How to Reupholster a Chair

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

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Don't be afraid of outdated or otherwise unsavory fabric.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. Follow along with our steps below as we show you how to salvage old furniture. When done correctly, reupholstering a chair is a big DIY project that goes a long way. 

Upholstery Fabric Guide

Upholstery How-To: Common Techniques

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What You Need

  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Camera or notepaper and pencil
  • Marking pen
  • Scissors
  • 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)

Step 1: Remove Fabric

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.

Editor's 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.

Step 2: Replace Batting

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.

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.

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 2–3 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.

Transfer markings for direction and placement onto new pieces.

Step 4: Staple Base Fabric

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.

Step 5: Make Welting

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.

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.

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.

Watch: Secrets to Reupholstering Success

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.

Editor's Tip: Use fabric glue or decorative upholstery tacks to secure excess fabric to the back of the chair.

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

Tips for Upholstery Cleaning

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