How to reupholster a chair – Complete Guide

Whether you’re giving new life to an old chair or revamping one you found at a flea market, reupholstering is a DIY project that can make a significant difference.

Follow our guide on how to reupholster a chair and give your furniture a brand new and stylish appearance.

Reupholstering a chair is a rewarding endeavor that allows you to be creative while transforming a worn-out piece into a stunning masterpiece.

By following the steps outlined in this guide, you’ll have the knowledge to handle any chair reupholstery project.

Before you begin

Before you start reupholstering your chair: It’s a good idea to complete the first step, which involves removing all the old fabric, before you go shopping for supplies. This way, you can use the old upholstery as a guide for the new pattern pieces.

Take measurements carefully of all the pieces and cord lengths to figure out how much fabric you’ll need for the chair reupholstery.

If you’re unsure, it’s better to have a bit too much fabric than not enough. This way, you won’t run into any problems later on.

Materials Needed to reupholster a chair:

How to reupholster a chair
  • Chair
  • Upholstery fabric
  • Upholstery cording/piping
  • Staple gun & staples
  • Sewing machine & upholstery thread
  • Screwdriver 

1. Dissemble the chair

How to reupholster a chair

During the process of reupholstering furniture, the task of removing the old fabric holds significant importance.

In fact, it serves as an important step that provides valuable guidance when it comes to applying the new fabric. By carefully removing the old fabric, you gain a clear roadmap that shows you the way to expertly apply the fresh upholstery.

The most intimidating part of tackling a furniture upholstery project is probably the idea of figuring out how to put everything back together. But don’t worry, you don’t have to figure it all out on your own.

When you take off each piece of fabric, pay close attention to how it was attached before, and simply attach the new fabric in the same way.

Remember the order in which you remove the fabric pieces. When you put on the new upholstery, just do it in the opposite order. So, the last piece you took off will be the first one you put back on.

As you begin the process of dismantling your chair, you may come across various attachment methods like upholstery tacks, tackstrips, and cardboard strips.

Don’t be discouraged by these elements. In fact, they provide valuable guidance on how to reassemble the chair with the new fabric. 

By observing how these components are used during disassembly, you’ll gain a clear understanding of how to recreate the same structure when working with the new fabric. 

Therefore, before you start taking anything apart, take a good look at everything. It’s a good idea to take pictures, especially of any tricky areas, so you have a reference to follow.

When it comes to taking off the fabric, there are a few methods you can use. Most, if not all, of the fabric will be attached with staples.

One way to remove the staples is by using a flathead screwdriver to pry them out and then using needle-nose pliers to pull them out completely.

But here’s a tip: I strongly suggest using an upholstery staple remover instead. They’re not too costly, and they make the process of prying out staples much quicker and easier. And trust me, when you’re reupholstering furniture, you’ll have a lot of staples to remove.

  • Use your screwdriver or Allen wrench to unscrew the seat from the chair frame. If it’s a dining chair, you can think of the seat as a “pop cushion” because once you unscrew it, it pops right off. Now, flip the cushion over.
  • To remove the old fabric, you first need to take off the dust cover on the underside of the seat. Use your pliers and Phillips screwdriver to lift up the edge, and then you can simply rip it off.
  • Now, take your staple remover and gently loosen the staples that are holding the old fabric in place along the edge of the seat. Use your pliers to pull the staples out. When you remove the fabric, be careful not to damage the foam padding underneath so that you can reuse it.

However, if you notice that the foam is worn down or falling apart, you’ll need to replace it. 

To avoid this, it’s important to be attentive while shopping for a secondhand chair. I recommend pressing your hand down on the cushion multiple times and from different angles, in addition to sitting on the chair, to make sure that the foam feels solid and supportive.

Also, keep in mind that if the fabric has an unpleasant smell, it’s likely that the foam underneath does too. In such cases, it’s best to replace the foam as well.

