How to Reupholster a Chair in 10 Easy Steps

Your chairs are the perfect shape and size, but there's a problem. Maybe they don't match your updated decor. Perhaps they're worn in a way that looks a little less vintage and a little more beaten up. If you love them too much to see them go, there's an easy solution. If you're handy, you can always reupholster the chairs. It's a fun DIY project that allows you total control over the end result. It's a little time consuming, but it isn't so difficult that people with basic knowledge of simple tools and a little patience couldn't do the job!

1. Gather Your Tools

Before you begin to reupholster your chair, make sure you have everything you need. Keep your tools handy so you won't need to stop for a run to the craft store in the middle of the project. 

  • Large fabric scissors
  • Large flathead screwdriver
  • Needle-nose Pliers
  • A loaded staple gun (size ⅜ staples usually do the trick)
  • Something to write on and something to write with
  • Straight pins for fabric
  • A sewing machine
  • A fabric pen or marker 
  • A thin piece of chalk

2. Prepare Your Materials

The next thing you'll need to do is get the chair materials ready. Choosing the upholstery fabric to match your decor is the fun part. Everything else is standard procedure. 

How much of each material you need will vary based on the chairs' size and the number of chairs you're reupholstering. If you're not sure how much you need, round up. It may help to deconstruct one chair first and take a look at the total fabric being used. 

Here are the standard upholstery materials: 

  • Upholstery fabric
  • Sheer black fabric (to finish the underside of the chair)
  • Chair batting (most chairs will require batting about ½ inch thick)
  • Upholstery thread (thicker than normal thread)
  • Welt piping 
  • Tack strips

Depending on the way you approach the project and the style of the chair, you may also want nailhead trim, upholstery tacks, and fabric glue. 

3. Take Off the Old Fabric

In order to rebuild the chair, you must first deconstruct the chair. If you're worried you won't be able to get it back together again, snap a bunch of photos on your phone before you start tearing the fabric off. Taking photographs of the seams will give you a frame of reference when you begin to put the new fabric on. 

Start by removing the black fabric from the bottom of the chair. You should then be able to remove the fabric, starting from the underside and working your way up. Take care not to rip or slash at the fabric. You want it to keep its right shape and size so you can use it to make a pattern for the new upholstery. 

As you take the pieces off, use a marker or a pen to write directly on the fabric where it came from. You won't forget how the pieces come together if you use them to create a functional diagram. When you take off the tack strip and the welting, save them. You can replace them with tack strip and welting of identical measurements. Set all the marked pieces aside.

4. Tear Off and Replace the Old Batting

There are two reasons you may want to remove the batting. If it's stained, worn, or in bad shape, you'll obviously need to replace it. You'll also need to take it off if you want to sand down the chair and repaint it. If the batting is in good condition and you want the chair's frame to remain the same, you can skip this step. 

If you plan to sand and paint the frame, do this first. You won't be able to put the new batting on until the frame of the chair is dry. Drying might take a whole day. If it does, go ahead and create your patterns and your welting while you're waiting. You can proceed when the chair is dry.

Start by replacing the batting on the back of the chair. Cut it to the proper size and shape, and use the staple gun to affix it. If the staples leave dents in the batting, this is easy to fix. All you need to do is grab and fluff the batting over the top of the staple. The staple will become concealed within the batting.

When the back is done, put the batting on the seat. Tucking the edges will help the seat of the chair retain a nice, neat, rounded shape.

5. Create a Pattern for The New Fabric

To create a new pattern for the fabric, all you need to do is trace the old pieces onto the back of the new fabric with your chalk. Chalk won't stain and can easily be dusted off when you're done. Pin the pattern pieces in place to keep them from moving around. Cut the pieces you've traced, leaving a few inches of extra space in every direction to make the fabric easier to staple.

6. Attach the Fabric to the Chair

Lay the pieces of your pattern onto the chair where they go, using pins to hold them together. Once you see the shape come together the way it's supposed to, it's time to pull the fabric taut and staple it to the apron of the chair seat. Placing the staples in the back of the chair where they'll be covered by the back panel is ideal - the fabric will be held securely and no one will be able to see where it was affixed. 

7. Create and Sew the Welting to the Chair

The old pieces of welting will indicate how long the new pieces of welting can be. Then, begin cutting two inch bias strips to equal the length of the welting. Sew them together diagonally, and cut the excess to include ½ an inch extra for the seam allowance. Then, fold the strip around the welting cord and sew it together. Most reupholsterers do this with their sewing machine's zipper foot, as the dimensions are similar to a zipper. 

Pin your side panels to the seat fabric. You can make your measurements for where your welting should go around the bottom of the seat apron. Fold the end of the welting under and sew it around the panels. 

8. Put the Sides Together

Hold the side panels up to the seat of the chair, and staple the welting in place around the seat of the chair. Fit your tack strip to the panel top against the welding and staple it on. Fold the panel securely over the tack strip and then pull the panel tight, stapling it in place along the underside of the seat. Smooth the fabric out along the bottom. You can cut small notches in the excess fabric if that makes it easier to tuck and smooth the bottom. Then, use a flathead screwdriver to tuck any excess fabric in. 

9. Put the Back On

Position the back panel at the top of the chair and fold it down to cover the very top of the chair back. Place and staple a tack strip on the back of the chair. Fold the back panel over the tack strip and pull it down nice and taught, folding it back down to the underside of the chair. Staple it securely and tightly at the bottom, along the edge of the underside. 

Trim off the excess fabric hanging from the bottom of the chair. It doesn't have to be completely perfect. If you're having a difficult time trimming the excess without compromising the stapling, it's better to leave some excess there or tuck it underneath itself with the flathead screwdriver. 

The last thing you want to do is cut too much, ruin a panel of fabric, and have to start again. Always err on the side of caution and remember that it's better that the fabric be secure on the visible parts of the chair. Most people will never look at the underside of the chair, so if it's not pretty, don't panic. 

10. Finish the Bottom of the Chair

Use the piece of fabric that used to be on the bottom of the chair to trace and cut a new piece of black fabric. Pin it in place on the new fabric, trace it with chalk, and make your cuts. Then, neatly staple the new black fabric over the underside of the chair. You can tuck the edges in or use fabric glue to prevent the look of fraying or tattering at the edges of the black fabric. 


If you can't find the right accent chair, you can always try to make it! Reupholstering chairs is a bit of an undertaking, though, especially if you're working on a whole set or if you're new to the intricate world of upholstery. While this is a great project to do to restore an old chair you have an attachment to or for making a repair in a torn or ripped chair, there's a reason there are upholstery shops and professionals who do this type of work. 

Instead of trying to master a whole trade in one day, consider browsing Whom's collection of custom made accent chairs and lounge chairs. Made sustainably in America, these chairs are good to go to serve your comfort and your style! So come browse Whom's collection of high-quality furniture. If you don't find what you like, by all means, take a shot at reupholstering that old armchair in your attic and give it some new life!


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