101DIYfurnitureUpholstery Basics

upholstery basics: dining chair do-over

by Amanda Brown

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!


  • 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.


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!

Suggested For You


  • 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).

  • 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!

    • I am recovering our eat in kitchen chairs and was told by the upholsterer that they normally use 1″ firm cushion for dining room chairs. By the time you wrap them in dacron (and in the case of ours, put a muslin cover around that before you put on the upholstery cover (our cushion covers have a zipper at the back vs attached to the chair the way this example shows) it’s probably thicker than you imagine when you just look at the foam.

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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?

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

  • 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!

  • 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?!

  • Hello,
    Very helpful!!!
    I want to use same methods and make headboard. Where can I find form and Dacron?
    Thank you,

  • I just reupholstered my six 100-year old dining room chairs. I followed your directions exactly. And I am so incredibly happy with the result, after beginning the project by tearing off five layers of dilapidating fabric and stuffing. They’re beautiful now. Thank you for giving me the confidence and tools to reupholster them myself.

    • You missed something…. by the photos, you did it but you didn’t explain it; After you have traced around the cushion’s wood foundation onto the foam, you take your carving knife and cut the foam (which works great but is a bit overkill with foam that thin….a large shears works equally well, if not better for this project) but you cut about 1/2″ outside the line on the foam. You did it…give or take, but didn’t mention or explain it. – Robert

  • Dumb question. after you added all the batting and fabric, how do you know where the original screw holes are?!

    • Lacey, that is a very good question, because it is very frustrating when you go to screw on the seat and all that material gets in the way! Its not such a big issue until you try to remove the seat again, which will be very hard to do, because of all the materials that are tangled up in the threads of the screw! I’ve been there! When I do a project, I have to have the presence of mind to mark the holes, and most of the time I’m too excited to finish the job to remember to do it. To Mark the holes, on the back of the board, draw a pencil line or arrow below the staple line, where it wont be covered by the materials, indicating where the holes are. Then go back after each layer is stapled down and cut away the material with a sharp Exacto, or tiny scissors. As for the dust cover, it’s thin enough that it won’t be an issue when you install the seat. Or, you can put the seat in place after you’re done covering it and go through the holes with a white colored pencil and mark the holes. Then remove the seat and cut out the holes that way, but that may be harder to do at that point with all of the layers to go through at one time, and the hole may not be large enough to accommodate the pencil. I hope that helps!

  • Grace, if my husband would let me, I’d be a chair hoarder, do you know what I mean? I Love the fabric you chose for your Klismos chairs! I just wish that design was more comfortable to sit in. I would love to get my upholstering hands on a Loling chair or my favorite chair, the Hepplewhite chair!

  • Great tutorial. I need help repairing chair covers, top and bottom. The tops and bottoms are worned ,turned and everything else. Present fabric is black faux seude. Please help.

  • When I removed my old cushion , there was no batting around the foam. Is it necessary to put batting on? Thanks.

  • I’m trying not to waste money or eco-unfriendly foam. After cutting 4 of my dining room chair seat replacements from a 24″x 76″ foam slab, I will have an 8″ x 76″ strip left over. Is it a good idea to make one seat cushion out of 2 eight inch pieces? Individual foam seat cushions seem to cost at least $7 locally. Shipping from on-line sources ads $4 per cushion.

  • You did a great job! They look wonderful, and I love the look and colors of the whole area – thank you so much for sharing. You have inspired me to do the same to my dining room chairs, they are sadly in need!

  • Oh great tutorial, is what i need to start with my new house, just buying a second hand dining table but fabric is so horrible, now my question do you have a tutorial to do the backrest?

  • I have just gotten frustrated trying to do this, as my dinning chair cushions are 3 times as thick and have what feels like sinuous springs. I have not ripped off the original fabric to verify and glad I didn’t. I have and additional contributing factor to the frustration, in that I only have manual heavy duty stapler to work with. The frustration is the corners! The seat tapers from the ~3″ center to ~1.25″ at the corners and then around to the back. As a result, the fabric wants to gap and I can not seem to get “nice” corners.
    Can you provide a hint on how to get it to look nice?

  • I have 4 very old chairs dining [ 100 + years old ]. They have had many kinds of seats over the years. There is no board but a hole with webbing stretched over the hole then cushioning on top. The fabric is attached over the padding to the wood on the top of the seat with decorative tacks. Do you have any instructions for this type of seating?

  • I’d like to know if you put the cotton batting on the board and then the form on top of it or is it vice versus?

  • I’ve followed the directions and have used 2″ high density foam and cushion wrap. I’ve stretched and stapled the fabric as tightly as I can. However, when I sit on the chair, the foam still gives way and I feel like I’m sitting on the wood itself…with very little padding. I’ve tried a number of different upholstery foams and they all have the same problem. What can I change?

  • Great instructions! Thank you so much!
    My question is about comfort. I removed my probably 1950’s Heywood Wakefield dining room chair covers and replaced the petrified batting with 1″ high density foam and of course new Dacron, with the addition of new upholstery covering. They look beautiful, but not so comfortable! I don’t want to go much higher on the foam because it will change the look of the chairs. I also didn’t use batting for the same reason. Here’s the problem- they used to be very comfortable. I sat in one of the new ones this morning and got a backache! Any ideas? I’ve only covered two to of the 6, which is good. I’ve even contemplated putting the foam and Dacron over the old stuff. Thank you for any ideas!

  • This has been very helpful, thank you.I ordered my material from fabrics.com it was much more affordable and arrived within a few day.The rest of my supplies I got at Joann’s.I love it there and they try every way possible to save you money.

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