How to Reupholster a Chair From Start to Finish

Knowing how to reupholster a chair allows you to embark on a rewarding DIY project that can breathe new life into worn and outdated furniture. When you reupholster a chair, you change the fabric covering, which updates the look and feel of the chair and adds a personal touch to it.

Before and after Chair Reupholstered

This guide will walk you through every step of the process, from gathering materials to attaching the new upholstery. Once you have mastered this technique, you can apply it to other chairs to transform old and out-of-date pieces into unique and stylish additions to your home.

How to Reupholster a Chair: Step by Step

Reupholstering a wooden frame chair with a corded edge involves several steps. It is important to approach every step with care and attention to detail to achieve the best result.

Step 1: Gather the Materials

Before you begin the reupholstery process, gather all of your materials so that they will be within arm’s reach while you are working.

  • New upholstery fabric
  • Piping/cording (You can also reuse the old cording)
  • Staple gun
  • Upholstery staples
  • Pliers
  • Rubber mallet
  • Screwdriver
  • Drill
  • Fabric scissors
  • Sewing machine (if you are making your own piping)
  • Upholstery thread

Step 2: Remove the Old Uphostery

Remove the Old Uphostery

You will need to take off the old upholstery before you replace it with new fabric. You might need to disassemble the chair to be able to remove the old fabric. As you disassemble the chair, take pictures of each step so that you know how to put the chair back together at the end.

Locate the tacks, staples, or nails that hold the old upholstery in place before removing it. Position the pilers carefully beneath the nails or tacks and gently remove them without damaging the fabric. A rubber mallet and a screwdriver may be required to loosen the staples or nails before pulling them out with the pliers.

When removing the fabric, take pictures of each step so that you can locate where you will need to place each piece of new fabric. As you remove any lasting hardware like screws that go back into the chair frame, keep these items in a safe place and labeled so that you can locate them and put them back in place when you are reassembling the chair. Set the fabric aside after removing it from the cording.

Step 3: Cut New Fabric Pieces

Cut New Fabric Pieces

You can cut new fabric pieces using the old upholstery or by just using the cushions as a template. Use the old fabric as a template for cutting the new fabric pieces when you cannot use the form of the chair itself. Lay out the new fabric and place the old fabric pieces on top. Carefully cut around the border of the old pieces.

For detachable cushions, you can lay the cushions directly on the new fabric and cut the pieces from them. For fabric pieces that you will attach with staples, like the seat and back cushion fabric, leave a few extra inches beyond the edge of the cushion so that you can easily wrap the fabric around the cushion.

It is vital that, with each method, you pay attention to the direction and pattern of the new fabric. Be sure to align the fabric correctly in both its vertical and horizontal orientations.

Step 4: Cut and Sew the Corded Edge

Cut and sew cords

Cut strips of fabric at a 45-degree angle to the grain to make your own bias tape if you are going to sew your own corded edge. Strips should be at least 2-3 inches wide and 4 inches longer than the cord. Fold each side of the cord and place it in the center of the strip. Using a zipper foot, secure the cord in the strip using a large baste stitch. Trim the excess fabric away from the raw edge, leaving as much seam allowance as the former cording.

Step 5: Recover the Rear of the Backrest

Recover the back of the seat back

Recovering the backrest of the seat involves multiple steps. First, you will recover the rear of the back rest. Align the back rest on the new fabric. Next, staple the middle portion of the parallel sides of the new fabric to the wooden frame. Working carefully, work along each side, attaching the staples. After this, pull it taut, but do not stretch the fabric as you work. Do not attach the corners yet. Begin in the middle of the opposite sides and work to staple along the edge until you reach the corners. Pull the center of each corner down toward the middle and attach with staples.

Trim any excess fabric from the rear of the backrest. Note any screw holes the fabric has covered, and be sure to remove it. This will allow you to reassemble the chair more easily. Position your cording along the back edge of the backrest. Staple it around the back until you meet the other end of the cord. As these meet, overlap them slightly and fold the long side toward the center of the board. Cut the excess cord.

Step 6: Sew the Front and Sides of the Backrest Fabric

Sew the Front and Sides of the Backrest Fabric

Lay the fabric for the front of the backrest right side up. Place the cording on top and along the edge of the fabric, aligning the raw edges together. Begin sewing the cording about 1 inch from the end of the cording. Be slow and careful as you sew the cording to the fabric face.

Take the fabric piece that was cut for the side of the backrest cushion. Position the raw edge of the cord and front piece with the raw edge of the side fabric. With the right sides together and the cording between, begin sewing the pieces together. As you reach the beginning again, pin carefully. Stop sewing around the perimeter and sew the edges of the side together. Once this is finished, continue sewing around the perimeter until it is complete.

Step 7: Cover the Front and Sides of the Backrest

Before and after Chair Reupholstered

Place the newly sewn backrest fabric on the front of the backrest. The fabric should fit snugly. Staple the fabric to the front of the backrest. Attach each opposite side in the middle and staple along each side. Leave the corners unattached and move to the other sides. Once you have stapled along each side, secure the corners.

Step 8: Cover the Seat Cushion

Before and after Chair Reupholstered

Following the same steps as for sewing the backrest, sew the seat cushion cover. First, take the fabric for the top of the cushion and attach a cording strip by aligning the raw edges and sewing them together. Next, attach a piece of side fabric that matches the width of the cushion. Sew this to the front fabric, with the raw edges aligned and the cord between. Then, place the completed top and sides over the seat cushion. Staple this cover into place.

Step 9: Attach the Cord to the Bottom of the Seat Cushion

Before and after Chair Reupholstered

On the bottom edge of the seat cushion, you can attach a cord to give the cushion a more finished look. Leaving 1 inch unattached, take the cord and begin stapling it around the bottom edge. Staple the cord carefully around the cushion’s edge until you reach your starting place. Overlap the cord ends, fold down, and staple toward the middle.

Add a vinyl strip to cover the raw edge of the cord. This strip keeps the cord edge from fraying, and it also cleans up the look of the bottom of the chair.

Step 10: Reassemble and Inspect the Chair

Reassemble and Inspect the Chair

Assemble your chair pieces and hardware. Attach the piece back together with a screwdriver or drill. Inspect the chair and the upholstery. Remove any hanging pieces of thread or fabric that mar the appearance of the chair.