Reupholstery – It’s Harder Than You Think!

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To be completely honest with you, this reupholstery project was much harder than I thought it would be and I don’t recommend choosing an upholstery project like this for your first one!  I suggest mastering a simple seat cover before tackling a project like this.   I thought I had mastered “simple” seats, until I tried this!!!!  In this post I am going to tell you how I reupholstered my chairs, sharing with you the raw truth and my thoughts on reupholstering a chair!  FAIR WARNING – this is a long post, but I promise it will be worth the read!!!

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Now that these chairs are finished, I can honestly say, picking the color of the legs was the easy part!.  When I asked your opinion in the Upholstery 101 post – you weighed in and as you can see, stain won!  I have to admit I was secretly hoping it would!  Aren’t they beautiful?


TOOLS NEEDED: (Reupholster Process)
Upholstery – don’t skimp – figure high!  I bought a 3 yards total and had enough but this would have been easier with a little extra!
Nailheads (optional)
Straight Pins
Staple Gun and Staples – (I prefer HIGHLY RECOMMEND an air stapler)
Metal tack strips
Curve Ease/Ply Grip
Needle nose pliers
Under chair fabric cover (official name)
Staple puller – you still need it!
You may also need to replace the foam, thankfully mine was in good shape!
Aspirin – this project will give you a headache!

Let me remind you of how beautiful these chairs were to start with!  Back when I thought this was going to be an easy project! You can read about the junking weekend when I found them here.


Tip #1 – Don’t believe what they tell you on Pinterest or the internet, this is NOT easy!!  And if you think you can use cardboard, a hot glue gun (because you saw it on Pinterest) and some nail heads, your project will look like a 5 year old did it…..if you are OK with that then carry on!  If you want a piece that looks somewhat professional – read on!


Step 1:  You will need a large flat work surface for this first step.  Spread your upholstery out and lay your pattern pieces on top and pin.  If you decided to take a chance and buy fabric with a pattern, you need to make sure you line up the cuts to the pattern.  Making sure the back of the chair fabric, lines up with the seat and so on.  This will ensure your finished piece looks professionally done.  As you can see below, I chose a pattern!  Tip #2 – cut your fabric 2-3 inches larger than your pattern!!  I didn’t and struggled.

Step 2: I drew around my pieces with a sharpie first, but you totally could skip this step.  Tip #3 Totally skip this step!!  The marker will be in all the wrong places!!!  Cut out each pattern piece (bigger that the pattern) and be sure to keep the pattern attached or mark your new upholstery so you know which piece is which!  Tip #4 don’t cut the cuts and curves that went around chair legs – you will want to cut those once you have the fabric in place (I learned the hard way!)

Step 3:  Starting with the seat, lay your upholstery fabric over the seat (following your pattern guide for placement).  Once you have it where you want it staple it once on each side (temporarily) to hold it in place.   Everything I read on the internet told me to start with the back of the chair, so I started in the front (it’s what I do).  Once I had the front in place (leaving the leg folding and cutting detail for now)  Tip #5 I started on the front of one chair and the back on the other and believe it or not, I found it easier to work from the front to the back.  So ignoring what I read on the internet worked for me.


Step 4: Moving to one side of the chair seat, remove the temporary staple.  Working from the front of the chair, pull the upholstery tight and towards the back of the chair as you staple your way to the back of the chair.  Smoothing the fabric out and pulling it back as you go.  Repeat this on the other side of the chair.

Step 5: Starting in the center of the back of the chair, work the fabric from the front of the chair towards the back, pulling the upholstery tight and staple.  Next I placed staples on each side towards the edge.  Then continuing to work the fabric to the back, I finish stapling.  Tip #6 – when I say “work the fabric”  I mean, pulling where you want to staple with one hand, and firmly rubbing your other hand from the front of the chair seat towards the back, stretching the fabric as tight as possible. 

Step 6:  Finishing folds around the legs.  This part was tough!  Trying to figure out how much fabric to cut away, and were exactly to staple it.  I watched several online videos, however I still found it difficult and I know I didn’t do it correctly.  However, I figured my nailheads will hold down what I don’t get tight with the staple.  Tip #7 Now that my project is complete, I would have done this differently.  I would have used the same tack strips that I used on the seat back of the chair to hold this fold tightly in place. 


Step 7:  Folding and stapling around the back legs of the chair wasn’t as difficult because the finish fold will be covered by the seat back.

Step 8: Next I moved to the seat back (front) – have I confused you yet?  I started by laying my fabric over the seat back lining up the pattern with seat pattern.  Folding the fabric over the top of the chair, begin stapling at the top center, working your way towards the edge of the chair on both sides.


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Step 9: Now I started “working the fabric” (like I described in the seat) tight from the top of the chair pulling to the side, stapling as I work my way down the chair back (side).  Tip #8 Don’t get ahead of yourself and staple randomly down the side of the chair.  You will end up with a gap in your fabric and it will require you get out the staple puller and compromise the strength of your fabric if you tear it a little while pulling the staple……..which you will!


Complete this on both sides of the chair, without getting in a hurry and having the above situation happen!

Step 10: Securing the seat back (front) bottom… you are really confused!  Pulling the fabric tight and working it down to the bottom, pull the fabric through the seat to the back and staple under the seat.  Start in the middle and work your way to each side.

