Doing DIY projects can be great fun and a major stress relief solution. Upholstering a new chair or reupholstering an old one is a project you can do in less than a day. So, here’s a guide to upholstering chairs at home like a pro.
To upholster a chair, you need some essential tools and materials like foam, batting, fabric, scissors, tape measure, staple gun, and glue. Start by gluing foam to the board, cover it with batting, and staple down the fabric. Finally, finish it off by cutting excess fabric and adding welting.
In the rest of the article, we’ll give you a list of materials you’ll need for upholstering a chair. You’ll see how to upholster a dining chair and an armchair.
What You Need for Chair Upholstery
Depending on the project at hand, you’ll need different kinds of tools and materials. Here’s what a typical upholstery project requires:
- Needle-nose pliers (for reupholstering old chairs)
- Note Paper and pencil
- Marking pen
- Staple gun
- Straight pins
- Sewing machine
- Flathead screwdriver
- Upholstery fabric
- Upholstery webbing
- Upholstery thread
- Fabric glue
- Black, breathable fabric or landscape cloth
How to Upholster a Dining Chair
If your chair is old and you’d like to reupholster it, remove the old upholstery material by yanking the staples. Use a flat-tip screwdriver, pliers, or side cutters and get out the cushion material and the fabric.
Check if the old seat needs repairing. Fill up any gaps or holes and remove any stains with liquid wood cleaners. Staple or glue small cracks or replace the whole seat board with a new piece of plywood.
Use the old seat as a template, trace it around on the new board, and cut it using a jigsaw. Use a sanding block to smooth out any rough edges and give it the original seat’s shape.
Now, you can start the upholstery process.
- Trace the seat onto the foam and cut it. To attach the foam to the seat, you could use spray adhesive. Follow the instructions on the spray so that you get the permanent bond you want.
- Cut the batting. Make it larger than the board’s size, overhanging about 4″ (10 cm) on all sides. Cover the seat and foam with the batting and staple it onto the board. You only need one staple on each side to hold it in place.
- Add the fabric. Put the fabric on the working table with the wrong side facing up. Place the seat on it and trace it around wider than the batting and the seat on all sides. If you use patterned fabric, make sure it aligns correctly.
- Staple the fabric onto the board. Leave 1″ (2.5 cm) of space from the fabric’s edge. Start from the center of the front side so you can hold the fabric more firmly. While stapling, flip the seat over to make sure the pattern is aligned. With each staple, stretch the fabric slightly to give it a neat look avoiding dips and puckers. Drive a staple every 2″.
- Staple the corners. When you reach the corners, leave a 2″ space between the last staple and the corner.
- Snip off the excess batting. This helps you get the corners right and avoid lumps.
- Tuck the center of the corner. And fold the two sides under the board. It’s called a butterfly corner. You could do hospital corners if the edges of your seat aren’t exposed. Then, staple it down to hold it into place.
- Add the dust cover. You can use landscape cloth to cover the exposed raw edges of fabric underneath the chair seat. Fold the cloth’s edges underneath and staple it down 1″ from the edges of the seat.
Here’s a video tutorial that demonstrates these steps:
How to Upholster an Armchair
If you want to reupholster an old chair, you can use the pieces of the old one as guides. For example, after you remove the fabric, mark it so that you remember where it belongs. Take out any stitching to have a raw pattern to use as a template to cut the new fabric. This way, your job will be way easier.
If you’re upholstering a new armchair frame, you can use pieces of cardboard as templates. Put cardboard pieces on each part of the chair: the seat, arms, the backrest, and the back of the chair. Then, cut them out.
Lay the new fabric on the floor or a working table with the wrong side up. Trace it around with 4″ beyond the original measurements, and cut it. Don’t forget to pin the old fabric or cardboard to the new material to avoid sliding.
As you saw in upholstering the dining chair, padding involves a layer of foam and batting. So, if you’re reupholstering an armchair, see if you can keep the old padding intact. This way, you’ll save a lot of time and energy since all you need to do is to attach the fabric.
