Reupholstering 101, How to reupholster a chair

My friend named Jen has been GREAT to help me expand my knowledge for the site here on allthingsthrifty.com, and she has allowed me to come and observe while she has been reupholstering several projects lately. I’ve always wondered how to reupholster a chair, but I thought it would be too HARD, COMPLICATED, and too DIFFICULT to figure out. I was wrong!

Jen’s grandma actually helped her with her first project, and she gave her great advice. She told her to carefully take it apart, and save the pieces. The key word is “CAREFULLY” take it apart. It’s easy to rip the fabric if you are too rough with it, but you need the fabric to be intact so that you can use it for a pattern.

So, I will try to walk you through the process. But, remember that every chair will be different. So, as Jen and I have started other projects, we have had to adapt and figure things out as we go. If you aren’t a “figure it out” kind of person, it may not be the best activity for you because it is time consuming, but well worth it in my book.

So, you start with a deal….a cheap piece of furniture that if you end up ruining it, it won’t matter. Ha ha. Really, this is where I would start if I were you because if you have your grandmother’s chairs, family heirlooms that are 100 years old, and you don’t know what you are doing, you could ruin them. So, start off with a D.I./Goodwill project to practice. This baby cost Jen $10.00.
How to reupholster a chair
Then as Jen’s grandma said, CAREFULLY begin to take it apart. You will be surprised how furniture is put together. We used butter knives to wedge between the fabric and the wood to separate the chair at its seams. The fabric is sometimes held together with cardboard. YES, you read that correctly CARDBOARD. I was shocked. You will need to save the big pieces of cardboard so be gentle with them.
We took is apart and kept the pieces in organized piles to be sure we remembered what piece of fabric went where on the the chair. It could be useful to label them so you remember where they go.
Under the fabric, you start to realize that the furniture is made of wooden panels, foam, and batting. So, when you are choosing a project, make sure that the furniture has a good, solid structure. If it’s broken inside, your project will be much more complicated than if its innards are intact and strong.

Jen’s chairs had good strong bones, so we continued on the same path of removing the current fabric, which by the way is attached with MILLIONS of small staples. Be careful, or you’ll end up needing a tetanus shot after the deconstructive process.
After you get all the fabric off, make sure you vacuum out the chair. We found all sorts of nasty treasures in there. :) We also found a little money. Yes! I also suggest to spray down your chair with Lysol disinfectant spray and let it dry before you start reconstructing the chair.

Next you will need to start cutting out your fabric pieces. How much fabric do you need? Honestly this one is a pretty hard question to answer. For this little chair, she used 3 yards, and we were pretty close to not having enough. So, with larger projects you may need to play it by ear.
So, we laid out the pieces on her new fabric, and carefully cut new pieces of fabric.
In this process we tried to maximize the use of the fabric by laying it all out on the fabric before we started cutting, so that we could fit the pieces as close together as possible.
Then, with a good old fashioned staple gun, we began putting the chair back together piece by piece.
Here we are…It was pretty late, so excuse the disgusting outfit and no make-up on my part. Jen looks cute though! Just ignore the crazy person in the red shirt.

IMPORTANT: We did not remove the fabric from the arm rests. We reupholstered right over them.
Slowly and surely the chair started emerging as a new piece of furniture.
When we got to the seat part of the chair and the backrest, Jen cut out her piece of fabric, and she sewed it to the original peice. It was much easier this way since the foam peices were cut to fit snuggly in the pockets created in the original fabric pieces. So, we upholstered right over the top of the existing fabric. She sewed a simple seem hooking the fabric onto the original fabric and then we stapled them back together.

