Many vintage sofas, chairs and ottomans are tufted. Tufting was especially popular in Early American furniture making. According to CasaSugar at OnSugar.com, "Upholsterers achieve this (tufted) look by threading through layers of fabric or leather, often in a pattern, and securing the ends of the thread with a knot or button. The dense clusters that this technique creates are known as tufts."
First, practice tufting several small pillows or kitchen chair cushions using cheap fabric and thin foam padding. Take two pieces of 14-inch by 14-inch muslin and stitch along three sides of the square, 1/2 inch from the edge of the fabric. Turn the pieces inside out. Insert a piece of 1-inch by 12-inch by 12-inch memory foam into the fabric pocket you just made. Fold the fabric edges in and sew the pillow shut using blind stitching.
Choose a tufting pattern. Tufts are done in diamond, square, cross-diagonal, hexagonal and bead-string patterns. Use a piece of tailor's chalk to mark button positions on your fabric.
Thread a tapestry needle with heavy coat thread to match or contrast with your chosen upholstery fabric. Poke the needle through the back of the cushion and pull it all the way through the fabric and foam layers. Move the needle to the right or left of the original needle hole 1/8-inch and go back through the cushion. Poke through from the back side again and thread a metal-shank, fabric-covered button onto your needle. Move the needle to your return hole and go back through. Repeat at least three times to ensure that the button is securely fastened to the cushion.
Continue sewing buttons until you have completed your desired tufting pattern. If desired, alternate button sizes and colours. Once you are comfortable tufting muslin, try other, more expensive fabrics. After you have practised tufting pillows, you are ready to tuft furniture. Pillows have fabric on both sides, while most of the tufting you will do for sofas, chairs and ottomans will be one sided, unless it is a removable cushion.
Pin your upholstery pattern pieces to your chosen fabric. Make any needed pattern markings and cut out all the pieces. Remove your patterns from your fabric and lay them on the foam. Use tailor's chalk to mark inside the seam lines on the pattern onto the foam. Do not use the outside edge of the pattern or your foam pieces will be too large to fit inside your fabric once the pieces are sewn together.
Cut thin foam with sewing scissors. Thicker foam needs a more aggressive technique. According to photographer Stephen Muncy, "Try putting the foam in a freezer for a bit. It can stiffen just enough to help with more complex shapes. And use an electric knife with a slow deliberate hand."
Pin your fabric pieces to the matching piece of foam. Mark button positions on the foam side, as this will be hidden once your upholstery is sewn together. Repeat the instructions in Step Three until you have sewn all your buttons in place. Close the some of the side seams between the various pieces. Drape the tufted upholstery in place on your piece of furniture, pull the various seams together, and blind stitch everything into place.
Practice tufting several 12-inch throw pillows before you try tufting your own furniture, especially if your chosen upholstery fabric is something expensive, such as velvet, brocade, or leather. Keep a hand-held HEPA-filter vacuum cleaner stored near your tufted furniture for quick cleanups of dust and crumbs. Use foaming basin, tub and tile cleaner to give your tufted furniture a monthly spiffing up. Shake foam well for five minutes, spray entire surface of the piece you need to clean and allow the foam to sink into the fabric until it is nearly dry. Use a soft-bristled floor brush to brush the foam into the fabric while brushing dust and light stains away.
There are disadvantages to tufted furniture. According to Ms. Place, in the comments section of the forum, Surrondings: Tufting It Out, "I'm not a fan of tufted furniture. Too much debris gets caught in those little indents, and after a while the furniture simply looks dirty."