How to Upholster Chairs

Last week I showed you my newly redone kitchen chairs and now I’m back with an upholstery tutorial!TFP Upholstery 25

Here’s a basic overview of what you’ll need:

  • flat head screw driver
  • hammer
  • pliers
  • sharpie
  • scissors
  • upholstery or other heavy weight fabric
  • foam batting
  • staple gun
  • husband or other handy helper
  • Scotch Guard

Start by removing your cushions from your chairs.

Mine were attached with a screw at each corner and came off rather easily. Be sure to save whatever screws/clips you pull out so that you can put your chairs back together when we’re done!

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Now we’re going to remove the old fabric from each cushion. Most fabric will be attached with upholstery tacks (small nails) or staples so let’s start with upholstery tacks first.

Grab your flat head screwdriver and place it, flat side parallel to the wood, between the wood and the fabric at the base of your tack. You want to see-saw the screwdriver underneath the head of tack and use the leverage of the screwdriver and the fabric to loosed and pull the tack free.

If you have really old fabric like mine it may rip instantly, now worries, just go ahead and rip it completely off the tack so you’ll have a better view of the screwdriver.

(Sorry for the blurry photo – my handy helper wasn’t around to help at this point!)

TFP Upholstery 2Ahhh. . . . much better!

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If you have a few ornery tacks, grab your hammer and pull them out the old-fashioned way.

TFP Upholstery 4Onto staples! If your fabric is attached with staples you’ll want to use your flat head screwdriver for a tap-and-loosed approach and then use your pliers to pull any staples that break or need a little extra encouragement. I found it easier to enlist the help of my handy husband, Phillip (aka, he’s does the hard work around here).

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Throw away all that nasty fabric and be sure you pick up all the little pieces of upholstery tacks and staples, they are not fun to step on. And if you feel like you need a tetanus shot you’re not alone!

You’ll then be left with a wooden seat bottom and whatever kind of padding was underneath. Next you’ll need to determine how gross the padding is and whether or not you want to reuse it. For me, I kept the old padding and added some batting to it (more on that later). Just trust your gut – it never hurts to start fresh.

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*Bonus Tip: after I pulled all of my tacks/staples out, the bottom of my seat cushions looked like they’ed been to the gun range. I grabbed my sharpie and circled the hole that I was for attaching the seat to the chair. This helped me not cover it with fabric and easily reassemble my chairs.*TFP Upholstery 7Now it’s time to densify! Is that a word? I don’t think so. . . .

Back to the chairs, my cushions measured about 14″x15″ at the widest point so I chose this densified batting that was on sale at Hancock’s and this floral print which also made an appearance on my recently added, Kitchen Command Center.TFP Upholstery 24

Before you can attach your new fabric, you’ll need to cut your batting down to size.

Place your seat bottom, top down, on the batting, trace it with your sharpie and trim the excess.

I cut on the outside of my sharpie lines, knowing that I could always come back and trim more later. I also cut batting for each specific seat bottom. In theory they should all be the same size but I wanted to be double sure that everything fit perfectly.
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Now it’s time to staple! Lay your fabric, print side down on a smooth surface (I used my living room floor). Next, layer the batting and then the seat bottom, again, top side down. Grab your staple gun and get ready!

TFP Upholstery 8Start at the back of the cushion and secure the fabric with one staple in the middle (just eye ball it).

TFP Upholstery 10From there work your way to the edge and repeat for the front edge.

As you staple, it’s a good idea to flip the entire cushion over to make sure the tension is correct. You want it to be tight but not look strained. When you first start, you’ll probably want to turn the cushion over after each staple but as you go you’ll get the hang of it and only have to check once per side (or so).

TFP Upholstery 9See what I mean?

TFP Upholstery 11Now comes the tricky part, the corners.

You’ll want to play around with your fabric and figure out the best way to fold them so they’ll look finished and professional. My advice – find something that works and go with it. Don’t feel the pressure to make it perfect with some kind of hoyty toty fold!

For my fold, I took the piece coming from the back (or front) side and folded it first meaning that the side that is already attached to the wood goes on the bottom. I then took the side piece (not yet attached) and made a top, pretty fold. Clear as mud?

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Staple 1 corner and then work your way toward the other corner, picking up the slack as you go and tucking it into the 2nd corner. Repeat on the other side.

After stapling the corners, my seat bottom looked like this. At this point you want to trim off the excess fabric, remember those holes we circled with the sharpie? We want all of them to show!TFP Upholstery 13

Flip it over and the top will look like this. Give it a few coats of Scotch Guard and you’ll be ready for reassembly!TFP Upholstery 14So there you have it! What chairs are you going to upholster? Be sure to share your finished product, I’d love to see what you create!

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