Use these steps, tips and tools to reupholster a favorite chair and give it a new look and life.

That old chair in your attic has great structure but horrible stuffing. Or maybe the fabric is so…70s. Or simply too filthy to bring downstairs. Why not take a shot at reupholstering?

The first step is to determine whether your old chair is a good choice for your first DIY reupholster job. If it’s your first time, think twice about a chair that has tufting or pleats. Dining and occasional chairs are good starting points. Update with new colors and textures. If you want to add trends like corduroy, Australian textile or stripes and chevrons, be extra careful and confident. Or take a more conservative approach and use a solid fabric or simple print for your chair and a coordinating design as a pillow or throw. Choose a fabric that is forgiving enough, not too stiff, and certainly comfortable!

We’ve taken the simple approach here with a dining or occasional chair to get you started. Once you’ve mastered an easier chair, many of the principles apply to a wingback or slipper chair.

Tools You’ll Need

Let’s assume you have to strip all of the old fabric and stuffing first. For this, you likely will need a flat-head (and maybe Phillips) screwdriver and needle-nose pliers. For upholstering, you’ll need dense foam padding, batting, fabric, scissors, a permanent marker, a staple gun and staples and spray adhesive.

Strip Off the Old

Most dining and occasional chairs have padded seats that remove fairly easily. Turn the chair over and remove screws that hold the seat to the chair’s frame. It’s now easy to set the seat upside down on a workspace and begin pulling out staples with your flat head screwdriver to pry and needle-nose pliers to grab the loose staples. Then pull off all of the old fabric and stuffing, depending on its condition.

Add New Padding

If you want to add foam, cut a new piece with scissors or a carving knife. Hold the seat bottom on top of the foam to measure and mark a piece about one-half inch larger all the way around. Spray the wooden seat bottom lightly with adhesive and place the foam carefully on the seat in the correct direction. Next, cut batting nearly 2 inches larger than the foam with your scissors. Stretch the batting in every direction and staple into place, starting in the center of the front, then place a staple in the center of each side. Go back around to even and stretch it into place. Cut away extra batting.

Add Fabric

Make sure your fabric is ironed and smoothed out, and that you have the portion you want to use centered in your workspace. Lay the seat on your fabric with the right side of the fabric down. Measure the fabric to be about 3 inches larger than the seat bottom all the way around. Cut it with your scissors. If you have a pattern, place the top of the pattern at the bottom, or back, of the chair. That’s how your eye will view it once it’s back on the chair.

Staple the fabric in the center of each side first, while stretching gently. Then begin working toward the corner, but stop within a few inches of each corner. For each rounded corner, pull together a small portion of bunched fabric from one side into a tiny fold or gather and staple. Then do the same on the other side of the same corner. Alternate sides until you’ve neatly gathered the fabric for that corner, and then finish all of the corners.

If the back of the chair seat is square, create a fold, much like when wrapping a package. But make your fold line along the back edge and with no folds visible on the cushion top. Staple it in place. If you can’t remove the seat from the chair, this is more complicated, and you have to carefully cut batting and fabric at diagonal angles toward the back legs. Pull the fabric down and staple in place, cutting off extra fabric. You might have to add a decorative cord or trim to cover the edges.

Just screw the seat back into place, and you have a newly reupholstered and updated chair! If you’re reupholstering a set of dining chairs, think how easy this will be by the final chair. By then, you might be ready to take on a more difficult reupholstering project.



This post is adapted from the March 15, 2014 episode of Home Wizards that was released on iTunes March 16, 2014. You can find this segment during hour two of the podcast.