How to Reupholster a Chair

Furnishings with good bones but bad skin can be easily updated with fresh fabric. This chair reupholstery project shows you basic techniques to get your furniture looking fashionable.

Don't be afraid of outdated or otherwise unsavory fabric on a favorite chair. As long as the bones of the furniture are in good shape, a bit of fabric and some creative love go a long way. Follow our steps below to salvage old furniture. When done correctly, reupholstering a chair is a big DIY project that goes a long way. 

One important thing to note: Because you are using the old upholstery chair seat as a guide for the new pattern pieces, you may want to complete Step 1 and remove all the old fabric before you shop for supplies. Measuring all the pieces and cord lengths will help you determine how much fabric you need. When in doubt, err on the side of too much. 

  • Start to Finish 1 Day
  • Difficulty         Projects Kind of Easy
  • Involves Upholstery, Sewing

What you need

Tools

  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Camera or notepaper and pencil
  • Marking pen
  • Scissors
  • Staple gun
  • Straight pins
  • Sewing machine

Materials

  • Staples, 3/8- or 5/16-inch
  • Batting, 1/2 inch
  • Upholstery fabric
  • Chalk
  • Polyester Welt Cord Cellulose Piping
  • Upholstery-weight thread
  • Tack strips
  • Fabric glue, optional
  • Upholstery tacks or nailhead trim, optional
  • Black breathable fabric for underside of chair

How to do it

Step 1 Remove Old Fabric

Photograph the chair before stripping original covering. Take overall and detail photos for reference when reupholstering.

Strip the chair by removing the upholstery pieces, taking care not to tear any of the old pieces of fabric because you will need them as patterns. Begin by removing the black 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.

Step 2 Replace Batting

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

Cut a piece of 1/2-inch-thick batting to cover the chair back and 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.

Step 3 Make New Pattern

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 to 3 inches fabric beyond the stapled edges of the original pieces. This will give you fabric to grasp when stapling. (The original pieces were trimmed after they were stapled.)

Transfer the markings for direction, welting, and seams onto the new pieces with chalk.

Step 4 Attach Base Fabric

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 snugly. When you're pleased with the fit, pull fabric taut and staple in place on the apron of the chair seat. 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.

Step 5 Make Welting

Using the old pieces as your guide, determine the length of welting needed to go around seat apron at top and bottom. Cut enough 1-1/2-inch-wide bias strips to equal that length, allowing a few extra inches. 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 in place.

Step 6 Sew Welting

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.

Step 7 Attach Sides

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.

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.

Step 8 Attach Back

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.

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.

Step 9 Finish Underside

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. Turn right side up, and enjoy your newly reupholstered chair.

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1 Comment

  1. You totally lost me on the welting directions. About clear as mud.

    1. I agree! That's where they lost me, and I thought "I'll never be doing this" and closed the window.

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