How to Reupholster Outdoor Patio Chair Pads and Cushions

Patio furniture
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  • 01 of 11

    Patio Chair Pads: Sending Out an SOS

    Reupholstered patio chair pad. © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    When the cushions and upholstery of your outdoor furniture wear out, your first impulse might be to replace them or have them professionally reupholstered. But who needs another expense? No sewing skills are needed for the fairly easy task of replacing the padded seat of a wrought iron patio dining chair. Indoor/outdoor fabrics come in assorted brands, colors, prints and solids, and are available from online and local fabric retailers. Follow these easy instructions for making your own patio chair cushions.

    When I saw these vintage wrought iron chairs with their unusual backs at an antique store on the way home from a camping trip several years ago, I had to have them, especially since they were in excellent condition and cost only $40 for four. The chair pads were covered in a washed-out 1980s floral print, which was quickly removed. I thought I was pretty resourceful back whenever I recovered them. I bought two outdoor vinyl tablecloths for 50-75 percent off, using the smaller round one as a tablecloth for a round garden table I already had (clever and ingenious, I know), while the larger tablecloth provided plenty of material to recover the removable chair pads of the vintage garden chairs.

    But years of sitting outside on a rarely used hillside deck under a messy Acacia tree left the seats and tablecloth of this patio set faded, stained and having seen better days. The brightly colored circus-stripe pattern looked like it was from a 1990s birthday party (which it probably was). There's something depressing about a once-bright pattern that's faded; like someone who still wears the same once-trendy hairstyle and original clothes from another era, but doesn't look like they did back then. In other words: time for a makeover!

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  • 02 of 11

    Trace the Chair Pad to Make a Pattern

    Using an indelible marker, trace the outline of the chair pad. Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor
    Use a red or black non-smearing marker to trace the shape of the chair pad onto newspaper or a large piece of paper. Don't go out and buy a pad of paper -- anything you have around the house will do, like a paper bag -- as long as it's large enough for your pattern or shape.

    If it's an older garden piece, this probably won't be the chair set's second or even third incarnation. When you reupholster an old chair, it's like peeling off layers of history. It also gives you an idea of what type of fabrics hold up through the years, and what was once in style -- at least, according to somebody.

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  • 03 of 11

    Cut Out Your the Pattern, Take it Shopping

    patio chair reupholster
    Take your "pattern" to a fabric store to measure out how much material you'll need to recover the patio chair pads. Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor
    After tracing the shape of your chair pad onto paper, use scissors to cut it out. Extra fabric will be needed to cover the chair seat with the new fabric. You can either add about three inches all around onto your pattern before you cut it, or include a few inches when you layout the pattern on the new fabric. Either way works, just so long as you remember to include a few extra inches of material all around. Fold it up, put it in your purse or pocket, and take it with you to the fabric store.

    Pictured: the chair pad and the round pattern, made from newsprint.

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  • 04 of 11

    Choosing Outdoor Fabric

    outdoor fabric
    Indoor/outdoor fabric comes in various styles, textures and prints. © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    If you have a color scheme in mind, excellent. If not, you may want to look at other pieces of outdoor furniture or accessories to get an idea for colors or motifs. If you're starting from scratch, consider favorite colors, color of furniture, color of walls and house. If you're into neutrals indoors and have been toying with the idea of trying something different, outdoors is the perfect place to experiment with bolder, brighter colors. Or, if you feel safe with your neutrals -- beige, tan, white, black or navy -- then this is the opportunity to try splashes of accent colors, especially on smaller pieces like a chair pad.

    Do you have a favorite outdoor tablecloth or do you need one? Maybe you'd like to make a tablecloth to coordinate with the dining chair pads. How is this going to affect your budget? Consider these things before or during your shopping trip to the fabric store.

    What to Look for at the Fabric Store


    Online or not, most fabric stores have a special section for indoor / outdoor fabrics, usually in the Home Decor department. The size of the collection will probably depend on the size of the store or site. If you're at a store, the indoor / outdoor fabric will be found in bolts that are usually 54 inches wide. Some stores carry large swatches or samples of outdoor fabric that can be ordered. It is usually grouped by color, brand or manufacturer. If you're on a budget, look for fabric off-season -- that would be after summer or before spring.