The other pieces of fabric you can see on the edges of the picture are basically extensions of the fabric to help it to reach the part of the chair to staple into.
Here is a piece of cardboard that finished the bottom. I am still in awe that furniture has cardboard in it. We saved the piece, and used fabric glue to adhere the fabric back to it. We then stapled it back on to the chair carefully. It’s hard to explain every single step, so just make sure that you pay attention to how the chair was originally put together. You will be reconstructing the chair to how it was done originally.
We ran into a few bumps in the road along the way. For example, in places that we reupholstered right over the original fabric, there was several layers of fabric to staple through. My staple gun would not go far enough into the wood to make it secure, so we had Jen’s husband screw it into place to secure the fabric where it needed to be.
I would also suggest to get a fabric that the pattern doesn’t matter which way it goes. Jen’s fabric had to be perfectly lined up, which I think she did a FABULOUS job, but it would be easier to learn and practice with a fabric that doesn’t matter which way it goes.
Here is the end result. Great job Jen! She also reupholstered the giraffe one. :)

Are you wondering how much fabric you need? Check out this post.

Here is another of Jen’s projects that she helped another friend Rachel complete:
Here is the before picture: Rachel got this couch for free (out of the dumpster)!
Here she is after! This couch is toddler size and I am in love with it! I love that the back is arched. GREAT job GIRLS. They stayed up until 3:30 in the morning, but that’s when projects are the most fun RIGHT!?!?

Comments

  1. 1

    WOW! Good job! There is no way I could have explained all of that:)

    The only other thing I would mention is the tacking strips. I ended up using them on the zebra chair and it worked awesome! ALSO- I found some at Joannes but I am not sure how they would work. They are cardboard and all the same size… I guess you could cut them to fit? I don't know. Either way- if you can salvage the tacking strips that is your BEST bet!

    Good job on that post!!

  2. 2

    This is funny because I've been asking around about how to reupholster furniture. I'm glad you showed this. Brooke, you may not remember my ugly hand-me-down couches, but its past time for them to go. I will try to reupholster them and if it doesn't work, oh well. I'll let you know if it turns out. Thanks so much for doing this blog. Its one of my favorites.

  3. 3
    Tristie hearts Dax says:

    LOVE LOVE the little sofa. It simply had to be saved with that darling arched back. Oh my. I will be keeping my eyes peeled for a project to try. THanks!

  4. 4

    Oh my gosh, that little sofa is ADORABLE!!! I am SO going dumpster diving! lol

  5. 5

    Your blog continues to amaze me! Really, when I get more kids into school, I've gotta start trying some of this stuff! I love it! You guys are amazing!

  6. 6

    they are so cute.

  7. 7

    Hi there, just wanted to let you know that I posted a link to this on my blog. I love what you guys did here and I have a chair that I want to re-do. This is a great start for me!
    Thanks!
    Bethany @ Happy By Design

  8. 8

    Excellent tutorial. However, this may be a little too detail for me…ummm, just remembered I have a small foot stool, maybe I'll experiment with that. If I do I'll definitely take pics and shoot your way. Thanks so much for sharing

  9. 9

    i started this project last week. I am up to the "removal" I now need to cut all the fabric. But I have a couple extra steps… wood that needs painting. But I am excited again, and think I will tackle it today!

  10. 10

    Thanks for posting this I have been wondering how to reupholster for ages!

  11. 11

    Isn't it addictive!
    Very cute.

    T. Rivera
    http://www.flippinfactory.wordpress.com
    Minimizing waste by maximizing creativity.

  12. 12

    Love that couch….and the fabric is so cute. You must have a girlie girl. Me too.

  13. 13

    Thank you!!! Thank you!! Thank you!!! I have been very interested in trying something like this, but I have been hesitant since I never knew someone who personally have done it. But step by step pics and info is even better! Thank you- I can not wait to go garage selling this weekend! Hope I find a good piece to redo!

  14. 14

    Well, this is just fabulous!! I have always wanted to learn how to recover furniture, but thought it would be too hard…thanks for the instructions! I just may feel confident enough to try it now.

  15. 15

    Thank you again for another great post. I have this UGLY poker chair that is super comfy but goes with nothing else in my home. They wanted $600 to reupholster it! ack!

  16. 16

    What kind of fabric do you use? Just a regular cotton woven fabric? Is it sturdy enough?

