A how-to guide to reupholstering a chair seat with new fabric and foam.
You can learn how to reupholster an old dining room chair or a chair you bought at a yard sale into a useful piece of furniture. Even if you have no experience in upholstery and can’t sew, this project is so easy almost anyone can complete it. Not only will you save a lot of money reupholstering your chair seats, it is rewarding and improves the look of your home. You can easily change the fabric to match a newly painted dining room or kitchen.
Tools and Materials
• Stapler, manual will work, but an electric stapler is better, especially if you have several chairs to upholster.
• Needle-nose Pliers
• Small Flat screwdriver
• Phillips Screwdriver
• 5/16-in. staples
• Spray adhesive
• Batting, optional
• Cambric fabric – to cover the bottom of the seat, optional
Before you start reupholstering the chair seats, determine the condition of the chair frames. If desired, now would be a good time to refinish the chairs by coating with polyurethane or painting them a different color. See my article of oil-based polyurethane finishes.
1. Measure and Select the fabric
If the chair is fairly new, you can simply cover the existing fabric with new material. But it usually makes sense to tear off the old fabric and replace the foam padding, since most foam has a life span of only five to 10 years. Many fabric stores carry foam and upholstery fabric, but for the best selection and advice, start with an upholstery store. Many craft stores also carry fabric and padding, but the quality and selection may be limited. Consider the amount of use the chair receives before purchasing the fabric. Consider a heavier fabric if you have children or pets and a lighter fabric if the chairs are not used very often.
Turn the chair upside down and remove the screws that fasten the seat to the chair frame. Remove the old fabric by pulling out the staples with your pliers and screwdriver. Once a piece of fabric has been removed, you will be able to determine the total amount of fabric you need. Add an extra 2 or 3 inches to the piece you removed as the excess would have been cut away after it was stapled to the seat.
Depending on the age of the chair, the seat board may be made of particleboard, plywood, or on older chairs, wood slats. Typically old chairs will have been repaired at some point and the seat would have probably been replaced with plywood. It is fairly simple to make a new seat by using the existing one as a template. Place the old seat on a piece of 1/2-in. plywood, trace around it and cut a new seat with a jigsaw.
Tip: If you are working on a set of antique chairs it's a good idea to number the seats and the chairs so the holes line up when you reinstall them. Mark the front of the seat with a chalk line or put the letter "F".
2. Reupholstering the Seat
Depending on the way your chair was originally made, you may have several layers; the seat platform; foam; batting; and finally the fabric. Modern chairs usually omit the batting as the foam is usually of a higher density.
You may have to replace the foam if it is more than 5 years old, so save the original piece and trace it onto the new foam. Use scissors to cut out the foam pad making sure that it is about 1/2 inch larger than the wood seat. When using batting, cut it at least 2 inches larger than the seat. The fabric at least 3 inches larger.
Using a pencil, mark the center point on the area you have been working with. Make a mark between all four sides of the base. For example, mark the middle spot between the left and right corner, mark the middle spot between the top and bottom corner, etc.
Cut the foam to size with a scissors. Take the wood seat outside and spray the top of the seat with a light coat of spray adhesive. Set the foam carefully on the seat as the adhesive grabs instantly and you may not be able to pull it off. Cut the batting and stretch it slightly as you staple it into place.
Staple the fabric at the middle of each side and work toward the corners, stretching the fabric as you go. Stop about 2 inches from corners and leave the corners for last. It is important to pull the fabric tight, but not too tight. Turn the seat over frequently to make sure you are not distorting the pattern on the fabric. Stripes are the most noticeable so it is best to pull the fabric tight from front to back, and not so tight from side to side. Tug the fabric toward the corners as you staple the first side. Go to the opposite side and stretch the fabric across the seat as you staple it. Repeat this process for the other two sides.
3. Creating Corners
Create gathers in the fabric to form a smooth curve around curved corners. Work toward the corner from alternating sides. Then pull back the “ear” of fabric and staple it.
Fold fabric around square corners. If your seat has square corners toward the rear, fold the fabric against the back edge of the seat, where the crease will be hidden by the chair's back.
Use pleats to create a softer, rounded corner and one fold to create a square corner. Depending on the thickness of the fabric, you may need to cut away some of the fabric so that the seat can be screwed back onto the chair and eliminate lumps at the corners.
Trim away excess fabric as you work on corners. Before you screw the seat onto the chair, consider treating the fabric with a stain repellent if it wasn't treated at the factory.
Cover the bottom of the seat with cambric fabric. Fold under the edges and staple the fabric neatly into place. These staples will be seen, so try to keep them neat and organized.
Finish by screwing the pieces of your newly upholstered chair back together.