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  • 05 of 11

    Assemble Tools and Supplies

    Just a few tools and supplies are all you need to replace a chair cover. Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Ready to reupholster your outdoor garden chair cushions? Here's what you need:

    • Good fabric scissors
    • Staple gun
    • Small-nosed pliers to remove staples
    • Fabric glue, which you might want to use to glue fabric to chair pad before you start stapling, just to keep it down and attached.
    • Small bowl or dish to safely contain old staples, which should be thrown away after your project is done. A good idea: pour the bowl of old staples into a bag, tie it up and put it at the bottom of your trash can.
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  • 06 of 11

    Use the Pattern

    Trace pattern on wrong side of fabric. Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Lay out fabric smoothly, wrong side up, on a table or flat surface. Place pattern over fabric, preferably in a corner of the fabric, so that you can cut other pieces and use as much of the fabric as possible. In other words, don't lay the pattern in the middle of the fabric and start cutting -- it's wasteful.

    As mentioned before, if you didn't add a few inches to the pattern when tracing the chair pad, do so now, making sure you add the same amount all around. This is so that the fabric will wrap around the chair pad.

    Cut out fabric.

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  • 07 of 11

    Pulling Out Old Staples

    Removing rusty staples -- a fun task, for sure. Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor
    What's more fun -- pulling mussels from a shell or removing rusty staples from an old patio chair pad?

    If you picked rusty staples, then you're in for a thrilling task! If you have a special staple removal tool, then use that. If you don't, then try a flat-head screwdriver or a pair of pliers. Discard them in the small bowl or dish suggested in an earlier step. When you're done removing all the staples, pour them in a plastic or paper bag and place it at the bottom of your trash.

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  • 08 of 11

    Or Try Pliers

    Try pliers to remove the staples if a screwdriver doesn't do the trick. Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Use pliers to remove old staples if you don't have a staple remover. A flat-head screwdriver also works if you slip it under the nail and push up from underneath the old staple. They also work for those stubborn staples that won't budge with a screwdriver of staple remover.

    As you can see, the previous chair cover was made using a vinyl outdoor tablecloth -- a cheap and easy way to recover a chair pad.

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  • 09 of 11

    Staple Fabric to Form

    Staple the fabric to the back of the chair pad. Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor
    Use the staple gun to attach the outdoor fabric to the back of the wooden chair form, on the wrong side. Continuing around the chair form, stapling the fabric every inch or two. It's OK if the fabric overlaps on the opposite side, where you are stapling. Just make sure that the material doesn't crease, dimple or overlap on the right side of the chair pad. Staple it carefully and smoothly, checking every so often to see how it looks on the right side of the pad.
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  • 10 of 11

    A New Chair Pad

    garden chair pad
    A newly recovered pad is ready for your garden chair. Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor
    Flip over the chair pad to reveal your work -- not bad! If it isn't completely smooth -- maybe a few creases or overlapping fabric -- you can always remove the staples, smooth out the fabric, and re-staple. Hey -- whatever it takes to make it look good. Don't get frustrated if it isn't perfect after your first attempt. You'll get the hang of it.
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  • 11 of 11

    Outdoor Chair Pad - The Finished Product

    chair pad project
    A fresh new reupholstered chair pad to show off in your garden. Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    The no-sew reupholstered chair pad is ready! Just place it on your wrought iron or metal patio chair and it's ready for someone to sit on it. Depending on how many chairs are in your outdoor dining set, you have three, five or seven more to reupholster. But now that you have done one, the others will be a cinch. Quite a change from what it looked like before -- just a "couple" of hours ago, before you started the project.

    A tip: don't leave this project until the last minute. Start it ahead of time, before you entertain or have friends or family over for an outdoor barbecue or dinner. That way, it will be one lest thing you'll have to deal with when preparing for a casual get-together or party.