before and after

before & after: upholstered chair redo

by Kate Pruitt

It’s been a while since we’ve shared a chair project, mostly because we haven’t seen anything particularly novel or noteworthy come across our desks. But the richly embroidered fabric on this chair makeover — a collaboration between Niamh of Urban Threads and Jessica of Antique White — caught my eye, and I felt compelled to share it. I love not only the textural quality, but also the asymmetrical composition of the embroidered shapes. Personally, I would have left the wood unpainted, but I do appreciate the way the patterns in the wood pop in white, and I firmly believe in following one’s own desires in projects like these. The best part of this chair project is that you can re-create it yourself: The machine embroidery patterns are available through Urban Threads. Thanks for sharing, Niamh! — Kate

Have a Before & After you’d like to share? Shoot me an email with your images right here! (Low res, under 500k per image, please.)

The full post continues after the jump . . .

Time: about a week

Cost: about $130 ($90 for the chair, $20 for the fabric, $20 for the thread)

Basic Steps: The embroidery designs used on this project were modified to make a bigger impact on the upholstery. Usually our largest designs are about 10 inches tall, but for this project, we enlarged them to about 17 inches and used a special thick thread called Burmilana, which gave the stitches a wonderful, textured feel even when stitched out by machine. I discovered that it creates a ton of fuzz when embroidering, though, as stitching with this stuff seems almost like stitching with yarn compared to the usually thin and synthetic embroidery thread we use.

The chair was stripped down and painted white with a spray gun, and a lot of the inside padding had to be replaced because most of it had disintegrated. After seven hours of embroidery, the fabric was ready and upholstered on the chair using a staple gun. White trim was added to the edges to cover up the staples. It was almost a happy accident that the beautiful carved curls on the wood really came to life when painted white and mimicked the style of the embroidery. It really was the perfect chair for the project!

Embroidering on upholstery is very doable and really brings a beautiful quality to the fabric. Those without an embroidery machine can always replicate the look by hand, though it would take much, much longer. The fabric should have very little stretch, as embroidering and then upholstering with fabric can easily cause wrinkles if your fabric is too stretchy. The rest was mostly careful painting and lots of patience with a staple gun to get everything stretched and smooth. — Niamh

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  • Wow. When I first saw the before- I thought “what could possibly done with that god-awful, clunky chair?” Very impressive! Love the colors and embroidery.

  • The chair looks amazing! Love the choice of fabric and color of the chair! Very vintage but with a modern twist. Love it! Where was the fabric purchased?

  • how did you go about creating the embroidery pattern? is there a certain program you used? This looks soooo awesome. My mom used to have an embroidery business when I was younger but she outsourced the digitizing. It would be neat to see if that is something I could create myself.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • AMAZING! I’ve been dying to reupholster a chair and you picked such a beauty! I love ornate things and this is just lovely.

  • Positively beautiful-I am so inspired! Would you mind sharing the type/cost of machine used?!

  • I’m in love! I’m currently working on a pair of chairs myself and in hindsight wish I had thought to use spraypaint. The embroidery is gorgeous. Very well done!

  • What a gorgeous chair makeover…I don’t know anything about embroidery with a sewing machine, but this has inspired me to look into it! I absolutely love the pattern, and it mimics the carvings of the chair perfectly. Well done!

  • Thank you everyone! It was a really fun project, we’re so thrilled with how it turned out. To answer some questions, the fabric was purchased at a large discount fabric store called S R Harris. I’m afraid it was just on a giant bold labeled “upholstery: blue” so there’s not much helpful info there. It was helpfully buried behind 400 pounds of other fabric. Blech.

    The biggest designs are about 17 inches tall, it took a giant hoop! The process of creating them is fun and quite technical, a mix of artistry and science, but it’s what we love doing, it’s an art unlike any other.

