Reupholstering the seat of a dining-style chair is one of the easiest ways to make a big change with little effort. This sturdy, comfortable ladder-back is perfect for the worktable in my library. The lines are simple, but the arms have an unexpected curve. Though the finish is nearly perfect, the seat fabric is boring and filthy. The room doesn't get much natural light, so something bright is best. A geometric pattern would work well with the lines of the chair, but a pattern with some curves will make it more interesting.
My final choice is a linen-look cotton with a bright botanical print. In this case, the simple cotton complements the oak. The birds in the pattern make it feel earthy rather than prissy, though it’s still a nice contrast to the rather masculine look of the chair. Piping the seat in berry-red boucle grounds the light background of the seat fabric, and adds a nice pop of color.
Equipment / Tools
- Drill or screwdriver
- Staple remover
- Straight pins
- Fabric pencil or chalk
- Sewing machine
- Staple gun
- Upholstery fabric
- Welt cord (optional)
How to Reupholster a Chair
The easiest way to reupholster a chair cushion is to remove the cushion from the chair, take the old fabric off, and attach new fabric around the cushion. Choose a strong fabric intended for upholstery for a durable, long-lasting piece of furniture. One yard of fabric can typically reupholster two standard dining chairs.
Remove the Seat
Turn the chair upside down, and unscrew the seat from the frame, using a drill or screwdriver. Make any necessary repairs to the wood part of the chair -- painting, refinishing, or tightening joints. Make sure everything is dry, not sticky to the touch, then reattach the seat.
Remove the Old Fabric
Turn the seat over. Use a staple remover to remove the old staples and fabric. If the staples are stubborn, pull them out with needle-nose pliers. Save the old seat fabric. You'll need to use it as a pattern.
Center Your Pattern
If your new seat fabric has a pattern, turn the seat right-side up and place the new fabric on top. Pressing around the perimeter of the seat, center your pattern, then mark the corners with straight pins.
Note: You can skip this step if your fabric doesn't have a pattern.
Cut the New Seat Cover
Turn the new fabric right-side down, and put the old seat cover on top as a pattern. Note the locations of your pins, and adjust if needed, feeling underneath. Line up the corner creases of the old seat cover with your straight pins.
Weigh down the old cover at the chair seat corners, then trace around the old seat cover with a pencil or chalk. Smooth out the edges with your hands as you trace it so your new cover doesn't end up too small. You can pin the old seat cover to your new fabric before tracing if you don't feel confident about smoothing it as you go.
Remove the old seat cover, then cut out the new one, using the pencil or chalk lines as your guide. To prevent fraying, use your sewing machine to zigzag or serge around the edges of your fabric. If you don't want to sew, fold tape along the edges. Press down your fabric if it's wrinkled or creased.
Attach the Fabric to the Seat
Turn the new seat cover right-side down. Place the seat cushion, also right-side down, on top of it. If you have pins to mark the corners of a patterned fabric, make sure they are aligned with the corners of the seat cushion.
Starting with the top edge, staple once in the center. Repeat with the bottom edge, pulling the fabric tight before you staple. Repeat with each side, and keep pulling the fabric tight before you staple.
Working one side at a time, staple from the center outward until the side is completely stapled. As you work, keep pulling the fabric tight and smooth the fabric underneath from the center. Leave the corners unstapled. Repeat on all sides until everything is stapled but the corners.
Complete the Corners
Grasp one corner of the cover and pull the point toward the center of the seat cushion, then staple it. Finish reupholstering the chair seat's corners by arranging the remaining unstapled corner fabric into small even pleats, pulling it tightly, then stapling it down.
When reupholstering a chair with rounded corners, you may need to make multiple pleats on each corner for a flat, smooth finish. Make sure you don't staple over the screw holes. Repeat for the three remaining corners.
Reattach the Seat
Place the seat on the chair frame and align the screw holes. Get the screws started, so the seat doesn't fall off once you turn the chair upside down. Turn the chair over and tighten the screws until the seat is firmly attached. Be careful not to tighten too much; you don't want to strip the holes.
Is it cheaper to reupholster or buy a new chair?
It is typically much cheaper to reupholster a chair than to replace it. When reupholstering the seat of a dining chair, only about 1/2 yard of fabric is needed. Adding new fabric to a fully upholstered chair requires more material, but often costs less than purchasing a new chair depending on the type and amount of fabric used.
How do I figure out how much fabric I need to reupholster my chairs?
One yard of fabric is equivalent to 3 feet long, but different fabrics can vary in width. Determine the width of your new fabric first. To calculate how much fabric you'll need to reupholster a chair, measure the surface of the current fabric and add at least 1-2 inches to allow for seams and potential fraying.
Can you reupholster chair over existing fabric?
Reupholstering over old fabric makes the process much easier. If your new fabric fits snugly over the furniture's original upholstery and is a darker color (or thick enough to prevent the pattern showing through), you can upholster directly over existing fabric.