Friday, June 3, 2011

Upholster This!

So this is where we left off:

Dainty garden, luxurious lawn, and a mismatched junk store find in need of some help.

The upholstery: bleak and faded
The paint: chipped and flaking
The wood: rotten.

I found the winning fabric, coordinating vintage oil cloth prints, at one of the city's best fiber craft havens, the Brooklyn General Store. I brought home a quart of red rust-proof paint to match my fabrics, and as for the wood, I'm lucky enough to have a carpenter for a father.

Reupholstering old furniture can be anywhere from astonishingly simple to frustratingly complex, depending on the piece. My patio chairs are of the astonishingly simple variety, but you can figure out how to reupholster virtually any piece by removing its current covering while taking care to notice how it was done.

The following steps can be applied to just about any chair with an upholstered seat and/or back on a metal or wooden frame.

What you'll need:

Batting or foam, if needed
Staple gun
Steel-cut tacks
Upholstery tack remover, if needed

First, disassemble the chair. At this point I sanded and painted the frames.

Remove the upholstery. Staples can be removed with a staple remover or a flathead screwdriver. For steel-cut tacks, you may be able to pry them out with the back of a hammer or a screwdriver, but ideally you would use an upholstery tack remover, specially designed for the task. If your chair is old and/or well-loved, you will want to replenish the seat/back padding with new batting or foam. 

For the front of your seat or back, cut a piece of fabric that is approximately the shape of the piece, with an allowance for the thickness of the piece plus an inch.

Cut your back piece at this point, too. Were it a seat, you would use a plain, inexpensive fabric, most commonly black broadcloth, since it's hardly seen. In this case, however, it is the seat back, so I will use my oilcloth. The back piece will be smaller than your front piece: trace the wood shape onto the back of the fabric and add a 1/2" seam allowance.

Covering the front of your piece is much like stretching a canvas. Every time you plunge a staple, you must be pulling your fabric taught at that point. Staple two points opposite each other (if your piece is rectangular, your points should be the centers of opposite sides, not corners); staple the two perpendicular opposite points so that your four staples make a diamond. Pulling your fabric taught, place a staple halfway in between each of these staples. 

At this point, straight edges will lie flat and taught, but curves will buckle and bunch. For curves, snip into your seam allowance, just up to the edge, and overlap and staple the fabric at your snip so that it lays flat.

Inside back, finished
Front, finished
To finish the back, take your prepared piece of fabric, and snip into the seam allowance, just up to your pencil line and no further, around any curves (which in my case, is all there is).

Place the fabric right side out on the back of your piece, carefully aligning it in the proper position. Fold under the seam allowance as you go, nailing it with your steel-cut tacks in the same pattern you used to staple the front. Don't forget to keep stretching it taught!

Back, finished
All that's left to do now is reassemble your chair and marvel!

Here's to summer and all the beautiful memories yet to be made in our garden in the sky!



  1. I LOVE IT!!!I can't wait to see it in person!

  2. Much, MUCH better, Melody! I love how you transformed your patio table set from plain-looking to chic and sophisticated seats. =D I love, even more, the fact that you did these by yourself. Hope to see more of your DIY projects!

    Gerry Bossier