1. Secure the sides
  2. Secure the top and bottom
  3. Secure the curved areas.

Once the core staples are in that hold the fabric to the board, we picked the headboard up and stood it upright to finish the stapling like this.  Having my parents hold it steady while I stapled allowed us to see where the fabric needed to be tighter, etc.

As you go, use as many staples as you want – go to town with the staple gun in fact.  You don’t want the fabric moving anywhere.

After everything was secured, I went back in between all the staples for another round – in the end my staples were about 2 inches apart – one inch in some cases, especially around the corners.

For the curved areas, I used the same method of cutting the fabric towards the board as I did for the batting – this just really helped it hug the curve with no bunching.

For the areas around the legs, just do your best – we turned it under and secured with a staple, but keep in mind, no one is going to see this area pretty much ever.

We forgot that no one would ever see the legs, and ended up trimming it out all pretty with silk tape and nailheads.

Go figure.

We’re Type A, and can’t help it! It’s really an illness!

Ok, not to get ahead of myself here… the next step to the headboard is appending the nailhead trim.

I am not going to lie, this was the hardest part, and probably the most time consuming, and frustrating for us because we made a few mistakes (which you can easily avoid).  This is where a straight-edge, two pairs of hands, and an extra set of eyes come in very handy.

All I can say is thank god we got the nailhead trim instead of trying to hammer in individual nailheads.

Ok, so this doesn’t take much explanation, but the process here is to lay the nailhead trim down, and use the rubber mallet to pound in a nail head every few beads.  DO NOT USE A HAMMER – you NEED a rubber mallet otherwise all your nailheads will be dented.

When you unravel the trim it should look like this:

There’s a little hole every fourth bead, so you know exactly where each individual nail will go.  Pretty foolproof.  The tricky part is keeping the row running straight.  We used the straight edge and a pencil to lightly draw where the row would go, but use this only as a LOOSE guide.  We layed the nailhead on the line we’d drawn, not realizing that the fabric shifted a bit as we went, so the row started trailing off at a very slight diagonal.

A word from the wise: step back every few nailheads and look at the headboard from a few feet back.

Up close, it looked like we were going straight across the top, but standing back we realized we went off course.  Save yourself the pain because once it’s pounded in – especially to plywood – it’s VERY hard to get it off.

If you keep these tips in mind, go slow, check your work from a few feet back, and be patient, you won’t have to go back and redo all your hard work (like we did).  It SHOULD be easy!

A few other things I wanted to point out…

The trim had really sharp edges! My dad cut himself numerous times on it, and was nearly banished from this project after bleeding on my brand new headboard.

I forgave him.  But only because he’s my dad.

Also, the trim is really easy to bend, so it you’re working on a headboard with curved details, fear not, you can just bend it around very easily.

Finally, it’s relatively thin, so while we used heavy duty snippers to cut it, you could actually even use normal scissors.  It wasn’t that thick.  Promise.

At this point, you’re basically finished – the headboard is cut, legs attached, padding and fabric stapled down, and nailhead applied, but we did finish it off with one final step – which I should add is entirely optional – we finished the back with upholstery backing.

It’s super cheap, and usually comes in black.

We cut it to size and stapled it over the back to cover the raw plywood, and to cover all the unfinished fabric edges and staples.

It really finishes it off, and after spending a full day on this sucker, we were going for perfection!

I mean just look at those glorious nailheads!

And that fabric!!  LOVE!!

So that’s it my friends – the full tutorial on how our DIY headboard came to be.

It’s been almost a year since we built it, and it’s holding up SO WELL!  I mean it’s pretty much still brand new in my mind, and we could not be more happy!

The double layer of batting makes it really cushy to lean against when we’re reading in bed, the nailhead trim adds a little extra detail, and I am still so in love with the shape of the Belgrave.

For the seasoned DIY’ers out there, this project will be a cinch, and even for us first timers, it wasn’t so bad (minus the frustrations with the nailhead being perfectly straight).

If there’s anything I missed in my tutorial, or any other questions, just post them below or email me!  I’m happy to add more detail, or answer any questions you have if you’re attempting this on your own.

3 thoughts on “DIY Upholstered Headboard Tutorial

  1. such a good tutorial… I found your blog through Pinterest, and I never would have guessed that you made this.
    – Carlie


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