Reupholstering 101, How to reupholster a chair

Nov 13th, 2009

My friend named Jen has been GREAT to help me expand my knowledge for the site here on, 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!?!?

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