This project can take 5 to 7 hours depending on your prior experience with reupholstery. Reupholstering multiple chairs will require additional time.
This accounts for the cost of fabric and tools, and reflects the low to high range of reupholstering a dining room chair vs. an armchair.
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What you'll need:
Safety gloves (optional)
Safety glasses (optional)
If the fabric on your comfiest seat is outdated, it doesn’t have to mean the end of an era for you and your chair. Knowing how to reupholster a chair, whether it be a dining chair or an oversized piece of home decor, can save you money and empower you to save what was otherwise torn and tattered. Before you toss your beloved—albeit aesthetically displeasing—source of comfort to the curb, follow this step-by-step guide to reupholster and revive your chair quickly and efficiently.
Prepping to Reupholster a Chair
Reupholstering a chair can certainly be a DIY project, but there are considerations to keep in mind for this type of project, such as purchasing new fabric. When determining how much fabric to buy, you have a couple of options—one of which is to take measurements of the old fabric while it’s still on the chair to get a rough estimate of how much new fabric you’ll need. The other option is to remove all the old fabric from the chair first, measure it to know exactly how much new fabric you’ll need, and then purchase it. This requires an extra step before purchasing but ultimately provides more accuracy in measurements.
A good rule of thumb, no matter which method you go with, is to purchase more fabric than you actually need, to account for potential mishaps in cutting or measuring. You’ll also want to buy fabric that is durable and long-lasting, so it can withstand people sitting on it for years to come, especially if you’re on a budget. It’s important to note that while DIY upholstering can save you money, the cost to reupholster different pieces of furniture varies by the type of furniture and your location.
Dismantle the Chair
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To access all the fabric you need to replace, you may need to deconstruct parts of the chair first, such as the legs, so as to not tear any fabric you’ll need to remove later on.
Before you remove pieces of your chair, it's helpful to take pictures of it from all angles so you have images of the final product to reference as you put the chair back together.
Consider wearing gloves and safety glasses when taking apart the chair frame, as you may encounter nails and/or staples along the way.
Depending on how the chair was originally put together, you may need to use a screwdriver to remove the legs, or it could be as simple as twisting the legs off.
If you wish to paint or stain any of the pieces you’re removing to add another fresh element to the chair, do so before adding any new fabric.
Once you’ve removed all the chair elements that would have interfered with the rest of the process, you’re ready to remove the old fabric.
Remove the Old Fabric
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Removing the fabric from your chair is undoubtedly the most important step in the reupholstering process, and you’ll want to be meticulous as you proceed.
Begin by turning the chair over and removing the black dust cloth on the underside of the chair. The strategy here is to remove the old fabric from the chair in the reverse order it was put on, thus the last piece you remove will be the first piece you put back on, using your new fabric.
Once the dust cloth has been removed, you should be able to see staples holding the rest of the fabric in place on the chair frame. Dislodging each staple will likely be the most time-consuming step, but you can easily remove each staple by using a flathead screwdriver to loosen the staples, followed by pulling each one out with needle-nose pliers.
Once you’ve removed the staples, you can begin stripping the fabric from the chair. Pay attention as you’re removing the old fabric, as each piece of fabric will tell you exactly how and where to add the new pieces. You may want to continue taking pictures as you go to help you later on during the reassembling process. As you remove a panel of fabric, use a permanent marker to indicate on the material what section of the chair it was in, what side it was on, and the direction it faced. The notes you make on the old fabric will act as a blueprint for your reupholstered chair.
As you go, you’ll likely come across pieces of welting and tack strips. Keep those off to the side so you can reuse them when you add the new fabric.
Add More Batting and Foam (Optional)
If you’ve found your old chair to be not only unsightly but also uncomfortable, now’s your chance to fluff it back up.
Cut a 1/2-inch-thick slab of batting to be placed on the chair back, and staple it to the frame of the chair.
Repeat this process for the chair seat.
If you dislike the appearance of the staple indents, you can hide the staples by carefully pulling the batting around each staple, so that the staples are hidden within the batting.
Make sure that the new batting for the seat cushion is folded cleanly around the edges of the seat of the chair frame.
Assemble Your Old and New Fabric Pieces
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Lay out the original fabric pieces face down onto the back of the new fabric. This placement will result in the new fabric facing the right way once cut. If your new fabric is patterned, be wary of where the designs will be centered as you line up the new and old fabric before cutting.
Pin together the old and new fabric pieces so they are held in place, and cut the new fabric using the outline of the old panel. As you cut, leave yourself an extra 2–3 inches of fabric from where the old fabric panel ends, so that you have something to pull on when fitting the fabric to the chair.
After you staple the new fabric to the frame, simply cut the excess fabric off.
Attach the New Fabric
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Once you’ve cut out the panels of your new upholstery fabric, you can begin attaching the fabric to your chair. Be sure to remove all pins before starting.
Using the markings you made on the old fabric along with any photos taken along the way, place the panels of fabric indicated for the inside back, the right-side back, and left-side back on the chair.
Make any necessary adjustments to ensure the fabric is lined up appropriately and centered as needed, and pull the fabric taut so it’s wrinkle-free. When all the fabric is aligned to your liking, staple it into place. Staples should be placed ½ inch apart.
For the inside chair back, place the fabric over the back of the chair, and after lining it up, place a staple at the top to secure it into place. Then tuck the fabric through the back of the chair, pulling it tightly. Repeat this step by pulling the fabric through the sides and staple it to the chair frame. Hold off on stapling the bottom of the chair seat until it is snugly in place.
Following your fabric notes, make sure the chair seat fabric is smoothed out and centered, then pull it through the sides and back of the chair. Staple it to the frame, and repeat this process for the arms of the chair.
Once you’ve covered the chair with your new fabric and all pieces have been stapled into place, trim any excess fabric by cutting as close to the line of staples as you can.
Using a hot glue gun, apply a line of hot glue along the staple line and press a gimp trim into it. When your trim ends meet, cut them so they touch end to end, and secure them in place with hot glue. Glue trim onto all staple lines to cover them up so that your chair has a clean look once finished.
Reassemble Your Chair
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Now that you’ve finished reupholstering your chair, you can begin to reassemble any pieces that had to be removed before starting the project.
Reattach any legs or adornment pieces you may have taken off before reupholstering.
Add the old dust cover back to the underside of the chair to protect the material within.
Flip your newly upholstered chair back over and enjoy it for years to come.