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DIY Guide
Chair Upholstery
Furnishings with upholstery that has seen better days can easily be revived, and given a fresh, modern look at the same time.


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19.10.2013 - Out with the old

To revamp an upright wooden or metal chair the first thing you need to do is completely remove the old upholstery.  The place to start is usually right at the bottom.  Turn the chair upside down and remove the piece of material that is directly under the seat by carefully loosening any tacks or staples using the pliers.  For any that are particularly difficult to remove you can try loosening them by placing the end of a flat-head screwdriver under them and tapping the handle with a hammer. 

Moving the chair around as appropriate, use the same method to take off each piece of upholstery, using scissors to cut along seams where necessary.   As you remove each piece, use a marker to label which is the top and bottom of each one, as well as the section of the chair it came from and the order they were laid one on top of the other where there are overlaps.   These pieces will be the pattern you need to cut the new fabric, so try to avoid ripping them where possible.  Most chairs will come with welting - covered cord or material used to cover seams or as decoration.   Take this off carefully too if you need to use it as a pattern for cutting new strips, or else you may like to buy some cord or similar to replace it.

Making notes as you go along, and even taking photos, will help enormously when it comes to putting the chair back together again.  

 

In the frame

If the chair’s batting or foam is worn or stained you will need to replace it.  Once you have removed it, this is a good time to take a good look at the chair’s springs and webbing so see if you need to do any repairs and, if you wish, to  sand and paint or varnish the chair frame.  Once that stage is finished, you can replace the batting.  Cut two pieces to size for the chair back and seat, then staple into place, folding the corners precisely and tidily.

 

Cut it out

To cut the new pieces of upholstery you will need to lay the new fabric out on a flat surface the wrong side up and place the original upholstery pieces on top of it, also the wrong side up.

This is the tricky bit: before placing them you will need to take into account the direction of any pattern, placement of motifs and the material’s grain to ensure that everything will fit together correctly once assembled.  Once you have decided, cut around each old piece, leaving around five to eight centimetres extra fabric around each edge.  As you finish cutting out each piece make sure you mark it with the same direction and placement instructions as the piece is it replacing.

 

In its place

Now you can start putting it all together.  You will probably start with the seat - put the new fabric in place and pull it taught as you staple it along the apron (the vertical wooden section under the seat at the top of the chair).  Next would be probably the front of the chair back.  As you staple this into place on the reverse of the chair make sure all the stapling is where it will be covered by the back panelling.  To position the back panel, either now or at the end, depending on the chair, lay the material down the front of the chair back with the right side facing in and several centimetres hanging over the back of the chair back.  Here you will need your first tack strip. 

This is usually a thick cardboard strip that needs tacking into place or a flexible light metal strip that often comes with inbuilt tacks that need hammering into the chair.

Fix the strip along the top edge of the back of the chair then fold the panel back over it.  Pull it down into place towards the bottom of the chair, fold the excess material underneath and staple and/or tack into place.

Tack strip can also be used down the sides of the back – simply turn the edges of the material over to cover it, press onto the back of the chair and tack into place.  

 

Well welted

For finishing touches, welting will normally go around the top and the bottom of the seat or round various edges.  Welting can be bought or you can make your own if you are handy with a sewing machine.  It is possible to reupholster many chairs without adding welting, but it will provide a much more professional look if you do add some.

If you are making your own, the material needs to be cut on the bias, i.e. diagonally across the material – this means the finished product will be a little stretchy and will go round corners more easily and neatly.

Once cut out, sew enough bias-cut strips together, with diagonal seams, until you have the right length plus 15 extra centimetres.  Then wrap a bias strip around a suitably long cord and use a zipper foot to sew the cord into the material, enclosing the cord snugly, and leaving a few centimetres of overhanging material.

 

A bit on the side

To replace a side panel with welting on the apron of a chair you will need to first sew the welting to the top and towards the bottom of the panel (so it will run neatly around the bottom edge of the chair with some extra material for tucking under the chair and stapling into place.  To fit it hold the panel up against the seat and staple the top welting in place, all around the chair.

Secure a tack strip just underneath this then fold the side panel down over it.  Pull the material down gently, but tightly, and staple and/or tack it into place on the underside of the chair.  

Welting around edges can be fixed using tacks, glue, or a combination of the both. 

 

Under and over

It is best to have a piece of breathable fabric on the underside of the chair as well to keep the dust out.  Once stapled in place, simply flip your chair the right way up and take a seat – for a well deserved rest! 



Gallery: Chair Upholstery
 
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