If you work with a frame, here are the steps you need to take in upholstering:
- To put a cushion on the seat, you’ll need webbing on the seat frame. Put each strip of webbing on the bottom of the chair frame, each 5cm apart.
- Staple every strip on one side and stretch it all the way to the other side. Secure it with a staple. Once you’re finished with one side, weave the other strips across the pieces you already secured.
- Use a stretcher tool to make your job easier and get better results.
Put the edge rolls on the seat, and the backrest’s outside edges give the chair a comfortable and look. If the foam or batting moves, the edge roll prevents the hard edge from being felt under the fabric. Although you can make the edge roll yourself, it’s better to buy ready-made ones to avoid the hassle.
The edge roll has a sewn part, called lips, which you put on the plywood’s edges and staple down.
Foam, Batting, and Fabric
Add the foam to the seat. Cut out the foam to match the seat’s measurements and glue it down to the seat with adhesive spray or hot glue. And trim away the excess foam. Cut the batting 4″ larger than the seat sides and staple it to the bottom of the seat.
Lay the fabric on the ground or table, the wrong side up. Put the template on it and cut the fabric. Please attach it to the seat by stapling it to the back of the plywood.
Repeat the process for the inside arms. Start with a layer of foam, glue it to the board, and cover it with batting. Staple the fabric down, and once it’s fully secured, trim any excess fabric.
Outside Arms and Backrest
For the outside arms, you need webbing. So, repeat what you did with the bottom of the seat and then cover it with foam and batting. Do the same with the backrest.
Spread the fabric over the back of the chair, drive one staple at the top to secure it. Pull the fabric down and through sides, and staple them down. Then, place staples every 0.25″. Work evenly on all sides when you pull the material, or the pattern will look crooked.
For the backside of the chair, you’ll need webbing. Then cover it with foam, batting, and fabric. Cut off any extra pieces near the staples.
Watch this video to learn the process step by step:
Finish off the bottom of the chair by stapling black, breathable fabric around the edges. Fold the fabric’s edges to give it a nice and neat look and cover the upholstery fabric’s raw edges.
Treat the Edges
Now, it’s time to cover the raw edges and seams to give your chair a finished look. It makes sense to have something to cover the edges because they’ll get pulled or frayed if they’re exposed. The most popular types of edge treatment are:
- Gimp: Gimp is a ribbon-shaped woven decorative, sometimes called “braid.” It has many different patterns, like wavy, scrolled, geometric, or striped. You can attach it using glue, tacks, or stitching.
- Nails: Decorative nails come in many shapes, sizes, and finishes. Nails can combine with gimp and give it more robust support since gimp may wear away from the fabric over time. Head-to-head nails are traditional treatments that accentuate the boundary between wood and fabric. If you want to cover the raw edges completely, without any strands of fabric showing, combine the nails with gimp.
- Welting: Also known as cording, it’s a cord inside a strip of fabric. Single welt and double welt are both common finishing options. You can staple, tack, or glue the welting on the raw edges. Double welting is more common as a finishing option for armchairs, while single welting is better to fill in the frame’s groove cuts.
You could use ready-made welting with similar patterns to your fabric. But if you want it to match the fabric fully, you can sew it at home. It’s pretty easy, and you can do it very quickly.
Cut strips of fabric 2″ (5cm) wide and in any length that you want. Sew the strips with diagonal seams to make a whole strip. Put the cord in the center, fold the strip around it, and sew it.
For double welting, use 4″ (10cm) wide fabric. Place the cord on one side of the fabric and fold it over. After sewing the first side, put another strip of cord next to it and fold the fabric over. Sew the fabric and cut any excess material.
Essential Tips for Chair Upholstering
Keep these tips in mind to minimize the chances of running into a problem:
- Always put your work on a working table or any flat and clean surface.
- Don’t throw away any upholstery pieces that you can use later, like webbing, padding, springs, or cardboard.
- While removing staples from old chairs, wear protective glasses and gloves.
- If you need extra cushion and comfort, you can add more layers of foam.
Folding and Attaching
You can’t avoid pleats and folds on the corners. The key here is to make sure all the corners look the same. That’s why it’s better to do the butterfly corner.
