upholstery basics: dining chair do-over


Welcome back to Upholstery Basics, where we’ll be rolling up our sleeves and completing our first project together: a wrap-around seat. Of all seating, dining room chairs get the brunt of the abuse — a little vino here, red sauce there. If you’ve been glaring at those chairs and wondering how to give them that much-needed facelift, read on, and you’ll be transforming those eyesores into jaw-droppers in no time. — Amanda

Read the full post on reupholstering dining chairs after the jump!

Materials

  • goggles
  • gloves
  • clamps
  • pliers
  • staple remover
  • stapler
  • foam (denser is better for seats)
  • permanent marker
  • carving knife
  • cotton batting
  • Dacron
  • fabric
  • white or yellow chalk
  • straight edge/ruler
  • scissors
  • regulator
  • dustcover
  • cardboard tack strip
  • air blower attachment

Don’t forget to check out Upholstery Basics: Tool Time to learn more about the tools we’re using today.

Instructions

1. Remove the seat from your chair frame by unscrewing the screws on the underside. If your seat drops into the frame, like mine, you may be able to pop it out without unscrewing it. Make sure to mark the orientation of the seat before removing. It may seem obvious, but it is imperative that we know which side is the front when we attach the fabric later.

2. Strip all of the old fabric, padding, staples and tacks off of the seat using your pliers and staple remover. Once you’re finished, you should be left with a wooden board. This is a good point to mark any screw holes, so you can avoid them as you attach new padding and fabric.

3. Flip the board upside down on top of the foam and trace the outside edge with a permanent marker.

4. Use the carving knife to cut out the shape. Don’t worry if the edges get a little ragged looking. Just do your best to keep the blade straight up and down and not angled to one side or the other.

5. To create a slight domed shape to the seat, place a layer of cotton batting about an inch inside the edges of the board. Add extra layers if you’d like the crown of the seat to be more exaggerated. Just remember to make each additional layer of cotton slightly smaller than the one that precedes it.

6. Attach the foam to the board by stapling through the side of the foam and down into the wood. It’s best to work in opposites as you staple, so start with the back side and then move to the front. Then staple from the right to left side. Be careful not to push the foam back as you staple. We want the hard wooden edge to be padded, so it won’t show through the fabric.

7. Dacron will smooth out all of the imperfections and be the final layer of padding before the fabric. Once the foam is secured all the way around, tightly wrap Dacron around the edge and staple to the bottom of the board.

8. Trim off the excess Dacron gathered at the corners and around the bottom.

9. Now it’s time for the fabric! If you’re working with a pattern, decide where you’d like it placed on the seat. The rule of thumb is to place the top of the pattern at the back of the seat and the bottom of the pattern at the front of the seat.

10. To get started, staple the fabric at the back of the seat, but only put the staples in halfway by lifting one side of the staple gun up at an angle. These are called sub-staples and will allow you to pull them out very easily should you need to make adjustments. Once you’ve stapled the back, move on to the front. Then sub-staple the right and left sides.

11. Make a pleat in every corner by pulling the fabric from the sides around to the front and back. Fold under enough of the excess fabric to make the edges of the folds flush with the corners. Feel free to cut out bulky excess if you’re having trouble getting it all folded under the pleats, and use your regulator to get the fabric neatly tucked in.

12. Once you’re happy with where your fabric is placed, take out your sub-staples a few inches at a time and replace them with permanent staples that go in all the way. These will need to be closer together to make sure all the fabric is held down tightly. Keep a close eye on the edge as you go. The more consistent you are with the tightness of your pull, the smoother the fabric will look. Another tip: Pull with your palm instead of your fingertips to avoid puckers and dimples.

13. It’s looking like a finished seat now! After you’ve cut off the excess fabric, permanently staple the dustcover to the front side of the seat.

14. Then add a strip of cardboard tack on top for reinforcement.

15. Fold the dustcover over the tack strip toward the back of the seat. This is called a blind tack. Fold under the raw edge and staple to the back of the seat. Once you have the back secured, fold under the sides and staple.

