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Beginner DIY Chair Upholstery

May 15, 2012

Left: The original chair. Right: My finished product.

I’ve been itching to try my hand at upholstery for a while but definitely wanted to start with an easy project with minimal value.  I found the perfect opportunity a few months ago when someone on my street left this chair out for the trash. The seat fabric and foam was very worn, but the frame was still in great shape. It took me a while to decide what fabric to use because I didn’t want to invest a lot.  I’d been thinking about doing a denim chair, but I didn’t have  enough denim to complete the look.  It all came together when my roommates donated some old ripped clothing to my craft fund.  With 4 pairs of pants and 2 shirts I had plenty of fabric to create a nice patchwork cover and practice my sewing skills.  I’m certainly no upholstery expert, but I thought my process might benefit other beginners. For more thorough directions of a much more complicated chair, I referenced this 5-part tutorial from Little Green Notebook.  She has a ton of great tutorials for home projects if you’re looking for inspiration.


  • chair (the simpler, the better, and nothing of serious sentimental value)
  • flat head screw driver
  • pliers
  • drill (the seat of my chair had to be detached from the frame)
  • camera
  • upholstery foam (if it needs to be replaced)
  • old clothing (or just fabric)
  • lining fabric
  • staple gun
  • staples
  • hammer
  • spray adhesive
  • fabric glue


1. Photograph your chair. It’s important to get every angle so you know exactly how it should be reconstructed.

2. Start to take apart your chair using the screw driver to loosen the staples and pliers to pull them out the rest of the way, if necessary.

3. Take pictures as you go, the more the better. In my case I ended up upholstering multiple months after I took apart my chair, but a quick review of the photos made it easy to reconstruct.

4.  Once your chair is fully deconstructed, decide if any pieces are worth keeping.  The interior foam of mine was gross and had to be replaced, but definitely reuse the foam if you can.

5.  Measure the old foam and fabric to determine how much you need to buy/make. Stash these somewhere until you are done with the project.  They could be a helpful reference later on.

6. Construct your fabric (or, just buy).  Since I was working with clothing, I made my patchwork squares as wide as I could, using a pair of women’s pants.  I cut out a card board square to size (7″x7″), and used it to outline squares on the back side of the fabric and cut. To make a piece of fabric 6’x8′, I used 2 pairs of men’s pants, 2 pairs of women’s pants, and 2 men’s button up shirts.  I laid out all of my squares on the floor in rows to get that well curated random look, then stacked them by row.  To make sure they stayed in order I stacked each row with the right square on the bottom and left square on top, then labeled each stack by row, with 1 as my top. I then sewed the squares together to make the full rows, and once all the rows were done I sewed those together to make the complete fabric.

7. Write out instructions for reconstruction.  I did this by going through all the photos I took during deconstruction backwards and noting the order I took things apart.  Then I had a complete set of instructions with the correct order of events.

Then, follow your directions! My chair went like this:

8.  Attach liner.  I just cut some liner fabric from an old project to fit the bum and back of the seat and stapled it in place.

9.  Attach the foam.  I used spray adhesive, then a few staples/fabric glue on the edges and where the foam had to curve.

10.  Cut your fabric to fit. Here it helps to use the old fabric as a guide.

11. Staple! Following your instructions, staple down the fabric pieces in order.  Use a hammer to get any stubborn staples in all the way. I started each side by securing the corners and the middle, then went along the edge pulling the fabric taut and stapling it in place.

12. The fabric on the arms of my chair was in good shape, and would have been a lot of work to remove.  I decided just to cover with fabric directly on top of the old fabric, which I attached with fabric glue.

13.  Once my foam and seat covers were in place I had to reattach the chair to the frame before finishing the very back cover.  I did this with the same screws the chair came with.

14.  Finally, I attached the back piece of fabric with staples on the top and bottom, and fabric glue on the sides.  I let the sides dry overnight with pins holding the fabric in place.  Once the sides were dry I stapled the very bottom to the underside of the chair.

Whew! This was definitely an involved project, but I really enjoyed working out each part of the process. I was going for a more “rustic ranch” look, so I gave myself a little leeway with the patchwork fabric and tiny details of the chair. My squares in the patchwork are not all even, and I could have done a little more sewing to get cleaner corners on the seat and back.  It’s important to decide at the beginning how much work you want to put in and what level of perfection you want to achieve. I’m pleased with the result, and I especially like that the patchwork fabric includes a piece of clothing from each of my roommates so it will always be a reminder of our first year in Seattle.

Free chair! Thanks neighbor!

Starting to remove the leather and lining.

Back removed, and seat detached from base (had to remove screws).

Use a flat-head screwdriver to remove staples.

Almost all of the cover removed.

All foam and lining removed. Ready to be recovered!

All of my 7″x7″ squares cut out.

Left: Patchwork fabric laid out. Right: Stacks of squares organized by row.

One full row of squares.

Two of the rows sewn together.

Completed patchwork fabric.

Lining and top piece of foam attached.

Back and edge lining attached.

Seat foam attached.

Seat foam curved over the edge and stapled.

Sizing and cutting the first piece of the cover.

Stapling the cover to the frame and trimming the extra fabric (already done on the right side).

Complete seat!

Sewing denim for the arm cushions.

Using fabric glue to attach the arm covers over the existing foam and cover.

Fabric cut to cover the back portion of the chair.

Seat of the chair reattached to the frame with screws.

Back panel attached with staples at the top then flipped over.

Sides of back panel secured with fabric glue and held in place with pins while drying.

Completed chair!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2012 12:30 am

    Well impressed!

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