I’m FINISHED!! Finally…my set of chairs are D-O-N-E!  I’ve officially owned them a month and to be honest some days I thought it would take five months before I got around to finishing both of them. I surprised myself!   I knew from the moment I saw these ’90s chairs that they would likely not become a matching pair because I just don’t have the room for them, or the place for TWO in the same space.  I designed one for our master bedroom and the other I decided would go to my oldest princess.  She deserves a big girl chair to read and relax in.  This tutorial features her chair.  I took more pictures of the process the second time around because I felt like I had a better handle on it and knew what I was getting myself into! 😉

I found several really good websites/blogs/pins about reupholstering, but nothing gave me enough insight and/or pictures that I needed to feel confident to take on such a huge and seemingly scary project.   Using only my will and determination I just went for it and documented it for all those who are thinking about giving upholstery a try and aren’t sure where to begin or what it entails.  I wasn’t that nervous to experiment because these were after all, “just practice.”  Those are the words I used to convince my husband that all of this was a fine idea.  He wasn’t completely sold but he gave the ok and his blessings.  (That’s how our relationship works…we communicate and NEED each other’s opinions to feel good about our own. It might be weird to some, but its just how we roll.)

These definitely did not scare me when I saw them for such a reasonable price at my local re-sale shop, but now I know I should’ve been afraid….very afraid.

Because I didn’t really know what I was looking for I didn’t take into account that these had this shell batting SEWN in.  It was crazy!  Just wait until you see it.
This is what I used for taking out the millions thousands of staples:
 You definitely need to use a large bowl to put all the staples in…I’m not lying or exaggerating…there are SO many.  And you will STILL be picking them up off the floor after you’re done.  I got this super cheap upholstery staple puller at Joann because I broke my small flat head screw driver during my second hour and lets be honest, no other tool does the job like the real thing-get one.  Also, do yourself a favor and get a really awesome staple gun, electric or even an air compressed gun which is what I used.  Your hands will thank you. 🙂
My Personal Disclaimer and DIY Mantra:  
I may state this over and over again, I am NOT a professional.  I am a rookie and make all kinds of rookie mistakes.  Nothing is EVER perfect in my DIY world and that is as it should be.  Don’t beat yourself up over the silly blunders you might make.  We WILL make mistakes and need to remember that we will ALWAYS learn from them.  Now, let’s get started, shall we?
First off, you will be taking the pieces of fabric off in reverse order that you will be putting the new fabric on.  I know…duh…but sometimes you just need to state the obvious so you remember after you are knee deep in the chaos of accidental torn fabric and staples.  I say accidental because you really need to keep the pieces of fabric in tact so that you can use them for your patterns.  These are the pieces you will be using as your guide when cutting the new fabric.   I accidentally tore some, so it was kind of a headache to pin them back together so I could have a decent guide.  Watch-yo-self.
The back had these scary teeth aka: tack strips holding in the fabric which are completely unusable after you take them out so don’t even think about using them again if your chair actually has them.  
Be kind to yourself and label each and every piece of fabric right after you take it off.  If you forget (which I did during the first chair experience) it will make your life crazy miserable.  
(pictured is the tack strip—and my dog. 🙂
Aside from just labeling which piece is which, make as many notes as possible on the fabric.  Mine had small cardboard lining that I made note of.  Write anything that will help you with the re-upholstering process.
 Pulling (with my foot hee hee)
As you can see there are lots of elements that go with upholstering a chair.  There is batting and cardboard galore.  I was able to save the batting and the large pieces of cardboard.
You will also be taking off the decorative pieces as you go.  Mine were screwed in or held in by the tack strips.  Remove the cording and set all aside. 
The following is where things got tricky for me.  The fabric was sewn into the batting so it was near impossible for me to remove without ripping it off.  I guess all I can say is to rip “gently?”  It was a pain to say the least… 
 See what I’m sayin’?  ugh.
Here is a glimpse of the mess and sheer magnitude of staples:
 Be prepared to get spread out!
Once you’ve stripped that chair down to it’s “undies” it’s time to cut the fabric.  Buy 2 more yards than you think you need because mistakes happen and you might need to re-cut a section.  I may or may not be admitting to said mistake.  Start with the largest pieces and make sure that your new fabric is in the direction you want it to go on the chair.  You should always be aware of how it will fit onto the chair, especially if you have a patterned fabric like mine.  I pinned the old fabric down and cut, giving myself about 3 extra inches on all sides….just in case.
**SIDE NOTE:  After I cut all of my fabric I painted the legs (while still on the chair) and painted the decorative pieces.  When everything was dry…I proceeded.
I added some extra batting to my chair because the original was kinda gross and I just didn’t like the shell style.  I wanted to give it a more contemporary look.  Got the HUGE roll of batting foam at Hobby Lobby and went to work.
 I did not secure the bottom but the seat cushion was going to make sure it stayed in place and I just stapled the top down.
 Here I used a knife to cut the remainder foam off kinda like shaping a cake. 
 All secure and the way I want it!  Time for fabric!
<sigh> By this point I’m exhausted but it’s time to put the puzzle together, tuck, tuck, tuck and staple!
(I apologize for the state of my garage, it’s a work in progress….ALWAYS.  And it’s project central!)
Here’s the back cushion stapled on the sides and behind the head rest.
You really need to get staple happy here so that it has NO chance of coming loose.
Obviously I had way more fabric than I needed, but better safe than sorry!  You can always take away but you can’t add to very easily.  I trimmed away the excess even though it was going to be hidden anyway.
I put the fabric on the arms next because my decorative pieces needed to be installed before I could go any further.
Next came the seat.  This was tricky because it was attached at the front, and well, it wasn’t a true cushion.  It’s meant to be covered and pulled tight and become one with the chair.  I did sew the corners with the my sewing machine which I had to do once or twice.  I’m not a fantastic seamstress so no pics of that but  here is a great tutorial for sewing cushions.  I will assume that most of your projects won’t have a cushion like mine, but more like the box cushion.  BUT…if you need any assistance with a three-way like mine, leave me a comment and I will try my best to help.
I think I got overloaded and missed a few pictures, and then a few started coming out yellow-ish.  Sorry for both.  Next came this side wing panel which included the cardboard insert.  Lots of tucking and pulling going on and soon you start to see it come to life and you press on!
So, ok…we are getting to the point where I’ve finished most of the chair and am in need of some cording /piping to make things look a little fancier and hide the boo-boos.  I DO NOT do this the correct/professional way.  I am impatient and fly by the seat of my pants.  I’m sure it will come back to bite me some day, but for now I’m dealing with it.  I used the original cords that the chair had and just put my own fabric on them.  I sewed close to the cord with my zipper foot.  But THIS is a good tutorial on the proper way to make the cording/piping.  Original piping was stapled….I used hot glue.
And here I am installing the back fabric with decorative tacks.  I only used a few staples at the stop, but the rest is all tacks which is challenging.  Is it perfect? No way, is it funky and cool?  Heck yea.  (Is it hot in my garage even with the door open?  DOUBLE heck yea. May in Texas, welcome y’all).
This gave me a lot less trouble than my first chair because I learned to try NOT to be too perfect or too uniform. Creating a cool funky design lessens the stress in my OCD mind. 🙂