16. If you have a seat that screws onto your chair frame, clear any holes of padding, fabric or dustcover and attach it to the chair. Use your blower attachment to dust off your chair, and you’re finished!

Wrap-around reminders:

  • If you’re redoing multiple chairs, number the seats and the chair frames so you can easily match them up after they’ve been upholstered.
  • Remember to wear your safety goggles, and gloves are great for protecting your hands when stripping.
  • Clamp your board to a solid table to keep it from moving around as you strip.
  • Screws can easily get wound up in padding, fabric and dustcovers, so keep the screw holes clear to make assembly easy at the end.
  • Use sub-staples first when attaching your fabric, so you can easily make adjustments.
  • Make a note of where the padding was originally. With drop-in seats like mine, you may need to check your seat after every step to make sure it still fits in the frame. If it’s getting too tight, reduce the amount of padding around the sides of the board.

If you haven’t seen it already, check out Grace’s inspired wrap-around chair on the Design*Sponge Book Trailer. Even the smallest project can make the biggest difference. See you next month!

Jess

where did you get that Saint Cecilia artwork on the wall?

Nadine

Great with all the pictures! I’m so glad I haven’t paid yet someone else to do the job. This is going to be fun :-D

Casey

This is a great tutorial! Thanks for adding the dustcover steps as well – that little detail really adds quality points. I absolutely love the fabric you used, too!

Rosa @ Flutter Flutter

I just posted about my free mid-century modern chairs that I rescued from the side of the road… this is just what I need to get on with my makeover. Thanks for reading my mind!

Liz

Where did you get this CUTE fabric? Any recommendations for fabric sources? I’ve looked for upholstery fabric in the past and haven’t been able to find a lot of cute options.

Elise at RoseyTeaParty

Thank you so much for this tutorial! It is one of those things that I think I could figure out myself, but it is better to have help and do it the right way!

Cecilia Lima

Copy Jess: where did you get that Saint Cecilia artwork on the wall?

meghanaf

Agree- would be great to see some fabric sources!

jenn {bow tie & bustle}

oh my gosh what a great post! i’ve always been too nervous to reupholster chairs and this post made me want to run out to the garage and get working right away! love it!

Alyssa

I want to do this to my kitchen chairs but didn’t know where to start! Thank you so much for posting this!!!

Heather

Wow! What a great tutorial! I’m so happy to learn all about the padding options! I knew there were tricks to making the cushion comfy. Can’t wait to try this one out! :)

Val

I had no trouble with seats, but I tried to also do the upper back part of a chair–same shape as the one in the photo, just upholstered–and it was so hard! As well as only semi-successful. Any tips on doing a curved back?

js

This is such a dumb and random question but I am not sure where else to post it so I’m going with the Basics. I am in the process of trying to learn how to be a diy-er. Yes, I am that far behind. Anyways, I have a second bedroom that has to serve a lot of purposes, including my new found love of sewing, and I was wondering if we could see some craft / sewing spaces as well as get some storage tips from the pros (you ladies). I’m currently all over the place. Thanks and keep up the great work. One of these days I’ll be attempting to tackle upholstering and have you to thank.

{e}lewis

such a perfectly comprehensive tutorial, thank you, thank you!

roryjean

Does anyone have any recommendations for where to get cute vinyl/oilcloth fabric for covering chair seats? I have three kids four and under and fabric wouldn’t last. Thanks for the tutorial!

Amanda Brown

Hi All!
The Hotel St. Cecilia poster is a limited edition print by Noel Waggener of Subculture Press: http://www.subculturepress.com/. It’s such a wonderful piece!

The fabric is a Robert Allen Halmstad in Ruby.

Val, curved backs generally require some seams to release the fabric as it curves. We’ll eventually get there with Upholstery Basics, so just stay tuned!

JS, several months ago, we shot a pilot episode: http://youtu.be/wMp123xNG4s. There are some shots in there of our workshop that may be useful. Hope that helps!

