Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How to Reupholster a Simple Chair Seat

If you haven't tried it yet, it's pretty easy to recover a chair seat that is only held on to the chair with four screws.  Since I'm currently working on a vanity seat, I'll use that in the tutorial.  There's no difference from working on a chair seat or vanity seat.  It's the same process.

This is what I started out with--a simple vanity seat with some toile fabric.  

The first step is to turn the bench over onto a flat surface.  I used my dining room table. (Yes that's an animal hide rug draped over my table.)  Remove the four screws and the seat cushion will lift off.

Four Screws in the Corners Holding the Seat in Place

Put the base aside and put the screws in a safe place, then begin to remove the staples that are holding  the fabric and the seat in place.  I use an old screwdriver to get under and lift up the staples.  If the staple doesn't come out easily, I remove it with my needle nose pliers.  

Removing the staples can be time consuming.  Many times you find more layers of fabric under the first one.  On this bench I found three different fabrics.  This little bench had been re-covered three times.   If you want a nice professional result you must remove all the layers.  To me, it's interesting to see fabric choices from different times.  I can sometimes guess from the fabric style when it was done.

The two layers I found under the original fabric.
After the fabric is removed, the batting (what offers padding to the seat) remains.  This is an older bench because the seat padding is made of cotton batting.  Sometimes, if the piece is really old, you'll find horse hair filling.

Old Cotton Batting

This batting is in good condition so I will leave it in place.  If your batting is lumpy, torn, or stained, I advise removing it.  If you remove the batting you should replace it with a thin piece of foam before you do the next step.  You can use some spray adhesive to attach the foam to the seat.  This will keep it from moving around when someone sits on it.   I'm going to use new polyester batting on top of the cotton.  If you added foam, just put the batting over the foam.   This new batting is stronger and provides a smoother surface than the old cotton batting.  I always use quilt batting on a roll and cut it to fit the size of my seat. Make sure you allow for some of the batting to go around the edge of the seat.  This will pad the edge.  I purchase the large roll of batting for a queen size quilt, but if you don't have many seats to do you could buy the crib size batting.  I like to use this instead of the regular fiber fill because it is a continuous piece and doesn't clump and lump.

Polyester Batting

I selected a black and white damask fabric for my bench.  If your fabric has a pattern, make sure you center the design before you cut it out.  I usually lay my fabric on top of the seat and use the seat as my pattern.  If you don't feel comfortable free handing it, make a pattern.    Add at least two inches more to your pattern.  You need enough to fold under and staple.
To ensure that your fabric stays centered,  place your first staple in the center of one of the four sides, next place a staple in the center of the opposite side, then staple in the centers of the remaining two sides.   You can then continue stapling around the perimeter.

It's important to have a smooth corner with no creases.  If you're having trouble doing the corner, visit Little Green Notebook.  She illustrates it soooo much better than I can.

 How to get a smooth seat corner via Little Green Notebook.
(Click on the image or highlighted words to see the whole tutorial.)

I decided to add cording to my bench.  Usually I make my own bias cording, but this time I decided to use this pre-made trim.  You can see my stapled-on fabric and then the cording on top of that in the next image.  It's a two step process.
(If you're interested in making your own matching cording go here for my tutorial.)

Join the two ends together by making an x with the trim ends and staple in place to finish it off.  This will blend the two ends and there won't be a noticeable start/stop.  You could also unwind the twisted cording and intertwine the two ends, then staple in place.

I always like to make the underside as pretty as the top, so I cut some fabric to size and just staple it in place.  I used some black burlap for this project.  Muslin works well too.  I just make the piece a little larger than the space and press the rough edges under before I staple it in place.

The last step is to re-attach the seat to the base.  Sometimes it's hard to get the screws into the holes because they sometimes get stuck in the fabric.  Just apply a little pressure and it will work.

All done.  Yea.

It's a pretty easy fix for a chair with dated fabric.  My advice is that if you plan on doing this again, you should invest in an electric staple gun.  It will make your job so much easier.

Make sure you visit my previous tutorial on how to make matching bias cording here.

 Bias Cording

Let me know how your project works out.


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  1. this is great! I always wondered how you join twisted cording. Now I know! I have 6 outside chairs to redo soon as the weather warms.