I do not own a tack hammer, and even though I’ve thought about it my old trusty light weight hammer works pretty good.

Still trying to see if it’s even or not. 🙂 OCD.  

Now fold under the edges and staple down.
I had an issue with the decorative pieces on top.  The tack strips wouldn’t stick in.  Because I added extra padding, they just weren’t long enough.  I used a mallet and tried, and tried to pound those in.  It just wasn’t level.  I took the tack strip off and tried super glue….again, Lori…NOT level.  I was pondering and sweating over what to do because if I decided to forgo them, there would be smallish holes in the fabric that would be obvious.  My husband said, “you could use the nail gun to secure them, it would leave a small hole though.”  I love him for being Mr. Analytical because we just think so differently and sometimes I need a little push in the practical direction.  I thought “I won’t need to fill the holes because I can put a sparkly jewel on them!”  Now you’re thinkin’!  This IS a princess chair after all.  Don’t the jewels add a lovely touch?
Here’s the back…
AAAAAAAAAND here it is in my girl’s bedroom! 🙂  She loves it and feels so grown up.  I’m pretty stoked at my novice skills.  Can’t wait for the next one!  Wait….did I just say that???  ha!
PS.  Here is the first chair I did.  This one is pretty awesome too, if I do say so myself!  
I really, REALLY wanted this tutorial to be informative for the beginner DIY upholsterer.  I’m long winded/a rambler, but I hope that I gave you more than enough tidbits to start your project.  If I missed anything that you really want to know about, or if you have any questions whatsoever, please feel free to leave it in a comment and I’ll do my very best to help you out.  It’s scary and frustrating but completely rewarding when you have this beautiful piece of furniture sitting in front of your eyes. 🙂
Don’t be afraid!!!  You CAN do this.  YOU CAN.
Take care, y’all!

9 Replies to “DIY: Chair Re-upholstery Tutorial”

  1. Lori,

    Hi there! We love your blog and see that you have taken on a number of upholstery projects in the past. We are currently giving away a copy of Spruce. A Step-by-Step Guide to Upholstery and Design on our website and thought you and your readers might be interested! Feel free to share on your blog or social media and you are also welcome to share the project we took on.


    All the best,

    Karen June

  2. Thank you for the kind words Karen! I got to look at your blog today and am loving it! 🙂 I was most happy to include your giveaway and project post of Spruce on my blog today. Thank you for sharing with me ! I hope you'll come back to visit again soon. 🙂

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