  17. 17

    aha! Found it! I knew I read this somewhere and had a feeling it was here. I'm about to tackle a love seat and need some guidance!

  18. 18

    A good way to figure out how much fabric you need:
    After taking the fabric off the chair, measure each piece's greatest length and width. On graph paper, draw in each shape, fitting pieces together like a puzzle. You can usually figure that the fabric will be 60" wide. If you make each square on the graph paper equal to 6" it's pretty easy to figure out how many feet or yards long you will need it to be. For good measure, add about 10% extra fabric just in case you make mistakes. Take your 'drawing' to the fabric store with you, because some fabrics have a direction of print or nap and may require different yardage. Hope this is helpful.

  19. 19

    Well, thank goodness for craigslist. A lady I bought two end tables from e-mailed me your site. I'm a teacher and I've started a very very small "business" (if you can call it that). I'm so excited for summer time so I can start to work on my garage full of antique furniture! THANK YOU!

  20. 20

    Thanks for this tutorial! I've been wanting to upholster a couple of chairs that I have for a long time. Any suggestions on picking fabrics? I feel like the ones I love are medium weight (6.6 oz) but I want it to last a long time for all that work. What's your experience with fabric weight? Should I go for a really good, but not as pretty, heavy weight or will medium weight hold up for a several years?

  21. 21

    What type of fabric do you suggest using? I have an old couch that I want to recover and I have NO IDEA what type of fabric to use.

  22. 22

    Thank you so much for these valuable instructions. I've learned so much!

  23. 23

    Wow, I am so glad you included the link to this on today's Freakin' Fabulous Friday post! I have a thrift store chair that I've been dreaming of reupholstering. All I found when I googled were things like dining room chairs or smaller projects, not instructions for big, honking arm chairs. I suspected there might be something out in blogland but I also feared that it would be sooooo horribly complicated. This doesn't seem easy but you do make it look doable!

  24. 24

    Wowzer! Impressive tutorial! Thanks a boatload for the great step-by-step. I'm about to dive into an upholstery project and definitely will have one eyeball on my computer monitor and the the other eyeball on my work. :)

  25. 25

    I did the same exact toddler sofa that I found in an alley. The fabric was torn to no end! It is now covered with a spongebob pattern fabric. My kids LOVE it! Thanks for all the tips I could have used while conquering this project. Now I have another alley find.. a Winged back arm chair, fabric in good condition just very outdated and ugly. wish me luck! =)

  26. 26

    The answer to your ? is yes the tack strips can be reused however the cardboard ones tend not to be reusable. You can get metal ones they work better and can be cut to fit w/metal cutters. There is also plygrip …made for those curvy areas, purchased @your local fabric store or upholstery supply shop. You did a wonderful job re-upholstering the items I saw here. I do have 1 complaint, I wouldn't have attached the new fabric to the old. Its best to use the old as a pattern….you never know whats on the old one. I say this because I am an upholsterer by trade and have been doing this type of work for over 33yrs. I have worked for and am currently working for a national furniture store. I also like the pink desk you refinished. I also do that. I repair, refinish, refurbish and re-upholster. Keep up the good work thanks for sharing.

  27. 27
    Tiffany Siladke says:

    Great tips! I am on the hunt for a chair to redo for our living room, can't wait to use these tips. Thanks!

  28. 28

    When I reupholstered furniture I learned that writing everything down in detail as you take it apart is a great thing to do. Then you will know exactly how to put it back together. Draw pictures if you need to. It is like a big puzzle. So much fun!

  29. 29

    I took a chair apart and tried remembering how it went together. I'll admit, I probably should have taken pictures. Life interrupted me. And now I can't remember exactly how it went together. Am I screwed?

  30. 30

    @MelissaLK

    Um, sadly, yes I think you are! Ha! You could try google to see if there is any kind of tutorial there or you might have to take it to a professional. I wish I had better news/advice for you! Good luck!

