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Giving Furniture New Life: How to Reupholster a Chair
Giving Furniture New Life: How to Reupholster a Chair

Reupholstering a chair may seem intimidating, but even novice DIYers find reupholstering isn't as hard as it sounds. Reupholstering makes old, stained chairs new again. It also allows you to choose colors and patterns that perfectly complement the rest of your decor. Dining room chairs and armchairs are perfect candidates for reupholstering. Once you get started, you'll realize it's not all that complicated.

01

Don't buy supplies first

woman measuring chair she is renovating

For most projects, organization and purchasing all needed supplies in advance is key. But just this once, it's best not to purchase your supplies until you've removed the old upholstery from the chair. To minimize waste, use the old upholstery from the chair as a pattern. Measuring the old fabric and cord or welting lengths after they are removed from the chair helps you determine exactly what is needed when you shop for supplies.

02

Remove old fabric and purchase supplies

Detail of an old upholstered wood chair to restore

Take photos of your chair to use for reference before disassembling the chair as needed to remove the old fabric. Remove the backcloth from the underside first, then detach pieces from the frame. A butter knife works well for prying up staples. Since you will use the old fabric pieces as patterns, be careful not to tear them. Mark each piece with a marking pen as it is removed. For example, "T" for the top piece or "B" for the back. Note on each piece where it was sewn together, and the location of any cording. After measuring, purchase your new fabric. Remember, you will need generous margins around each new piece for stapling, and a little extra fabric if your chair requires cording. For its strength and stain resistance, upholstery grade fabric is best.

03

Replace the batting

Replace batting Reza Estakhrian / Getty Images

Batting is the cotton, wool, or polyester placed over the foam that gives your chair a smooth appearance and prevents slipping. If the batting is worn or stained, it should be replaced. Remove the old batting from the chair seat and back, then cut a piece of 1/2 inch batting to fit each side. Cover the back first, stapling it down. Then cover the seat in the same way, neatly folding down the corners.

04

Cut the new fabric

Cut fabric AleksandarGeorgiev / Getty Images

Lay your new fabric face down, then lay the original fabric pieces on top, also face down. If your new fabric has a pattern or grain, be sure it's going in the direction you desire. Pin the two fabrics together, then cut the new fabric using the old pieces as an outline. Be sure to leave a 2- to 3-inch margin on the new pieces to work with — it's much easier when you have excess fabric you can grab while stapling, and the excess can be trimmed later. Finally, transfer your markings for cording, direction, and seams to your new pieces using chalk or a washable marking pen. If any pieces need to be sewn together before applying to the chair, sew them now using upholstery-weight thread.

05

Upholster the chair's base pieces

Pull fabric tight and staple -lvinst- / Getty Images

The base pieces are the seat and back. Following your markings on the fabric and using your reference photos, start placing the new fabric pieces on the chair. Always put the fabric on in the opposite order that it was removed. If the bottom piece was the last part removed, it should be the first piece replaced. Make necessary adjustments as you pin the fabric pieces together. If needed, you can trim excess fabric to make sure the new fabric fits snugly. Once you like the way the fabric fits, pull it tight and staple in place with a staple gun and 3/8 inch or 5/16 inch staples. Use as many staples as necessary to keep your fabric smooth and tight. On the back of the chair, be sure to place the staples where they'll be hidden by the back panel. Once you finish stapling, trim any excess fabric.

06

Make cording or welting

Sew cording with a zipper foot FG Trade / Getty Images

A simple dining room chair bottom may not require cording or welding, but an armchair does. To make cording, purchase polyester welt cord cellulose piping from the fabric store. Determine the length of cording needed by measuring your old pieces, then cut a 2-inch wide bias strip from the new fabric that's a few inches longer than the length of the old piece. Cutting on the bias simply means cutting the fabric diagonal to its grain. Once you cut the bias strip, fold it around the welt cord cellulose piping and sew together with upholstery-weight thread using your sewing machine's zipper foot.

07

Attach the cording

Cording on an arm chair dml5050 / Getty Images

Like the fabric, cording should be attached in the reverse order it was removed. It's generally easiest to pin a side panel to the already attached seat to mark the position of cording. Then remove the side panel and sew the cording to it. To finish edges, fold cording under before attaching.

08

Finish upholstering with tack strips

Finish edges FooTToo / Getty Images

Finish upholstering your chair and create clean finishes with upholstery tack strips. To use a tack strip, line it up with the chair's frame on the edge that needs to be finished. Push the fabric through the tacks, then roll the tack strip away from the chair's edge, so the tacks are facing and pushing into the chair. Tuck in excess fabric with a flat-head screwdriver, then hammer the tack strip securely into the frame using a rubber mallet.

09

Attach the back panel

Attach back panel Reza Estakhrian / Getty Images

Place the new back panel into position, and then fold it up over the top of your chair. Secure the panel in place with a tack strip near the top of the back. Fold the panel back over the tack strip and pull it tight, then staple the back panel to the underside of the chair. If the chair needs any reassembling, finish it now. Trim any excess string or fabric that you find.

10

Finish the bottom

Man upholstering chair in his workshop, measure wooden board Jovanmandic / Getty Images

A finished bottom conceals webbing and springs and also acts as a dust cover. The bottom can be cut from a cheap piece of breathable fabric. Black, 100% cotton fabric is a great choice. Staple it down tightly against your cording to conceal the raw edges of your upholstery fabric. Then turn the chair over, have a seat, and enjoy.

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