Monday, November 29, 2010

How to Upholster a Chair

Upholstering is an often overlooked way to update older chairs or to change them to match your style. It's easy (yes!) and lots cheaper than replacing furniture. Plus, there's just something about having old furniture... it's so much more more sturdy and classic than anything you can buy new. Plus, it often has special significance, like these dining chairs that were my husband's great-grandma's. There's no way way we were getting rid of them, but the fabric on them just didn't really match the look we are going for in our dining room. I decided to re-upholster them and I was able to do all 8 in one night!
You will need:
  • chair(s) with cushioned seats
  • screwdriver
  • upholstery fabric
  • staple gun with staples
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The first step is to carefully measure the chair seat(s) to be upholstered. Add 4-6 inches of fabric to all sides, depending on how cushy the seats are, and you're all set. We purchased our upholstery fabric at Joann's Fabric. I believe that most Joann's stores carry *some* upholstery fabric, but we went to a "Super Joann's" for the most selection. They had tons of choices, from very classic designs to super contemporary. We brought along paint chips for color matching and that worked great! Also, if you shop at Joann's often, you'll know to be sure to clip a 40 or 50% off coupon from the paper before you head out because upholstery fabric is kind of pricey (though still cheaper than a new chair!).
After you have your fabric, remove the seat from the chair. (Not all chairs are made the same... some seats are not removable, some have cushioned backs, etc. You will just have to adapt this tutorial to fit the chair(s) you are working with.) My seat was attached to the chair with screws at all four corners and I found it easiest to un-screw the screws by *carefully* placing the chair I was working with upside-down on top of another. This put an even amount of pressure on all four corners, even after some of the screws had been removed.

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While the chair is seat-less, it's a perfect time to get out the dust cloth and furniture polish and go to town!

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It also helps if you have a cute assistant to hold your screwdriver until you need it again!

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Ok, back to the upholstery. As I noted before, there are lots of types of chairs and therefore lots of ways to do this. When I examined my chair seat, I realized it had a covering on the back and I decided that instead of removing all the fabric and then trying to replace the backing, I would just upholster over the previous fabric. Another bonus to this is that everything I am doing is now reversible, should we ever decide to revert back to the old fabric.

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Cut your fabric to fit your chair seat, leaving 4-6 inches extra around all sides. If your fabric has a large symmetrical pattern (like mine does below), you will probably want to make sure that the center of the pattern is in the center of your piece - before cutting! Then after you cut, line up the fabric on your chair seat, being careful that everything is centered and straight (this is not really an issue with some fabrics - solids or those with small repeating prints or patterns, but was a BIG issue with the fabric I picked).

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When you are satisfied that everything is centered nicely, start folding the top and bottom edges snugly around the seat.

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Put a single staple in the center top and bottom of the fabric along the outside edge of the back of the seat. If you don't use a staple gun often, you may have to practice a little to get your technique down. Make sure to use even, heavy force throughout the gun. I put extra pressure on the top part of the gun as shown below. If the staples aren't going in straight, you can pull them out with a pliers and start again, or you can tap them in a little farther with a hammer.
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Check again to make sure everything is lined up and then put a single staple in the center of both the right and left side. At this point I took some time to make sure everything was lined up perfectly because it was still easy to remove staples. Later it will be harder to do, so make sure it's straight and just how you like it!

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Once it's all lined up and each side has a staple holding it down, start tacking down the rest of the fabric with staples. I like to work symmetrically, it keeps the fabric from pulling and getting wonky. (Wonky is a bad thing when upholstering!) I would add a couple staples to the top (usually one to the right and one to the left of the previous staple(s)) and then do the same thing on the bottom. Then the same to the left and right sides of the seat. Staples should be 1-2" apart from each other for the best hold. You'll want to make sure the fabric is snug as you're working (so that you don't get wrinkles or loose fabric), but don't pull too tight otherwise the fabric will stretch irregularly and your seat will turn out wonky (see, there it is again!). Check as you go to make sure everything is still lined up correctly Keep this up until you have staples along the length of each side up to about 3" from each corner.
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Now you can trim the excess fabric. I left about 1/2" to 1" of fabric along the staples, just so nothing comes loose. I also left extra fabric in a strip at each of the four corners so that I could fold them up nicely.

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Here's how I did the corners. I tucked the extra fabric underneath the center strip so that I had one long strip and then pulled the fabric tightly from the corner of the seat to the backside of the cushion. You may have to fanagle it a little to get it straight and pretty. Also don't be afraid to trim more fabric so that it lays nice and flat. Then I stapled it down really well. My staples went in really tightly, but if you are concerned, you can put a few extra staples in the corners.

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Then just trim off the excess.

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Do the same for all four corners and you're done!

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Now just screw the seat back onto the chair (I used the same chair-upside-down-on-another-chair method and it worked great because I could use pressure on the screws while not harming the chair).

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Flip your chair over and VOILA! Just like new!

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As I mentioned in the beginning, all chairs are slightly different, but most aren't too difficult. Just don't be afraid to play around with the fabric until you figure it out. With a little TLC, even an ugly chair can become your very favorite!

1 comment:

  1. wow! it looks awesome! and not very hard to do either.

    by the way.. love the changes you've made on your blog.


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