Liz and Rory Jean, we carry many fabrics at Spruce that are super cute! You can check out the fabric part of our website for many of the brands we carry. We can also have any fabric “vinylized”, so that may be a good option for you, Rory Jean.

Thanks for all the positive feedback everyone!

Abby

Yes I love the fabric as well. it looks a bit like bark cloth, is it vintage or new? Please tell us where you sourced it.

rachael

The Dacron is genius! I’m bummed i didn’t know about it when i recovered my chairs. Super helpful demo. Thanks!!

Stephanie

Now I know where to start, Just the tutorial I needed, I’ve been planning to fix the chair my kids enjoyed ripping to shreds=) I just couldn’t get my hand on it to start, and I can’t get a help from hubby cause’ he doesn’t like the frame as much as i do.

Loryn

Great tutorial! I’ve done some simple upholstery before and still felt like I learned a lot. I’m looking forward to more posts!

Julie K.

Thanks for this great tutorial. I enjoy doing stuff around my house on my own. I´m going to try this next weekend. Hope I won´t cut of my fingers :-).

Stackable chairs

A useful tutorial! Many thanks.

It’s great to see the processes involved when restoring the cushion/seat of a chair such as this.

Keep up the good work!

amanda

Love the tutorial. Hoping it won’t be too long before you cover more dining room chairs that have a cutout in the back of the seat that fit around the vertical back pieces:-) I’ve got the leather already……..

Deeyn for Nannie Inez, good living

My husband recently attended your upholstery class here in Austin. He had nothing but great things to say about the class and especially the Spruce team. We love our new chair! This tutorial is very comprehensive and motivates me to start up a little upholstery competition in our household. Thank you!!

JS

Amanda- Great video. Thanks for posting it. Your workspace might be a little too much for a working-towards-becoming-a-diy-er second bedroom but it was amazing non-the-less. I wish I lived in Austin. Your shop looks like a great place to work. I would come and volunteer for free until I learned enough for you to hire me!

Shanley

Could you give an indication of how much fabric you used? I’ve got eight chairs to recover, very similar to yours, and want to know if I can use awesome (read: expensive) fabric or the yardage required means I need to go cheaper.
Thanks!

Lyndey

I just reupholstered my dining room chairs with this exact fabric two weeks ago! I sure wish I’d had this tutorial then. I had quite a difficult time with the corners.

Amanda Brown

Shanley,

Dining room chairs like this generally require about 1/2 yard per seat, so you’d need 4 yards to be on the safe side. You could possibly squeak it out of 3 yards.

sheena

this is a really good post, thank you I will have to book mark this. Now off to the shop to buy a nail gun

Laura

Excellent detailed tutorial and great to actually see the work being done in the photos for us visual folks. Thanks!

Roxana

I recently did some craigslist chairs with a curved back, decided to take the challenge using only a staple gun, scissors and my iron! oh man it was hard, i googled tutorials but found none for a curved back (mid-century style) i look forward to the tutorial on here since the job i did is…. uhmmmmmm, not to be looked at up close to say the least.

Laura Britton

I love this pattern!! I have always wanted to do this, and my current dining chairs are a plain brown leather, so I may just have to spice things up a bit with some re-upholstered cushions. Thanks for posting this how-to!

Bibby

I see that you have not used an air compressor in this one but have an air compressor as a basic tool for upholstery on your other post. What are air compressors for?

Amanda

Bibby,

The staple gun I use is pneumatic, which means it must have pressurized air to operate. That’s what the air compressor is for. You can use an electric stapler, if that is more accessible. I have added that to my list of materials since I did use it for this project.

Jen

Exactly what is the “foam” you used for part of the cushion? I’m looking in craft stores and having a hard time finding something. Is there another or more specific name for it? Also, have you ever redone an antique chair that didn’t have the wood bottom to it, but had springs instead? I took mine apart to get an idea and all the padding junk I ripped out looked just like your pic’s except there was no wood piece on the bottom – all the padding was just on top of springs.

