31 January 2009

Reupholstering dining room chairs tutorial

The wooden frames of chairs, if well made, can far outlast the fabric that covers their cushions. It can be so expensive to hire a professional to reupholster them for you and your choice of fabrics will be limited by the company or contractor you choose. For $40.00 (there was a 50% fabric sale) and 2-3 hours of my time I reupholstered six dining room chairs. Here's how.

Supplies needed:

  • Staple gun with upholstery-appropriate staples (generally the proper size staple for upholstery is 5/16" or 8mm but I also like to have on hand the next size up or 3/8" (10mm) in case longer staples are needed)
  • Screw drivers - Phillips and flat head
  • Fabric scissors
  • Upholstery fabric

Supplies that may be helpful:

  • cambric (the thin nylon fabric that is used to cover the bottom of upholstered chairs to give a professional look, prevent staples
  • from damaging the wood frame and keep stuffing from falling out - you only see it when you turn a chair upside down)
  • glasshead quilting or sewing pins
  • pliers (for removing staples if you are removing the existing fabric or if you make a mistake)
  • an extra set of hands

1. Bring home upholstery fabric samples from your local fabric store to place in the room and compare to rugs, furniture, wall color, etc. The fabric should have little give when pulled end to end or side to side (don't bother pulling on the bias or diagonally). Appropriate fabrics include canvas, velvet, twill, thick upholstery-weight cottons, microsuedes, and flax/linen blends.

Here were the final candidates for my project - two are velvet, one is a thick twill blend.

2. Once you've selected your fabric, calculate how much you'll need and purchase it. (I like to measure the longest length and widest width of the chair then add 6-8" to each to giving 3-4"extra per side to staple or wrap around the underside of the chair. Depending on the height and size of your cushion, you may need more than the 6-8".)

3. Flip your chair over and determine how the cushion is attached. There are usually four long wood screws that extend into the cushion base. Loosen each screw, then remove the bottom ones, and the top two last.

There are four long wood screws extending into the base of the seat cushion that hold it in place. If you unscrew the top first, the top will flip over while you're working on the bottom screws and possibly rip a hole in the chair or cushion in the screw hole. Notice how in this picture the staples keep the cambric attached to the bottom of the chair and they don't touch the wood frame of the chair.

4. You have two options from here - use your new fabric on top of the old fabric (you can do this once) or remove the old fabric carefully by first removing the staples, then removing the fabric, evaluating the quality of the muslin beneath it and replacing it with your new fabric. (Muslin has tight weave and protects the foam or batting beneath it from stains.) Since my fabric is thin enough and in excellent condition overall, I'm using the new fabric on top of the old fabric (but next time I'll have to go the more complicated route).

5. Lay your fabric out with the right side facing down, then place the old cushion on top of your fabric from front to back (make sure the grain or pattern of the fabric is the way you want it!).

Before making any cuts, pull the fabric up around the sides to be sure you'll have enough to work with. Peak beneath the cambric to see where the original fabric was stapled and how often it was stapled. You can also see how the fabric was folded around the corners. Be sure to follow this as your model!

6. I like to begin stapling at the back of the chair first in the middle, pulling the fabric tightly as I go. It's best to start in the middle and staple out towards the sides since your corners will be finished last. I place my staples diagonally about every 1/2 to 3/4 inch. After stapling fabric to the middle of the back, staple to the middle of the front, pulling the fabric as tightly as you can as you go, then turn and staple the sides, from the middle out towards the corners.

7. Using the existing cushion cover as your model, fold the corners in tightly before stapling in place. If you need to trim extra fabric for the corners, do so before stapling and try not to conceal the existing holes for the screws.

8. Holding the corner in place before stapling. You could also use fabric pins to help you keep the folds in place but I find it unnecessary.

Place extra staples in the corner to hold the fabric stretched and folded in place.

This is what the underside should look like once you've finished. From here you can choose to add cambric or not. Since I'm covering over the existing fabric this time, I'm not using cambric but was careful to place my staples where they won't rub on the chair frame.

9. Replace the newly covered cushion in the frame and screw each screw in half way before tightening fully. You may want to hold the back of the cushion as you do this.

Before and after versions of the chair.

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