There are two types of projects I really love: quick ones and easy ones. Upholstering furniture is usually neither of those. Unless you are doing a simple chair seat re-cover (unscrew seat, staple fabric onto seat, screw seat back onto chair), then upholstery projects are going to take time and effort. I pride myself on finding the cheapest, easiest solutions whenever I can. Ok, I don’t really pride myself on it. Truth is I’m just lazy and cheap. (Ha! I’m kinda kidding.) So if I can find an easy work-around to something and have it end up looking ok, then I’m all for it. I’m not going to lie to you, this project is not easy – or at least it wasn’t for me. But it was well worth the time and effort. Much of the difficulty came from this being my first try – I feel like if I took on another upholstery project it wouldn’t be as hard. Hopefully this tutorial will help make this process a little easier for you than it was for me!
When I decided to try my hand at reupholstering for the first time, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew it wouldn’t be a piece of cake, but truly wasn’t sure what to expect. So I just dove right in. There’s no “true” way to be lazy when reupholstering, but I at least eliminated the step of totally removing the seat cushion and all of the old fabric. Ultimately, the end result was this:
I’m going to show you how I upholstered these cane barrel chairs (which I posted about here), using the easiest method I could figure out. My goal was to recover them without removing the old fabric or disassembling the chairs in any way. I halfway succeeded at that. I’m not an upholstery expert (in case you hadn’t figured that out by now), and I didn’t want to totally ruin the chairs. I also didn’t want to do anything that couldn’t be “undone” just as easily, in case I ever want to change out the fabric again.
These chairs were a bargain Craigslist find (thank you Craig and your awesome list!). They were exactly what I was looking for, and they are perfect for our master bedroom sitting area. I love the size, shape, finish and… oh wait.. nope, not the mauve fabric. That can go. I opted for navy velvet, and actually found the perfect fabric in the form of a window curtain from Target.
Anyway, onto the process. Since I was using trial and error (and to some extent, you will too), I spread this project out over a few days since it took a few hours each day to get things “just right.” For instance, I would remove staples one day, sew cording one day, attach fabric one day. It wasn’t super quick. I have a feeling that the more times I do this, the quicker it will get.
Here are the steps:
1. Carefully remove cording.
Using pliers and teeny-tiny scissors, I carefully removed the cording, keeping it all in one long strand so that I could reuse it.
2. If tufted, remove buttons.
I carefully removed the tufted buttons, which I opted not to reuse. If you want to keep your chair tufted, you can recover the existing buttons with the fabric of your choice. (Just make a circle out of your fabric, then use fabric glue
to cover the original button.)
3. Remove fabric on the top part of chair.
Now, here’s where it got tricky. I had no choice but to remove the top/back part of the chair completely. There just wasn’t a way to make it look right from the back and front unless I completely redid it. The good news is, this part wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. After removing the cording, carefully pry each staple out and remove the front fabric first, then the foam and batting, then the back fabric.
4. Use the old fabric as a pattern to cut your new fabric.
Try to keep the old fabric in tact, and use it as a template.
5. Replace fabric and foam on top half of chair.
Face the front of the chair, and insert your “backing” fabric facing away from you inside the top back part of the chair, and staple it in place. Place the foam and batting in front of it, then the front fabric layer and carefully staple that in place too. Be careful with your staple placement! Try to line them up as best you can and position them inside the little divit that runs along the wood. You will be covering the staples with cording, so you’ll want them in a straight line.
6. Now for the seat.
Ugh. The seat. Ok, most people will remove the seat the same way I removed the top/back of the chair and use the existing fabric as a template for the new fabric. That’s a great idea and if it’s easy for you, then you should do it. However, my chair seat was not going to budge easily, and I started removing the fabric but it was taking a hundred years to pry each staple out. I finally decided it would be a whole lot easier to just leave it as is and cover it. The first chair was a nightmare. It was trial and error, with an emphasis on error. The hardest part is getting the fabric to fit smoothly and carefully cutting it to fit around the parts where the back/sides meet the seat. (I didn’t have the existing fabric to use as a template, remember.) It was bunching awkwardly and I kept cutting it to the point of butchering it. I finally found that it was best to a) not insert a single staple whatsoever until I have the seat fabric looking perfect and smooth and positioned exactly how I want it, and b) start from the back. I started pulling and cutting a little bit at a time until I could tuck the fabric around each support (? stick? arm? wooden thing?) where the back/sides meet the seat, then I would move onto each side, and finally the front. Pulling, tucking, cutting. Slowly and carefully. Don’t be too scissor-happy!
When you finally have the fabric looking smooth and tucked just right, then carefully go around with the staple gun
and staple it in place. If you have a pneumatic upholstery stapler, you are awesome. I for one simply used a regular old staple gun and an electric staple gun in some areas. As mentioned above, position your staples inside the little divit in the wood (if there is one on your piece of furniture), and in a straight line. You can use a small screwdriver or something similar to tuck any excess fabric inside the divit so it doesn’t fall below your staple line/cording. After stapling, trim away your excess fabric, cutting it as close to the staples as possible.
7. Make your cording.
First, remove the old fabric from the cording using a seam ripper or small scissors. Re-cover the cording using your new fabric. (Or just buy new cording to cover with fabric.) Now, most people would use a sewing machine for this. I would have been one of those people if my sewing machine
didn’t decide it hated my guts. You see, my fabric was super thick because of the blackout lining, and my machine rejected it and then promptly broke and I had to take it in to be repaired. (Sidenote, anyone in the north Atlanta area must check out Atlanta Sewing Center for all things sewing-related. They were amazing and fixed my machine for free since it was such an easy fix!) Since I was not patient enough to wait for my machine to be fixed, I hand sewed my cording. All 4 super long strands of it. Basically what you do is cut a 2 inch wide (and however long your cording is) strip of fabric. If your fabric isn’t long enough, you can just add more length with a second or third strip. Use a cording foot or zipper foot to sew your seam as close to the cording as possible. (This is where I hand sewed instead.) Cut away excess fabric as close as possible to the seam.
8. Attach your cording to the chair.
Now, I don’t have upholstery needles or knowledge, so I hot glued my cording on. Actually, the cording that was already on the chair had been glued on too. I just used my glue gun
, carefully covering the chair with old towels so I didn’t get any gnarly glue strings all over my newly upholstered seat. Just leave a small section exposed where you want to attach the cording. Go slow and work in small sections. Glue 3-4 inches at a time and attach the cording. Be sure to cover all of your staples. For the chair back, I started and ended the cording at the bottom so the seam isn’t all that noticeable. With the seat, I started and ended at the back of the chair. The cording is actually attached very tightly and it would be hard to remove it, so I’m perfectly fine with the fact that it’s glued on.
9. You’re done! Now go take a nap. You deserve it.
Now let’s look at a couple of photos of the final product!
Will you give reupholstering a try? If you have any questions, let me know and I will do my best at answering them!