Upholstered Headboard with Nailhead Trim Tutorial

Years ago I made my first upholstered headboard.  I was fairly new to upholstery at that time so it wasn't very ambitious.  I've always wanted to improve on it so earlier this year I did just that.

This project cost around $120 for the materials and it took me about 4-5 hours to complete.  The most expensive part was the nailhead trim because I splashed out and bought a strip of it rather than using individual pins.  This makes it much easier to get the straight (and even then it's a bit of a challenge!).

This headboard is for a double bed (see New Zealand bed sizes here).  The completed headboard measures 140cm wide by 140cm tall with its legs.  Without its legs, it measures 107cm high.  The height may vary depending on the height of your mattress.  The aim is to have the bottom of the headboard sit at the same level as the bottom of your mattress.  If your bed is larger (or smaller) simply adjust the size of the legs.

Here's what you will need:

  • 1 sheet of plywood
  • 160cm of fabric (120cm wide)
  • 160cm of calico (120cm wide)
  • 160x120cm of batting
  • Nailhead strip or nails to fit
  • 120cm x 100cm piece of 2.5-3cm thick foam
  • 2 pieces of pine 6.5cm x 2cm x 90cm
  • 2 pieces of pine 6.5cm x 2cm x 32cm

The Template

I'm not going to give you measurements and a pattern.  To get the size and shape I simply drew a rectangle to the size I wanted (ie 140cm x 107cm).  You can see on the template above the measurements I used. Basically, I drew a square 23x23cm at the corner and worked my curve from there. Once I had my shape, I folded the paper in half and drew the shape I wanted and cut it out.  

Cutting the Plywood Shape

Next, I placed my paper template on the plywood and traced around it with a marker.

My wonderful husband cut the shape out using his jigsaw.

To reinforce the frame, he cut another piece in the same shape about 20cm wide to strengthen it. We screwed and glued this to the back.

Lessons learned:  

I found it quite hard to get the fabric to sit nicely. Next time I'd change the first curve (see arrow) so that it was not so tight. I would also choose different fabric - I used a dress weight velvet but it was not strong enough to pull tightly around the curves.  Upholstery fabric would have done the job nicely.

Adding the Foam

To add the padding, I measured 10cm from the edge of the headboard and drew a line with a marker.  

This is where the foam, and the nailhead detail, will sit.  

I cut the foam to the approximate size of the headboard (rectangle) and drew a line right down the centre.  

I stapled it in place down the centre line and then carefully stapled all along the lines that I just made (10cm from edge), making sure the stables were very close together.  

This will be the guide for where the nails go so it's important that it's quite straight and in the right place.  

Trim the Foam

Trim the foam as close as possible to the staples using a craft knife.

Adding the Batting

Next add a layer of batting.  

Lay the batting down on a flat surface and lay the headboard face down on top.

To make it easier to handle and give me lots of room to spare, I cut it into a rectangle approximately 15cm bigger than the headboard all the way around (ie 155x122cm).  This gives lots of room to manipulate it into the correct position.  Start by stapling on the back, one staple in the middle at the top, bottom and each side.  This will hold it in the correct position while you pull and manipulate the rest.  

Pull the batting over to the back and staple it in place. You want it to be quite firm but you don't want to stretch it or rip it. Put your staples about 10cm in from the edge and quite close together. In the corners, try to mitre them as best you can. The most important thing is to get them to sit flat, which may require a few extra staples.

Take your time with this process as the neatness of the batting will affect the finished look.  Staple it all the way around, clipping it into the curves as necessary to get it to fit well. You can see in the picture below, the batting wasn't firm so I got some wrinkles when I applied the fabric.


Covering the headboard with fabric was the tricky bit.  You can see that I had difficulty getting this curve nice and flat - it didn't help that my fabric was too thin and kept ripping!  This was the very best I could do and I just hoped that, when I put the nails in, it would be OK (and it was).

Basically, you repeat what you just did with the battling. Lay the fabric flat, then the headboard on top. Pull the fabric to the back and staple in the centres - top, bottom and sides. Now do your best to pull the fabric tightly, clipping around the curves as you go to get the front to sit nice and flat. I did the top curves first, and then I moved to the bottom, then the sides. You should always work with opposites when upholstering.

Nailhead Trim

To get the nailhead trim in the right place I measured 10cm in from the edge and drew a line with a chalk pencil, making sure it was nice and straight.  Use the placement of the foam as a guide here - remember you trimmed that to be 10cm from the edge.

I'm not gonna lie!

It was quite a mission to get it straight and the curves looking right.  Take your time and step back and have a look to ensure it looks right before your nail them right in.


I covered the back with calico - you won't see this, being against the wall, but I still wanted it to look neat.  I used upholstery tacks every 3cm or so to secure the calico. Using the same method as with the batting and fabric, I folded under a 'hem' and placed a tack at the top, bottom and each side. Then I just worked my way around.

I could have used a tacking strip instead of  the upholstery tacks which would have given a nice neat edge but I decided not to for the back.

Attaching the Legs

When I held the headboard up against the bed, it encroached a little on the mattress so glued in an extra piece of wood that made the leg with a step out. This just gives the headboard a little more room so that it's not jammed up tight against the bed. We used the extra piece also to strengthen the leg, not that it holds very much weight - just that of the headboard. We glued the two pieces together.

We measured where on the bed we would need to put the legs and marked that. Next we lay the headboard face down and screwed the legs to the headboard.

The final step is to attach it to the bed with the screws that come as part of the bed (well ours did).

Voilà - all done.

I would love to hear if you make this project, or if you would like to see more like this. Leave me a comment below.

March 15, 2016