Top 10 Upholstery Tips

Nov 16th, 2010

Over the last year or so, I have learned a lot about upholstery. I thought that a few things that I have learned may help some of you DIYers out there, so here you go!

All Things Thrifty’s top 10 upholstery tips.

1. You must use a fabric that is thick enough to pull hard. Does it need to be upholstery fabric specifically? No. I have upholstered a few items in canvas and it worked great. Thin cotton fabric will not work, trust me. It is not tough enough.

2. You need another “partner in crime” to help you while doing upholstery. There are two main reasons for this: 1-you need two sets of hands, one to pull the fabric tight, and the other one to staple it into place. 2-It is much more fun to upholster a chair if you can laugh with a friend while you are doing it. ;)

3. You need to adopt a “roll with the punches” type of attitude to do upholstery. I’m working on this one. Luckily the gals I have upholstered with are very much like this and it rubs off. Upholstering can be challenging, and right out annoying at times because it is tough. AND every single chair I have ever done has had different challenges, so you just have to deal with those challenges as they come.

4. Don’t buy expensive fabric for two reasons: 1- If you spend over $10.00 a yard on your fabric, you risk spending the same on your chair as you could buy from the furniture store. Logically this does not make sense to me because upholstery takes time (A LOT of it). So,  make sure that it is worth it in the end. Finding inexpensive fabric can be tough so check out Home Fabrics if you have never been there. (The online store isn’t nearly as good as the actual store). 2. If you mess up and have to buy more fabric, it won’t break your bank. :)

5. In the same breath as the above tip, I have to tell you that you need to find a fabric that you LOVE. I am not contradicting the above statement. So, you may have to be patient and shop the sales in order to get an affordable fabric that you love for your upholstery job. I learned this the hard way. I saw a fabric, that was on MAJOR sale and bought it. It had the right colors, but I did NOT love it. I simply tried to sacrifice design for price. What was the result? I upholstered the chair TWICE because I was not happy with the end result. Believe me, you do not want to do this. Upholstering is challenging enough, and if you are like me, you need to have the motivation of the transformation to keep you going.

6. Sometimes you just have to just DO IT. A few chairs that I have done have posed problems that I was unsure of how to solve. All the projects that I have done have been put together differently. I have come to the conclusion that upholstery can be done in MANY techniques, and over-thinking the “HOW” will not get you anywhere. So, if you try one technique and it doesn’t work, then you can try another technique.

7. Pull the fabric TIGHT. If you don’t, your chair will look like you upholstered it. My goal is to make a chair look store bought.

8. If possible use an air compressor with an air staple gun. This has saved me hours and hours, and it has helped save my hands from being VERY sore from squeezing a regular staple gun.  After you do it this way, you will never go back to the hand-held staple guns.

9. If your upholstery job includes tufting, you need to do the tufting first and THEN pull the fabric tight. You need to pull the buttons through, secure them tightly and then pull the fabric tight. The first reason to do this is to make sure that you can pull the buttons to create the tufted look, and if the fabric is already tight, you won’t be able to pull the buttons tight enough. The second reason for this is make sure that the fabric is tight enough when the tufting is finished.

10. Buy extra fabric (1-2 yards if your budget allows). The wingback chair that I just completed with my friend Leslie reminded me how important this tip is.

Doing a step by step, comprehensive upholstery tutorial may be out of my league; however, I have found a great  wingback tutorial over at Creative Mavin that shows some great illustrations on how to reupholster. I was very impressed by her step by step instructions, and of course I LOVED the fabric she chose (it is the same fabric I have on my ottoman).

I have thought about doing a step by step tutorial on how to reupholster, but have come to the conclusion that it would be extremely tough for many reasons. The main one is that EVERY single chair that you upholster 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 to take mental notes. :)

This bad boy was a nightmare. Ha ha. We had to re-do the arms several times because of the curvature on the arms. 

The process started by taking off the original fabric carefully.

We were careful to save each piece to use as a pattern.

As you can see by the ground, it is a MESSY process. Leslie and I had a great time laughing and working.

The chair was very well put together, which made it hard for us to take it apart! It took several hours to get all the staples out from the original upholstery job.

Let the upholstery begin!

Excuse my pictures…I haven’t taken good ones with my nice camera yet, so these are from my phone. :) Sometimes patience isn’t my strongest suit.

As you can see, upholstering can make a BIG mess, and diet coke is a major part in the process for me and my friends! 

 Doesn’t the chair look absolutely FABULOUS!?! I love the fabric that she chose. We got it from Home Fabrics in Vegas. :)

You may have noticed that the cushion is not in these pictures…stay tuned for a picture with the entire finished product soon. I just couldn’t wait!

Here is another reminder of the before and after!

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