2. Replace the foam

How to reupholster a chair
  • If the old foam is in bad condition, simply remove it by hand. It’s usually glued down, so it should come off easily.
  • Use the old foam as a template and trace its shape onto the new foam using fabric scissors. Then, carefully cut out the new foam along the traced lines.
  • To attach the new foam to the seat, use adhesive glue spray. Spray the glue about one to two inches away from the foam’s edge. Press the adhesive side of the foam onto the wooden chair frame firmly.

3. Update the wood frame

While not all upholstered chairs have wooden arms, many do have wooden feet. If your chair has wooden parts, you can treat them just like any other wooden furniture by painting or staining them according to your preference.

After removing the old fabric and other components, you can use steel wool to gently polish any scratches on the wood. If the wood looks worn, you can restore it using a solution like Old English Scratch Cover.

In case there are noticeable deep scratches, apply wood filler and let it dry completely before sanding and re-staining the surface.

4. Choose the fabric

When it comes to upholstering furniture, you have a wide range of fabric options available in various colors, styles, and types. The most important thing to consider is to select a fabric that is strong and durable enough to endure on furniture.

The fabric should be resilient enough to be stretched tightly during the upholstery process, and it should withstand the everyday use and potential wear and tear from people sitting on it for years.

Fabric stores offer a variety of beautiful options specifically designed for upholstery. These fabrics are typically labeled to indicate their suitability for this purpose, making it easier for you to choose the right one.

Using upholstery fabric from a fabric store can be quite expensive, especially when you consider the amount of fabric you may need to reupholster various types of chairs, which can range from 3 to 7 yards. With fabric prices around $20 per yard, the costs can quickly add up.

While waiting for a good sale can be beneficial, you can find that looking for alternative sources of fabric can be a great way to find inexpensive options for projects like this.

5. Cut the new fabric

How to reupholster a chair

The fabric you took off your chair will be used as a template to cut the new fabric. When it’s time to cut the fabric, it’s best to minimize wastage.

Begin by laying out the largest fabric pieces first, and then arrange the smaller pieces around them. If your fabric has a pattern or noticeable grain, make sure to align them correctly with your pattern pieces.

Before cutting your fabric, take note of any fabric pieces that you didn’t remove from the chair. Since you don’t have the old fabric as a pattern for those pieces, you can use a tape measure to estimate their size and make adjustments as necessary.

In addition, if your chair has a removable cushion, remember to cut fabric pieces for it too. To obtain a good pattern for cutting the new pieces, I personally used a seam ripper to take apart one of my chair cushions.

When cutting your fabric, it’s recommended to use a reliable rotary cutter and cutting mat, along with sharp sewing scissors. Depending on the situation, either the rotary cutter or the scissors may be easier to handle.

Regardless of the tool you choose, it’s important to make sure that it is sharp. Regular everyday scissors used for cutting paper may not work well for cutting fabric.

6. Reassemble your chair

How to reupholster a chair

Now it’s time to put that lovely new fabric on your chair. There are various ways available to secure fabric to furniture, and by now, you’re familiar with the ones required for your chair.

You’ll essentially be reattaching the fabric in a similar manner to how it was originally attached.

  • Stapling on new fabric

The main technique for upholstering furniture involves using a staple gun to attach the new fabric to the chair frame.

In some cases, the fabric will be pulled behind the frame or between two chair parts and stapled out of sight. In other instances, the fabric will be cut precisely to size and stapled along the fabric’s edge. These staples will later be covered with trim.

While stapling the fabric, it’s crucial to make sure the fabric is pulled tightly. Any loose, sagging, or wrinkled fabric will result in an unprofessional and messy upholstery job, which is not what we aim for!

  • Use upholstery pins (instead of sewing)

Many armchairs have a fabric strip sewn below the cushion on the front of the chair. While you can choose to hand-stitch the new fabric in place, there is an easier way available which is using upholstery pins.

Upholstery pins are special pins that can be twisted to secure fabric in place. Once you position the fabric where you want it, simply twist the pins through the fabric and into the chair.

