How to Reupholster a Chair

We took this slipper chair from clunky to chic by giving it a new covering of icy-blue fabric and lots of dressmaker details. Try it yourself with our how-to instructions below.


What You Need

  • Camera
  • Armless chair
  • Pliers
  • Box cutter and seam ripper
  • Marking pen
  • 1/2-inch-thick bonded polyester batting
  • Staple gun and staples, about 3/8-inch
  • Upholstery fabric (we used approximately 5 yards)
  • Chalk
  • Measuring tape
  • Upholstery weight thread
  • 5/32-inch welt cord or purchased welting
  • Upholstery tacks
  • Upholstery needles
  • 1-inch-wide cardboard strip
  • Tack strips
  • Hammer and rubber bands
  • Kraft paper
  • Lightweight woven lining fabric
  • Black fine-woven fabric
  • Two 1-inch buttons to cover
  • Perfect Glue #1 or other fabric adhesive

How to Make It

  1. Photograph the chair before it is stripped of its original covering. Take overall and detail photos to use for reference when reupholstering.
  2. Strip the chair by removing the upholstery pieces, taking care not to tear any of the pieces as they will be used for patterns. Use pliers to remove staples and tacks and your choice of scissors, box cutter, or seam ripper to separate the pieces at the seams.
  3. Begin by removing the black bottom cloth from the underside of the chair and then loosen the pieces attached to the frame. Remove the pieces and mark each with its location on the chair with a marking pen; for example, outside back, right side back, left side back, inside back, seat, and seat sides. Also mark "T" for top or "F" for front to indicate the direction of the piece on the chair. Note on each piece the location of welting and where pieces are sewn together. Save pieces of welting and tack strips to use as a measure for new pieces. Clean up the chair frame by removing all excess tacks and staples. Make repairs to springs and inner workings of the chair and refinish wood legs if needed.
  4. Cut a piece of 1/2-inch-thick batting to cover the chair back and another piece for the seat, if needed. Cover the chair back first, stapling it down. To prevent visible indents from the staples, pull gently on the batting around each staple so the staple is inside the batting. Next cover the seat with batting in the same way, folding neatly around the corners.
  5. Lay the original upholstery pieces, right side up, on the right side of the new upholstery fabric, watching for straight of grain, placement of any motifs, and pattern direction. Leave 2 to 3 inches of excess fabric beyond the stapled edges of the original pieces; this will allow for fabric to grasp when stapling as the original pieces were trimmed after they were stapled.
  6. Pin the old pieces to the new upholstery fabric. Cut out the new pieces 2 to 3 inches beyond the stapled edges of the original pieces and along all the other edges. Transfer the markings for direction, welting, and seams onto the new pieces with chalk.
  7. Determine the length of welting needed and cut enough 1-1/2-inch-wide bias strips to equal that length. 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. Place the new inside back, right side back, and left side back pieces on the chair in the appropriate locations, using the "T" markings and your photos as guides. Pin the pieces together, making any necessary adjustments to the fit; you may need to trim excess fabric to make it fit snuggly. When you're pleased with the fit, remove the pieces from the chair.
  8. Cut welting for each side of the chair long enough to reach all the way from the front bottom corner of a back side piece to the back bottom corner. Sew a length of welting to the right and left side back pieces, beginning at the bottom front corner and stopping at the point where the outside back starts; the welting will be attached to the outside back later. Sew the side pieces to the inside back with the welting sandwiched between the fabric layers.
  9. Place the assembled pieces on the chair back. Use upholstery tacks to temporarily tack the fabric in place, then staple at the back of the head rail, down the backs of the upright rails, and at the underside of the inside back rail.
  10. Staple the welting down the backs of the upright rails. Fold the pleats at the top of each side piece and staple at the center. Lay the new seat fabric on the chair seat with the "F" marking toward the front of the chair.
  11. Pin the seat sides to the seat fabric, making any necessary adjustments to the fit. Remove the fabric from the chair and sew the welting to the right side of the seat fabric, starting and ending at the back corners. Sew the seat sides to the seat fabric, clipping the corners. Slip the assembled seat cover onto the chair.
  12. Temporarily tack it in place and then staple to the underside of the front, side, and back rails of the frame. Overlap the seat cover at the back sides with the left and right side back pieces. Use a circular needle to sew the overlapped edges in place and staple the bottom edge of the right and left side back pieces to the underside of the side rails.
  13. With right sides together, align the top edges of the outside back and the inside back, temporarily resting the outside back over the inside back of the chair. Put a few staples in about a 1/2 inch from the top edges of the fabric to hold the fabric in place.
  14. Cut a length of 1-inch-wide cardboard strip 2 inches less than the width of the chair back. Place the cardboard strip over the fabric edges and staple in place through the strip and the fabric. Flip the fabric down over the back of the chair.
  15. Cut a length of tack strip for each side edge of the outside back. Fold the fabric at each side edge over a tack strip so the points are toward the chair back. Tap the tack strips in place using a hammer covered with batting to protect the fabric. (Use rubber bands to hold the batting on the hammer.) The fabric should be tight against the welting. Pull the bottom edge of the fabric to the underside of the back rail and staple in place.
  16. Use original skirt pieces for patterns or cut patterns from kraft paper to add a skirt. This skirt consists of upper and lower side pieces and a corner piece. The length of the skirt pieces is determined by your chair. The width of the upper side piece is 5 inches narrower than each side of the chair, the lower side pieces and the corner pieces are all 10 inches wide. Cut the paper patterns and pin or tape them together to check for fit. Make adjustments as needed and add 1 inch to both the length and width measurements to allow for 1/2-inch seam allowances.
  17. Cut four upper sides, eight lower sides, and four corners from upholstery and lining fabric. With right sides facing, sew the skirt and lining pieces together in pairs along the side and bottom edges. Flip the corners, turn right side out, and press. Baste together the top edges of each piece.
  18. Overlap the skirt pieces to fit on the chair; pin the overlapped areas together. Sew the skirt pieces together along the top edge. Sew welting along the top edge of the skirt, beginning and ending at the center back of the chair. Cut the welting cord so the ends butt together, fold under the fabric at one end of the welting to cover the opposite end. Hand-sew the folded edge in place.
  19. To attach the skirt, lay the chair on its back and place the front skirt right side down on the chair. Staple along the underside of the skirt's upper edge through all layers. For added stability, staple through a cardboard strip. Repeat on all sides.
  20. Trim excess upholstery fabric along the stapled edges on the underside of the chair. Use the original black bottom cloth as a pattern to cut a piece of black fabric. Cover the underside of the chair with the new black fabric by stapling it to the underside of the front, back, and side rails. Cover the buttons with upholstery fabric. Using a strong fabric adhesive, glue a button to the back side of each chair at the center of the pleats.
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