Someone securing fabric in place as they reupholster a chair

How to Reupholster a Chair — The Complete Guide

There are a variety of reasons you may want to reupholster a chair. Maybe you found a great thrift store purchase that has great bones but just doesn’t fit your unique sense of style as you plan to move into your first apartment. Perhaps you pulled a chair out of storage, only to discover that it needed to be cleaned up before you could use it. Check out this step by step tutorial to learn how to reupholster a chair.

Step One: Gather your materials.

Before you start your reupholstering project and give your chair new life, make sure you have the right materials on hand. As you prep for how to reupholster a chair, you may need:

  • Pliers
  • A staple gun and staples
  • New fabric
  • Upholstery-strength thread in a matching color (your standard thread may not be adequate for this project)
  • Foam
  • Temporary fabric pen or pencil (or chalk)
  • Scissors
  • Straight pins
  • Sewing machine (or a plan to hand sew your new upholstery)
  • A flathead screwdriver
  • Upholstery tacks
  • Batting, if needed

Step Two: Take extensive photos of the original chair.

Once you’ve searched for “How to reupholster a chair,” you might think you’re ready to start stripping fabric off of the old one. There’s one step, however, that you need to take first. No, you’re not in love with the old fabric. You may not like the look of the chair at all. Before you get started, however, take extensive pictures of the existing chair.

Not only will you want them for your later before and after display, but you may also need those photos to help establish exactly where the seat cushion goes or exactly how those buttons were sewn into the fabric. Those photos will make it easy for you to look back at the original and determine what to do next. Make sure you remove the dust cover and turn the chair upside down to get a full look at all the details of the chair’s underside, too.

Step Three: Carefully disassemble the chair and remove the old fabric.

You may need to take several pieces off the chair, including the arms or the feet at the bottom, to reveal the chair’s bones as you consider how to reupholster it. Do not tear the old fabric since this will make an easy template for you to use for your new fabric.

As you take your fabric apart, mark each piece’s current location on the chair with your chalk or a fabric pen. Make sure you mark any legs or other features of the furniture since you may need to make holes for them to pass through.

Take note of the process as you take the fabric off. The last piece you remove will be the first piece you put back on when you put your chair back together. Consider numbering the pieces as you take them off so that you can easily put them back on in the same order. Then, you won’t find yourself looking for “How to put a chair back together” instead of just “How to reupholster a chair.”

You should also save any of the findings as you take your chair apart. You may, for example, need to keep track of buttons, tape strips, and other important items that come off of the chair. Then you can easily recover or refresh them and put them back on.

Step Four: Take a look at the batting.

While you have your old chair uncovered, take a look at the batting along the back and seat. Is it old, stained, or worn down? Can you see signs that it might be time to replace the batting? As part of the chair reupholstering process, you may need to put in new batting.

If so, carefully remove the old batting from the chair. Save the old batting to use as a pattern for the new pieces.

Step Five: Examine your springs and webbing.

Take a look at the springs and webbing on the chair while you have them exposed. Do they need to be replaced or repaired? If so, now is the time to take care of that part of the project. Make sure they are still structurally sound, too. It’s not just a question of how to reupholster a chair. It’s also making sure your chair is safe and functional.

Step Six: Fix up the frame and legs, if desired.

Painting the frame of a chair

If you’re planning to update the wooden parts of your chair while you’re handling your updates, it’s best to do it while the fabric is removed. First, sand down the legs. Then, prime them. Wait for the primer to dry, then paint the chair. Allow it to dry completely before you move forward with the rest of your project. Repairing an old chair can take more time if you need to make repairs to the frame and legs, but it’s well worth the effort when you have a great piece of furniture in hand! Take advantage of the extra time to do more research into how to choose the right fabric.

Step Seven: Replace the batting on the chair.

Cut out a new piece of batting in the same size and pattern as the old one. Spread it across the chair back first and staple it into place. Then, cover the seat in the same way. At this stage, if you want to create a new look for your chair or make it a little more comfortable, you may want to add a little additional batting. This is a great look at how to reupholster your chair in a place that won’t show later!

Step Eight: Create your new pattern.

Lay the original upholstery pieces down on the new fabric. Pay attention to all the details, including:

  • The grain of the fabric
  • The placement of any patterns or motifs in the new fabric
  • The direction of the pattern

Make sure the old and new fabric match to have your newly reupholstered chair look its best. Once you’ve laid it in place, sketch around the old upholstery with your chalk or, conversely, pin it in place and simply cut around the pins. Leave an additional 2-3 inches around the outside of the pattern so that you have room to staple the new fabric in place.

Transfer your notes from your old fabric to your new fabric, including any notes about the direction the fabric should go and which piece is which. Make these notes on the wrong side of the fabric so that you don’t leave any visible markings on the new piece.

Pro Tip for How to Reupholster a Chair:

Paying attention to the grain of the fabric isn’t just good for its aesthetic. If you orient the fabric so the grain runs from back to front (the direction people will rub the fabric as they sit down and stand up), the fabric will last longer.

Step Nine: Attach the new upholstery to the chair.

Place each piece of fabric on the chair in the reverse order that you took the old fabric off. This is where those notes really come in handy! Before you start stapling your pieces in place, take the time to pin them onto the chair and make sure that they fit properly. In some cases, you may need to trim excess fabric for a trimmer, more streamlined fit.

Staple the fabric into place. Use plenty of staples to make sure that your fabric is firmly attached. If you’re considering how to reupholster a chair for long-term use, those staples are one of the key elements of its structure.

Pro Tip for How to Reupholster a Chair

If you notice that the fabric moves or has become wrinkled, then you may need to tighten the fit and try again. You can always remove your staples with a flathead screwdriver and try again.

Note that the chair seat may be a separate piece from the back and sides of the chair. You may need to put the seat back in place after adding the new upholstery fabric.

Once you have stapled the fabric in place, cut away any excess fabric if needed to fix the fit of the chair seat.

Step Ten: Add any details back to the chair.

Take a look at the details you removed from the old chair. These include the welting, the big buttons, and any other details. Refer back to your pictures if you have any questions about placement or details.

For the welting, start by using the old pieces as a guide. Cut two-inch-wide bias strips that go around the seat apron, then join them with diagonal seams. Fold the bias strip around the cord. Finally, sew it in place.

Pro Tip for How to Reupholster a Chair

You can sew this on your sewing machine using a zipper foot to streamline the process or sew by hand. It will be much faster if you use your sewing machine.

Tack strips can, at this stage, be used to create a cleaner appearance and a better edge on the sides of your chair.

Start by stapling the fabric for the upholstery loosely in place. Keeping the fabric taut, fold the edge under, and hammer the tack strip in.

Finally, put any buttons or other accents back in place on your fabric.

Step Eleven: Reattach the rest of the chair.

Did you take off the arms of the chair or remove other pieces? Now is the time to put them back together. Make sure to reuse the existing screw holes so that you can keep your chair in great shape.

Reupholstering is a great DIY project that can help you completely makeover an existing piece of furniture. With this tutorial, you can upgrade your home decor and provide those extra special touches that will have the chair looking its best. You can also use this process to reupholster a headboard or a couch if you’re ready to tackle your next upholstery project!

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