Saturday, March 20, 2010

How To Make a Padded Upholstered Cornice Board

This is an easy project that gives a lot of pop for the effort. Nick built the cornice board frame, and I finally got it covered and hung last week. It's one of the finishing touches in my bedroom re-do (which will be my next blog post so check back to see the result!).

Because our windows are a standard length, he was able to build it out of a single 1x12 board. This made construction much simpler. Ultimately, a cornice is a 3 sided box (no back on it, as the wall it hangs against becomes the back).

The height of the cornice board should be about 1/5 the length of the window. Just measure the window and divide the height by five. If you are using floor length or puddling drapes, you might want a taller cornice, but for most windows, the one-fifth ratio is ideal.

How far the finished cornice box extends from the wall depends on your other window treatments. If, like me, you are only using blinds or shades, it only needs to come out 4 or 5 inches from the wall. and DIY Network both have good step-by-step instructions for how to measure and build one.

I sprayed the board with spray adhesive, and covered it with one layer of polyester batting. The batting should extend around over the front edges but should not cover the thin back edge that will be against the wall, nor is it needed on the top.

The fabric is upholstery-weight Waverly, a pattern named "Claremont". Having a pattern to match in the fabric meant a bit of creative cutting and very careful measuring to be sure the pattern matched along the full length of the board.

When measuring and cutting the fabric, allow a good 4 to 6 inches extra so that you will have plenty of selvege to staple into. Remember you are wrapping the edges too, all the way around to the back. Excess can be trimmed later, but there's no way to fix it if you cut too much off beforehand.

This fabric also required a seam in the length (it goes over a double window). The seam is located in the exact center, so as not to annoy us every time we look at it, and pattern matched exactly along the widest point in the pattern. That little trick also helps hide the seam from the eye.

I didn't iron the center seam until after the cornice was otherwise completed, then used an iron to set the crease in the seam - don't slide the iron as that might stretch the fabric.

I stapled the fabric to the back sides of the board, starting in the center of the top edge, alternating stapling one side of the top edge, then the other, and eyeing up the pattern with each staple, to be sure it matched its opposite. It will be done faster if you go slowly during this process.

The reason for starting with the top edge is that the top is the first thing you will see when it is hanging. A little error on the bottom edge might go unnoticed but the top needs to be perfect.

Do the same with the bottom edge, being careful (1) not to stretch the fabric (you don't want puckers), and (2) to use a straight edge to be sure the pattern runs straight from top to bottom as well as side to side.

Lastly, staple the sides, folding and tucking the corners. After trimming excess, I used white glue to smooth down the cut edges inside the board. If your board is going to be in a location where the inside will be visible, you could finish the inside fabric edge by gluing ribbon or seam binding over the cut edge.

Paul used L brackets to hang it for me, first attaching the brackets to the wall, using a level, then settling the cornice on them, marking the holes, and drilling small pilot holes in the board before setting it in place perfectly.

How many L brackets you use, and how carefully you hang depends a lot on whether you want to merchandise the top of it or not. If you plan to set things on it, be sure to hang it into studs or with anchors, like you would any shelf.

Isn't it great? We are very happy with the results. Next post: better photos of this bedroom, and how pretty it turned out!

Sept 2011 UPDATE: Per request, here is a close up of the middle seam, which is nearly invisible from an ordinary vantage point in the room. Details in the comments. Click to enlarge so you can see how the seam looks up close.


  1. Do you attach the L Brackets to the wall first, then allow the screws from the cornice board slide in?

  2. Yes, we attached the L Brackets to the wall first. I think we used two inch brackets or 2"x3" and they had two holes on each arm of the L.

    You need two sizes of screws: Longer ones to go into the wall, and short wood screws to use to secure the cornice to the bracket. The ones for the wall need to be long enough to secure it well, and the ones for the wood must not go through the thickness of the board.

    Paul used a long level against the wall to make sure the marks for attaching the brackets were level. When the "level was level", he marked the spots top edge of the brackets.

    Attach them upside down so that the part attached to the wall is below the part that sticks out for the cornice to sit on.

    I'm not going to set anything on top of it, so we didn't need anchor bolts but I think he did put two of the screws into studs.

    After the brackets were secure, we set the cornice on top of them (it should rest there fine if they are long enough) and measured carefully from each side of the window to be sure it was even. One of us held the cornice firmly while the other reached up under the cornice with a pencil and marked through the holes in each bracket onto the wood.

    Paul then pre-drilled small holes in the wood of the cornice at each mark to nearly the depth of the screws. The bit to drill this should be thinner than the screws so that there's still plenty of solid wood inside the hole for the screw to anchor to.

    After that, we set the cornice back in place on the brackets and lined up the holes in the first bracket with the holes in the wood and attached one screw. Then Paul did the same thing at each other bracket. Finally he finished by adding the second screw to each bracket.

    I hope that is clear. Let me know how it goes! :-)

  3. A year later, my cornice is still looking good, and this post is still very popular! Just a note to say thank you for stopping by my blog. I hope these instructions are helpful to you. Please feel free to post if you have any questions I can help with.

  4. Thank you for the instructions. Any tips on how to sew the seam without one side stretching? Did you use a walking foot? Is the seam noticeable?

  5. Because I needed to pattern-match the seam, I used a mountain of straight pins, in the same way you'd pin a hem to ease in the fullness fabric: Starting by pinning each element at a pattern point, then adding a pin in the center between those two, and so on. At the end of the pinning process, there will be a pin about every 1/2 inch.

    My machine is an old mechanical one so I just went really slowly to let the needle slide over the pins instead of into them. A walking foot would probably be a help, too but I just used my normal presser foot.

    The seam is nearly invisible in normal use of the room. If you walk up to it, it is plain to see, but by positioning it in the exact middle of the board, and matching the pattern, it fools the eye quite nicely. I've uploaded a new picture to help you see the final result.

    Thanks for posting your question! I hope your project goes well!

  6. An excellent description form start to finish - thank you!

  7. Thank you very much for the kind words! I appreciate you letting me know. Have a wonderful weekend!



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