How to Upholster a Chair (Part 1)

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Cane-Back-Chairs

Ever wonder how to reupholster a chair seat so that it feels cushy and brand new, not saggy or springy? After working on a few chairs and reading tons of tutorials I’ve learned a thing or two about putting together a nice soft seat. Upholstery can be totally daunting and scary if you’ve never done it before. The secret to a nice soft seat is in the layers that cover the support, whether it be coil springs, zig zag springs or no springs at all. This method will add a little cush to the tush and look beautiful in the process.

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I wanted to add a lot of pictures to help you visualize how to upholster a chair seat. I’m breaking it up into tow posts so I really go into detail without (hopefully) making your eyes glaze over. This time we’ll cover how to add new foam and batting to your seats, basically the guts of the chair. Next time we’ll go over how to do the fabric.

For any upholstery project here are the materials I like to use.

  • Upholstery tacks
  • Decorative nail head tacks
  • Tack hammer
  • Flat head screwdriver
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Scissors
  • Staple gun and staples
  • 2 inch foam (you can get thicker or thinner foam depending on the seat)
  • Burlap
  • Spray adhesive
  • Dacron batting

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Strip your chair frame by turning it upside down and removing all of the fabric and staples. There’s no real finesse here other than a lot of pulling yanking and plain old elbow grease. I also try and save my fabric to use as a pattern later. If the staples are really stubborn try prying a flat head screw driver underneath and use a little leverage to help loosen things up a bit. Pliers are also your best friend at this step, they’ll help you to yank on the fabric and pull out stubborn staples where need be. Make sure you remove ALL of the staples. It’s my least favorite, kinda tedious but crucial step and will make a big difference in the end.

If your chair has a wood frame like mine and you want to paint, now is the time to do it. Lightly sand, prime and paint the frame. Even though the paint is dry to the touch in a few hours it really take a few days for it to become totally cured and more durable. Set it aside and wait for a couple of days. You’ll be turning the frame upside-down and you don’t want to ruin your brand new paint job by moving to quick.

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When I I stripped my chair down I didn’t remove burlap that was covering the springs, it was in nice shape so I left it. If you need remove everything all the way to the springs springs start by stapling a layer of burlap over the top and stapling all around the top edge to completely cover the springs.

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Next take your 2 inch thick piece of foam. Attach four wide strips of burlap using spray adhesive to each side. Make sure the strips are stuck good and tight and spray the adhesive outside. A word of warning, everything the spray adhesive touches will become tacky, it’s stinky and tends to fly everywhere. defiantly spray it outside in a well ventilated area.

How-to-Upholster-a-Chair-3 Once the burlap has had a chance to adhere to the foam it’s time to put your foam onto the seat. You can cut the foam with a serrated bread knife to the exact size of the chair of it’s big enough.  In this case my foam wasn’t quite large enough for that, so I stuffed batting tightly all along the edges. It worked just as well.

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Now that the foam is on top of your seat you’ll need to cut out an opening for the legs of the chair so that the burlap will fit around nicely. Start by folding your burlap close to the chair leg. Then cut a “Y” shape into so that the two points of the “Y” just touch the outside corners of the leg.

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Here’s a little drawing to help you visualize how the cut should go. Make sure you go slow and not cut too much. Sometimes I’ll even draw the Y right onto the fabric so I know where to cut. Then pull the burlap through and tuck it around the legs

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When you have all four of the leg holes cut out you can start stapling the burlap. Start in the center and put a few staples, then move to the opposite side’s center, pull tight and staple a few more.

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Keep going back and forth pulling tight and even until the burlap is secured all the way around the chair.

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This will help shape the chair seat and give you a nice crown to the seat. Once the burlap is all secure nice and tight it’s time for a layer of batting.

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Cut a generous size piece of batting and lay it onto your seat. Cut the same “Y” shape around each leg as you did with the burlap. You can see here that I drew the Y right onto the piece of batting. You’ll never see it and it’s very helpful. Also it makes good practice for when you’ll need to do this step with your fabric.

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Now here’s were stapling the batting differs from the previous step. Batting is made up of multiple layers you’ll need to pull to separate your the top layer of batting from the bottom.

How-to-Upholster-a-Chair-9 Staple only the bottom layer to the chair but not the top, the same way you did with the burlap. Don’t tug as tightly on the batting as you did the burlap, since the burlap should be holding it’s the foam in place. You want the batting to be smooth and free of bumps. How-to-Upholster-a-Chair-10

Once your finished let the top part of the batting fall down around the chair. At this point if you have too much batting you can trim the excess so it only just falls below your chair line.

Now it’s time for the top fabric which I’ll be covering later in the week!

PS: Yes I always reupholster chairs in my living room. Especially when it’s too cold to go outside. ;)

Update: Check out part 2 of our How to Upholster a Chair tutorial here.

Linking up to Thrifty Decor Chick’s Before and After Party

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11 comments :

  • Jenna

    Thanks for the step by step! Just pinned it, will definitely be using your tutorial!

    Jenna @ http://rainonatinroof.com

  • Jessica@CapeofDreams

    Thank you for posting this tutorial. I am going to try to reupholster several pieces of furniture that I currently have in my house. It is nice to know that another amateur had success.

  • Jesse B

    This is great! I am in the middle of reupholstering this great chair that I found on Craigslist. I removed the fabric and was going to save it and use as a guideline, but it accidentally got thrown away!?! My hubby saw it in the garage and thought it was trash…so, this will be a great reference for me when I get up enough courage to take it on!

  • Tia

    Tricky project! Great job, though. I guess I should count my blessings that the seat of my chairs came off for upholstering! So much easier :)

  • Julia

    What a gorgeous job on the chairs! I love how you used a modern fabric on a classic, traditional frame. What kind of primer and paint did you use? how many coats? specific brand and color information would be very helpful for this furniture diy newbie! thanks!

    • Maria

      Hi Julia. It was just regular krylon spray paint and primer from Walmart. I think it took 2 coats of primer and 3 coats of gloss black paint. The key is to let the paint dry for about a week before trying to upholster them. Even though paints dry to the touch after about an hour it’s still soft for a while. Once the week passes they’re much more durable.

      Hope this helps

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