How to Reupholster a Chair Seat

Upholstered orchid chairs with nailhead trim pop against this blond dining table.

Ryan McVay / Photodisc / Getty Images

Overview
  • Total Time: 60 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5 to $10

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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Drill or screwdriver
  • Staple remover
  • Straight pins
  • Fabric pencil or chalk
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine
  • Staple gun

Materials

  • Upholstery fabric
  • Welt cord (optional)

Instructions

  1. 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.

    If you encounter a tack strip, a long strip of cardboard with tacks that hold the seat to the frame, instead of screws, just pry the seat off with a flat-head screwdriver.

    Unscrewing chair seat from the wood frame
    Unscrewing the Chair Seat. &copy Leah French
  2. 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.

    If the padding is in bad shape, or you just want a softer seat, you can add a new layer of batting. It's sold in most fabric and hobby stores.

    Pulling out the staples to remove the old chair seat fabric
    Removing the Staples. &copy Leah French
  3. 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.

    centering the pattern of this fabric on the chair seat
    Centering the Pattern. &copy Leah French
  4. 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.

    Weight down the old cover at the corners, and 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.

    using the old seat cover as a pattern to cut the new one
    Using Old Cover as a Pattern. &copy Leah French
  5. 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.

    stapling the new seat cover to the chair seat
    Stapling New Cover to Seat. &copy Leah French
  6. Complete the Corners

    Grasp one corner of the cover and pull the point toward the center of the seat cushion, then staple it. Arrange the remaining unstapled corner fabric into small even pleats, pull tightly, then staple. Make sure you don't staple over the screw holes. Repeat for the three remaining corners.

    stapling the corners of the cover to the seat
    Stapling the Corners. &copy Leah French
  7. Attach Welt (optional)

    Welt is often called piping or cording. It gives the seat a professional, finished look and adds a nice pop of color. You can buy decorative cording in fabric or upholstery shops or make your own.

    To apply the welt, arrange it along the edge of the seat and staple the lip (the flat edge) of the welt. When you turn the seat over, only the rounded edge with the cord inside should show.

    attaching welt to edge of seat
    Attaching Welt to Seat. &copy Leah French
  8. 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.

    finished chair with reupholstered seat
    The Finished Chair. &copy Leah French