How to Reupholster a Chair

Furnishings with good bones but bad skin can be easily updated with fresh fabric. We show you basic upholstery techniques to get your furniture looking fashionable with this chair upholstery project.

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Everything In This Slideshow

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    Getting Started

    We complemented our newly re-covered chair with an ottoman upholstered in a pop of pure color. Click through the following slides for step-by-step photos and learn how to re-cover your furniture.

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    Secrets to Success

    Watch and learn the keys to a successful reupholstery project that yield pro-like results.

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    Don’t be afraid of outdated or otherwise unsavory fabric. As long as the bones of the furniture are in good shape, a bit of fabric and some creative love go a long way.


    What you’ll need:

    Needle-nose pliers

    Camera or notepaper and pencil

    Marking pen


    Staple gun and staples, 3/8- or 5⁄16-inch

    ½-inch batting

    Upholstery fabric (most chairs will require about 5 yards)

    Straight pins

    5/32-inch welt cord

    Sewing machine and upholstery-weight thread

    Tack strips

    Fabric glue, optional

    Upholstery tacks or nailhead trim, optional

    Black breathable fabric (for underside of chair)

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    Step 1

    Remove the bottom black cloth and each piece of upholstery by carefully loosening tacks or staples with pliers. Take photographs or detailed notes as you disassemble the upholstery to keep a record for reassembly. Mark the placement of the pieces, indicating top and bottom as they are removed. Save pieces of welting and tack strips to measure for new pieces.

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    Step 1, Continued

    TIP: Try not to rip the fabric because you will use these pieces as your pattern. If staples or tacks are firmly attached, loosen by placing the flat edge of a scraper or flat-head screwdriver under the fastener and tapping the handle gently with a hammer. Use scissors to separate fabric pieces at any seams.

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    Step 2

    Remove old batting from chair back and seat if worn or stained. Check springs and webbing. Repair if necessary. Sand, prime, and paint chair frame if desired; let dry.

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    Step 3

    Cut a piece of batting to cover the chair back and another piece for the seat. Staple each piece in place, folding neatly around the corners.

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    Step 4

    Lay the original upholstery pieces, wrong side up, on the wrong side of the new fabric, watching for the grain, placement of pattern or motifs, and direction of pattern.  Pin in place and cut around pattern, leaving 2–3 inches of excess fabric beyond the stapled edges of the original pieces, which were trimmed after assembly. This will give you fabric to grasp when stapling.

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    Step 5

    Transfer markings for direction and placement onto new pieces.

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    Step 6

    Place your base fabric pieces on the frame (for our chair, the seat and front of chair back). Pull fabric taut and staple in place on the apron of the chair seat and on the reverse of the chair back. Use as many staples as necessary to secure the fabric and keep it smooth. Be sure you place staples on the chair back where they will be covered by the back panel. Trim excess fabric.

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    Step 7

    Using the old pieces as your guide, determine the width of the finished welting and the length of welting needed to go around seat apron at top and bottom. Cut enough bias strips of the appropriate width to equal that length, allowing a few extra inches.

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    Step 8

    Join the strips with diagonal seams, and trim the seam allowance to 1/2 inch. Fold the bias strip around the cord and use a zipper foot to sew close to the cord.

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    Step 9

    Pin the side panel to the seat fabric, making any necessary adjustments to the fit or pattern placement. Mark the position for the bottom welting. Remove the side fabric from the chair and sew the welting to the right side of the panel, at top and where marked near bottom, starting and ending at the back.

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    Step 10

    Holding right side of panel up against the seat, staple the top welting in place around the seat. Add a tack strip around the panel top against the welting and staple in place.

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    Step 11

    Fold the side panel down over the tack strip, pull tight, and staple in place to the underside of the chair with the bottom welting fitting snugly along the edge. Snip notches in the fabric underneath the seat as you smooth around corners.

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    Step 12

    Place back panel in position and fold right side over the top of the chair back. Apply a tack strip to the top of the back rear and staple in place.

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    Step 13

    Fold the panel back over the strip and pull tight toward the bottom of the chair back. Fold bottom edge under and staple to underside of chair back.


    TIP: Use fabric glue or decorative upholstery tacks to secure excess fabric to the back of the chair.

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    Step 14

    Cut a piece of black breathable fabric for the underside of the chair using the old piece as your guide. Flip chair upside down, and staple fabric to the underside to conceal any springs or webbing and act as a dust cover.

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    Turn the chair right side up, and enjoy your newly upholstered piece.


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