    These designs were stitched out on our giant industrial Bernina machines, but if you have a home embroidery machine the look can be mimicked with the machine embroidery designs offered on the site, just a bit smaller. Those big industrial ones aren’t very home-friendly. It can of course be done by hand too, it will just take a good deal longer.

  • I think the upholstery is amazing, what a fantastic job on that! Goodness knows I would fail at that part. However, I think stark white on the frame is not doing the lovely ornate carving any justice. JMHO.

  • Wow. That’s quite a transformation. I love the “royal highness” design of the chair. With the makeover, it seems approachable and modern. It looks great with the desk too. Gorgeous. Great one!

  • Thank you for all the kind words! I second what Niamh said– it was a really fun project, we’re so thrilled with how it turned out. :)

  • Great post, but a word of caution: please be careful when you say things like “It’s been a while since we’ve shared a chair project, mostly because we haven’t seen anything particularly novel or noteworthy come across our desks” –you may insult some of your readers who have submitted projects. I honestly do not happen to be one of them, but I enjoy this blog and hope you won’t be too adverse to some constructive criticism. Thanks!

    • C.B. – Thank you for the feedback, and I admit it was a little harsh on my part. I apologize if I offended any readers with this comment, and I do hope it doesn’t discourage anyone from submitting projects to the site. We love seeing your work, and although we do have to be fairly cutthroat in our submission choices due to how many we receive, no project is too big or too small for us to consider. Thanks again C.B. for keeping me in line :) I really do appreciate it.

  • No prob Kate-I love you and your work! So glad you didn’t take my comment the wrong way. Thanks for the friendly response, too. :)

  • The wood carving pattern stands out a lot more in its original color, but I do love the way this turned out…I am one of those people who likes to repurpose an old piece of furniture and give it a new, quirky design.

  • As someone who has a grandfather who is a master carpenter… I nearly CRIED when I saw that gorgeous woodwork painted over in again… white. <> No no no. I LOVE the fabric you chose for the reupholstering, but why why why must you repaint such gorgeous natural wood? There was really no reason for it. It would have been more lovely had the wood been left alone to showcase the workmanship of the chair rather than paint over it. I don’t understand this apparent obsession with redoing everything in white — especially gorgeous natural woodwork. It’s an insult to the carpenter that did this work!

    • beth

      i think the reason is that they wanted it that way. i don’t think people intend to insult anyone’s work by making something more their style.


  • I agree with Beth!! The most wonderful thing about buying antique furniture is that they were made with gorgeous wood. In the before picture it also appears that it was in very good condition. All the wood needed was a once over with some wood renewal. White paint is so 70’s – I have been stripping pieces like this and taking them back to natural wood for some time now. What a shame.

  • I have to agree with Beth and Leah – This was a beautiful piece of furniture with a deep richness of patina, that is now lost to the world forever. The necessary stripping to bring the wood in all its beautiful glory, will lose much of what time and a whole history of home comfort have given If people really must do this sort of thing then can they please restrict themselves to repro pieces and not deny the rest of the world from such beautiful, never to be replaced items. There is no merit in ‘design’ that is so close-minded as to not realise the beauty of that which is.

  • We certainly didn’t intend to insult anyone by painting the chair. I am deeply sorry if we did. The chair is very well loved and used in my home.

  • I think everyone is missing the point here..this is “STYLE”…it’s going to offend, its going to WOW, not to mention its a BEFORE and AFTER…it needs to be dramatic! Everyone’s taste is not the same and thank God for that! But Jessica shouldnt have to apologize for insulting anyone over her project. She took a chair that was probably left and forgotten somewhere, put her twist of style into it and has turned it once again into a functional piece of furniture and in my opion…AWESOME!!! Im pretty sure the craftsman that originally created this piece would be glad to see that it’s not in a junkyard somehwere, or dishoveled in the back of a dark room but rather being used and brought up to date! Kudos!

  • Why anyone would paint ugly white over that gorgeous 19th century mahogany is completely beyond me. Beth and Leah are exactly right. This “makeover” is a tragedy.