  31. 31

    Love the tutorial. I found a $30 chair at a local thrift store and love it's bones, but hate the fabric. Now I have a solution! I'm a little worried about choosing fabric- but I'll be heading to stores soon, and hopefully will find some good sales. I'll link this tutorial on my blog when I've finished my project- hope you don't mind!

  32. 32

    I love these tutorials! I did my first chair a few weeks ago and I am now reupholstering my entire livinf room set!! I found my first chair at Savers for $15!! I keep myself entertained with my couches because the weather is still crappy and too cold (gotta love Utah).I cannot wait to paint all the furniture I have in my garage!
    Check out my chair at my blog!
    http://www.thechickencoopblog.blogspot.com
    Thanks!

  33. 33

    Excellent post! I found a 1930′s sloped back chair I want to reupholster and your post is a big help!

  34. 34

    Excellent post! I found a 1930′s sloped back chair I want to redo. This post will be very helpful!

  35. 35

    Dearest Brooke – Being “ALL” about Thrifty, I was ecstatic to find your website on reupholstering chairs. You saved me from going nuts!! Thank you. I recovered a chair and a half and it looks fantastic!! It took awhile and I thought my husband might move out, for all the mess. But he loves “my chair”………….. I have to keep reminding him of that. “Sit in your own chair, honey, this one’s MINE”.

    May I make a suggestion about your site? I noticed there are some typos, so you may want to have someone proof read things for you whenever you update your information.

    Thanks for helping to turn a drab old chair into real jewel. :)

    • 36

      Susan,
      I’m glad you have used my tutorials! That makes my day!
      Tell me where the typos are! I will fix them ASAP!

  36. 37

    I am so glad I found this blog! I just bought a sofa chair from Goodwill yesterday and needed some good instructions and tips on how to do this. So this is great! Thanks!

  37. 38

    I found your site by accident yesterday. I want you to know its my new favorite place

  38. 40
    Toni Evans says:

    Just wanting to thank you for the tutorial. In my attempt, I have done the “careful” removal of all old fabric, and trying to muster up courage to start cutting out new fabric. Wish me luck!

  39. 41
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    I have a favorite chair that needs a redo, now I am gaining the courage, thanks

Trackbacks

  1. [...] things thrifty has a large list of DIY reupholstering tutorials that will save you a lot of money on furnishing your new home. If you are like me, broke but needy [...]

  2. Cheap and Chic Home Decorating Ideas | GenTwenty says:

    [...] from. If you want to change the look of a chair, you can reupholster it in your fabric of choice. All Things Thrifty has a spectacular tutorial on how it’s done. Another option, especially if you aren’t able to [...]

  3. [...] a lot like wrapping a gift. Otherwise, explore the Web for tutorials on more complex projects like reupholstering a large plush chair or loveseat. Scout around for slipcovers in a classic pattern and customize the fit with ties, [...]

  4. [...] a lot like wrapping a gift. Otherwise, explore the Web for tutorials on more complex projects like reupholstering a large plush chair or loveseat. Scout around for slipcovers in a classic pattern and customize the fit with ties, pins [...]

  5. [...] a lot like wrapping a gift. Otherwise, explore the Web for tutorials on more complex projects like reupholstering a large plush chair or loveseat. Scout around for slipcovers in a classic pattern and customize the fit with ties, pins [...]

  6. […] are a number of tutorials for reupholstering chairs; a couple are here and here, and you can google up plenty of others. If re-covering a whole chair seems a little too […]

  7. […] that’s getting worn. Getting it reupholstered could add some new life to the old thrown. All Things Thrifty shows you a step-by-step process in how to reupholster an […]

  8. […] will be different. I have yet to replicate the same techniques twice. I mean it when I say in my reupholstery 101 post that you have to pay attention to how the chair was put together when you take it apart. It helps […]

  9. […] throw it away, re-create it! Find some fabric you love and look up some sewing techniques to sew it over the chair. You can even add your own chair-skirts and bows to make them look more modern and feminine. This […]

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