Step 11: Finishing the back of the chair.  If you want this to look “somewhat” professionally done, you will need specific upholstery supplies.  I used metal tack strips and curve ease.  Tip #9 Don’t believe what you see on Pinterest!  If you think you can cut out a piece of cardboard the shape of your chair, cover it with fabric and simply hot glue it to the back of your chair, you are crazy!  Hot Glue will never hold up for daily use and if you ask me, it will look like a project you made in your high school home economics class! 


Starting with the top of the chair, using the Curve Ease, start by stapling the Curve Ease just under the back top of the chair.  You should be able to feel the wooden frame, make sure you place it high enough to cover the staples from the front back fabric.  Place a staple in every hole of the Curve Ease to hold it in place.  Next, using your thumb press the gripper feet so they are almost closed.  Leaving just enough room to tuck the fabric in behind.  I used a small screw driver to tuck mine.  Once I had it in place I trimmed the excess fabric.  Tip #10 If you have fabric with a pattern, be sure to line it up with the seat front. 

Step 12: After trimming the excess upholstery, using a rubber mallet (I borrowed my husbands dirty mallet from the garage, so I covered it with a cloth so it wouldn’t mark up my new upholstery)  I started in the center of the chair and pounded the Curve Ease flat, making sure the upholstery was tucked in and securing it as I closed the Curve Ease.  Tip #11 Cut the Curve Ease after you have stapled it to the chair, making sure you have enough!


Step 13:  Using the metal tack strips to secure the sides.  Poke the metal tack strips through the upholstery (points up), allowing enough fabric so the tack strip can be “rolled” and tacked down securing the fabric to the side of the chair.  Tip #12 Search the internet for video tutorials on this.  I watched several and they make it look easy, and honestly it is not that hard.  You need to make sure you line up the metal tack strip at the top of the chair and allow for enough fabric to be “rolled” to cover the side staples.
The pictures above show the tack strip poked through the fabric and extra upholstery cut away and tucked under.  Now this tack strip need to be “rolled” pulling the upholstery tight to the edge of the chair.  It took me several attempts to get it in the right place.  Using the rubber mallet, start at the top of the chair and carefully pound the tack strip down.  Work your way down the chair.  If you attach top, then bottom, skipping the center, your tack strip will have “humps” in it!  You don’t want that!Once you master one side, repeat the process on the other side.   Tip #13  If your tack strip needs cut – find a strong man!!!

Step 14: Finish the back of the chair by pulling the fabric tight and stapling it to the bottom of the underside of the chair.  Again I started in the center and worked my way to each side. (I didn’t get pictures of this, sorry……bad blogger!)

Step 15: Cover the bottom of the chair with your “under chair fabric” to make the chair look finished and to hide all the staples!


NAILHEADS – I hate you!!!
I purchased this “chain” type of nailhead trim because it is all they carried at the local stores.  I didn’t really want to use it because I think it looks cheap. However, what I had read online, lining up nailheads and keeping them straight can be a real pain in the ass so I decided to give it a try.  That was before I found this awesome tool that promised to be amazing and holds the nailheads straight.  I was feeling a little cocky so I ordered it and a box of REAL nailheads.
I was so excited to use my new “keep your nailhead straight tool” and even more disappointed with the results!  I bent more nailheads than I hammered in straight!  These things are a pain in the ass, and that amazing tool – it sucks too!  I now own a box of brushed nickel nail heads and a stupid tool. I am sure I will find a project for the nail heads later.


So, I decided since I have the cheap chain nailhead looking stuff I would just use it.  First nail, beautiful!!!  Second nail……..BENT – (insert swear words!)  Remove it, try again……….BENT IT AGAIN…..(more choice words)  Remove it, broke off the damn top, now I am stuck with a nail that I have to PRY out……….are you feeling my frustration, remember we are only on nail #2!!!!  I finally got that out and tried it again and this time I hammered it in and decided it was OK to be bent and out of line.  Moving to nail #3 with very little spirit left in me, I was surprised when it went in like I was putting it in butter!  Beautiful!!  Same with #4 and #5.  Feeling totally confident, I continued working my way around the chair encountering more bent nails than straight ones and getting completely frustrated I decided to remove the entire nail head chain.
I told you this post would be long.   I am also going to tell you there is nothing easy about upholstery projects or writing blog posts attempting to explain the process.  I do however hope you learned something along the way.  I also wish I could tell you this was fun, easy and inexpensive, but I can’t.  What I can tell you, if you take your time, do your research and practice on some small projects, you CAN do this!!  These chairs started out in a horrid state and I think you will agree they turned out beautiful even though this process tested my DIY skills!!
Project Costs:
Chairs                                            $9.99 ea
3 Yards Upholstery                     $69.98
Metal Tack Strips                        $0.50
Curve Ease (4ft)                           $1.50 + 7.98 shipping (ouch)
Useless Nail Heads (1000)        $21.50 + 15.78 shipping
Stupid Nail Head Tool                $8.00 – Now in the trash
Chain type nail heads                 $21.99 – Trashed!
Under chair fabric                       $0.75
Staples and tools                         Free – we already had these on hand
TOTAL COST                               $169.46

Truth is, I could have purchased ONE chair for this price……..maybe, but I wouldn’t have the experience and you wouldn’t have learned anything or laughed at me along with way!  You might even be thinking you are going to try this yourself one day – so pin this to remember how!


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  1. Beautiful, well done.

  2. Beautiful, well done.

  3. Jodi, now that you are a pro, would you like to recover one for me?

  4. Hardly a pro – however I learned a lot!!!

  5. Tabetha Ruth says:

    Fantastic job Jodi! I always knew you would make them beautiful! 🙂

  6. Thanks!!! They were sure a labor of love!

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