Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Re-Upholstering a Large Armchair

Over the winter my aunt enlisted my help for a pretty big, new-to-both-of-us project: re-upholstering her large, well-loved chair!

I had read several tutorials about re-upholstery, and I brushed up on what I'd heard before starting this project. Every chair is so different, however, so there was no guarantee that our "after" was going to work. Yikes! We really didn't know what we would find once we started pulling things apart, but there is only one way to find out, right? :)

Here is the almost before picture: As you can see I had started pulling the fabric off the back, and the cushions are gone. The arms, however, show you how badly this chair needed some TLC!

I'm going to walk you through our process, and share some tips we learned along the way. Just remember, no two chairs are created equal, and our methods may not work in every circumstance.

We started on the bottom of the chair. The very bottom was covered with a black interfacing (similar to this from Joann Fabrics) that we assume was to keep dust out. After pulling that off, we had to pull out the chair legs.

Black interfacing at the bottom of this pict, and the brown thing to the right is the chair leg
The legs were just plastic and wedged into a hole, so we pried them out with a screwdriver. We tried to avoid taking them out, but in some corners the fabric was underneath, so out they came.

Next we started taking off the fabric, starting with the back panel. (You can see I had it started in the picture above.) And now its time for the first, and possibly most important, tip of this project:

It has to go back on the same way it came off.

This means that the first piece I took off (this back panel) was the last piece to go back on. It also means that we used the exact method from the original chair to attach the new pieces. If they were originally stapled on, we stapled them. If there was tack strip, we used tack strip. If they had cardboard strips, we used cardboard strips. So it is incredibly important to take careful note of every step and label everything like crazy.

To label the pieces, I just wrote on the back of each one with a Sharpie. I wrote where it came from on the chair (right arm, seat, etc.) and which side was the top. Trust me, once they get laid out flat you CAN NOT tell which way is up!! I would also list where there was tack strip or cardboard strip. Can you tell I don't trust my memory?

I also took pictures of every step of the process to refer back to if need be.

Here is that first back piece coming off...see the tack strip?

We saved the tack strip and just used it on the new pieces, since there was nothing wrong with it.

Here is another tip: Take careful pictures of the details.

This was the back of the chair at the top of the arms. It was important to remember how this looked, since I wanted my finished product to look just as professional!

Here is the front of the arms. They had a wooden piece that just popped off to reveal this:

And the back of those wooden pieces:

We put these back together just the same way, only with new fabric of course. :) We used those same cardboard squares and nails after stapling on the new fabric, and then just pounded the whole piece on to the arms. But that is getting a little ahead of myself.

We also uncovered a little-known upholstering secret: interfacing.

We found several places where a very heavy duty interfacing was sewed on to the edges of the old fabric. This was used to staple to the wooden frame, so instead of the pressure of the staple being on the fabric, it was on this interfacing. And let me tell you, this stuff was tough! I couldn't even begin to stretch it, let alone rip it. I couldn't find a similar item at the fabric store, so I just reused the old pieces. It meant some quality time with my seam ripper, but it wasn't a hard project.

Besides the tack strip and the interfacing, there were other original pieces that we re-used to cut costs. Most of these innards were still in great shape!

One piece was this interesting cord in the arms. It was sewed into a seam in the middle of the arm, and then stapled at the bottom of both sides of the arm. This created a little "pucker" or gather on the top of the arm, and as far as I know is completely a cosmetic detail. (You'll be able to see the "pucker" in the finished pictures)

We also kept all the original padding, including the seat cushion. We did have to buy new padding for the pillow.

We worked together for about 4 hours to get everything stripped down to this:

The reason it took so much time was the insane amount of staples!! There were hundreds of them, and they didn't like to give up the fight. We used pliers, screwdrivers, and hammers to get them out. Just when we thought we were almost done, we found another round of staples. No rest for the weary!

It all paid off in the end. I'll just skip to that part.

I didn't take pictures of the actually upholstering part, since it was basically just dis-assembly in reverse. :) I pinned all the original fabric pieces to the new fabric and cut them out, attached the interfacing pieces, sewed up any seams, and put things back together in reverse order from when they came off.

detail on the arms - those are the wooden pieces I talked about earlier
I used duck cloth (this stuff from Joann's in "olive") for the seat. It is a very heavy-duty piece of fabric that should hold up better than the original, which was ripped.

Here is that "pucker" I talked about.

As for the fabric we used, we ordered some home decor fabric from Joann's. (I don't know the name, but I think it might be this) We got 6 yards, and used every bit, with only small pieces left to spare. No room for error, which was nerve-wracking! It was just enough. Thankful everything came out ok the first time! The fabric is beautiful, and seems like a high-quality fabric that should last for the long haul. Lots of cousin bonding, movie watching, and book reading will be happening in this chair for years to come!

Update: my aunt explained to me how she came up with the 6 yard amount before ordering the fabric. She took basic measurements of the pieces, and then used graph paper to sketch out approximately how much we would need. She sketched it so one square = 6." Then she added some extra length for good measure. Hope that makes sense!
The pictures read as a grey, but really this chair is a pretty sage color!

I am so glad to have this project done and be able to say I've dabbled in the world of upholstery! Have you ever tackled a project like this? Please share, and let me know any tips or tricks you have! Feel free to ask questions, I'd love to help you with your project!

Linked up at the Weekend Wind-Down, Link Party Palooza, Show and Tell Friday


  1. Wow! I'm really impressed. This project seems like it must have been such a huge undertaking. Of course I don't have the sewing background you do, but still. Great job! It looks really nice and I love the idea of recycling a piece of furniture! :)

    1. Thanks Nicole! It was a big undertaking, but really, it is a project that has nothing to do with sewing ability. There was a little bit of sewing, but no anything that takes any talent. :) I'm so thankful it came out the way it did! Thanks for commenting! =)

  2. Your chair turned out awesome. I've reupholstered a couple of couches and chairs in the past. It's a lot of work but I think it's worth it. Especially if you love the style and it is still sturdy.

    1. Wow, I can't imagine taking on a whole couch! It is worth it, though, especially since the guts of this chair were still in great shape. Thanks for commenting! =)


I appreciate you taking the time to comment! Some comments may need to be moderated, so don't be alarmed if your comment doesn't pop up right away. I can't wait to hear from you!