Back in October, my 22 y/o daughter Andrea came to me and said “Mom I need you to help me reupholster some dining chairs as a Christmas gift for my mother-in-law”. I kindly said “I don’t know how to reupholster chairs, Andrea”. She said “Mom!, you’re a sawdust sister! What do you mean you don’t know how to reupholster dining chairs?”
That girl. She’s a hard one to say “no” to. Most likely because of her sweet nature and her brown eyes. I can’t believe she’s already been married a year.
So I gave in and said “Ok let’s try it”. And we did. I have to say, as simple as this might seem, reupholstery takes time and patience, but it’s SO worth it. It can save you hundreds of dollars to do it yourself! I took a lot of pictures to show you the process. Maybe a few too many, so scroll on down if you get frustrated :). I tend to over-explain things! Bottom line, I know that YOU can do this, because I did it, and I had NEVER done it! I am SO excited as I type this!!!
First of all, I didn’t just wing it (if the chairs were mine I probably would have!!). To learn the basics I spent a couple of hours at Jack’s Do It Upholstery in Salt Lake City. Big shout out to them! The owner, Jack, is my friend Jen’s dad. Jen took me on took a tour of the place and I watched while they did amazing things! Jose, one of the employees, was awesome at teaching me how to staple the fabric on the seat. Good thing I speak Spanish or else I wouldn’t have learned much :). I asked Jose a lot of questions. He was so patient. We did one of the chairs together (meaning he did 90% and I did the rest) After that I was on my own for the other 7 chairs.
Jen showed us how to cut the fabric. Be sure and cut straight, especially if your fabric has a pattern. Leave about 3 inches all the way around, for stapling. A standard size dining chair will typically need a 27″ square of fabric. 3/4 yard should cover two seats.
Here are some reupholstery tips from Jen and Jack:
- Choose polyester fabrics over cotton, they are much more durable.
- Use a pneumatic staple gun or electric if you are on a budget. (I used a $30 electric staple gun from Lowe’s)
- 3/4 yard will cover 2 chairs
Reupholstering the seat
Alright, here we go. I first removed the seat from the chair frame using a screw driver. It was attached with only 4 screws. Then we removed the staples from the bottom of the seat and took the existing fabric off. This part was not very fun. This became Andrea’s job, hehe…You can use a staple puller and some needle nose pliers (pics below), and just pull those staples off. If a staple breaks and part of it stays stuck in the seat you can pound it in with a hammer (Jen’s advice). Be careful doing this!.
We opted to keep the existing foam but flipped the wood seat over so we would have clean wood to screw into once we reattached the seats (Jack’s advice).
1. First, draw a line down the middle of the seat (top to bottom) to mark the center. You can (sort of) see the line I drew in the pic below. This line will help you staple keep the pattern straight. If you are using a solid color drawing the line isn’t necessary.
2. Fold the fabric over the seat and pull fairly hard, keeping the fabric straight underneath the seat. Place one staple on the line. Staple again on the opposite end.
3. Staple the sides next. Remember to pull the fabric tight before you staple. Now your fabric is on pretty good and straight with only four staples.
3. You will staple ONE of the corners next. Pull the tip of the fabric from the corner down tight and staple once in place.
4. Now you will staple from the middle staple and towards the corner that you just stapled. Always pulling tight and making sure you smooth out the fabric along the outside edge of the seat.
5. Do the same thing with the piece on the other side of the corner always working from the middle staple to the corner.
Tip from Jose: Always staple from the middle to the corner. Don’t “finish off” the corner until both sides adjacent to it are stapled first. This makes it so all wrinkles can be smoothed out and tucked in the corner.
6. Continue on, always going from the middle staple towards a stapled corner. Here’s a progress pic.
You can cut the excess fabric as you go, especially as you are finishing off the corners it helps to keep the bulk down. Before you know it you’ll be done and ready to attach the piping!
Attaching the piping
Jen sewed the piping for us (bless her!), and Jose taught me how to staple it on. Here is a video tutorial I put together with my sister!
Staple the piping super close to the seam around the edge of the seat, close enough so that the seam won’t show but the piping will.
Always start on the back of the seat so your seam will be less visible. See how I’m holding fingers on the pic below? That’s how Jose taught me to do it so that the piping will stay straight as you go. Hold, slide your fingers, and staple around the entire edge of the seat. No need to worry about matching the pattern. It is pure coincidence that the patterns kind of match on the picture!
Turn your chair over periodically as you go, to make sure the piping is visible but the seam isn’t.
Once you are ready to finish, cut the excess close, so the two ends meet close together but not overlap.
To finish you can cover the entire thing with black mesh. This is optional. This gives the seat a clean look and won’t look so scary when you turn your chair upside down (Jose’s advice). Just a few staples will keep it in place.
Done and done! Now do it a few more times until all your chairs are done! 🙂 It took me about 45 minutes per chair. Maybe closer to 30 minutes as I got more practice!
Once I finished we attached the seats back on and admired our work. Seriously, so rewarding! And to think of all the money we saved! Andrea’s mother-in-law loved her Christmas gift!
I am bummed that I didn’t take any before pictures of these chairs. Trust me, they look a lot better now than they did before. Years of wear, spills, and stains can make you think you need new furniture. But now this classic, traditional dining set is as good as new and ready for many more years of use!
Please let me know if you have any questions at all. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll ask Jen! 🙂
Thanks for reading everyone!