Instead of spray adhesive, you could use hot glue. But make sure the hot glue is of high quality and heavy-duty.
When you cut fabric and batting, always leave 2″ or 3″ over the original dimensions for folding or tucking under the chair, and you have enough fabric to hold onto when you staple.
If your seat is square, make sure to mark the front and back sides. This way, you won’t confuse the sides when you reinstall the seat.
If you need to take the pieces of a chair apart, make notes, or take photos to know which part goes.
Choosing Upholstery Fabric
Fabric is another confusing item of upholstery with a wide variety of it available. Your fabric buying decision hinges on many factors, not to mention design and color. Here’s what you should consider when shopping for upholstery fabric:
If the piece of furniture you want to upholster is subject to everyday wear and tear, go for durable fabric. You can find less resistant fabric for decorative items. Chenille, velvet, faux suede, tweed, and faux leather are among the strongest fabrics for high-usage furniture.
Upholstery fabrics have a double rub rating that shows the durability of the fabric. The higher the rating, the stronger it will be. The double rub rating test involves rubbing a piece of plastic over the fabric to see when it becomes threadbare. For example, if a fabric has a double rub count of 20,000, it means the fabric was rubbed 20,000 times before it wore through.
It would be best to look for performance characteristics, like being resistant to stains, abrasions, water, and UV.
If you don’t use your chair everyday, you can ignore the performance characteristics. This way, you’ll have a wider range of selections like silk or wool.
Color and pattern depend on your taste. But if your chair experiences regular wear and tear, it’s better to choose solid colors, which can hide stains and rubs.
For example, if you frequently use your chair during the day, a natural beige color would be perfect. It can hide the dirt and stains, and it’s easier to clean. Generally speaking, darker colors are preferred for these types of everyday use.
How Many Yards of Fabric Does It Take to Upholster a Chair?
Before going to the upholstery store to get the fabric, you’ll need to figure out how many yards of it you’ll need.
The amount depends on many factors like fabric width, pattern, and extras like welting or skirts. For example, welting typically needs an extra 1.5 yards (1.37m).
If your fabric is patterned, you might end up wasting a lot of material to make the patterns match. So, allow for some extra yardage. Nevertheless, you can minimize waste by carefully examining the fabric before cutting it and adjusting the directions.
Another important factor is repeats. Suppose a flower pattern has a 16″ (40cm) repeat. And you know that the flower needs to go to the center of the seat and the backrest. So, you’ll need to cut some extra fabric to reach that pattern. Depending on the size of the repeat, you’ll need up to 40 percent more fabric.
This chart will help you get a better idea of how much material you need:
As one of the essential upholstery materials, webbing works as a strong foundation for the seats and backs of chairs. It’s flexible enough to allow for a comfortable chair and strong enough to create a functional suspension.
The most common upholstery webbing materials are jute, rubber, and polyolefin. Jute webbing is the most common webbing material, but it needs coil springs to create more comfort. Rubber, on the other hand, doesn’t need coil springs because it’s elastic.
All webbings should be woven together to provide support.
Types of Stapler
You might get confused by the wide range of staplers found on the market. Deciding on which stapler to get depends on how often you use it and how strong you want it.
- Hand staplers: You might need to exert more pressure to use this type. Sometimes, the staples won’t go all the way in without a hammer. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t get good results using this stapler.
- Electric staplers: Electric staplers are excellent for high-volume stapling work. They’re highly efficient, precise, and convenient. Unlike hand staplers, they’re much easier on the hand, although you still need to exert pressure to get a proper staple.
- Pneumatic staplers: They’re suitable for high-volume work that lasts for hours. You can staple with just the pull of a finger and get a well-seated and accurate staple.
Upholstering a chair doesn’t need to be confusing if you prepare the materials and tools and carefully follow the steps.
The essential materials are foam, batting, fabric, glue, and staplers. You could use cushions for specific kinds of chairs, but if they have a frame instead of plywood, you’ll need webbing.
Cover the boards with foam, batting, and fabric. Cut any excess material and cover the raw edges with welting.