Due to their twisty shape, these pins are great at keeping the fabric securely in place. If there are areas on your chair where sewing is needed and pins won’t work, try your best to recreate how those pieces were originally sewn together. 

  • Stapling fabric over cardboards strips 

Another common upholstery technique involves using cardboard or plastic strips. These strips are helpful in achieving a smooth and neat appearance for the fabric.

To attach fabric with cardboard strips, place the fabric facedown, position the cardboard on top of it, and then staple through both layers.

Before you start stapling, ensure that your fabric is centered and aligned as desired. As you staple along the cardboard strip, verify that the cardboard remains straight and use frequent staples.

Once you have completed the stapling, you can flip the fabric over the cardboard to achieve a sharp and clean line.

  • Add the trim

Almost all chairs require some form of trim to conceal the staples used in upholstery. If your chair had trim previously, you’ll need trim for the new upholstery as well.

There are various options for trim. You can purchase pre-made trim such as gimp or cording. Alternatively, you can create your own double welt cord.

Regardless of the type of trim you’re using, there are a few methods to attach it. You can choose to staple it in place or opt to glue it on.

Attaching fabric with tack strips

If you’re using tack strips to attach fabric, you can reuse the original ones from your chair if they are still in good shape. However, if they are not suitable for reuse, you can easily find replacement tack strips available for purchase on Amazon.

Before applying the fabric to your chair, it’s important to attach the tack strips to the fabric. The fabric should be folded over each tack strip, creating a neat folded edge with the tacks pointing towards the back.

This step can be a bit challenging because each tack strip needs to be positioned correctly on the fabric to ensure a perfect fit on your chair. The easiest way to do this is by using the old fabric as a guide. 

Align the old and new fabric together, then carefully poke holes in the new fabric at the exact spots where the old holes were located.

Then, remove the old fabric and poke the tacks of the tack strips through those holes.

If you don’t have the same tack strips or the old fabric as a reference, don’t worry. Simply take precise measurements to ensure that once your fabric is folded around the tack strips, it will fit the back of your chair nicely.

Additionally, remember to leave a little extra space at the top of the fabric above the tack strips. This will allow for folding over a cardboard strip, creating a clean and neat edge when you attach it.

Reattaching the chair back using tack strips can be a more technical aspect of upholstering furniture. However, if you pay close attention to what you’re doing, the end result will be beautiful.

In order to achieve a clean and crisp line along the top of the chair, use a cardboard strip as discussed earlier. Begin with the fabric facing downwards, place the cardboard on top, and then staple through both layers.

Before you start stapling, it’s crucial to double check the placement of the fabric. Ensure that it is centered, so each tack strip aligns perfectly with the edges of the chair back.

Once the top is attached, flip the fabric over and proceed to attach the tack strips along the sides by gently hammering them into the chair.

Ideally, an upholstery hammer is recommended as it is gentler on the fabric, but a regular hammer can also be used as long as you exercise caution.

Remember to pull the fabric tightly as you hammer the tack strips along the sides of the chair. Finally, staple the remaining side under the chair and secure the dust cover back into place using staples.

  • Sew the cushion

This is an important part as it adds comfort and completes the overall look of the chair.

To sew the cushion, you’ll need to

  • Measure and cut the fabric according to the size and shape of the cushion. It’s a good idea to use the old fabric as a template if it’s still available. Make sure to leave some extra fabric for seam allowances.
  • Next, place the fabric pieces with their right sides facing each other and pin them in place.
    Then, using a sewing machine or sewing needle and thread, sew along the edges, leaving a small opening to insert the cushion filling.
  • Once you’ve sewn the cushion cover, turn it inside out through the opening.
  • Carefully insert the cushion filling, ensuring it fits snugly. 
  • Finally, hand-stitch the opening closed or use a sewing machine to complete the final seam.
Laura from Couchtips
Laura from Couchtips
We are passionate about furniture and love to share everything that has to do with the furniture industry. We are your ultimate resource for learning everything about furniture, and your guide to choose the ideal home decor.


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