This Post Has 30 Comments
I’ve been re-upholstering chairs for a while now, and never knew to start in the middle and work to the ends. Makes perfect sense, and creates a more polished look. Duh! Thanks for this tutorial – you taught an old dog a new trick. 😛
Yay! I bet I could learn a trick or two from you! Thanks for reading!
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Thanks for the tutorial. My chair already has a welt. I want to reupholster because of the stains. Can you recommend some fabrics that are good for upholstery and stain proof/resistant, and where to find them? Should I upholster over the existing fabric? What do I do with the existing welt? Thanks in advance.
Hi! Thanks for stopping by! If it were me I would remove the fabric and make new piping welt to match your new fabric. If you’ve had a lot of spills you may need to replace the foam too, but you won’t know until you see what condition it’s in. As far as fabric choice my friend Jen says to stay away from cotton. If you go to a fabric store go to upholstery fabric section and choose something that feels tough to the touch but still flexible enough to sew and maneuver.
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Janice, Thanks so much for taking the time to document your experience for the rest of us. I have reupholstered several dining room chairs in the past and its always fun to see how someone else does it. I truly appreciate the valuable insight you have garnered and passed along to all of us. Thanks again for a tremendous job and I look forward to seeing more of your creativity online. God Bless!
Hi Tom! Thank YOU for taking the time to comment with such kind words! I’m glad you enjoyed the tutorial.
Your website and YouTube video have been the most helpful to me of all that I’ve found. You two are fantastic and I thank you very much.
I’m an avid sewer/quilter. A neighbor asked me to recover her dining room chair pads. Now I know exactly how to do it. The old ones even have 2 rows of piping (top and bottom) and the piece is stapled to a wooden base. I love your tip about make the yards of piping out of a 12″ square of fabric. That’s amazing.
Thank you for the sweet comment. I’m so glad you found the tutorial helpful!
do you remember the fabric you used for this?
I’m sorry Kelli, I don’t! Jen gave me a deal on it and I just picked it from her stash!
What is the size of welting to use to pipe around the chairs? I have 6 chairs from one of those 1950s dinette sets. I am using piping the same way you did, but I am going to order it and want to know what size to order.
I’m pretty sure we used 3/16″! Good luck on your project!
What type of foam should I use to reupholster my dining room chairs and how much would I need per standard chair? I’ve never reupholstered anything before but I’m willing to try. Also, where can I buy the foam. We have a Joann’s store close by and I can order off the internet.
Thank you so much for your help.
I’m sure you could buy it a Joann’s. ITo determine the right size, I would first remove the foam from your existing chair and measure the thickness. You could even take it into Joann’s and see which is the closest match. Good luck on your project!
I’m going to reupholster my dining chairs. So glad I found your site. Will the 3/4 yard for two chairs include enough fabric to cover the piping or do I need additional fabric for that?
The 3/4 doesn’t include the piping. Good luck with your project!
I find I would like to reupholster my chairs but change out the wooden plywood for something with a bit of flex. Do you have a tutorial on that.
Sorry I do not 🙁
Thanks for stopping by!
You’ve probably already finished this project (or not) but for future readers — don’t do this! You *could* in theory by cutting out the center of the chair using a jigsaw and then stapling furniture grade webbing in a lattice pattern over the hole. Then you recover the seats.
I recently spent hours researching how to replace the worn out webbing in my current dining chairs. I bought very sturdy replacement materials as well as the tools needed to stretch the webbing and staple it into place. I thought I had done a very good job but after a couple months the chairs felt saggy again. I just this week took a seat apart and half my webbing had torn free from the staples! So I am actually in the process of just buying new plywood and cutting new seats with my jigsaw and skipping the webbing. Ugh! As if it wasn’t a big enough pain to recover them once… I am now doing it twice! Leave webbing to the professionals!
Hi Heather, Thanks for your input. This project was done and finished around 4 years ago exactly as I outlined it and the chairs are still looking great with no sagging. I understand that these DIY projects can go sideways real quick but wanted to let you (and other readers) know that I had a positive outcome.
Glad it worked out! Just out of curiosity, did you go with webbing and staple it into place? Did you use the webbing stretching tool? i am wondering if that was my problem. Maybe I made the webbing too taut and it ripped free under pressure. Oh well…. I am still switching out for all plywood but I like really firm seats! lol Thanks for your update!
Hi Heather! I didn’t use any webbing. I simply removed the old fabric and reupholstered the existing seat made from particleboard. All of the tools I used are pictured in the post.I think going from webbing to plywood is a smart move!
Great tutorial! I just have a quick question about the ends of the piping. Do unfinished ends just butt up to each other? You don’t need to finish or glue them in any way? Thanks.
Hi Kristin! I’m glad you found the tutorial useful! That’s right, the ends just butted up next to each other. No glue. I usually avoided the ends butting up in a corner. Take care!
Hi. When using a patterned fabric, should each chair look exactly the same? Should the pattern repeat on each chair? I’m using a tan fabric that has random abstract lines that move across it. Thanks for your help.
Hi Diane, I would say not necessarily. The look will be cohesive because you’re using the same fabric. Maybe lay the fabric on loosely and see how it looks and decide from there. Good luck!
This was very helpful. I was going to take my chairs to an upholsterer because of the piping but after reading and watching your video, I am going to do this myself. Thank you so much for sharing the step by step details.
So glad you found it helpful!