Monday, July 1, 2013

Armchair Re-Do

Once upon a time, I was very brave. I took on my first upholstery project (other than recovering seats).  

I found a wingback chair for $30 on Craigslist.  The fabric wasn't horrible, but it wasn't my favorite either. (The couple was getting rid of it because the upholsterer they had hired put the fabric on wrong-side-out. Whoops.)

After reading and reading about process on blogs and watched videos (I used a combination or tips from All Things Thrifty and Miss Mustard Seed), I decided I should give it a whirl.

I bought an 8 oz 4'x15' Blue Hawk canvas dropcloth (as was recommended by Miss Mustard Seed) from Lowe's and found Grant's heavy-duty staple gun with 10 mm staples.

I also had something indispensable: a helper. Namely, my mother. She brought some serious expertise to the table. 

And so it began...

As I had read everywhere, chairs sort of have layers, and the fabric on the bottom of the seat (like if you turned the chair over completely) was sort of the "top" piece.  This came off first, so I labeled it as #1.  The back was the next piece to come off, so it was #2.

To get the back off, you have to pry the tack strip away from the back. SAVE THEM! They will give you a nice, clean finished look when you reattach them later.

From there it was just determining which panels seemed to be next and labeling them so I knew what order to put them back on in.  My next pieces to come off were the side panels under the armrest (in the bottom left of the above picture).

Deconstructing the chair is not super difficult, but it takes a looong time to get all those silly little staples and tackstrips out. I took some pictures along the way just to remind me of how it looked before I tore it apart.  Deconstructing took me probably most of the first day.

Putting the chair back together isn't too difficult either, but it requires a LOT of patience.  Use the pieces you took off the chair as templates for cutting the new fabric. Start with the very last piece you took off (in my case, it was the piece that was on the very front under the seat cushion where I sewed the pleats).  

Then continue to the next highest numbered piece of fabric.

Position the fabric and trim if you need to, then reposition. This step is repeated with each piece, and it takes a while because of all the manipulating.

When you get to the piece covering the backrest, you have to be pull the fabric through the frame and staple it to the wooden part of the frame at the back of the chair.

These little boogers were tricky too. I'm not going to lie: I stapled the fabric best I could, but there is a large amount of hot glue holding these to the armrests.  The cord is also hot glued on to hide the other hot glue. Hey, I didn't say I did this like a professional might do it...

The last piece is the one covering the back of the chair.  Fold the edge of the piece of fabric over the tackstrip and use a mallet to get attach the fabric to the frame. Pull the fabric tight and repeat along the other side. (I wish I had taken a picture of this step!)

To make the T-shaped pillow, cut pieces roughly to size, use the pillow as your form, and pin around the pillow.  If you're using piping as we did, make sure the raw edge of the fabric covering the piping and the raw edges of the fabric pieces line up and face the same way as you sew the cover inside-out!

Lessons Learned:
1. All in all, there was no magic involved in the process, but it took some time. My mom and I worked on it together for a total of about 22 hours.  Maybe it could have gone faster if either of us had every added piping to something... or just reupholstered in general.

2. The 15' was almost not enough, so you may want to buy a bigger piece of canvas dropcloth or more fabric.

3. Having a 2nd person is so helpful so that one person can pull the fabric and one can staple.

4. Even though it took some time, the entire project cost me around $50. Not too shabby...

Happy upholstering!



  1. Lovely. You and your mother did a great job. This gives me courage to try

  2. This is the best description I've seen yet on how to upholster. Thank you!

    1. Thanks! I hope it encourages people to give it a try!

  3. Gorgeous! I wish I could sew well enough to attempt this - maybe with more practice? I'm definitely feeling inspired to try now!

  4. Good on ya, Girl! I'm impressed with what you DIDN'T sew (I'm such a traditionalist)--now I have courage to use all that canvas in my closet on a couple of CHEAP, bargain, NASTY-LOOKING but very comfortable wing chairs. I don't HAVE to make slipcovers... I can staple quite a lot of that fabric! THANK YOU!!!