A photo guide on reupholstering metal-framed chairs

March 15 | Guest post by Lenna

Truth is, I always thought it would be rather difficult to change the fabric on a piece of furniture. Turns out, it's WAY simpler than I thought!

The eye-sore: Our cheap kitchen chairs

Currently, our kitchen table set is a starter set I picked up when I moved to Wisconsin to live with my then-boyfriend-now-husband. Three years later, it's still holding out, but the chairs have always annoyed me.

Chair Problems

Covered with a creamy tan fake suede, they're difficult to clean, attract pet hairs that refuse to come off, and the padding's thin and shifts everytime the sitter wiggles. After three years, it's normal to be sitting mostly on hard wood, not cushiony-softness!

Shifty Padding

What to do? I thought about either buying or making some new cushions to sit on top of the chair…you know, the type that has ties and secures to the back of the chair. But that cream colour was gross, and the cushions would probably be just as annoying. So I made my first attempt at reupholstery.

Once I decided to try my hand at re-upholstering the existing seat bottoms of four chairs, I had to decide what I wanted them to look like. I opted for solid black, using a flat bedsheet from a jersey knit sheet set we retired. I thought it would be a good choice — I already know it doesn't attract kitty hairs, even on occasions when the cats hang out on our bed all day.

How to do it yourself:

These instructions work for chairs that have a cushion attached to a steel frame.

Supplies required:

  • chairs (obviously)
  • fabric to re-cover with
  • extra foam padding
  • screwdriver
  • staple gun

Time required: 20-30 minutes per chair.

1. Detach the cushions

Detach

The existing cushions were screwed into the metal frame. I simply unscrewed them using a screwdriver.

Once they're removed, you'll be left with just the frame intact.

Chair frame

2. Start re-covering

We also recently acquired a new mattress cover, so our super old 1" memory foam bed also got upcycled into new chair padding. At this point, you can choose to remove the existing padding and fabric (if it's very old or gross). Since ours wasn't terrible, I decided to put our new covering on top of the old, to make the chair seats poofier than they were before.

I removed the lining from the back by simply pulling it off the staples. Starting on one side, I attached the foam using the staple gun. Unlike the previous padding, I made sure the foam went right over the hard wooden board, so that it wouldn't shift and leave us sitting on a wooden corner like before.

Attaching foam

Next, I did the opposite side, pulling it tight before securing it.

3. Secure the corners

After all four sides of the foam were attached and trimmed of any excess foam, I had to get the corners to lie nicely. Using a trick from hand-covering books, I cut a slit in the corners about an inch away from the edge of the cushion. Then, I took the two loose pieces and folded them into each other, and secured with staples, as shown (the cut went to the bottom of the point).

Secure corners

4. Cover with fabric

I followed the same steps with my fabric: secured one side, then the opposite side, then the other two sides. I folded the corners back neatly, as you would when tucking a flat sheet under a mattress. Everything gets secured with the staple gun and trimmed of excess fabric.

The nice thing about having all the staples on the bottom of the chair where no one can see them is that you don't have to be afraid of over-stapling!

After the fabric was secured, I re-attached the lining. If you don't have a lining on the back of your cushions, you can attach other fabric to smooth out the bottom and keep the edges of the padding and cover from falling down and detaching.

Bottom secured

5. Re-attach the cushion

After the cushions were re-covered, I had to re-attach them to the chair frame. I was a little worried at first that by folding the foam over the edge of the board, I had made them too thick to re-attach. My fears were irrational — they re-attached just fine!

To make sure I was getting the now very poofy cushions flush to the edge of the chair, I set it upside down on our coffee table, and used my body to hold the frame in place while I screwed the cushion and frame together.

Reattaching

And voilà!

Brand new chairs that we'll get a lot of use out of for many more years! And now I have the confidence to make all of our other furniture much more funky-looking.

Want to start planning your new upholstery project? We happen to have sources for rad fabric.

  1. My mom has done this for years, and it's always amazed me how everyone seems to think it's a complicated process. You can literally reupholster ANYTHING by using the original fabric as a template and being really careful to note how things are tucked, pulled and folded. The more complicated the shape, the more careful you need to be with the fabric so you don't get weird lumps and creases. BUT IT CAN BE DONE. The same goes for complicated cushions and stuff. If you disassemble them and use the original fabric as a template, you SHOULD be able to build new ones that are the exact same size and shape. Again, it's all about being careful, taking lots of notes and really getting into the headspace of "okay, they folded it THIS way to make this corner… they pulled it really tight here…"

    4 agree
    • Also, take pictures as you go along and label the old fabric with a piece of masking tape indicating what it is (aka, right arm/inside) and put arrows so you know which way goes up. Sometimes it's hard to remember which way things go after you've taken it all off!

      3 agree
  2. Great tutorial! This would work too for wood dining room chairs, the basics are pretty much the exact same :)

    Just re-did my dining room chairs, we had basically the same fabric as you. Awful stuff!

    2 agree
  3. Well done! My mother taught me the art of furniture reupholstery last summer, and I must say, it is a lot easier (though sometimes very time-intensive) than people think! You'd be amazed the things you find when you redo a couch or armchair (old re-cover jobs, spare change, pencils, paperclips, mystery candy-that-vaguely-resembles-M&Ms-or-Skittles…), but even more amazing is how you can bring new life to furniture that other people would have just tossed to the curb.

    ***One important note***: When you choose fabric for your reupholstering, consider how much you are going to use the piece of furniture. Something you're going to sit on all the time is going to need a much heavier fabric than something that might just sit in your spare bedroom and occasionally get clothes tossed on it. You don't want to spend a couple of days redoing a chair just to find that you wear out the fabric in places after a year of it sitting in your living room.

    1 agrees

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