Kim Crowley

Can you please share any information you have about the table in the photo?
I am interested in finding some salvage iron or metal pieces to use as legs on an old art table. The leg work in the photo is what I have in mind,

Dianne

I also need to know how to deal with a chair seat that does not have a wood center, just springs. The springs are not staying in place. Can I just replace them with a plywood center?
Thanks for the information about the St.Cecilia poster. Where is Hotel St. Cecilia?

Daphne

Thank you so much for the tutorial! I scored a mid-century dining set and was a bit apprehensive about reupholstering the chairs. This tutorial definitely rocks!

Curious though about the upholstery foam you used – what was the thickness? My chairs are similar in shape to the ones in the tutorial, and I’d love to try and replicate the exact “plumpness” of the cushions. Have an idea how much batting to use to make the dome shape, but wasn’t sure if there’s a particular thickness one should use for the foam (guessing the Dacron will also add a layer of fluff right?).

Shary

Thank you for the great tutorial. What if once I’ve finished in step #2, I’m left with a wood board with a 12″ center cut out (like a square hole)? Then atop it is a stretchy rubbery substance stapled to the board. It appears the purpose is so the seat has some bounce in the center for comfort. This stretchy rubbery substance needs replacing and I don’t know what it is called or where to purchase it. If I cannot identify/find it, I feel I should have the boards recut without the middle cut out. Please shed some light on this seat bottom, as I’ve never seen one like it and I have 8 chairs to reupholster.

Estelle Howell

Absolutely perfect….. Visual tutorials are wonderful. Not everyone can read english, But everyone can understand visual instructions. Thanks a Million.

Lewis

Just came across this, brilliant. Have bookmarked this page! This is just what I needed for the chairs I have at home.

Cathy Ricmail.comhardson

Great tutorial. But…………..what the heck is a regulator?

Amanda Brown @ Spruce

Cathy,
A regulator is a long metal stick with a flat end and a needle-like end. It’s used for tucking in strings and fabric in tight areas, especially in pleats. Below the materials list (above), there’s a link to Upholstery Basics: Tool Time where you can see an image of the regulator (#14).

Deirdre

Great tutorial – thank you! Just curious what thickness foam you used? My local store had 1″ and 2″ varieties. The 1″ seemed a little thin, and now that I have the 2″ stuff home, it looks like it might be too much. Thanks!

www.redgage.com

I know this might sound cheap, but I ran across an incredible vintage outdoor lantern on a hard rubbish
set on the weekend! Now I am in search of wrought iron outdoor
chairs to match. You know exactly what they say, one mans garbage
can be another mans prize!

Sunnie Mitchell

I can’t thank-you enough for this fantastic step-by-step tutorial, especially how to get the corners done properly! I found a pair of 60s era beechwood kitchen stools with tatty seat covers in a charity shop yesterday-a steal at £2. I had some red poppy tablecloth vinyl left from a previous project (aprons and small appliance covers) but was having a terrible time getting those corners right. Well, the stools now look amazing thanks solely to your tute. Really, the recover now looks professionally done. Thank-you!

Pam Santerre

Thank you for an excellent tutorial? I have refinished a small, wood sewing chair but do not have the original seat for it. What type of wood and construction do You recommend for building seat base that will be upholstered?

Luther mayfield

My question is where do you get your seat cushion foam and how did you have to pay for it per square feet

Diane

What density foam do you use? 1 or 2 inch?
I have no place to buy some materials you use so I have these questions.
I also need to replace the back of the chair.
Do I use less dense foam? Or the same as the bottom?

Thanks, have to do this before Thanksgiving!

Charlotte UK

Thank you so much for this amazing tutorial! I’ve been given 6 dining chairs by a family member and they are in desperate need of some TLC (25 years of being sat on has left some large dents!) I really wanted to do it myself but had no idea where to start so thank you for the confidence boost! Just 1 question: my seats pop out but when the old fabric and stuffing is removed, it is a simple hollow frame – any suggestions how I keep the foam popping out the bottom?!

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